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What Can You Do with a PhD in History?

woman looking out over historical site

You’re a history buff — the person everyone wants on their trivia team. You can rattle off the dates, facts, and names of the world’s most significant events and periods. If you’re considering using your powers for good, getting a PhD in history is a great option. 

People with a passion for being stuck in the past have options once they’ve completed their history doctoral program. Beyond history jobs in academia, there’s a spot for a historian around the table in nearly every industry. The skill set required to complete a PhD opens up a variety of doors in whichever direction you choose to pursue. Here’s an idea of some things you can do with a PhD in History


If you see yourself leading the nation’s young people through their own historical journeys, a PhD prepares you to teach at almost any level, though going the professor route could be more lucrative than teaching high school. On average history professors make between $80,000-$164,000 per year. 

You’ll select your focus and spend your days sharing your passion with undergraduate and master’s level students. Along with teaching, if you pursue a history career in academia, you’ll likely spend some time researching topics within your wheelhouse. Re: your passion! 

If spending your days in front of the class, hosting debates, and leading young minds excites you, there might be even more time on a college campus in your future. However, tenured history professor roles may take some time to find and the salaries can range based on the type of university and location.  

Future Planning

Those studying the past usually have some insights into the future. If you’re looking to explore the world outside of strictly history, you might use your skills to find a career in future planning. No, not retirement planning (though that’s an option too).

Historians have a knack for identifying themes and patterns in culture, politics, and the world. A history PhD program allows you to use your historical knowledge to contribute to the modern world by making an impact on the community around you. Many politicians, inclusion officers, grant writers, and even human resource managers use their history PhDs to influence their worlds. 

Your ability to think critically about the past and lend your knowledge to the future makes you an asset to any organization looking to excel into the modern world. Be prepared to market yourself as someone who can best set the organization up for success in an ever-changing world. 


In the business and technology world, it’s all about understanding the customer. Who are you selling to? What is their day-to-day life like? How do you best understand their needs and wants? 

As a historian, your ability to communicate with a diverse population and understand the context of their lives makes you especially valuable on a sales, marketing, development, or innovation team. As a PhD, employers know you are well-read, have strong research skills and have spent many, many, many hours writing. It’s no surprise that Historians make excellent copywriters, marketers, and editors. 

We won’t lie to you, there aren’t many Fortune 500 CEOs that can claim a doctorate in history. Most CEOs have MBAs or degrees in engineering. But there should be more historians up at the top — maybe you have what it takes. 

Intelligence Analysis

You may not be the next Indiana Jones, but you might cut it as a secret agent. The ability to analyze and synthesize information from various sources is crucial for intelligence analysts — and history PhDs have that in spades. 

Skilled at recognizing biases, evaluating the reliability of sources, and making informed judgments based on incomplete or uncertain information, historians have a strong ability to think critically and evaluate evidence. 

Additionally, historians have a deep understanding of the historical, cultural and social context in which events occur. This understanding can help you identify underlying factors and motivations that may not be immediately apparent to others. 


If you’ve always dreamed about a career in history, this is likely what you’ve pictured. Spending days dusting off old newspapers and curating the perfect collection of artifacts — historians and archivists are often hired by governments or organizations to collect, analyze, organize, and preserve important documents and artifacts. 

Companies may hire a historian to reflect on the organization’s past in order to better inform their future choices or to maintain an existing collection of artifacts. We get it. We saw National Treasure, too. This would be a pretty amazing career.

The salary for historian jobs can vary based on size of the organization and unfortunately, the importance they place on preserving their history. For reference, the average PhD in history salary is $75,000 in the U.S.

Become a Historian at SMU

So, what can you do with a PhD in history? You can make sense of the past to inform the future, you can write exceptionally well, and you can excel in nearly any industry. Simply holding your doctoral degree in history shows employers the determination you have. There should be a seat saved for you at every company, college, and organization looking to succeed.

Ready to get started?

Explore what you can do with a PhD in History, read the guide Reanalyzing Our World, PhDs in The Humanities at SMU!

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