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What does a History Professor do?

Mary McMahon
Updated Mar 02, 2024
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A history professor is a teacher who provides instruction in history at the college or university level. These education professionals usually hold at least a master's degree in history, and may have completed doctorate and post doctorate work, depending on where they teach. Like other faculty members, history professors usually have responsibilities outside the classroom which can vary depending on seniority and institution.

Instruction in history is often required for students, with students being expected to complete some history classes as part of their education so that they are well rounded and they understand historical context. History professors can teach broad overview classes covering topics like national and international history, and they can also focus on specific topics of historical interest. For example, a history professor might be interested in teaching about the history of science, the history of a particular region within a specific time period, and so forth. They may also lead small courses and seminars such as seminars for history majors.

In the classroom, history professors engage with their students to get them thinking about historical topics and applying knowledge. A history professor is also usually expected to maintain office hours so that students can approach the professor with questions if they need assistance or want some additional direction. Professors also prepare course syllabi and book lists, and they may handle the grading of papers and tests, or delegate these responsibilities to a teaching assistant, usually a graduate student.

Colleges usually expect their professors to be involved on an administrative level. A history professor may need to attend department meetings and other events to be involved in the administration of the department, and colleges often encourage their professors to be active in the community, as well. Consequently, professors may give talks which are open to the public, coordinate lecture series, and be involved in other community activities. They can also run for offices in the Faculty Senate and be otherwise engaged with administration to keep the institution lively and timely.

On the university level and in some colleges, in addition to teaching, a history professor must also engage in professional development. This includes attending conferences, conducting original research, and publishing. Failure to publish can result in denial of tenure, and while tenured professors are generally safe in terms of being able to keep their jobs, they tend to publish and stay active in academia for the purpose of obtaining grants, adding prestige to their institutions, and attracting new students.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a Practical Adult Insights researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By irontoenail — On Jul 24, 2011

I've always wanted to be an art history professor. I know it sounds like the kind of thing that you do if you don't manage to become an artist yourself, but I've never actually wanted to be an artist.

I just love other people's art though, I love the culture and history surrounding it. I guess I love the stories, as well as the beauty of it.

And it would be wonderful to share that with students.

I'm going to try and get a Masters degree in art history first because I just love studying it myself, but after that I'm going to try and teach at a high school and hopefully inspire the next generation.

By croydon — On Jul 24, 2011

I had a problem with a history professor once. I was getting the top marks in class if we had multiple choice tests, because they are completely objective.

But, if we had to write an essay, she failed me every time. I guess, what it came down to, was that we had different views on how some eras of history should be remembered.

That's the thing about history. People almost always teach it as though it is just fact, but the "facts" depend on who is doing the teaching.

I personally think the better way to do it is to put in the bare facts and then show different viewpoints and let the students decide for themselves.

Thank goodness our final marks were calculated from a test she didn't mark. I came in top in the class.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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