Historian – Definition, Types, Work Area




Historian is a person who studies and writes about the past, with an emphasis on interpreting and understanding historical events, processes, and phenomena. Historians use a wide range of sources, such as written documents, oral histories, artifacts, and archaeological evidence, to reconstruct and analyze the past.

Their work often involves researching and analyzing primary sources, evaluating conflicting evidence, and developing arguments and theories about historical events and trends. Historians play a crucial role in helping us understand the complex social, political, economic, and cultural forces that have shaped human societies over time.

Types of Historian

Types of Historian are as follows:

  • Academic Historians: These are historians who work in universities or other academic institutions. They conduct research, write scholarly articles and books, and teach courses in history. Academic historians often specialize in a particular area or time period of history.
  • Public Historians: These are historians who work outside of academia and are focused on making history accessible to the public. They may work in museums, historical societies, or government agencies, and their work may involve creating exhibits, leading tours, or conducting public lectures.
  • Social Historians: These are historians who study the lives of ordinary people, focusing on issues such as class, gender, race, and ethnicity. They are interested in the social, cultural, and economic forces that shape society and how they have changed over time.
  • Political Historians: These are historians who focus on political events and movements, such as wars, revolutions, and political leaders. They analyze the motivations, decisions, and actions of political actors and how they have affected society and the world.
  • Economic Historians: These are historians who study economic systems and how they have evolved over time. They are interested in issues such as trade, capitalism, and economic growth, and how these factors have influenced historical events.
  • Environmental Historians: These are historians who study the interactions between humans and the natural environment. They are interested in issues such as climate change, deforestation, and pollution, and how these factors have affected historical events and societies.
  • Oral Historians: These are historians who specialize in collecting and analyzing oral histories, or first-person accounts of historical events from people who experienced them. They use interviews and other oral sources to build a more complete picture of history from the perspective of those who lived it.
  • Cultural Historians: These are historians who focus on the study of culture, including art, literature, music, religion, and other forms of expression. They analyze how cultural values and beliefs have influenced historical events and how these forms of expression have changed over time.
  • Military Historians: These are historians who specialize in the study of warfare and military history. They examine the strategies, tactics, and technology used in different historical conflicts and how they have influenced the outcome of wars and the development of military technology.
  • Intellectual Historians: These are historians who focus on the study of ideas and the intellectual history of societies. They analyze the evolution of ideas and theories in different fields such as philosophy, science, and politics, and how these ideas have shaped historical events.
  • Gender Historians: These are historians who focus on the study of gender roles and identities throughout history. They analyze how gender has influenced historical events and how ideas about gender have changed over time.
  • Digital Historians: These are historians who use digital tools and methods to research and analyze historical data. They may use data visualization, computational analysis, or other digital techniques to uncover new insights and patterns in historical data.
  • Public Memory Historians: These are historians who focus on how societies remember and commemorate historical events. They analyze the ways in which different groups remember and interpret events, and how these memories influence contemporary politics and social issues.
  • Global Historians: These are historians who focus on the interconnectedness of world events and how different regions and societies have influenced each other over time. They are interested in global processes such as imperialism, colonization, migration, and globalization and how these processes have shaped historical events.
  • Environmental Historians: These are historians who study the relationships between humans and the natural world throughout history. They are interested in how natural resources have been used, how humans have impacted the environment, and how environmental factors have influenced historical events.
  • Legal Historians: These are historians who specialize in the study of law and legal systems throughout history. They analyze how legal systems have evolved over time and how legal decisions have impacted social and political developments.
  • Archaeologists: These are historians who study past societies through material remains such as artifacts, structures, and landscapes. They use methods such as excavation, analysis of artifacts, and remote sensing to reconstruct the lives and activities of past societies.
  • Religious Historians: These are historians who focus on the study of religion throughout history. They analyze how different religious traditions have influenced historical events and how religious beliefs and practices have changed over time.
  • Oral Tradition Historians: These are historians who specialize in the study of oral traditions and folklore. They analyze how stories, legends, and myths have been transmitted over time and how they reflect the beliefs and values of different societies.
  • Medical Historians: These are historians who focus on the study of medicine and health throughout history. They analyze the development of medical practices and how they have been influenced by social, cultural, and political factors. They also examine the impact of disease and public health issues on historical events and societies.

Historian Examples

There are many examples of historians who have made significant contributions to the study and understanding of history. Here are just a few examples:

  • Herodotus (c. 484 – 425 BCE): Known as the “Father of History,” Herodotus was an ancient Greek historian who wrote a comprehensive account of the Greco-Persian Wars.
  • Thucydides (c. 460 – 400 BCE): Another ancient Greek historian, Thucydides wrote the History of the Peloponnesian War, a detailed account of the conflict between Athens and Sparta.
  • Ibn Khaldun (1332 – 1406 CE): A Muslim historian and philosopher from North Africa, Ibn Khaldun wrote the Muqaddimah, an influential work on the philosophy of history.
  • William Shakespeare (1564 – 1616 CE): Although primarily known as a playwright, Shakespeare was also a historian who used historical events and figures as the basis for many of his plays.
  • Edward Gibbon (1737 – 1794 CE): An English historian, Gibbon wrote The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, a comprehensive account of the fall of the Roman Empire.
  • Fernand Braudel (1902 – 1985 CE): A French historian, Braudel was a pioneer in the field of world history and wrote extensively on the economic, social, and cultural forces that have shaped human history.
  • Howard Zinn (1922 – 2010 CE): An American historian and social activist, Zinn wrote A People’s History of the United States, which focused on the experiences of ordinary people throughout American history.
  • Yuval Noah Harari (born 1976 CE): An Israeli historian, Harari is known for his best-selling books Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind and Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow, which explore the history and future of humanity.

What Do Historians Do?

Here are some of the specific activities that historians engage in:

  • Research: Historians spend a great deal of time conducting research on the events, people, and cultures they are interested in. They collect and analyze primary sources such as letters, diaries, newspapers, government documents, and other written materials.
  • Interpretation: Once historians have gathered information, they interpret and analyze it to create a narrative or explanation of the past. They try to make sense of the information they have gathered and create a coherent story that explains why certain events happened and what their significance was.
  • Writing: Historians write books, articles, and other works that present their research and interpretation of the past. They use their writing to communicate their findings to other scholars and to the general public.
  • Teaching: Many historians also teach at colleges and universities, where they share their knowledge and expertise with students.
  • Preservation: Historians work to preserve and protect historical artifacts and sites. They may work with museums, archives, and historical societies to ensure that important historical documents and objects are properly cared for and made available to the public.
  • Consulting: Historians may also be called upon to provide their expertise in legal cases or government policy decisions that involve historical issues.

What Skills Must a Historian Have?

Historians require a broad range of skills and abilities to excel in their profession. Some of the key skills that historians need include:

  • Research skills: Historians must have strong research skills to identify, locate, and analyze relevant historical sources.
  • Critical thinking skills: Historians must be able to evaluate historical evidence critically, discerning the strengths and weaknesses of different sources, and identifying biases and inaccuracies.
  • Analytical skills: Historians must be able to analyze complex historical data and events, discern patterns and trends, and draw meaningful conclusions.
  • Communication skills: Historians must be able to communicate their findings effectively, both verbally and in writing. This includes being able to craft clear and concise arguments, present data in a compelling way, and write engaging narratives.
  • Language skills: Historians may need to be proficient in multiple languages to be able to read and interpret historical sources from different regions and time periods.
  • Technological skills: Historians must be able to use technology to facilitate research, analysis, and communication. This includes being proficient in digital research tools and methods, as well as using software for data analysis and visualization.
  • Interdisciplinary knowledge: Historians must have a broad understanding of multiple disciplines, including economics, political science, sociology, and anthropology, to contextualize historical events and draw meaningful conclusions.

Where Historians Work

Historians work in a variety of settings, including:

  • Universities and colleges: Many historians work in academic institutions, teaching courses on history, conducting research, and publishing scholarly works.
  • Museums and archives: Historians may work in museums or archives, where they manage collections of historical artifacts, documents, and other materials, and conduct research on these collections.
  • Government agencies: Historians may work for government agencies, such as the National Park Service or the Smithsonian Institution, conducting research and providing historical expertise for public programs and exhibits.
  • Non-profit organizations: Historians may work for non-profit organizations, such as historical societies or preservation groups, where they conduct research, provide historical expertise, and advocate for the preservation of historical sites and artifacts.
  • Private companies: Some historians may work for private companies, such as consulting firms or media outlets, where they provide historical expertise and research for various projects.
  • Freelance: Some historians work as freelance writers, researchers, or consultants, providing historical expertise for a variety of clients and projects.

How to Become A Historian

To become a historian, you typically need to follow these steps:

  • Obtain a bachelor’s degree: Most historians have a bachelor’s degree in history or a related field. You can also major in a related discipline, such as anthropology, archaeology, or political science, but you will likely need to take several history courses to build a solid foundation in the subject.
  • Consider a graduate degree: While a bachelor’s degree is sufficient for some entry-level jobs, most historians have a graduate degree in history or a related field. A master’s degree can provide a more in-depth education in historical research and analysis, while a Ph.D. can lead to academic and research positions.
  • Gain experience: While in school, try to gain experience through internships, research assistantships, or volunteer work at museums, archives, or historical societies. This can help you build practical skills and make connections in the field.
  • Develop specialized expertise: As you progress in your education and career, consider developing specialized expertise in a particular area of history, such as a specific time period, region, or theme. This can help you stand out in a competitive job market and may lead to more specialized positions.
  • Network: Attend conferences and events in the field to meet other historians, build relationships, and learn about job opportunities. You can also join professional organizations such as the American Historical Association or the Organization of American Historians to connect with other professionals in the field.
  • Apply for jobs: Once you have completed your education and gained experience, start applying for jobs in your area of interest. Look for positions in academia, museums, government agencies, non-profit organizations, and private companies that require historical expertise.

Famous Historians in History

HistorianEraNotable Works
Herodotus5th century BCE“The Histories”
Thucydides5th century BCE“The History of the Peloponnesian War”
Sima Qian2nd century BCE“Records of the Grand Historian”
Tacitus1st century CE“Annals” and “Histories”
Ibn Khaldun14th century CE“Muqaddimah”
Edward Gibbon18th century CE“The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire”
Leopold von Ranke19th century CE“History of the Latin and Teutonic Nations”
Frederick Jackson Turner19th century CE“The Significance of the Frontier in American History”
Arnold J. Toynbee20th century CE“A Study of History”
Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr.20th century CE“The Age of Jackson” and “A Thousand Days: John F. Kennedy in the White House”
E.H. Carr20th century CE“The Twenty Years’ Crisis” and “What is History?”
Barbara Tuchman20th century CE“The Guns of August” and “A Distant Mirror”
Howard Zinn20th century CE“A People’s History of the United States”
Eric Hobsbawm20th century CE“The Age of Revolution” and “The Age of Capital”
Simon Schama20th-21st century CE“Citizens: A Chronicle of the French Revolution” and “A History of Britain”
Jared Diamond21st century CE“Guns, Germs, and Steel” and “Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed”
Niall Ferguson21st century CE“The Ascent of Money” and “Empire: How Britain Made the Modern World”
Mary Beard21st century CE“SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome” and “Women & Power: A Manifesto”
Yuval Noah Harari21st century CE“Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind” and “Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow”
Jill Lepore21st century CE“These Truths: A History of the United States” and “If Then: How the Simulmatics Corporation Invented the Future”

About the author

Muhammad Hassan

Researcher, Academic Writer, Web developer

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