What Is The Difference Between A Historian And An Anthropologist?

"I have always been very fascinated with the study of history and culture of various peoples. After graduating from high school, I intend to major in a program that would enable to deepen by knowledge about these areas so I can eventually pursue a career in these fields. I am now choosing between history and anthropology. I am still a bit confused because there seems to be no marked difference between these two. Could you please explain to me the difference between a historian and an anthropologist?"

asked by Norma K. from Little Rock, Arkansas

Both historians and anthropologists are concerned about studying the past. The focus and the manner by which they go about their endeavors as well as the educational requirements needed to become an expert in these respective fields are different.

Anthropologists are mainly concerned with the study of humans and how they relate to culture, customs and language. Biological anthropologists look into the evolution of people. By studying human remains, they try to determine the demographics of various populations and determine how things like diet and disease affected their existence. Cultural anthropologists use interviews, surveys and observations to look into the culture and social practices of different groups of people.

The focus of linguistic anthropologists is on language and how it develops and shapes social lives and the experiences of the people in a given society.

Anthropologists often perform their work on the field, traveling to sites both in the United States and abroad, to do their studies. They often have to live with people whose cultures they want to study which necessitates learning a new language. They also have to learn new ways of living which may be radically different from what they are used to in the West.

Historians, on the other hand, study about events in the past without necessarily focusing on culture. They gather historical data from different documents and analyze and interpret these to come up with a historical profile of the place, people or event that they are studying about. Although they may sometimes travel to sites to conduct their research, historians normally do their work in museums and public libraries, poring over archives, books, newspapers, photographs and other historical records.

For those who really want to work as anthropologists and historians, a bachelor’s degree will not be enough. A bachelor’s degree in anthropology will be enough to get an entry level job as an assistant or field worker. Anthropologist jobs will require at master’s degree in anthropology at the least. Those roles that need leadership skills, advanced technical knowledge and research in foreign countries will ask for an anthropologist who holds a PhD in the subject.

The same holds true for those with a bachelor’s degree in history. It may be enough to get them an entry-level job in museums and other organizations.

A master’s degree in history, public history, museum studies, historical preservation or archival management will be required for most historian positions. Those wishing to work with the federal government, particularly in jobs that require research will need to obtain a PhD in history.

Career Spotlight: Historian

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