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What Can You Do With a Degree in history?

Why should you become a historian? What are the challenges and rewards? What do historians really do? While our capstone course HIS 490 will answer all of these questions, most students leave this until the last year at UWL. Try to take the course earlier -- the second semester of your junior year -- and in the meantime, use the resources on this page to explore your career options in history.

While many UWL History Department students are enrolled in a secondary education program and subsequently become Social Science, History, or Civics teachers, there are many other alternatives. As with any Liberal Studies major, there are many possibilities. UWL History graduates are active in all types of endeavors, in journalism, public history, law, public administration, the foreign service, and higher education. A history degree provides you with many marketable skills such as communication skills in reading, writing, speaking and listening; skills in analytical, logical, and critical thinking; knowledge of the development and interaction of human cultures; understanding of concepts, ideas and systems of thought that underlie human activities; understanding of and sensitivity to cultural diversity in the world, as well as the variety of human experience; understanding of the social, political and economic frameworks of societies within the global context; as well as an understanding of nature, including the role of science and technology in environmental and social change. 

Check out what these professional historians have to say on the topic:
• Blackey, Robert. Why Become a Historian? Ten Essays . . . 
• Stearns, Peter N. Why Study History?

For more information, consult publications about the history profession, such as:
• Gardner, James B. and Peter S. LaPaglia. Public History: Essays in the Field. Melbourne, Fla.: Krieger Publishing Company, 1999.
• Gustafson, Melanie. Becoming a Historian: A Survival Manual. Washington, D.C.: The Committee on Women Historians and the American Historical Association, 2003.
• Kammen, Carol. On Doing Local History: Reflections on What Local Historians Do, Why, and What it Means. Nashville TN: The American Association for State and Local History, 1996.
• National Council on Public History. A Guide to Graduate Programs in Public History.
• Schulz, Constance, Page Putnam Miller, Aaron Marrs, and Kevin Allen. Careers for Students of History. Washington, D.C.: The American Historical Association, the National Council for Public History, and the Public History Program of the University of South Carolina, 2002. 

History advisors have copies of some of these texts or you can order them through your favorite bookstore or directly through the American Historical Association's publications catalog online: Additionally, you can consult the websites of the two major U.S. historical organizations, the AHA and the OHA:
• The AHA or American Historical Association (
• The OAH or Organization of American Historians (
Or, you could also consult the following websites for additional information about specific areas of specialization:
****Not all of these sites have employment information, but we have listed them to give you an idea of the different settings where professional historians are presently working****
• American Association for State and Local History (
• American Association for the History of Medicine (
• American Association of Museums (
• American Library Association ( 
• Association for Documentary Editing (
• Association for Living History, Farm, and Agricultural Museums (
• Association of American Publishers (
• Berkshire Conference of Women Historians (
• Committee on Lesbian and Gay History (
• Conference on Latin American History (
• Editorial Freelancers Association (
• H-Net: Humanities and Social Sciences Online job list (includes fellowships!) (
• History Associates, Inc. (
• National Archives and Records Administration (
• National Coalition of Independent Scholars (
• National Conference of State Historic Preservation Officers (
• National Council for the Social Studies (
• National Council on Public History (
• National Historical Publications and Records Commission, NARA (
• National Park Service (
• National Register of Historic Places, National Park Service (
• National Trust for Historic Preservation (
• Oral History Association (
• Phi Alpha Theta (History Honor Society) (
• Smithsonian Institution (
• Social Science History Association (
• Society for History in the federal Government (
• Society of American Archivists (
• Society of Architectural Historians (
• State Historical Society of Iowa (
• United States Office of Personnel Management (
• U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command (
• U.S. Department of State (
• Wisconsin Historical Society (

A more thorough listing of links to Professional Historical Societies affiliated to the American Historical Association can be found at: (

Which Line Of Work Is For You?

Begin by visiting UW La Crosse's Career Services Center to explore your options and conduct a self-assessment. Think about your career motivations, your talents, and where you want to be in 5 or 10 years. Here are some career paths to consider:

  • Business and Marketing: the skills in writing, research, and communication that you obtain in a History major or minor can help you in obtaining an advanced degree in business, like the M.B.A. Consult the UWL College of Business website:/BA/
  • Education: /soe/directory/index.html
  • Higher Education: teaching or administrative positions in colleges and universities, after obtaining an advanced degree, can be a rewarding experience. Obtaining an M.A. (1-2 years), and then a Ph.D. (4-7 years) is the beginning of this process. You will need high grades and much determination; consult with your advisor and explore the possibility in the HIS 490 capstone experience. The graduate school application process is long, tedious, and expensive, see below for more details.
  • Journalism, Publishing, Film, Communications and Mass Media: History's emphasis on writing, research, and communication skills are in high demand in these fields. Securing a toe-hold in the industry begins with your involvement in the campus newspaper or radio, becoming the public relations expert for your student organization, your film class project, or joining the debate team. Make sure you get that extracurricular involvement! Alternatively, intern or volunteer--and get a good letter of recommendation from your supervisor. Network, network, network! Remember to keep samples of all your work, build up your portfolio. Worried about editorial freelancing? Check out this website (
  • Law: with a history major or minor, you can seek additional training to become a paralegal, law clerk, lawyer, lobbyist or public advocate. You will need a strong GPA, a good score on the LSAT. Concurrently, you may want to major or minor in Political Science or Public Administration. History courses--particularly those with a heavy research and writing emphasis, as well as those on U.S. history--are a bonus. Don't forget to work on your public speaking and presentation skills! And of course, there is all of the practical experience from becoming involved in Student Government, working on political campaigns, and working on behalf of great causes. Consult the "Legal Education" webpage of the American Bar Association for information about the legal profession: (
  • Non-Governmental Organizations: NGOs complement the work of local, state, federal and international agencies, providing a variety of often non-profit services in a variety of settings, such as social services, community health, community development, historical preservation, education, the arts, as well as international assistance and development. Your historical training will introduce you to the complexity of the factors involved, and your writing and critical thinking skills will be put to use. Language training--and practical living experience abroad, gained through your semester-abroad exchange program--will prove a bonus.
  • Public History, Archival, Libraries, and Museums: with a history major or minor, and particularly through the public history internship experience, you can explore your options in these areas. Your writing, research, and communication skills will be put to use interpreting historical sites for others, setting up exhibits, conducting historical surveys, consulting, and providing different types of services such as conservation, reference, or assessment. See below underinternships. Interested in a career as a Historic Preservation Officer? Check out the website of the National Conference of State Historic Preservation Officers ( For a more in-depth discussion about employment and career opportunities in libraries, consult the website of the American Library Association at:
  • Look through the resources listed in this web site, and use all the resources available to you at UW La Crosse's Career Services Center. The Center is the best resource for assistance with career planning, assessments, internships, job market information, job search services, and alumni services. The Career Center offers individual counseling as well as a wide variety of workshops.

We also invite you to talk to the History Department faculty concerning employment opportunities, internships, study abroad, and graduate school. Do not be intimidated. You are not bothering us! We are here to help you! Get to know us! Let us know who you are, what interests you. Your advisor and other faculty need to be able to write convincingly about your work and potential . . . drop by during office hours to begin exploring career options, internships, and graduate school. Don't put off your visit until your junior or senior year. See us as soon as possible. Drop by during office hours, or arrange a meeting via e-mail or telephone.
Links to other career-related resources

The American Historical Association, Statement on Standards of Professional Conduct (
The American Historical Association, "Liberal Learning and the History Major" (
The American Historical Association, Careers for History Majors-A miniguide from the AHA (
Project 1000 ( A program that assists members of under-represented groups with the Graduate School application process.