The first sentence in the American Historical Association’s “Historians as Consultants and Contractors” article perfectly encapsulates this career path:
“A career in consulting is ideal for historians with a sense of adventure…”
Yes, please sign me up for the adventure of not knowing when & where my next paycheck is coming from! All joking aside contracting truly is the part of history where you regularly have to hustle and be vying for that next job in order to make a decent salary. It is entrepreneurship through and through.
“…or for those who prefer flexibility and a variety of projects.”
On the plus side, the AHA article mentions that contractors have more opportunities to pick and choose projects that interest them. It’s nice to have a new challenge every once in a while. I’m curious if researching for such a variety of topics creates a wide knowledge (knowing a little about a lot) rather than a deep knowledge (knowing a lot about a certain topic). I suppose it would vary based on what kind of opportunities were out there. How do contract historians to gain enough prestige and expertise to make their way out of grey literature?
The next article, “Crafting a New Historian”, implied that it was somewhat impossible to be both an academic and contract historian:
“Was I ready to leave a job where I produced real things for immediate use in public history, to return to one where I produced papers for classes in anticipation of a payoff in the future?”
I’m not sure I understand why he could not continue making costumes as a side gig. Can you be a part-time contractor, or is there a non-compete clause that prevents historians from doing so? Is it there a stigma against historians who do side work like this? Or, did he simply not have enough time to do both? Even I’ve flirted with the idea of doing some freelance genealogy or personal history research for a little extra money. Is that something a fulltime employer would frown upon?
Speaking of personal history, I loved exploring the Association of Personal Historians website. I wonder if their work has become harder or easier to do since the advent of social media. Their “Find a Personal Historian” feature had no listings for Idaho. Opportunity knocking?
On the flipside of personal history is corporate history. I certainly think that this career path would be rewarding to some. The pay is probably steady and the research easier than many personal histories since companies often save documents for legal reasons. However, the marketing and PR departments would probably put a lid on any controversial topics that historical research might reveal.
Side note, I think offering classes on cultural resource legislation and entrepreneurship would be wonderful for the MAHR program!