Anthropologists vs. Historians

Anthropologists and historians usually study the past.
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If you like old stuff -- not just antiques, but history and ancient ruins -- that appreciation for the past could easily lead in a career direction such as anthropology or history. Many people might think of both occupations as looking only toward the past. However, the study of humans and history can also help predict what might happen in the future. It can also provide insights into how to manage current conditions that result from cultural or political differences. While anthropologists and historians cover similar territory, there are important differences between the two professions.


    Anthropology is the study of human origin, development and behavior, both past and present. Anthropologists are primarily research scientists who explore languages, daily life, archeological remains and human physical characteristics as well as the differences in human cultures. As an anthropologist, you might study the evolution of humans or current issues such as overpopulation and warfare. Specialization is common in anthropology. For example, anthropologists might focus on archeology by studying the physical artifacts of past cultures. Biological or physical anthropologists research the evolution of humans and other primates. Cultural anthropologists study customs, cultures and social lives or groups, while linguistic anthropologists study all forms of human communication.


    Historians, as the term implies, study the past. The data they gather from archives, books, artifacts and other historical sources helps them to analyze and interpret history. They might also make presentations to the public, help archive or preserve materials and artifacts in museums or historic sites, and give advice on the preservation of old clothing, tools or buildings. In some cases, historians use their research to provide historical information that is relevant to current-day political or social issues. A historian might specialize in a particular period -- such as the Revolutionary War -- a particular country or region, or focus on a broader category like social, political or cultural history.


    Advanced education is very important in either anthropology or history. For either career, you should set your sights on a minimum of a master’s degree. A bachelor's degree might help you land a job in anthropology as a research assistant, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Most people with a bachelor's degree in history wind up in fields such as education, communications, law, business, publishing or journalism. A master’s degree should increase your job opportunities in both fields. But a Ph.D. is the best choice, particularly if you want to conduct independent research or teach at the university level.

Job Outlook and Salaries

    One disadvantage of careers in anthropology and history is that there aren’t many jobs, so competition is likely to be fierce. The BLS reports that there were only about 6,100 anthropologists and archaeologists working in 2010, and only 4,000 historians. On a positive note, employment for anthropologists and archaeologists should grow 21 percent from 2010 to 2020, which is faster than the average for all occupations. Jobs for historians should grow 18 percent over the same time period, also above average. There is little difference in salaries for these two occupations, according to the BLS. Historians earned an average annual salary of $57,610 in 2011, while anthropologists averaged $59,040.

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