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Anthropologist vs. Historian

by Beth Greenwood, studioD

Anthropologists and historians are both interested in the past. Anthropologists study all aspects of different cultures, while historians study particular events or individuals without relation to culture. Although these occupations might be thought of as having a single focus, anthropology is actually made up of several sub-disciplines, according to the American Anthropological Association, and historians also cover a very broad field.


The field of anthropology includes archaeology, biological, cultural and linguistic anthropology. All anthropologists study human cultures, but their perspectives are different. Archaeologists are interested in the things people or cultures make -- from buildings to pottery to weapons. Biological anthropologists study how humans adapt to different environments and causes of human disease or death. Cultural anthropologists study societies -- how people interact, the rules they make for living together and the perspectives of each society. Linguistic anthropologists study how language is used, the meaning of words in a particular culture and how its language changes over time.


In some ways, historians are similar to anthropologists. They study records from previous times, such as diaries, newspapers or manuscripts, to track the development of societies and cultures or to collect information about specific historical figures. Historians examine questions or problems within the context of larger issues, such as how a particular event fits into a chain of events or is connected to other historical issues. They also study the impact certain individuals have on history. An example is Winston Churchill's impact on the British in World War II.


Anthropology and history usually require at least a master's degree, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Independent research in archaeology, anthropology or history usually requires a doctorate. Many anthropologists and historians complete an internship in an apprentice-style program to gain hands-on experience. During their work, historians might focus on items manufactured in the past, as archaeologists do. They might also look at the ways in which cultures or societies affected historical events, as cultural anthropologists do. Federal and local governments are the largest employers of anthropologists and historians, according to the BLS. Twenty-five percent of anthropologists work for the federal government and 47 percent of historians work for the federal, state or local governments. In addition, anthropologists and historians also work for educational institutions or companies that provide consulting services.


Anthropologists often spend months in the field performing research. Some anthropologists study communities by living in them for extended periods. Historians are more likely to perform their research in public libraries and museums or by examining private document collections. Archaeologists know how to excavate artifacts and preserve both archaeological sites and specimens. Twenty-five percent of archaeologists and anthropologists work for the federal government, according to the BLS. Fifty-eight percent of historians, however, work for government organizations. Historians earned an average annual salary of $58,240 in 2012, and archaeologists and anthropologists earned $60,230, according to the BLS.

Making a Choice

Anthropologists might need to travel to perform their research. They might need to live near an archaeological dig site or in the culture they are studying for an extended period of time, without access to amenities common in urban areas. Archaeologists in particular must be able to work outdoors in all kinds of weather. Historians might need to speak, read and write ancient languages such as Greek, Latin or Medieval English in the context of their research. Historians must also be able to organize many disparate historical facts into a cohesive narrative.

About the Author

Beth Greenwood is an RN and has been a writer since 2010. She specializes in medical and health topics, as well as career articles about health care professions. Greenwood holds an Associate of Science in nursing from Shasta College.

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