There’s been a lot of discussion lately about the number of academic public history programs, the saturation of the job market, and concern about the training students are receiving (see Robert Weyeneth’s article “A Perfect Storm”). Curtailing the number of public history programs, growing the public history market, and accrediting programs are all big challenges. I’d like to propose a small change: that potential students gain work experience BEFORE they enter an academic program.
Does the culinary school model hold promise for public history education? Photo credit: Bill Way, HPRMan on Flickr
What would happen if public history programs demanded that applicants worked in the public history field before they could apply to an academic program? Culinary schools have long used this model and have required that applicants have kitchen experience before they apply to a program. In fact, there are lots of similarities between culinary arts degree programs and public history programs. Continue reading
The main National Park Service website as it appeared on October 5, 2013.
I didn’t expect this shut down to bring back the 1995 shut down so vividly; that lock out was almost twenty years ago! But talking with friends and colleagues, I hear the same deep sense of unworthiness, of uncertainty, of being sent like a naughty child to my room but with all the work still piling up—and the deadlines remaining fixed. It feels dank.
We need to call this Shut Down the Lock Out it is—the effort to “prove” that government employees are either needed or extraneous, that they are either part of our security/military function or rightfully belonging to that dustbin of social causes. I strenuously disagree with the effort—and hope that as this Lock Out progresses the American people will see all the many ways that various parts of the federal government improve and protect their lives. Continue reading
Calling all consulting historians/historical consultants:
SurveyMonkey icon courtesy of SurveyMonkey.com
The National Council on Public History Consultants Committee is seeking responses to a survey that will help the committee determine how best to serve the consultant community. If you are a historical consultant or considering a career in consulting, please take a few moments to fill out the survey. Results will be kept confidential, and the committee will use what it learns to improve the NCPH Consultants List and other resources for the community.
Here’s the link to the survey. We look forward to posting the results once all of the surveys are in!
~ The Consultants Committee
“Ask a Slave” is a brand-spanking new comedy web series that is going viral in certain circles. In the series (just two episodes at time of writing; there will be six total), actress/comedienne/NYU grad Azie Mira Dungey portrays the character “Lizzie Mae” who is supposed to be an enslaved housemaid for America’s founding couple–George and Martha Washington. In a nutshell, Lizzie Mae hosts a talk show where she fields questions from clueless tourists. The questions are drawn from Dungey’s actual experiences working as a first person interpreter–portraying a woman named Caroline Branham–at George Washington’s Mount Vernon; Lizzie Mae’s responses, one surmises, are not. By the end of the first four-minute episode, Lizzie Mae calmly but firmly calls out a smirking tourist’s question (“Why don’t you just go to Massachusetts and go to school?”) as “foolish,” and she schools him as to why. Continue reading
EDITOR’S NOTE: This four-part post by Robert Weyeneth, President of the National Council on Public History and director of the public history program at the University of South Carolina, is also printed in the September 2013 NCPH newsletter. To add your comments, go to Part 4 of the post.
To many, it looks like the perfect storm: five disturbing trends coming together to spawn a monster disaster. Here’s the meteorological analysis. (1) There are now too many public history programs in colleges and universities, especially at the graduate level. (2) They are producing record numbers of new MAs, probably too many. (3) These newly minted public historians are not finding good entry-level jobs in the field. (4) Some of the new graduates aren’t finding jobs because they are poorly trained—by new public history programs that are struggling to figure out what they should be doing. (5) Even graduates of long-established programs aren’t getting jobs—because their stodgy curricula haven’t kept up with the realities of the twenty-first-century economy and the digital revolution.
These are observations I hear regularly from colleagues whom I respect. Some conclude that the National Council on Public History should actively discourage the creation of new programs. Let’s look at some of the issues raised by these alarming observations and consider what NCPH might do consistent with its impulse to welcome all aboard the “big ark.” Continue reading
Continued from Part 1
What can NCPH do?
The alarmed observations with which I began single out the rising numbers of both programs and graduates, but it seems to me that the real issue is quality. I believe that NCPH can address the issue of quality control from two different but related angles. Continue reading
Continued from Part 2
Quality Control from Students
Empowering students In its own way, the NCPH Guide to Public History Programs is also a best practices document itself. It is an international listing of graduate, undergraduate, and “related” public history programs that can be searched by geographical location, curricular concentration, and type of degree. It also permits an apple-to-apple comparison of programs. Continue reading
Continued from Part 3
Averting the storm
Let me conclude by reiterating that these personal reflections are offered in the spirit of “NCPH as a big tent,” open and welcoming to all public historians, old hands and new, inside and outside the academy. I have tried to report candidly, if distressingly, on the conversations I am hearing about how public history is making headway or falling short in colleges and universities today, especially at the graduate level. Clearly there is much more to be said. To my way of thinking, the fundamental issue that underpins current concerns is quality, in programs old and new, big and small, mine included. Continue reading
A recent History@Work post by Matthew Exline prompted a lively discussion of the challenges of getting a foot in the door as a new public history professional. One topic that appeared several times in the many comments was the unpaid internship, and the opinions on it were divergent enough that we thought it was worth following up on them. So we asked a number of practicing public historians from various areas of the field to share their thoughts on pursuing unpaid internships or volunteer opportunities as part of public historians’ professional training.
There’s no clear consensus, as you’ll see, but we hope this roundtable post will further clarify some of the issues and questions. Continue reading
“‘He has to be crazy to keep flying combat missions after all those close calls he’s had. Sure, I can ground Orr. But first he has to ask me to. . . . ‘
“‘And then you can ground him?’ Yossarian asked.
“‘No. Then I can’t ground him.’
“‘You mean there’s a catch?’
“‘Sure there’s a catch,’ Doc Daneeka replied. ‘Catch-22. Anyone who wants to get out of combat duty isn’t really crazy.’”
–Joseph Heller, Catch-22.
The Penrose Staircase: an illustration of a logical paradox (public domain)
The ink was hardly dry on my new history diploma before the awkward conversations began. “Congratulations on graduating! That’s exciting,” co-workers, friends, and family members would say. “So, what are you hoping to do next?” I would launch into my standard speech about hoping for some kind of job in public history. “Maybe a museum, or a historic site, or consulting,” I say optimistically. Nobody likes a complainer, so I usually smile and pretend everything is fine. Now it is time to start telling the truth. After completing three history internships, stacks of term papers, two book-length theses, a feature-length documentary, and everything else that went into getting my two history degrees, I still feel as far away from my dream job than I was when I graduated from high school. I am facing my own personal Catch-22, because the hiring qualifications for many public history jobs seem deliberately calculated to shut out a recent graduate like me. Continue reading