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Careers in history: how studying the past can change your future

Studying history as part of your university degree will lead to more than just a piece of paper. It can be a passport to a wide array of experiences and modern careers you may not have considered – or which might not even exist yet.

Whether you’re studying the Holocaust, the Spanish flu, the Cold War, African-American history or Australia’s involvement in the world wars, learning more about history helps you see the world through a new dimension, Deakin’s Associate Professor Tony Joel says.

‘It’s not that we’re stuck in the past – it’s not like you’re just learning about what has happened previously in history and you leave it there,’ he says. ‘It is very much that sense of equipping yourself with broader historical knowledge and understanding of the background context surrounding contemporary events, which you can then apply in the real world.’

Jobs involving history

Students who study history, often as part of a Bachelor of Arts, aren’t bound for a specific career in the same way as, say, an accounting or nursing student, Assoc. Prof. Joel says.

We’re not training our students just to head down a specific career path; rather we’re opening up the world to them.’

The most obvious career path a graduate who has majored in history might take is to become a historian, including as an academic or an educator working in a university. Historians could also become consultants on films, or dabble in freelance writing and pen features on past events.

‘There are other really popular career paths like archival work – in places such as museums or libraries or various archives – and all sorts of research positions,’ Assoc. Prof. Joel says.

Other careers in history

He says there are also opportunities to become a policy analyst or advisor, or work in media or communications. There’s cultural heritage work, often in an Indigenous context. Or graduates could look after the heritage listings of historic buildings. Then there’s the sports industry, humanitarian work, jobs in tourism and careers in all sorts of government departments, where historians are valued for their research skills.

'We’re not training our students just to head down a specific career path; rather we’re opening up the world to them.'

Associate Professor Tony Joel,
Faculty of Arts and Education, Deakin University

From tour guide to high school teacher

Dave Hardman had loved history since he was a kid, but after moving to Berlin in 2015, where he met his future wife, he decided to pursue it more seriously. First, he became a tour guide based in the German capital, leading historical tours in English.

‘While I was doing tour guiding, it was maybe a year or two years into that I thought – well if I like it so much I may as well study it.’

So Dave enrolled in a Bachelor of Arts majoring in history, studied wholly online with Deakin. He’s now almost completed his Honours, and in late July, moved back to Melbourne with his German wife, after his tours dried up due to the pandemic.

In a change of tack, Dave is now set to become a high school history teacher, after being accepted into the Teach for Australia Leadership Development Program.

‘From my own memory of high school, my favourite teachers were history teachers and they got me excited about it. So I’m just hoping that I can do the same for some young people.’

Dave says studying history has opened his mind and sharpened his lateral and critical thinking.

From bushfire response, to budget strategy and the G20

For Lisa Couacaud, studying history at Deakin – first as part of a Bachelor of Arts, then an Honours in history and a PhD – has taken her down some unexpected career paths.

Her initial goal was to be a history teacher, but she instead decided to complete her PhD as a pathway to academia. But Lisa says the financial insecurity that often accompanies early career academic life wasn’t viable for her, so she instead took on a role as a prospect research officer at the Australian National University, helping to secure philanthropic support.

For the past two years, she has worked at the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment (DAWE) in areas including strategic policy, budget strategy, bushfire response and multilateral economics.

‘Primarily my work involves strategic thinking and planning, delivering on high-profile work under critical timeframes, building strong and productive working relationships with internal and external stakeholders, preparing high-quality briefing for DAWE Executive and our Ministers, and drafting reports and new policy proposals.’

Why study history?

For Lisa, and others with inquiring minds, studying history can lead to career paths that are anything but dull.

‘I genuinely don’t understand people who say history is boring. Have they heard of the world wars? Or the ancient Egyptians? The Industrial Revolution, the French Revolution?’ she says.

‘History does and always will influence our present and there are so many eras and areas to explore.’

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Associate Professor Tony Joel
Associate Professor Tony Joel

Associate Professor of History, Faculty of Arts and Education, Deakin University

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