This is the first in a new series “Ask a Public Historian,” brought to you by the NCPH New Professional and Graduate Student Committee.
Anne Mitchell Whisnant, PhD, is Deputy Secretary of the Faculty and Adjunct Associate Professor of History, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She is also Consulting Historian, Primary Source History Services, and the author of Super-Scenic Motorway: A Blue Ridge Parkway History (UNC Press, 2006).
Anne Mitchell Whisnant Photo credit: Evan Whisnant
Why did you choose to enter your field?
I have two fields–“alt-ac” university administration (where I make the majority of my living) and public history consulting and teaching.
I started graduate school at UNC-Chapel Hill in 1989 to become a college professor. By 1997, I had my degree and a husband who was a full professor of English at Chapel Hill. Doing a national assistant professor job search was not an option, and I spent five years raising our two sons. Only after my husband David retired and the stock market tanked (in that unfortunate order) did I start trying to figure how to forge some “other” kind of career/employment path with my history PhD. In 2002, I attended a joint OAH-NCPH (Organization of American Historians and National Council on Public History) meeting featuring many public-history-related sessions about “what you can do with a History PhD.” I was introduced both to the wide world of “public history” and the radical idea that history training could be useful beyond professor positions. The insight about transferable skills led directly to my first “alt-ac” job, and I’ve remained in that realm. Continue reading
How should public history graduate programs measure success? Photo credit: Wikipedia Lufkin tape measure
What constitutes success for a public history graduate program? A strong placement record? Student mastery of a set of professional skills? Or perhaps cultivation of our discipline’s habits of mind?
One might say, “It depends”–on whom you ask, when you ask them, and why you want to know. But does that ambiguity compromise our ability as program directors to represent our programs accurately and effectively to the students we serve and the administrators who oversee us? In defining success, should we pursue clarity or get comfortable with uncertainty?
Participants at the “speed networking” session at the 2016 National Council on Public History Annual Meeting. Photo credit: National Council on Public History
Do you have a role in hiring public historians? Do you review applications and weigh in on hiring decisions? Or do you make those decisions yourself? If the answer to any of these questions is yes, we need you to take the public history employer survey. The joint task force on public history employment and education has developed the survey as part of its efforts to understand the current state of the public history job market. Although job opportunities have improved from their low point in 2008-2010, questions remain about the overall health of the field. To better understand employers’ expectations and needs, the task force seeks information about what employers look for in hiring historians at all levels. The results will be used to identify emerging areas of activity, align training with employers’ expectations, and provide professional organizations with information needed for advocacy, constituent support, and formulating policy. Continue reading
Willowbank students squaring and carving stone. Photo credit: Juliana Glassco
It is often said that everyone should work in the customer service industry at some point in their lives so that they can understand what it’s like to interact with the world from the other side of the cash register. I feel the same way about traditional building trades. Anyone who works with old buildings should spend at least a few days learning about what it takes to be a carpenter, plasterer, mason, or blacksmith. As a student in a course of study in heritage conservation (called historic preservation in the United States) at Willowbank School, a small private college in southern Ontario, that is precisely what I do.
Willowbank’s curriculum blends hands-on experience with design, heritage management, and theory. Professional craftspeople–and architects, historians, planners, conservators, and others–take time away from their jobs to teach a group of students from diverse backgrounds about their profession. Every day is a lesson in humility and patience. At its heart, being a student here is about cultivating respect for the many perspectives, skills, and disciplines that interact with “heritage” in all of its varied forms. In studying these points of intersection, we are unlocking potential for cross-disciplinary creativity, communication, and collaboration. Continue reading
Graphic from public history employers’ survey, showing skills in demand for entry-level employees. Image credit: Public History Education and Employment Task Force
Are there too many public history programs? Where is the field going, and what can professional organizations do to ensure that it remains vital in the years to come? For the past year, a task force organized by the National Council on Public History (NCPH), the Organization of American Historians, the American Historical Association, and the American Association for State and Local History has investigated questions about the current landscape of public history training and employment. Inspired in part by Robert Weyeneth’s essay “A Perfect Storm?,” the task force is charged with gathering data on several key questions. We want to know what skills and abilities employers look for when hiring professionals in the early stages of their careers, where they see the field of public history going, and what skills and expertise will be more highly valued in the future. We want to know if training, particularly at the graduate level, is preparing students for professional employment and long-term career growth. Finally, we want to know what professional organizations can do to ensure production of well-trained public historians and ensure the general health of the field. At a time when concerns about the number of graduate public history programs and possible “overproduction” have become common, we need reliable information about these concerns. Continue reading
Wikipedia 101 workshop at the 2014 NCPH Annual Meeting in Monterey, CA. Photo credit: NCPH
In 2011, the Professional Development Committee developed a set of guidelines for annual meeting workshops. We see workshops as providing hands-on and participatory experiences which impart practical information, rather than the typical conference presentation or “show and tell” case studies. With these guidelines in place, the committee has begun to think about a broader curriculum of professional development opportunities to serve the needs of National Council on Public History members. To do so, we are seeking your input though a brief survey. Continue reading
Tag cloud from Centre for Regulation and Market Analysis conference in Adelaide, South Australia. Image credit: University of South Australia
Some nineteen categories of public history programs are now offered. Many offer skills and knowledge useful for specialized businesses (archival practices, business histories, publishing). None prepare history students for general business careers. Business and History is designed to fill this void by linking historians’ methods to solving problems common to private enterprise. Continue reading
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.
Last year on this blog, I engaged in an ongoing discussion about how public history consultants determine the value of our work. I proposed that we would benefit from establishing fee standards across the discipline, ideally creating space in the market for consultants to make a living while improving the value of historical work in public spaces. This post came in response to a working group at the 2012 NCPH (National Council on Public History) annual meeting in which independent consultants discussed the need to communicate fee trends while the firms voiced their desire to keep their fees confidential. We all left with a general concept of how to help those who want to band together but not a clear understanding of how to accomplish that goal.
Chart showing public history consultants’ fee scale varying by years of experience. Credit: Kathy Shinnick
As a step towards this end, the NCPH Consultants Committee conducted a survey, which, in part, asked consultants to anonymously divulge information about their fees. The survey was intended to determine trends by cross-referencing the fee scale with categories such as education level, region, and years of experience. For example, we should be able to assess the going rate for consultants in the Southeast who have a PhD and ten years of experience. Due to a somewhat small sample size of 148 consultants, the results leave a few unanswered questions. However, they also reveal a lot that can guide us to the next step. Continue reading
Photo credit: Berdea, Wikimedia Commons
Providing assistance to individuals considering careers in consulting remains an ongoing task of the National Council on Public History (NCPH) Consultants Committee. In October 2012 and September 2014, forums held on Versatile PhD opened up discussions that generated valuable data that Consultants Committee members are using in devising initiatives to achieve this end. Both forums were populated with practitioners who represented a number of disciplines, including history. In particular, the forums gave graduate students, postgraduates, and other interested parties in the humanities and the social sciences the opportunity to ask practicing professionals about the business of consulting. The questions posed–the most germane of which are compiled here, in distilled form–can serve to guide the committee in its efforts to address the concerns and meet the needs of those who are considering a career in consulting. Indeed, this is an opportunity to be seized.
Three cohorts of student interns at Eleanor S. Brockenbrough Archives. Pictured are Teresa Roane, Library Director; Sgt. Major Abdur Alimi-Hayes, Eric Richardson, Donna Nelson, Torren Gatson, Ronnica Williams, Ed (independent researcher), and Andrew Winters. Photo credit: Rhonda Jones
This is the final post in a series on issues of diversity in the public history field. You can find the previous posts in the series here.
As public historians, we have many responsibilities, but, as a baseline, we are charged with making history relevant, meaningful, and accessible to amateur historians, students, families, and scholars alike. To do this effectively, it is necessary to consider the “who” behind the “what.”
As this series demonstrates, if our institutions are to remain relevant to a public with evolving needs, we must include individuals within our ranks that have a multiplicity of backgrounds. It is critical that these individuals are in turn capable of interpreting multiple narratives, engaging with all parts of society, including those who have been marginalized, and expressing history in innovative ways. Consider the Minnesota Historical Society’s American Indian Museum Fellows program. Continue reading