The weekend of 12-14 of April, I took the opportunity to attend the Organization of American Historians meeting San Francisco—a mere 35-mile BART ride from my home—to see how visible public history was on the program one year after the OAH and NCPH held a joint meeting in Milwaukee.
In quantitative terms, I counted nine sessions and two workshops devoted to public history (out of a total of about 80 sessions). The OAH Committee on Public History sponsored a session (a roundtable on filmmaking), a workshop (on doing oral history), and a public history reception at the California Historical Society. The OAH Committee on National Park Service Collaboration also sponsored a session and a workshop. I’m not sure what these metrics mean in terms of recent trends, as this was my first stand-alone OAH meeting since 2002. (I don’t recall a public history presence at that meeting—though I must confess that I didn’t attend it wearing my public history hat.) Let’s stipulate that attention to public history within the OAH has been trending up over the past decade. But in absolute terms, the OAH appears to have invested a meaningful amount of resources in elevating the profile of public history within the organization, if the 2013 meeting is indicative. Continue reading
Part of what drew me to the University of South Carolina’s Ph.D. program in history in 2010 was the opportunity to engage with controversial topics while pursuing an M.A. in public history along the way. The summer after my first year in the program, I found a part-time job with a private non-profit organization looking for someone to produce a new guidebook for an historic property it managed: a farmhouse located on a former plantation in the hills of one of the Border States. The organization had enthusiasm for site improvement but limited resources and few staff with professional training. The experience turned out to be a difficult lesson in taking professional standards as a given and interpreting controversial topics. Continue reading
As a public historian and manager of historical research at Parks Canada for the past 12 years, I have sat on many hiring committees to hire historians, policy analysts, program officers and university students for a range of heritage and history projects based in our national office in Gatineau, Quebec. The hiring process for the Government of Canada is highly structured with interview grids, quantitative scoring and little opportunity for those of us on hiring committees to engage in exploratory discussions when candidates have made intriguing statements. In this context, we take special care to design our hiring process so that written exams, interviews, and reference checks support us in identifying the most outstanding candidates who can have productive careers at Parks Canada.
It is tempting to believe that a combination of education and experience is enough to turn one into a good public historian, and make one desirable to hire. However, my years of reading and listening to candidates suggests it takes so much more than that. Continue reading
This is the third post in a series to discuss the genesis of the idea for the “What Employers Seek in Public History Graduates” session at the 2013 National Council on Public History meeting in Ottawa. Session panelists will continue to share their thoughts on the topic in entries in the coming weeks.
Before the rapid proliferation of museum studies and public history programs began in the 1960s and 1970s, almost all museum professionals held degrees in traditional academic disciplines related to the content areas of their museums. People who worked in historic sites and history museums usually had degrees in history. Typically, museum-specific skills and knowledge in areas such as collections care, exhibit development, and interpretation were learned “on-the-job.” In today’s economic climate, fewer museums and heritage sites can afford to hire entry-level professionals who must be trained on-the-job to do the work of public history. Of course, it is still important to be well-educated in history, but today’s employers seek more.
I recently completed a national study for my doctoral dissertation on this very topic. I surveyed 38 leading practitioners from lists of board members of the American Association for State and Local History and the American Alliance of Museums from the last ten years. The very detailed survey took 65 competencies with definitions, divided into five major areas, and asked museum leaders to rate the level of mastery of each item that they believe is needed for entry-level museum professionals. Continue reading
This is the second post in a series to discuss the genesis of the idea for the “What Employers Seek in Public History Graduates” session at the 2013 National Council on Public History meeting in Ottawa. Session panelists will continue share their thoughts on the topic in entries in the coming weeks.
I believe a cultural organization’s greatest value rests with its ability to change the world, and that cultural organizations must seek to provide experiences that:
- Inspire, challenge, and question;
- Nurture, inform, and educate;
- Offer dialogue, discourse, and debate;
- Provide opportunities for reflection and action; and,
- Offer enrichment through authentic interaction with people, place, and heritage.
Building on these values, I believe that professional development experiences must transcend disciplines, careers, and subject matter. The focus must move beyond collections, programs, and exhibits. We can and should nurture a commitment to these things, but with a re-purposed fundamental intent; to use these skills as a vehicle for a larger purpose. Continue reading
Create a hero. Use suspense. Set scenes. That was the advice offered by renowned food politics author Michael Pollan to a room of professional historians who struggle to sell their books to a wide audience and still rely on a model of doing history created at the profession’s birth more than 100 years ago. They were gathered to watch the plenary session, entitled “The Public Practice of History in and for a Digital Age,” at the American Historical Association’s 127th meeting, which met in New Orleans from 3–6 January. Another panelist, Richmond University President Ed Ayers, mused that historians missed the pre-modern movement, the modern movement, as well as the post-modern movement, implying that we might miss the digital movement, too, if we’re not careful. Case in point: American Historical Association President Bill Cronon (University of Wisconsin) noted that no other discipline still publishes (and reveres) books as history does. Yet this remains the only way to obtain tenure at most research universities. The overarching question of the session became: How does—and should—the practice of history change in light of the vastly different technology and platforms of expression that exist today? Continue reading
Turn to the sixth page of the 2013 Program of the American Historical Association and you will spot a genial turn of phrase: “the malleable PhD.” It refers to the idea—already engrained in the practice of public history—that graduate training need not limit one to a tenure-track teaching career. A history degree, as NCPH members have shown for decades, readies one for a broad variety of jobs, from investment banker to foundation officer, from marketing consultant to park ranger. Eight sessions were listed for this thread within the 2013 AHA conference. At nearly the same time, the AHA and the Organization of American Historians have begun promoting their involvement in the “Versatile PhD” program. It’s a service to which associations and more than forty universities subscribe so that their student members have access to online “high quality non-academic career materials” and advice about turning their skills and interests to a wide range of jobs.
These are welcome developments. Taking a holistic view, as historians fill a spectrum of jobs and the historical discipline expands its influence, all historians will benefit. Continue reading
This is an initial post in a series to discuss the genesis of the idea for the “What Employers Seek in Public History Graduates” session at the 2013 National Council on Public History meeting in Ottawa. Session panelists will share their thoughts on the topic in entries in the coming weeks.
Caveat emptor: What I’m not going to do is answer the question about what employers seek in public history grads. (“Say what you’re going to say,” he thinks to himself. “Say it. Say what you said.” Grad school permanently burned that mantra into my brain. Blog posts are different, right?)
Shortly after I completed my M.A. at the University of Central Florida, the UCF history department launched its Public History program. I had been working in the field of public history since midway through my time in graduate school—as education director at the Orange County Regional History Center—and the History Center had supported the department’s creation of the degree track.
In addition to my education duties, I was also in charge of the institution’s volunteer program. I was always seeking ways to engage more folks with our museum and I believed involving these new public history students with us would be a win/win for the History Center, the students, and the department. Thus began conversations with Rose Beiler, one of my thesis advisors and director of the program, about how the department and the museum could work together. Continue reading
In Part 1 of this post, participants in a Northwest History Network professional development program called Who Hires Consulting Historians? talked about some of the “soft skills” that employers look for. Part 2 is an additional excerpt from the discussion. You can hear a podcast of the entire program here.
~ Morgen Young, Alder LLC
Greg Shine (Historian at Fort Vancouver National Historic Site): I would echo all that and emphasize digital media fluency. I think that is going to be the key for anyone being a successful public historian, especially consultants. So that means not only doing the research and having the skill set that was just so aptly described, but also how do you lay that out, how do you operate InDesign, can you lay out a wayside exhibit. Can you do that research, but can you also artfully present that in a way that is creative, but also meets needs? Continue reading
On November 8, 2012, the Northwest History Network, a non-profit organization in Portland, Oregon, hosted a professional development program entitled Who Hires Consulting Historians, a follow-up to A Future in Historical Consulting: Is It for You?, a panel discussion held over the summer. Four professionals discussed what it takes to get hired by universities, local governments and their agencies, as well as the National Park Service. The participants included Maija Anderson, Head of Oregon Health & Science University’s Historical Collections & Archives; Denyse McGriff, Senior Project Manager at Portland Development Commission; Christina Robertson-Gardiner, Planner at City of Oregon City; and Greg Shine, Historian at Fort Vancouver National Historic Site. The panelists related when they seek consulting historians for projects, how historians can find job and contract opportunities at their respective agencies, what skills and qualifications are necessary, how consulting fees are weighted against experience and knowledge when selecting a historian, and what factors determine is a project is successful. Continue reading