The “new normal”: Is there one?

panel participants

Lee White and Angela Sirna during the “New Normal” panel. Photo credit: Max Van Balgooy

“Sequester” was a dirty word during last year’s conference season. At the March 2013 conference of the George Wright Society in Denver, attendance was down nearly 75 percent because of travel limitations put into place right before the meeting. At the National Council on Public History meeting in Ottawa a few weeks later, I noticed a number of my colleagues were absent. Travel cutbacks were just at the top of a long list of issues caused by the recession and then the across-the-board US federal budget cuts known as sequestration. I was deeply disturbed by what I saw in Denver, and this was before I watched the gates close at Catoctin Mountain Park (where I was working at the time) in October 2013 when the federal government shut down. I hoped that public historians could talk openly at this year’s meeting in Monterey and share responses to their “new normal.” Fortunately the program committee agreed, and on Thursday, March 20, we held an open conversation in a session titled “Situation Normal? Ways Past Sequestrations, Shutdowns, and Budgetary Woes.” Continue reading

Survey announcement: Help us gather data for the Graduate Program Consumer’s Guide

ship in heavy seaDuring the coming year the National Council on Public History will prepare a Graduate Program Consumer’s Guide. The Consumer’s Guide will serve as a tool for anyone weighing the pros and cons of pursuing a degree or certificate in public history. Robert Weyeneth, president of the NCPH and director of the public history program at the University of South Carolina, outlined the rationale for the Consumer’s Guide last September in a series of posts for History@Work. Collectively titled “A Perfect Storm,” the posts addressed the widely held perception that a “jobs crisis” exists in the field of public history. Weyeneth argued that NCPH can and should commit its organizational resources to ensuring that public history programs offer the highest quality training to the next generation of practitioners, who will undoubtedly face a highly competitive job market.

As a first step toward producing the Consumer’s Guide, the New Professional and Graduate Student Committee of NCPH announced plans earlier this winter for a survey soliciting feedback from History@Work readers. The committee will participate in creating the Consumer’s Guide, and we are eager to hear from current public history students, long-established professionals, and everyone in-between. What kind of information do you think the NCPH should include in the Consumer’s Guide? Please follow this link and answer a few survey questions. Your feedback is indispensable to the process of crafting a Graduate Program Consumer’s Guide that will benefit our field and the next generation of practitioners. We hope that the survey will also stimulate discussions that continue during the upcoming NCPH meeting in Monterey.

~ New Professional and Graduate Student Committee

What’s your new “Situation Normal”?

protester with sign

US federal government workers at an August 2013 protest of budget sequestration and employee furloughs. Photo credit: American Federation of Government Employees

As I sit down to write this post (and by the way, this is my first “official” history blog post), I am pondering what my “New Situation Normal” is as a public history practitioner for a federal agency. How has my work reality changed, for good and for ill, over the past 16 years? Certainly, technology and social media provide public historians with avenues to new and varied audiences. And with the Internet’s narrowing of time and space, interesting and exciting possibilities now exist for researchers and public historians.

However, there have been less positive workplace changes, namely budgetary and staffing constraints, which have created stresses and reprioritization at work for many American public historians in the public and private sector—as well as in other countries—regardless of agency or organization. Continue reading

The value of history (Part 1)

Editor’s note: During the fall of 2013, the NCPH Consultants Committee distributed a survey to the NCPH consultants community in order to learn more about the community’s members and how best to serve them.  This piece is part of a series examining the results of that survey.

Kathy Shinnick at the International Tennis Hall of Fame in front of guest curated exhibit Tennis and Hollywood. One of many rewarding opportunities available only as low or no paying internships. Photo credit: Kathy Shinnick

Kathy Shinnick is standing at the International Tennis Hall of Fame in front of her guest-curated exhibit Tennis and Hollywood. This is one of many rewarding opportunities available only as low- or no-paying internships. Photo credit: Kathy Shinnick

When I changed careers from sales to public history I did so in the spirit of some great advice, “Choose a profession that allows you to do something you would be willing to do for free.” I just don’t think I realized how much of it I actually would be doing for free or at least cheap. Sound familiar?

The history dollar is short. It has to go a long way to feed us all. Part of that problem is simply because there are so many of us. Part of the problem is in the way history is valued by society, our consumer. Part of the “problem” is not necessarily a problem at all as history is often viewed through the lens of education that should be free (or cheap) and available to those who are ready to learn. However, part of the problem also lies with how we, as public historians, value or understand the value of our work. Continue reading

Student consumer’s guide

ship in heavy seaIn September of last year,History@Work published a series of posts by Robert Weyeneth, president of NCPH and Director of the Public History Program at the University of South Carolina. Collectively titled “A Perfect Storm,” the posts addressed what Weyeneth identified as a broadly shared concern among public history professionals (inside and outside academia) that a jobs crisis exists in the field. Weyeneth used the series to consider how NCPH should and could respond organizationally to the storm. This post, from NCPH’s New Professional and Graduate Student Committee, represents one aspect of the organization’s response to the putative jobs crisis.

Before describing our committee’s goals, we would like to briefly summarize Weyeneth’s points. He wrote that the “perfect storm” combines the proliferation of public history programs, especially master’s-level certificate programs, with the accompanying growth in the number of public history MA’s, the dearth of entry-level jobs in the field for these new public historians, the range in quality of training received by some of these graduates, and the mismatch between program curricula and the demands of the contemporary public history job market. Weyeneth argued that quality, not quantity, is the fundamental issue related to public history employment. Certificate programs are not necessarily pumping out too many MA’s, but they may not be equipping their graduates with the skills appropriate for the “twentieth-first-century economy and the digital revolution.”

Weyeneth concluded that NCPH, as the major professional organization for the field, can do much to encourage and facilitate high-quality graduate training for the next generation of public historians. Drawing on the example of the organization’s best-practices documents for undergraduate programs, certificate programs, and internships, Weyeneth proposed that NCPH produce a student consumer’s guide to public history programs. This new guide will empower students to be “more active and critical consumers of education.” It will provide information about various programs and also equip prospective applicants with a set of questions to ask “when they study websites, e-mail program directors, or visit campuses.” The consumer’s guide will enable students to find the program with the right fit and, in turn, identify the career paths they desire.

In the coming weeks, the New Professional and Graduate Student Committee will solicit feedback from readers through a tool like Survey Monkey. We want to capture a range of experiences and perspectives, so we are eager to hear from current public history students, long-established professionals, and everyone in between. Our survey will ask what kind of information you think NCPH should include in the consumer’s guide. Based on your own experience, what knowledge or resources do you think would best enable people to actively shape their own graduate student experience and navigate the field as new professionals? What do you wish someone had told you at the beginning of your public history career? Keep an eye out for our call for feedback in a subsequent post. The practice of public history is inherently collaborative, and we hope you will join with us to shape the future of public history education.

~ New Professional and Graduate Student Committee

What we can learn from our Australian colleagues

I have long admired the Australia Council of Professional Historians Associations (ACPHA). It promotes the profession of history and the work of its members by keeping consultants’ registers, offering employment services, and maintaining a scale of fees. I have often wondered if some of these benefits could be replicated in the United States by NCPH.

Photo credit: Morgen Young

Members of the Victoria Chapter of the ACPHA meet.  Photo credit: Morgen Young

While visiting Melbourne in November, I had an opportunity to meet with members of the ACPHA’s Victoria Chapter. I related some general issues facing public history in America, from our current overabundance of educational programs, and the problems arising from it, to the impact of the Great Recession on employment. Our Australian colleagues face the opposite situation. With the closure of Monash University’s masters in public history program earlier this year, Australia now has no public history programs. At the same time, I was fascinated to learn what the ACPHA is doing to secure employment for public historians, consultants especially. I hope that we might be able to emulate some or all pieces of their program.

Continue reading

A culinary school model for public history programs

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

Locked out, not shut down

NPS website with shutdown message

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

Consultants survey

Calling all consulting historians/historical consultants:

SurveyMonkey icon courtesy of SurveyMonkey.com

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