How to Get a Job in History and Why you Should NOT Work for Free

How to Get a Job in History and Why you Should NOT Work for Free

I have been a historian since I remember myself and I always managed to make money out of my chosen profession/ love/ hobby/ purpose in life. I have not always been working at a University as most people would expect. In fact, I started my long history career as an assistant in a Kebap House (go figure!) at the tender age of seventeen. I have learned a lot in that Kebap House about History. I listened to the odd conversation about illegal excavations, I got interested in the gossip about the archaeological ‘exploits’ of the new tourist group that arrived, I became enchanted with stories of the past history of the place. None should diminish the significance of informal education, the learning you do not have to pay for and can be invaluable in your future working life. And yet, we all seem to discount it and, in the best of the cases, to ignore it. In the end, I decided to get some formal education in the filed; so, I got a BA in Archaeology and History of Art from the University of Athens, and then I got a PhD in History from University College London.

In my quest to become the best historian I could be, I travelled in several different countries, I took jobs in several different universities and I created strong networks with several different historians. I published monographs, edited books, peer reviewed articles, online articles, translations… Name it, I published it! During this process I have never forgotten my grandfather’s advice and the main lesson I received from a very young age: DO NOT WORK FOR FREE. In fact, I walked out of more than one ‘jobs’ that were not going to pay for all the effort I put into them. The payment does not have to be in the form of money (coined or otherwise). It could be a long list of networking contacts, or further knowledge on a topic, or the possibility of undertaking a very large paid project. In all cases, though, you should make certain from the beginning that the monetary results will be forthcoming and that you will not be working on empty promises.

I know that what I am saying may sound radical to most ears. We are used to hearing that knowledge is a right and that it should be free for all. World renowned bloggers are getting their content out there for free all the time. Universities, supposedly, are serving the needs of the public by publishing their results, again, for free. The list can go on for ever. In an ideal world this would be true but in actual fact nothing is free. You will always pay in one way or another for what you get. So, should you not get paid in the process? In the real world, there is a number of ways to monetise knowledge, especially History knowledge.

Take as an example Universities. They are currently charging an enormous amount of money to disseminate knowledge to the public. They may organise the odd Free Conference and they may organise the odd Free Lecture but their aim is to attract more students/ customers. In addition, generous grants from national governments and federal states supplement this income. In order to cut down teaching costs departments are using low-cost labour (PhD students or recent Postdocs) to deliver the seminars. Every decision taken behind University doors aims at the monetisation of knowledge. Similarly, bloggers, public historians and other well known figures disseminate some of their knowledge for free but the public still has to pay for premium material, whether in the form of ebooks (hint!), videos, lectures, BBC appearances, advertisement contracts, affiliate marketing etc. The list can go on for ever!

So, you spent three years of your life and several thousand pounds/ dollars/ euros to get a degree in History. How can you benefit financially from your investment? How do successful historians, like me, benefit from the dissemination of their knowledge?

In the next few posts, I will try to give a few examples of what jobs you can do with a History degree.

Economic historian and numismatic consultant

Leave a Reply