The Department of History is one of the largest departments in the School of Arts and Sciences, and emphasizes European history, United States history, and the histories of Africa, Latin America and China. The department is also a part of several of the University’s multi-disciplinary programs, including Women’s Studies, Medieval Studies, Latin American Studies, Jewish Studies, East Asian Studies, the Institute for Global Studies and the Seminar in Moral and Political Thought. The department’s courses are credited as both humanities credits and social science credits, reflecting the complexity of the discipline, which includes demographic, economic, and social history along with the cultural and the intellectual.
Students begin in large introductory courses and advance to smaller, more focused seminars, but the study of history at Johns Hopkins is primarily issue and topic oriented. History at Hopkins is not focused so much on names and dates as it is issues and topics. In addition to the overall narrative of history, students are encouraged to explore and appreciate the variety of history, how it comes to be written and understood, and its relevance to both the presence and the future. Very few graduates pursue careers as historians, but the skills mastered by the study of history are many:
- Effective and persuasive writing
- Critical analysis
- Interdisciplinary thinking and training
- Curiosity and inquisitiveness
As a result, most Hopkins history graduates move on to pursue careers in fields such as law, business, non-profit foundations, government, and teaching.
Students who decide to pursue careers as historians complete doctoral programs, specializing in a country or region, particular period or a particular field, such as social, intellectual, cultural, political or diplomatic history. They research government and institutional records, newspapers and other periodicals, photographs, interviews, films and unpublished manuscripts in order to analyze and interpret the past. Historians help to study and preserve archival materials, artifacts, and historic buildings and sites. Nearly all hold positions at educational or non-profit institutions while writing books and articles about their findings.
Leaders in every industry can point to their training in and knowledge of history in their intellectual development and their skills in research, writing, argumentation and documentation. Historians play roles as teachers, researchers, advocates, communicators, and information managers in all areas of society:
- Educators at Elementary and secondary schools – while public schools require certification and a degree in teaching, a bachelor’s degree in history is significant to teach at most private schools. Advanced degrees in history are required to teach at the post secondary level.
- Educators at Historic sites and museums – educators are needed to interpret the past to visitors with wide ranges of education and experiences at historical sites such as parks, battlefields, monuments and museums. Additional courses in art history, folklore, and archeology are useful for history majors looking to pursue this area of the field.
- Researchers at Museums and Historical organizations – team-based research that includes authentication, verification and description of artifacts, and focusing on their meaning, significance and context. These researchers also work to assemble exhibitions and educational programs based on the institution’s collections. A bachelor’s degree is typically sufficient for entry-level positions in this area.
- Cultural resources management (CRM) and historic preservation – historians dedicated to protecting and managing the nation’s cultural resources through researching its history and significance.
- Researchers and writers at Think Tanks – an undergraduate degree is sufficient for entry-level positions in policy research and advising at policy research organizations (think tanks).
- Writers and editors – historians, including those without special training in publishing, can write and edit for a variety of publications, including scholarly monographs, films, brochures for historic sites, captions for exhibits, reports for government agencies, testimony for legislative hearings, articles for mass-market magazines, textbooks, historical novels and screenplays. While an undergraduate history degree is sufficient for this type of work, graduates with experience in editing or majors or minors in English are more likely to be hired.
- Writers within journalism, public relations and advertising – while history is not typically the primary subject of print, broadcast and internet publishing, the ability to use a variety of sources, understand the necessity for accuracy, think analytically and write clearly are crucial for careers in investigative journalism, feature writing, advertising and public relations.
- Documentary editors – locate documents related to a particular individual, agency or movement, determine which documents are legitimate, organize them in a logical order and present them in a documentary format.
- Lawyers and paralegals – the research, writing and analytical skills offered by history courses provide an excellent foundation for work as a paralegal, as well as outstanding academic preparation for law school.
- Legislative staff work – legislative staff members are responsible for drafting legislation, researching options for legislative action, interpreting the position of the history profession on an impending decision, and conducting primary source research to determine the original intent of a law or regulation under scrutiny.
- Corporate work – combined with internship experience, a major in history is excellent preparation for careers in marketing, information resource management, legal affairs, finance, administration, human resources and operations.
- Archivists – found in government offices, educational, cultural and religious institutions, businesses, labor unions, hospitals and community organizations, archivists are responsible for the establishment and maintenance of physical and intellectual control over the records within their care. Librarians – by cataloguing and classifying the different materials that enter the library, librarians enable researchers to more efficiently access information. Historians, due to their wide knowledge base and experience in research, make excellent librarians. While a Master of Library Science degree is required, many history undergraduates begin in this field as library assistants and aides.
An undergraduate degree in history provides an outstanding foundation of knowledge and skills for the career of your choosing. Those who plan to enter the job market directly after graduating, however, must be proactive in acquiring the additional real-world skills and experiences they will need to be competitive job candidates. This includes interning and volunteering in career fields in which you are interested, participating in related extra-curricular activities, and maintaining a portfolio of writing samples from your academic work. These will also be useful for admission to professional schools and graduate programs, as a masters or doctorate degree is required for more advanced positions in the field.
Hopkins History alumni go into a variety of career fields. Since 2005 the Career Center has surveyed recent graduates about their academic and career plans 6 months after graduation. Here is a summary of their responses.
Hopkins Alumni in History
Gregory W. Fortsch- Attorney, Manatt, Phelps & Phillips, LLP History, Class of 1991 J.D., 1994, Seton Hall University
- How did you get interested in your field? Was it your original goal when you started at Hopkins? - Through a family friend who was an attorney. Yes, it was my original goal when I started at Johns Hopkins.
- What was your career path? How did you get to where you are today? - I was interested in public service and working in Washington, DC. Thus I followed an interesting career in both the federal government and private practice of law with a focus on federal government agency interaction.
- What was your first job after college? Was it in your current field? - I went to law school right after college. My first job after law school - clerked for a judge.
- What advice do you have for current students, especially freshmen and sophomores? - Public service is a very noble cause. I encourage all students to devote a portion of their careers to public service - it provides excellent hands-on experience and allows an individual to give back to a country that has provided so much for us.
- What is your typical day like? - I don't have a typical day - I frequently handle a number of matters for clients involving advice on how to proceed with certain business objections they have or to help them with problems they have encountered (e.g., litigation filed against them).
- What’s most rewarding about your industry and/ or job? What's most challenging? - Rewarding: The ability to help others or, with respect to my government service, to help the American people. Challenging: The inability to "unplug" from work demands at the end of the day.
- What are typical entry-level positions for this field? What tips do you have for students to be successful in these positions? - For a lawyer, an ideal and typical entry-level position is a clerkship with a state or federal judge. In the second year of law school, a student should start figuring out what kind of clerkship she wants (trial, appellate) and begin the process of applying.
- Where do you see the field going in the next 5-10 years? - Away from billable hours in private practice and toward flat fees for services - billable hour rates are too high for many clients.
- What skills and out-of-class experiences (i.e. internships, co-curricular activities, volunteering, etc.) are ideal for entering your industry / career field? - Excellent writing and communication skills.
- Where can someone in an entry-level position expect to be in two years? Five years? Ten years? - Two years - comfortable in an attorney position; knowledgeable about basic skills needed and comfortable with subject matter; five years - mid-level associate or government attorney with some supervisory skills; ten years - partner in law firm or senior attorney/deputy in government.
Additional Alumni Profiles
Networking with alumni and other professionals who work in these fields can help you learn very specific information about a career field. Use Johns Hopkins Connect to contact alumni to ask for their advice. You may also find professional contacts through professional associations, faculty, friends and family.
For more information on what you can do with a History Major go to What can I do with a major in History.
Want to know more? Read our Hopkins Career Profiles on Journalism, Teaching, and Law & Paralegal.
If you would like to talk about how your search is going, we invite you to make an appointment with a Career Counselor by calling 410-516-8056.
LinkedIn.com - a professional networking site where you can identify Hopkins alumni. Join the LinkedIn Johns Hopkins University Alumni Group to add over 4000+ alumni to your network.
The Career Center is here to help you navigate the graduate school search process. Click here for guidelines and preparing for Graduate School and Professional School.
For information on the specific programs, the best people to talk to are the experts in your field you wish to study, faculty members and graduate students in that specific discipline. We strongly encourage you to talk with your advisor and other faculty members with whom you have a good working relationship. This will also help when you request letters of recommendation. The Career Center has a handout to guide you in asking for letters of recommendation.
The American Historical Association, or AHA, is the largest historical society in the United States and was founded in 1884 and incorporated by Congress in 1889 for the promotion of historical studies, the collection and preservation of historical documents and artifacts, and the dissemination of historical research. Among its 14,000 members are teachers, academics, graduate students, independent historians and those who work at museums, historical organizations, libraries and archives, in government and in business.
The Organization of American Historians is the largest professional society dedicated to the teaching and study of American history, and its membership includes students. The organization promotes excellence in the scholarship, training and presentation of American history, and encourages wide discussion of historical questions and equitable treatment of all practitioners of history.
Phi Alpha Theta brings students, teachers and writers of history together for intellectual and social exchanges to promote the study of history through research, teaching, publication and the exchange of learning and ideas among historians. It has 860 chapters and over 350,000 members.
There are also historical societies at the state, city and local level which provide excellent internship and volunteer opportunities for students interested in history.