Historians As Communicators
Today, as the means of communication multiply, the opportunities for the involvement of historians in communicating interpretations of the past also multiply. Historians can thus become writers; editors; or producers of multimedia material such as CD-ROMS, television programs, and web sites.
Historians do a great deal of writing, but for some, writing is the primary responsibility. Historians often write for a variety of publications, including scholarly monographs; scripts for slide shows, films, and television shows; 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 for television series and movies. The training a history major receives during the undergraduate program should be good preparation for most of these tasks.
Historians can become editors rather than writers. Editors work for scholarly publishers, historical societies, journals, magazines, and trade publishers. A number of book editors were history majors in college; many have graduate degrees in the field. Editors must have very strong verbal and organizational skills, be able to pay attention to detail, and must be able to deal tactfully and persuasively with authors.
Entry-level jobs are open to college graduates without special training in publishing, but those with coursework in editing and publishing are more likely to be hired. Those who wish to edit elementary or secondary school textbooks generally need to have had some experience teaching at the relevant level.
Research skills gained through training in history also provide a useful background for print, broadcast, or Internet journalism. Although historical subjects are not always the primary topics of research for journalists, the ability to use a variety of sources, to understand the necessity of verification, to think analytically, and to write clearly, is as important in journalism as in history. These skills are useful not only for those interested in investigative reporting and feature writing, but also for advertising and public relations professionals.
As with many other occupations, however, a history background is usually not enough. Anyone with an interest in journalism should gain experience by working for the student newspaper or radio or television station while in college. Writing and editing for these media are the best ways to learn. This can be supplemented by additional course work in print or broadcast journalism.
Documentary editors locate documents related to a particular individual, agency, or movement; determine which documents are legitimate through the use of internal and external criticism and date them if needed; organize the documents in a logical order; transcribe them; and prepare appropriate annotations.
Although careers for historians in the field of television and cinema production may be limited--despite the emergence of new cable television channels such as the History Channel and the proliferation of historical films--more opportunities are becoming available in the rapidly burgeoning field of history-related web site creation and production of CD-ROMS. Here, a combination of historical training and knowledge of new technologies for dissemination of information will be especially valuable.