There is more to archaeology than just excavating and collecting data from sites. Archaeological data needs to be placed into its proper historical context for it to have any meaning at all.
The consultation of written records, if relevant ones exist for a particular project, is an integral phase of archaeological research.
Although many archaeologists conduct their own historical research, historians can sometimes find work in researching written documents for archaeological projects. This type of job is obviously not necessarily relevant for prehistoric archaeological research, such that related to societies in the Americas prior to the sixteenth century. The consultation of written documents is extremely important, however, for historic archaeological research.
Larger cultural resource management firms, universities, and museums hire historians to conduct investigations into written documents related to archaeological projects. Examples of written documents that might be used to support archaeological research include:
- Archival records
- Census records
- Election returns
- Tax lists
- Old newspapers and other periodicals
- Historic maps
It is the historian’s responsibility to know how to locate relevant historical information and to piece it all together to aid archaeologists in establishing a context for their archaeological investigations. In addition to consulting written records, historians who work with archaeologists may also be responsible for:
- Conducting oral history interviews
- Assessing the eligibility of historic sites for inclusion in the National
- Register of Historic Places
- Conducting historic building condition assessments and helping to determine preservation plans
- Writing sections of archaeological reports
- Publishing research findings in academic journals or books
Education and Training Requirements
Professional historians working in the field of archaeology generally have a master’s or doctorate degree in history, anthropology, archaeology, or library science. Historians interested in working in archaeology are also encouraged to gain training and experience in historic preservation and to complete an archaeological field school from an accredited institution in order to become familiar with the theories and methods that are used by professional archaeologists.
Due to the nature of their job, historians should possess excellent research and written communication skills. Piecing together history often requires individuals to spend countless hours poring over piles of paper records and scouring enormous computer databases for answers to research questions. Although generally a very enjoyable and rewarding experience for those interested in history, historical research can be tedious and requires individuals to have great patience and an eye for detail.
Salary and Advancement Opportunities
Depending on location, experience, and employer, historians earn an average annual salary of approximately $35,000 to $97,000, and a median annual salary of approximately $55,000. Many historians start out as teachers, research assistants, or archivists before advancing to supervisory or leading researcher positions with increased experience and/or education.
Generally speaking, the Bureau of Labor Statistics projects the employment of historians to grow at the average rate for all occupations in the coming years. This may not be the case, however, for historians specifically seeking employment in the field of archaeology. As noted above, many archaeologists conduct their own historical research for their projects. As a result, it may be difficult to find a full-time position as an historian within the field of archaeology. Historians with experience in historical archaeology and/or historic preservation, however, will certainly experience a more positive job outlook than individuals with education and experience in history alone.
Society for Historical Archaeology
American Historical Association
The Center for Historical Archaeology
Check out this website for great historical archaeology resources – http://www.digitalpresence.com/