Past Graduates with a BA in History: Where are They Now?

To help history students adapt to the changing job market, the AHA has begun a new series on searching for jobs and developing careers. In this post, AHA’s Elizabeth Elliott checked in with her fellow Gettysburg College history graduates to see what careers they have pursued.

Two years ago, I graduated with a BA in history from Gettysburg College in Pennsylvania. History is one of the college’s 10 most popular majors, in part because of the campus’s close proximity to a major historical site, Gettysburg National Military Park. During my time as a student, I came to know individuals who passionately wanted to devote their lives to academic or public history, as well as those who enjoyed the subject but had no plans to pursue it professionally.

For my purposes, Gettysburg was an ideal starting point for gathering information about how recent graduates approach the job market. I collected data on the current employment of 54 history majors in my graduating class and categorized them according to their field of work. A summary of the data follows:

  • 31% are currently enrolled in or have just completed graduate programs. The most popular fields are public history, law, and archival studies.
  • 11% work at museums and other nonprofit institutions in positions related to membership, development, and education
  • 9% work in business and finance at banks and investment companies
  • 7% serve in the military
  • 7% teach at the primary or secondary level
  • 6% work in local or federal government positions
  • 9% could not be located

The remaining 20% are employed in numerous other fields, such as communications, technology, public health, and higher education administration.

John Nelson shows a donor the Stuckenberg Map Collection in Gettysburg College’s Special Collections.

John Nelson shows a donor the Stuckenberg Map Collection in Gettysburg College’s Special Collections.

I also discovered that many of my classmates are still able to “practice” history in their careers, even if they are employed in an unrelated field or have not yet pursued graduate work. John Nelson, for example, is a 2013 graduate who is finishing up a two-year appointment as assistant director of annual giving at Gettysburg. In his position, Nelson helps advise the senior class, solicit alumni donors, and manage on-campus fundraising events. He uses his background in history to work directly with donors interested in the subject and history-focused fundraising projects. Last semester, Nelson even had the opportunity to help as an administrator-partner with a first-year history seminar called Soldier’s Memoirs, War, and Trauma.

Another former classmate, Joshua Poorman, is a research and administrative assistant for the Eisenhower Memorial Commission in Washington, DC. Poorman works with fundraising to creatively link the former president’s legacy with potential donors, often finding common historic or symbolic ground. He also conducts pertinent research on both Eisenhower’s legacy and the DC memorial landscape, and talks with the students and veterans through the commission’s outreach program. “The best part of my job,” says Poorman, “is being able to promote applied history through the memorial.”

Without diminishing the importance of internships and networking, the Gettysburg data gives evidence that many different kinds of employers hire history majors and view historical thinking as a valuable job skill. While graduate school is a popular path for Gettysburg history students, those who entered the workforce directly have not strayed far from their roots. Future surveys of other undergraduate history departments can give us a more complete picture of the many paths of history BAs.

Previous Post: Career Planning as an Undergraduate in History

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