Becoming a Historical Researcher

Hello Students, Prospective Students and Faculty of King’s College London. My name is
Patrick Wingrove and in January 2014 I graduated with an MA in Modern History from KCL. I am writing this article primarily for those prospective students thinking of undertaking an undergraduate or postgraduate degree in history but also for those who are just coming to the end of their studies.

Undertaking a history degree is no easy task. You will spend most of your time reading,
either through books or manuscripts long forgotten about, and sometimes be expected to
find new and interesting points of view on subjects that have already been analysed a
thousand different ways. If you’re anything like me, though, you will love every moment if it.

The real question is how do you apply all that hard work to the real world? If you’re
planning to pursue a life in academia and/or historical research, then the answer is obvious. However, for those who love history but aren’t quite sure what career avenue they want to take, do not fear. Some of the most successful people working in television broadcasting, law, publishing, teaching and many other fields are history graduates. The skills a history degree will give you in analysis, writing and organisation are highly sought after in graduates, not to mention the appreciation you obtain for hard work and sheer bloody mindedness.

To give you an idea of a career path you could go down, I thought I would give you an
insight into mine since graduating. A few months ago, I was hired by Illustrated London
News Ltd as a Historical Researcher. Once a great media empire, which published
periodicals such as The Illustrated London News, ILN Ltd is now a creative content agency encompassing digital and print with an archive that goes back to 1842. My job is essentially to utilise the archive for the company’s benefit. I’m often tasked with finding material that helps with approaches to prospective customers with a rich past, e.g. Aston Martin, whose magazine ILN produces.


The main project I’ve been working on is ILN’s First World War centenary website With Heritage Lottery Fund backing, this project has made the 1914-1919 editions of The Illustrated London News freely available to the public, soon followed by The Graphic, The Sphere, The Bystander, The Tatler, The Sketch, The Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News and The Illustrated War News. 


My colleague Hannah, a fellow historian, and I wrote content for most sections of the
website, curated images, ensured the site was historically accurate and we continue to write weekly blog pieces. We’re now working on the second phase of the site, which will see improved search functionality, more content and a much-improved teaching resources section. Although I am a “Historical Researcher”, my role is not entirely research based. A lot of my time is spent learning new digital skills to help improve the website, including design and basic programming skills. I’ve also been charged with office and events management, including organising a “Road Show” designed to showcase the new website and a preview event for an auction at Christie’s South Kensington of original artwork published in the ILN’s magazines. I also write weekly content for The Times, English Heritage and the Imperial War Museum as part of my responsibilities.

Jobs such as this (though often under different titles) are constantly becoming available.
Companies are now becoming aware that their archives are one of the best resources
imaginable for brand knowledge, differentiation and innovation. One good example is the
Savile Row tailors Gieves & Hawkes, who recently hired historians to help dig up old designs to be used in their “capsule collection”. Archival material helped with their campaigns based around their long-standing reputation as a royal tailor, as well as content written about their history as a designer for the Royal Navy going as far back as the Napoleonic wars.

Indeed, the future is bright for anyone interested in, or just coming to the end of, a history
degree. Mine is only one example of the doors that were opened because of my degree
from King’s College London. If you’re interested in history, I highly recommend it.