How to become a history professor
Professors are an important part of higher education, and becoming a history professor requires a lifelong commitment to learning, a passion for the past, and a desire to teach. Becoming a history professor also requires preparation for the role, several academic degrees, and published research or articles. In this article, we’ll explore what a history professor does, the amount of education required to become one, the skills you need to have, and the steps you need to take to become a history professor.
What does a history professor do?
A history professor teaches undergraduates about the past, both in broad terms and in specialized topics. They can help students interpret events and lessons from certain time periods and how they affected future circumstances. A history professor’s curriculum may focus on a specific time frame, such as the Industrial Age or postwar civilizations, or a region and area, such as Japanese history or the ancient Roman Empire.
History professors can use a variety of media and methods to show the causes and effects of historical events, including books, documents, photographs and film, cultural artifacts, or even social media in lecture courses or seminars. They create lesson plans, test or essay topics, grade student assignments, and serve as faculty advisors to graduate scholars. In addition to their teaching duties, history professors may also conduct research on historical topics and publish academic articles and books.
Typical responsibilities of a history professor may include:
- Preparation of lesson plans and syllabus
- Grading tests and essays and evaluating student progress
- Holding lectures and leading class discussions
- Counseling students individually or in a group setting
- Learning new teaching strategies
- Researching, writing, and publishing professional papers, findings or books
- You will continue to be informed about current events or new historical discoveries
- Becoming a college history professor can be competitive, and some in the field may instead consider a career as a high school history teacher or working as a museum archivist
How to become a history professor
Here are eight steps you can take to become a history professor:
1. Complete your bachelor’s degree
Many undergraduate history degree programs look broadly at different types of history by time period or geographic area, including American, European, and Asian, or medieval or modern history. Some of these bachelor’s degree programs may also include specialized topics, such as African American history or military history, and many allow you to choose a concentration. Obtaining a bachelor’s degree in history is a prerequisite for taking graduate courses.
2. Get a master’s degree
Master’s programs last about two years, and the course may focus on a specific topic through classroom study, research, and lectures. Here are other expectations to consider when pursuing a master’s degree:
Thesis Completion: Many programs require rigorous advisor-led thesis research and the presentation of a well-written thesis argument that includes fieldwork or research seminars. The topic and quality of your work may influence doctoral programs or subsequent work.
Working as a Teaching Assistant (TA): Working as a TA while earning a master’s degree gives you direct experience teaching at the undergraduate level and can count as experience on your resume when applying for a professorship. Working as a TA is also often a necessary part of the transition to a doctoral degree program.
Approved Internship: Participating in an internship can help you expand your skills and knowledge in a hands-on environment and add experience to your CV or resume.
3. Get a Ph.D
Earning a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) degree can take 3–5 years and requires choosing a topic or regional specialization, such as 20th century, medieval or military history, or Latin American or Asian studies. Becoming a history professor at colleges and universities often requires a Ph.D. Here are other expectations for earning a doctorate:
Foreign Language and Exam Requirements: Doctoral students in certain concentrations must pass several foreign language exams, which usually involve translating a text from one language into English within a set time limit.
Continuing Teaching Assistantship: In-demand PhD-level TA work for a semester or longer may provide scholarships and bursaries to help with the cost of your PhD.
Completion of the dissertation: The doctoral student must complete a dissertation on a topic related to his field of study. This may require significant specialist research, writing and delivery of findings, with the final step being the defense of your PhD dissertation in front of a committee.
4. Gain experience
Being hired as a history professor often requires prior experience, which may include former high school and college social studies or history teachers, semesters spent as a teaching assistant in graduate school, or joining a departmental team as an assistant, associate, or assistant professor. Here are the required educational standards for teaching history at these three levels:
- Secondary and Higher Education: Bachelor’s degree
- Community Colleges: Master’s degree
- Four-year colleges and universities: doctorate (PhD)
Having real-world experience is also important when gaining experience to become a history professor, and many institutions expect you to have a work history in the field you want to teach. This could come from internships, lectures or research, or belonging to historical societies and associations, all of which are also great networking opportunities.
5. Get published
Published research papers are important to becoming a history professor, and you can start as early as your master’s degree. Published work can help you gain admission to a doctoral program or a job offer, and the quality and quantity of publications can influence your career as a history professor.
6. Get possession
Securing tenure as a history professor offers freedom, stability, and expertise, and can lead to a higher salary. Tenure is a manifestation of a permanent relationship between an employer and an employee, especially a commitment after you have proven your worth or worked for a long time in the institution. Tenure has many benefits and is important to the success of college professors.
7. Develop your career
Many history professors continue their careers after obtaining tenure. For example, a history professor could become a department chair or dean at a college or university. Continuing to network with others in academia can lead to greater opportunities and advancement as a history professor.
History Professor Skills
Here are some skills that can help you become a successful history professor:
Being able to research topics and write clearly when publishing your academic work can help you advance in your career.
Strong public speaking skills can be key to lecturing, speaking, interviewing or consulting.
Interpersonal skills allow you to adapt to different student learning styles, encourage critical thinking and discussion, and work with colleagues and students from different cultures.
Technology skills can be valuable for keeping in touch with students, using computer systems to tally grades and assignments, or as part of teaching materials and methods.
Organizational and Time Management: Time management and organization are key traits that a professor should have in order to stay coordinated with class schedules, semester planning, grading student work, and handling professional writing and publication deadlines.