Gift Guide for Historians


As depressing (or not) as it sounds, it’s that time of year again when we show our love for other people by buying them gifts. You may know this time of year as Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Yule, or what-have-you. but you know what it’s really about. 😉 Depending on your personal level of organization, now is the time to start planning and shopping. Especially if you’re a professor, because we all know now is the calm before the storm of finals, final essays, and grade submissions that will keep you busy until at least December 22nd. However, online gift guides for historians, history-buffs, or even academics tend to be limited almost exclusively to books. I don’t know about you guys, but I don’t want more work for the holidays, not to mention random history books by questionable authors from well-meaning gift-givers. (However, if you do want some book suggestions, check out my previous blog posts on upcoming publications in Canadian history).

So with that in mind, I’ve compiled a list of gift suggestions at roughly six different price points. Now, Gwyneth Paltrow I am not, (though this goop guide,  The Thinker, actually has some reasonable suggestions), so I tried to pick things that I would be happy to receive at any time of the year. While the title says that this list is for historians, and my price points have cheeky academic labels, this list has great suggestions for anyone with an interest in history, including archaeology and anthropology. Also, since most gift guides are American in focus, and the only Canadian one I could find was exclusively coins (seriously???), I’ve tried to include specific recommendations that would appeal to Canadians or are available in Canada, as well as more universal gifts.

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One thing that I would actually encourage you to purchase would be gift cards. I know it seems cheesy and/or lazy, but they can really be amazing, especially for graduate students and new academics. My friend Catherine was just telling me about how a friend of hers received a $500 gift certificate for clothing from an upscale boutique. The recipient used it to purchase clothing suitable for conferences and job interviews. Now I’m not saying you need to go out and spend $500, but you can’t go wrong with a $25 gift certificate to Amazon.

A good place to check out is your local museum or art gallery gift shop. While there will admittedly be lots of cheesy stuff, many museums also have really neat books and posters, not to mention artwork by local artists. Some of my husband’s recommendations are: the Province House gift shop (Charlottetown, PE); the gift shops of the National Gallery and the Canadian Museum of History (Ottawa, ON); the Canadian Museum for Human Rights (Winnipeg, MB); the Gulf of Georgia Cannery (Richmond, BC); and the Vancouver Art Gallery.

Homemade gift baskets are also a great idea. The only requirement is some kind of container. You can put together a little kit or care package customized to your recipient, or make one based on a theme. You can purchase everything that goes inside, make everything yourself, or mix it up! Some ideas include a book-and-tea themed basket, with gift cards to Chapters or Amazon, a booklight, a bookmark, a cute mug, and some nice gourmet teas; a spa-themed basket, with  maybe a bubble bar or bath bomb or two from Lush, a pillow for a bath, and a nice-smelling candle; and a hot chocolate basket, with adorable mug, this cocoa-customization kit (that I’ve been dying to make forever), cookies, and even this amazing tiny gingerbread house that sits on the side of your mug!

If you’re a craft person like me (haha), you can also make something for your gift recipient! However, as us knitters know, only some people are knitworthy, or are deserving of your handmade items. These are the people that appreciate handmade items, not those who think it’s stupid to knit a hat when you can buy one for under $10. I always give my husband a pair of handknit socks for Christmas, and usually something else. Last year was a hat, the year before that was finger gloves, and so on. And no, I will not make anything for you. I’m not that nice. 😉 But if you don’t knit, sew, or crochet, you can always try baking! I have yet to meet a history-lover who does not appreciate baked goods in one form or another.

Graduate Student Level ($0 to $20)

Coupons. Hear me out. When I was but a poor graduate student, I gave my husband a pack of coupons that entitled him to one homemade dessert of his choice per month, to be baked by me. I also included a list of recipes to give him some ideas. He loved it. You can make the coupon book yourself, and include whatever you’d like. Some suggestions include homemade meals, babysitting, laundry service, etc… The possibilities are endless.

Another great option that is free is a Christmas lights walking tour. Many cities offer maps with the best houses highlighted, so you can make some yummy hot chocolate and spend an evening walking around looking at Christmas lights!

Similarly, most cities offer some kinds of walking tours, be they historical or simply thematic. These tours are often hosted by local experts, and can be a great way to discover a city. Many of these are free, or have a small participation fee. Victoria, for example, has some really great ones.

Mugs are always a great option, especially funny ones. I’m a big fan of The Oatmeal, a really hilarious comic artist, and he has printed some of his best ones onto mugs. I like this one, “Nice Big Cup of NOPE,” a lot.

One of my favourite etsy shops (that also happens to be from Vancouver!) is craftedvan. They make adorable magnetic bookmarks, (like this one of sea otters), enamelled pins (like this booknerd one)), and more, all under $10. I particularly love their mugs, which are devoted to book lovers. My personal favourite, which I own and love, is “Books and Tea Are All I Need,” which is $20. It’s just so cute and feels lovely in my hand.

PoliticalCircus, also on etsy, makes adorable finger puppets of Canadian political figures both current and historical for $15. Explain the Red River Rebellion to your class using finger puppets of Louis Riel and John A. Macdonald.

Another adorable finger puppet option is the infamous Unemployed Philosopher’s Guild puppets. They’re $6.95, but since they are shipping from the US, they will end up being more expensive. Try the Queen Victoria puppet to communicate your royal disapproval or show off your historiographical expertise with the Michel Foucault puppet.

These old library card catalogue cards illustrated with nostalgic images from etsy are also absolutely adorable, and are only about $17 each.

I didn’t know this until recently, but did you know that Historica Canada has an online store? They offer some fantastic posters based on their Heritage Minutes for $15 each!

A really cool suggestion from my husband are “historical” beers, which are all available for about $10 per bottle. The beer that most people are used to drinking typically has four ingredients: barley (or wheat), water, yeast, and hops. This is sometimes due to archaic laws that prohibit certain types of beer production. In Germany, for example, the 1516 Reinheitsgebot or “purity laws” limited what could and could not be used in the production of beer. Prior to such laws, neither yeast nor hops were used (exclusively) to flavour and sterilize beer. Older combinations of herbs (and other stuff), sometimes called “gruit,” were used. In fact, sometimes beer fermented based upon whatever yeast was in the wind, which meant that each particular beer had a truly unique taste. Luckily, laws are changing, and some enterprising and bold craft brewers have been bringing back older methods of making beer. Some examples available to boozy historians include:

If weird beer isn’t your style, perhaps the historian in your life would like an historically-named beer! Why not make up a sampler of local brews with fun historic names (buy local!). Here are some good names (though we can’t vouch for the taste of all of them):

  • Gahan Brewery (PE) – “Sir John A’s Honey Wheat Ale”; “1772 India Pale Ale”
  • Les Brasseurs du Temps (PQ) – “ESB 1821”; “Quelques Arpents de Neige”
  • Big Spruce Brewing (NS) – “Ra Ra Rasputin”
  • Breton Brewing Co. (NS) – “Black Angus IPA” (named for a local ‘giant’ named Angus Mòr MacAskill); “Stirling Hefeweizen”
  • Howe Sound Brewing (BC) – “Baldwin & Cooper Best Bitter”

Side Note: Prince Edward Island was once known as a hub of rum-running. Today, you can get legal spirits from The Myriad View Artisan Distillery, including what they call “Legal Moonshine.” Unfortunately, you cannot get it outside of PEI…so you’ll have to make a trip to the Island. While you’re on the Island, check out “Island Tide” from Deep Roots Distillery, another traditional spirit that has been updated for the modern palate.

Postdoc Level ($20 to $50)

The Oatmeal also offers some of his best comics as posters. They are $20 individually, or you can get a 4-pack for $40. Some of my favourites include the “20 Things Worth Knowing About Beer” poster you can see to the left. The six grammar posters are also are great and are available as a pack for $45!

Most historians that I know absolutely love notebooks and journals (really anything to do with stationary). There are many options at different price points available. But if you want to be really extravagant, try a Leuchtturm notebook, like this one: Leuchtturm1917 Notebook A5 Medium Dotted Hardcover Purple / Lilac, which is $46. Different models and colours are available at different price points from $20 to $50. And of course, you can’t go wrong with a classic like Moleskine Classic Colored Notebook, Extra Large, Dotted, Underwater Blue, Soft Cover (7.5 x 10) for $26. And don’t forget a nice pen!

Another useful thing for many historians to have is a portable phone charger. There have been many times when I have left home and forgotten to charge my phone. This one, [Apple MFI Certified] Jackery Bolt 6,000 mAh Ultra-Compact External Battery Charger, Portable Power Bank and Travel Charger with Built-in-Lightning & Micro USB Cables (Black), is supposed to be one of the best for everyday use, and it’s only $35.

We’ve all heard of “Elf on the Shelf” at this point, but have you heard of The Mensch On The Bench 12″ Plush & Book Set? I frankly think this is hilarious, whether you are Jewish or just know someone who is.

Graphic t-shirts are always fun, like this “Keepin’ it Riel,” shirt, which starts at $20, plus shipping. However, the Riel one is so popular it is frequently out of stock, so keep an eye out!

Sessional Instructor Level ($50 to $100)

An absolute must for all serious academics, especially those that no longer have access to a free copy through their school, is the The Chicago Manual of Style, 16th Edition. The latest edition is the 16th, and covers just about every possible scenario a historian might encounter. The current edition is available new from $53, but you can also get used copies that are half the price.

Even if you’re not a yoga enthusiast like I am, a yoga bolster might still be a good gift idea. We use these Halfmoon Rectangular Bolster – Aubergine in my yoga class, and they are awesome. Just the right size to lie down on and stretch your back after sitting in a chair all day. Or, for napping in your office. Don’t worry, I won’t tell anyone. 😉 They’re a bit pricey, at $83, but they are made locally in Vancouver, and they are so comfortable that they even convinced my husband to attend yoga classes.

Something I keep meaning to get is a wireless projector clicker, like this one: Logitech Wireless Presenter R400. While there are some universities that offer these in all of their classrooms, that hasn’t been the case at any of the places where I’ve worked. If your gift recipient relies on Powerpoint, this is a good option.

While it might seem like software purchases are a bit lame, they can be a real lifesaver, especially for cash-strapped graduate students and/or young academics. There are a number of great programs out there that are extremely useful for historians, at a wide variety of price points. The absolute must-have for all historians is of course, Scrivener. Think of it as a word processor, but designed for academics. Of course, if you read this blog, you’ve heard me talk about Papers 3, which is a reference and research manager. Aside from those two, my favourite program for research has to be Devonthink. This program is essentially a document manager. What makes it so great for historians, especially those who scan or photograph their sources, is that you can store them all in one place in their original archival structure, but also create collections without having to move or duplicate anything. And if you get the Pro Office version, it even offers conversion from JPG to text-searchable PDF. You read that right! Worth its weight in gold; if it had weight… you get the idea. And don’t forget that many of these programs offer student or educator discounts!

Another great option is to get your gift recipient a membership at a local museum. Many museums offer different membership options at different price points, often starting at around $50. The more money you spend, the more perks you get, like behind-the-scenes tours, guest passes, and even discounts at other museums or cultural organizations.

Tenure-track or Tenured Professor Level ($100 to $250)

One of my favourite gifts to receive is the spa day. Historians need pampering too! Depending on your budget, you can go with a mani-pedi (you can ask for no nail polish!), a facial, massage, or any combination thereof. You may even want to make it an entire spa day. Many spas offer all-day packages, including meals. Or, you can send your loved one out to the spa for a few hours, and then make them a lovely home cooked meal! I would highly recommend looking for local boutique type styles. In Victoria, Silk Road is awesome. When I lived in Abbotsford, I used the Wild Orange Spa. Forget any of the treatments, their showers were amazing. And here in Richmond/Greater Vancouver, I’ve loved both the Raintree Wellness Spa and the Tao Day Spa.

I had no idea this existed until lately, but did you know that it is possible to “adopt” an artifact at a number of Canadian museums? Many museums offer this service as a way of supporting their work. Proceeds from adoptions go to maintain museum collections, conservation efforts, digitization, etc… The cost for most adoptions ranges from $35 to $500. I would just be very careful here when it comes to items that originally belonged to Indigenous communities,  Some of the museums that offer this include the Museum of Ontario Archaeology and the Manitoba Museum. You can also consider making a donation to the museum of your choice in your gift recipient’s name! Just try not to “voluntell” them, at least not without asking first. 😉

A great idea, especially for newer professors, is some kind of briefcase, messenger bag, or satchel. Think stylish, but also practical. I’m a suck for anything Modcloth, so of course I love this one, but there are lots of options available.

University Administrator Level ($250 and up)

The ultimate luxury for historians, in my humble opinion, is a set of Bose QuietComfort 35 Wireless Headphones, Black, at $450.  Like many people, I really hate flying, and I would love to have a pair of these bad boys to drown out the noise. They’re also effective for when you want to work quietly in your office or you want to drown out your spouse’s nattering so you can read a good book. 😉 For $100 less, you can get Bose QuietControl 30 Wireless Headphones, Black
if you don’t like headsets.

If there is one thing that I use as a historian more than anything else, it’s my iPad mini. Mine is several years old now, but the latest edition is the  Apple iPad mini 2 with Retina Display ME279LL/A (16GB, Wi-Fi, White with Silver). I carry this thing with me everywhere. I’ve used it to give lectures and conference presentations, read PDFs on the bus, watch videos in my office during office hours (shhh), and more. You can even get a little keyboard to go with it, and then use the iPad to take notes! Seriously, my husband jokes that I spend more time with my iPad than I do with him, and he’s not entirely wrong!

Depending on your budget, you may want to consider giving your loved one monthly subscriptions! Rather than just giving someone a bottle of wine, why not try a whiskey, wine, craft beer, etc… of the month club that delivers to Canada! If you or your gift-recipient aren’t into alcohol, there are lots of other options for clubs of the month. Some good options include coffee monthly subscriptions or tea boxes for caffeine addicts, there’s lootcrate for scifi geeks, and even handmade desserts! All of these subscriptions can be purchased either from month-to-month, but you get the best deal when you sign up for a year.


I hope this gave you some useful gift ideas for the historians and history-lovers in your life, beyond the generic WW1 book. Is there anything you’d like to receive this year? Any other suggestions for history buffs? Let me know in the comments below! And I’l see you guys back here on Sunday for the regular Roundup!

And many thanks to Catherine Ulmer for her awesome suggestions for this list!

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