History is the foundation of all knowledge in any field. People who are drawn to a master’s in history degree may be history buffs but are also likely interested in professorships and other forms of education, museum work or research. This master’s allows graduates to pursue future doctoral work, and deepen their understanding of the people, places and events that have come before us. Find out what you’ll learn in an online master’s in history degree program, possible careers to pursue once you’ve earned your degree and the best online programs.
A good master’s in history program prepares students for a variety of careers ranging from teaching to research and the social sciences. Below we’ve ranked the best online master’s in history programs using data from the Department of Education, the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) as well as information provided from the universities’ own published materials. All schools in this list are accredited.
Students enrolled in an online master’s in history program will learn such basics as historiography, historical methods and historical research. These skills can be applied to any period of historical study. Additionally, graduates will also emerge with the following skills:
Courses for a master’s in history will span a wide range of historical time periods, civilizations, cultures and places. Here are some sample courses a student may expect to take:
Students learn the fundamentals of a wide range of archival activities, including appraisal, acquisitions, arrangement, description, reference and access. This course explores recordkeeping professions and the development of theories of the identification and management of records and recordkeeping systems. It will also look at the history and changing nature of records and recordkeeping systems, particularly those changes influenced by technology.
A foundational class for any history program, historiography is the study of the history of histories. It reviews and evaluates histories written on various topics and it analyzes theories and methods that historians have used. In this advanced course, students study how history is written and write some history themselves. Students discuss how history writing has evolved over time, analyze their own writings of history, look at competing perspectives, apply historical research methodologies to original work and evaluate historians in their areas of interest.
Most programs will include some variation on the topic of the American west or frontier. This course will likely explore the history of the trans-Mississippi West from the 16th century to the present. It will look at the numerous historical issues associated with the region, including cultural contact and conflict, economic development, visions and meanings of the West, human interaction with nature and the environment, relationship between western states and the federal government, tourism, the growth of the sunbelt cities and the shifting nature of race, class, gender and power in the region.
A lesser-known outcome of a history degree is the pursuit of genealogy and family history. This course introduces students to the numerous materials available for researching the histories of individuals, families, and communities in the United States, Canada, the U.K., Australia and other parts of the world.
Another common course in any master’s of history program will look at several world civilizations from antiquity to roughly 600 to 700 A.D. This course will explore religious, cultural, social, political and economic institutions of various societies.
War and military history is, unfortunately, a persistent part of history. This course will explore the origins of such mass violence. It will use theory and case studies to suggest possible causes of international war, civil war, revolution and genocide.
Each program has different requirements for graduation, but many will have a capstone project or thesis. Students looking to become professors, for example, may be expected to create a sample syllabus as part of the capstone project. In some history programs students also must demonstrate academic proficiency in a foreign language. Each program is unique. For some specializations, there may be additional certifications to acquire in addition to the degree.
Below are some of the most common specializations that students pursue during their time as a history student:
Students with a specialization in American history will cover the history of the United States beginning with American colonial and early American history through the 20th century.World History
A world history specialization focuses on a wide range of historical eras beginning with hunter-gatherers to more current, 20th century events across the globe.Archiving
Students studying archiving will learn how to preserve and present historical knowledge and records, including through modern technologies like online archives.Public History
A public history track teaches students to use historical methodologies to preserve and present historical records and information to the public.
There are more careers available to history graduates than simply becoming a history teacher or professor. A master’s degree in history lends itself to such jobs as archivist, museum curator or administrator, researcher, and more. Here are several specializations that graduates can pursue:
Archivists appraise, edit and maintain permanent records, historical documents and historically valuable documents. They may also maintain databases of digital, film and hard copy. Job requirements might also include helping to arrange exhibits and create and maintain policy guidelines regarding public access to archived materials, exhibits, conduct tours, clean ancient objects and lead special research projects.Museum Curator
Curators are the people who arrange, catalogue, present and maintain historical and cultural collections for museums, art galleries and academic institutions. Some curators also interact with the public and run exhibits and programs. A curator’s job will vary depending on the job location, the materials and whether or not there is public access to the archives.Genealogist
Genealogists studied the lineage of humans. Many specialize in a particular subset of genealogy, such as Native American genealogy or immigration. Genealogy professionals draw from a variety of records including cemetery, church, census, legal, military and property and tax records, as well as personal papers, books, research journals and the internet as sources of information. They complete pedigree charts, family group sheets and written reports of their findings.Historian
Historians gather historical data, write reports, help determine the authenticity of historical artifacts and preserve materials for places such as museums. Historians with advanced degrees focus on special topics in history and have career opportunities in higher education teaching and research.History Professor
From elementary schools all the way up to universities, history professors are responsible for developing the curriculum and teaching history courses to people at an academic institution of some kind, from children to adults. They may lecture and teach in classrooms as well as research and publish related works. A professor may have multiple degrees, as well.Historical Editors
Editors examine texts to verify facts, correct grammar and punctuation, and work with publishers to develop story ideas. There are several types of editors, such as copy editors, assistant editors and managing editors. Copy editors suggest revisions and oversee page layouts. An advanced degree in history prepares students for careers in academic editing.
Below are several professional organizations that offer support and resources to history majors:
The American Historical Association is the largest professional organization serving historians in all fields and all professions. The AHA is a trusted voice advocating for history education, the professional work of historians and the critical role of historical thinking in public life.
Founded in 1907, the Organization of American Historians (OAH) is the largest professional society dedicated to the teaching and study of American history. The mission of the organization is to promote excellence in the scholarship, teaching and presentation of American history, and to encourage wide discussion of historical questions and the equitable treatment of all practitioners of history.
The World History Association (WHA) is a professional association of scholars, teachers and students organized to promote world history by encouraging teaching, research, publications and personal interactions. Founded in, 1982, its mission is to “promote activities which will increase historical awareness, understanding among and between peoples and global consciousness.”
The National Council for History Education promotes historical literacy by creating opportunities for teachers and students to benefit from more history, better taught. Instructors from the elementary to collegiate level have access to professional development opportunities, diverse historical organizations, publications and information on developing issues in history education policy.
Although salary will depend on a job holder’s location, experience and degree, the following list can give master’s in history students an idea of the types of careers and salaries available in the field of history.
|Career||Lowest 10% Earned Annually||Median Annual Salary||Highest 10% Earned Annually||Job Growth 2016-2026|
|Archivist||Less than $32,000||$47,360||More than $66,000||+13%|
|Museum Curator||Less than $35,000||$49,404||More than $73,000||+13%|
|History Professor (Assistant)||Less than $48,000||$76,000||More than $100,000||+15%|
|Historian||Less than $30,000||$59,120||More than $86,000||+6%|
|Historical Editor||Less than $30,000||$59,120||More than $86,000||+6%|
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2018
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the employment of historians is projected to grow 6 percent from 2016 to 2026, which is considered as fast as the average for all occupations. However, in this field, there tend to be fewer jobs in relation to the number of applicants, so there may be a bit more competition than other occupations. Having a master’s degree would likely increase the odds of employment. A few careers, such as archivist and assistant history professor, however, are projected to grow between 13 and 15 percent between 2016 and 2026, which is much faster than average.
The type of degree you have makes a difference in your ultimate salary. For example, according to the Center on Education and the Workforce, those with a bachelor’s degree in history, the median annual salary is $53,000, while those with a master’s in history earn $80,000, a significant difference.
Master’s in history programs are accredited by local and regional bodies that set standards for the curriculum as well as measure educational outcomes for the graduates. The two main kinds of accrediting organizations are regional and national. Regionally accredited universities belong to one of six such accreditation agencies across the U.S., such as the New England Association of Schools and Colleges. Nationally accredited universities, those which offer vocational or distance learning programs, are reviewed by the accrediting agency approximately every three to five years and include The Higher Learning Commission.
Financing a master’s in History may require a combination of financing options. In some programs there may be research or assistantship opportunities, as well as grant opportunities. One should always check out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) to see what funding is available. Below are some funding options for master’s of history students.
Many schools offer scholarships through their graduate history departments, but national and regional scholarships are also available. Prospective students should look into the following scholarship options:
The DAR Centennial Scholarship is awarded to two outstanding students pursuing a course of graduate study in the field of historic preservation at a college or university in the United States. This scholarship was established from a portion of the proceeds from the sale of the Centennial Pin. This is a one-time award in the amount of $2,500.
Sponsored by the Abraham Lincoln Brigade Archives (ALBA), the George Watt Memorial Essay Contest is for graduate and undergraduate U.S. students who submit a 3,500 to 7,500-word essay about any aspect of the Spanish Civil War, the global political or cultural struggles against fascism in the 1920s and 1930s, or the contributions of the Americans who fought in support of the Spanish Republic. Work will be judged on the basis of originality, effectiveness of argument, and quality of research.
Some schools and organizations may offer fellowships to history students. Some options available to students include:
The Intercollegiate Studies Institute offers the Western Civilization Fellowship Program to grant $20,000 to full-time U.S. graduate students who pursue work related to the Western Civilization Studies. Eligible candidates are required to submit an original ten-page essay, one-page outline of prior education, three-page autobiography, three letters of recommendation and official transcripts of all undergraduate and graduate work.
The institute provides annual short-term research fellowships in the amount of $3000 to scholars working in the field of American history.
The purpose of the fellowship program is to encourage and support research of the highest quality on topics related to ancient Greece or, more generally, Hellenism. This includes but is not limited to the study of Greek-speaking cultures and their influence on others – from those who inhabited the more immediate regions around the Mediterranean to more distant populations in Europe and Asia.