Undergraduate history students are usually required to complete different courses spanning from ancient Egypt to the Cold War. But given the vastness of history, it is impossible to memorize and keep in mind all the significant events that changed mankind. It is likely that by time you reach your 20th century history lessons, you will have already forgotten the name of the last Egyptian emperor. If so, are professional historians required to be good at or knowledgeable in all areas of History?

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    Seems vague and/or trivial. Yes, of course historians specialize in certain areas of study. What exactly do you mean by memorize everything? Surely, you realize that not everything can be memorized. Are there historians who have a large number of dates and events memorized? Likely. Are they required to have them memorized for their job? Not exactly. Did they have to memorize some things in the course of their studies? Yes. Jul 21 '16 at 14:39
  • Another area you may be wondering about: Do historians compare things from different times and places? Yes, some do. Do historians study things relevant to the entire course of history? Yes, some do. All in all, this question is probably too broad, though maybe it is just unclear what you're asking. Jul 21 '16 at 14:42
  • Who would impose such a requirement? How would they enforce it? What possible purpose would there be in quizzing a historian specializing in the Warring States period on Aztec governance? Who would benefit? What would happen if they didn't? Professional historians are like every other profession. If their skills & knowledge add value, then they are paid (hopefully in proportion to the value of their skills & knowledge). Do professional plumbers get quizzed on electrical theory? Must carpenters pass exams on horticulture?
    – MCW
    Jul 21 '16 at 15:45


Professional historians are expected to demonstrate research capabilities. And mostly in one or two narrow specialties of history.

For most graduate programs, there is no "comprehensive" test or "common core" curriculum that one needs to pass. Historians do have to submit PhD dissertations, but those are "research," not "general knowledge" works.

  • Sad but true. Most of the field suffers from overspecialization imo...there is so much "history" after all. The devil is in the details when it comes to World War I and World War 2 however. Jul 23 '16 at 22:52

Historians need to specialize in a specific area and time to make a contribution to research, and to generalize well enough to see patterns where they affect their area of research.

Recently I talked to a software developer over lunch about recent politics in Europe and I mentioned the Russian Civil War. and the Allied intervention. He knew neither the war nor the intervention. Perhaps that is excusable in a software developer, but for a historian that would be a poor showing.

Just memorizing the names and dates is pointless. Knowing what historical figures did and in what order is priceless.

  • I disagree with this. Since most "leadership" infers some preconceived notion of the past or "History" one needs a combination of specificity plus how that "wave of knowledge" is generalized in the eyes of aspirational types. In other words psychology is very important...probably more important...than the study of History...but then again what is "importance"? Jul 23 '16 at 22:56

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