Cover Photo Image



The History major is offered by a department within the College of Arts & Letters.

Admission and Progression Standards

Visit the Major Snapshots site to learn more about the admission and progression standards of this major.

Description of Major

History is offered as a major and minor at JMU. The Department of History is designed for students whose primary academic interest is history as a humanity or social science. The concentration in Public History prepares graduates to work in settings that serve a public audience, such as museums, archives, government agencies, libraries, historic preservation organizations, and historic sites. Students interested in this concentration should contact Dr. Gabrielle Lanier at 540-568-3615 or

History is also one of the primary majors for those who want to teach social studies at the high school level. Students preparing to teach should contact Dr. David Dillard at 540-568-3757 or Or Dr. Alison Sandman at 540-568-6182 or

The program provides a broad background for careers in business, nonprofit, industry, and government as well as thorough preparation for teaching, law, medicine, or other professions. Majors will have an understanding of the past, its relationship to the present, and the process of social change. Graduates will have developed an understanding of the historical process and have become acquainted with the fundamental tools of historical investigation and research. They will be able to think and read critically and objectively, and to express themselves in a clear, creative manner. Further, they will be familiar with the latest technological applications that influence the discipline. The study of history will develop a deeper understanding of economic and geographic concepts and of the interconnected nature of different times, places, societies, and cultures. History enhances the student’s self-awareness, provide a basis for appreciating other fields and disciplines, and prepares the individual for a richer and more meaningful life. The Department of History also offers and supports interdisciplinary minors in Africana Studies, American Studies, Asian Studies, Classical Studies, Environmental Humanities, Family Studies, Historical Archaeology, Interdisciplinary Social Science, Latin American and Caribbean Studies, Middle Eastern Communities and Migrations, Modern European Studies, Russian Studies, Science, Technology, and Society, and Women’s and Gender Studies.

More About the Field 

“The study of history is not designed simply to teach us quaint and interesting facts about the past, or even to explain how our present world emerged from its murky origins in other times or places. It is a useful subject in ways that students may not always anticipate, but which employers often understand, and which alumni can explain best. There is no single path that carries history undergraduates directly to one chosen career, but many ways in which skills learned in the study of the past can be translated into the enterprises of the present. History always involves asking how we can make sense of complex situations in which the relation between origins and results, intentions and consequences, is not immediately evident, and in which we have to search near and far for the answers to our questions. That kind of openness to research and awareness of the complexity of events is exactly what decision-making in business, government, law, journalism, and other fields often requires. History is also very much about the use of language—whether we are writing our own or reading others’—and skills of intelligent reading and lucid writing remain in demand throughout our society. Historians have to learn how to write narratives that others can follow; they not only have to know why something happened, but to be able to describe it plainly and clearly. And they have to read critically, not only to follow arguments but to measure the distance between the purposes of an author and the meaning of his text. History also teaches graduates to better understand and cope with ambiguity.”
Jack Rakove, William Robertson Coe: Professors of History and American Studies, Stanford University


Historians research and analyze evidence from the past. Historians may specialize in a specific country or region; in a particular period; or in a particular field, such as social, intellectual, political, or diplomatic history. Biographers collect detailed information on individuals. Genealogists trace family histories. Historians today also practice their discipline in a variety of careers, as well as in more traditional settings. Those historians who work in museums, archives, government agencies, historic preservation, businesses, contract history firms, cultural resource management firms, and historic sites are known as public historians because they use their skills as historians to serve a public audience.

Complementary Majors and Minors 

History easily combines as a second major or a minor with most disciplines. Some recent minors and majors students have combined with history include: Africana Studies, American Studies, Anthropology, Art History, Asian Studies, Communication Studies, Conflict Analysis and Intervention, Criminal Justice, Cultural Communication, Economics, English, Environmental Studies, Geographic Science, Middle Eastern Communities and Migrations, Global Religions and Global Issues, Health Sciences, Historical Archaeology, Human Resource Development, Humanitarian Affairs, International Affairs, International Business, Justice Studies, Latin American and Caribbean Studies, Management, Marketing, Modern Foreign Languages, Political Communication, Political Science, Public Policy and Administration, Russian Studies, The Natural Sciences, Sociology, Studio Art, Urban and Regional Studies, Women’s and Gender Studies, or Writing, Rhetoric and Technical Communication.

Characteristics of Successful Students

Students enrolled in the History Program develop strong research, writing, analytical, computer and oral communication skills. They develop abilities to solve problems and do independent research. In addition, they are able to see problems in perspective.


Many graduates choose typical career paths associated with this major. However, some graduates choose unrelated careers that utilize skills and experiences developed during their years in college. Keep in mind that some fields will require graduate study or further training. The listing below offers examples of possible career paths and is not meant to be comprehensive.

  • Academic Counselor
  • Advocate
  • Archivist
  • Art Historian
  • Biographer
  • Business Executive
  • Citizen Outreach Director
  • Community Relations Director
  • Consultant
  • Consumer Advocate
  • Corporate Counsel
  • Credit Analyst
  • Cultural Affairs Director
  • Economist
  • Editor
  • Employment Consultant
  • FBI/CIA Agent
  • Film/Television/Media Historian
  • Financial Services Specialist
  • Foreign Service Officer
  • Genealogist
  • Government Official
  • Health Service Manager
  • Historian
  • Historical Archaeologist
  • Historic Preservation Specialist
  • History Teacher 
  • Investigator
  • Lawyer
  • Legal/ Litigation Assistant
  • Legislative Assistant
  • Librarian
  • Lobbyist
  • Management Trainee
  • Market Researcher
  • Museum Curator
  • Museum Interpreter
  • News Reporter
  • Paralegal
  • Physician
  • Police Officer
  • Professor
  • Public Administrator
  • Public Affairs Director
  • Public Relations Specialist
  • Publishing Assistant
  • Recruitment Officer
  • Regulatory Analyst
  • Researcher
  • Supervisor of Historic Sites
  • Technical Writer
  • Television Consultant
  • Wellness Coordinator

Who Employs Graduates?

Archives, Art Galleries, Banks, Book Publishers, Colleges/Universities, Corporations , Federal Government Agencies, (i.e. FBI, CIA, and National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency), State/Local Government Agencies, Financial Services Companies, Historical Associations and Societies, Historic Preservation Offices, Insurance Firms, Intelligence/Security Agencies, Law Firms, Libraries, Magazine Publishers, Market Research Firms, Museums, Newspapers, Non-Profit Organizations, Private Foundations, Public/Private Schools, Public/Private Research Institutions, Religious Organizations, TV/Cable/Motion Picture Companies, and Travel and Tourism Companies.

Internships and Experiential Opportunities 

Practica, internships, and other forms of individual study are available to all students who are both interested and qualified. Students are encouraged to submit their research projects to regional and national competitions. Others regularly participate in programs sponsored by Phi Alpha Theta, Madison Historians, and The National Conference on Undergraduate Research (NCUR). Students should contact faculty coordinators in their areas of interest to gain further information. History students have gained practical experience in a wide variety of settings ranging from museums, archives, and preservation organizations to publishing and historical research firms. Students should also consult the information on History Department Internships, and contact Dr. Kevin Borg, Internship Coordinator at 540-568-5761 or

View our list of  internship coordinators for each major.

Career Profiles 

Anthropologists and Archeologist
Curators, Museum Technicians, and Conservators
High School Teachers
Kindergarten and Elementary School Teachers
Middle School Teachers
Reporters, Correspondents, and Broadcast News Analysts

Research Careers

Visit our Career Outcomes page to find out what alumni were doing right after graduating with this major.


Log in to Vault for access to detailed information on over 900 professions including employment prospects, estimated salaries, possible job titles, and top companies.


Visit our Research Careers page for even more career research tools.



© Career and Academic Planning, James Madison University,

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced in any form without permission from JMU Career and Academic Planning. Content for each major has been written/reviewed by faculty in the respective department and is revised each year. Requests to update content can be submitted to

Back to Top