What Skills Do I Need to Succeed in the Study of History?

If you’re wondering whether a major in history is right for you, then you should consider what skills you need to succeed in the study of history. Some of the most important and versatile skills historians and history majors need are the ones you don’t learn in graduate school, according to the American Historical Association (AHA).

Communication and Collaboration

Two of the most important skills you need to succeed in the study of history are communication and collaboration. After all, what good is historical research without communication? You could make a ground-breaking discovery that changes everything we think we know about an important event of the past, but unless you have the ability to share your findings – to communicate – your findings mean nothing.

Whether working in academia or out in the real world, historians need to be capable of communicating effectively. They should cultivate skills in:

  • writing
  • public speaking
  • lecturing
  • leading discussions
  • giving presentations

It’s also important for historians to learn to communicate with different audiences, like fellow academics and the general public visiting museums and historical sites.

Part of what makes communicating back and forth with various audiences so important is the need for collaboration. Strong communication skills are essential to successfully working with others, particularly on an ongoing basis to achieve long-term research goals. It’s especially important for historians to be able to collaborate with an audience of people who don’t necessarily have a similar worldview, the AHA reported.


When it comes to literacy, there are two skills you need to succeed in the study of history.

Quantitative literacy refers to your ability to understand and express numerical data. History fits more under categories such as social science and humanities than natural or physical science. But it’s still important that historians are comfortable interpreting numerical data. For example, many historical artifacts, like census data and business records, are largely quantitative in nature. Historians should also be comfortable using numbers to express their findings and interpretations through means such as graphs and charts, according to the AHA.

Digital literacy is another of the skills you need to succeed in the study of history. Though your objective may be researching the past, you need to have at least a basic familiarity with modern digital tools and platforms so you can perform that research and share your findings. With technology evolving so quickly, historians can’t afford to be unfamiliar with such basic digital tools as online searches, digital library catalogs and social media platforms, the AHA reported.

Intellectual Self-Confidence

To make discoveries no other historian has made, you need intellectual self-confidence. The AHA defines this as the “ability to work beyond subject matter expertise.” Intellectually self-confident historians are creative and flexible enough to overcome academic limits and branch out in their research inquiries.

For historians, success isn’t all about your knowledge of past events – or even your research abilities. By developing these skills you need to succeed in the study of history, you can improve your career opportunities and the quality of our work in any environment.

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Brenda Rufener

Julie McCaulley

Carrie Sealey-Morris