Sweetwater Creek State Park, near my new hometown of Atlanta, includes the ruins of a textile mill, which was destroyed by Sherman’s advancing army. Photo credit: Adina Langer
Almost exactly four months ago, I relocated from Lansing, Michigan, to Atlanta, Georgia. Although both are capital cities, Lansing and Atlanta have little else in common. I traded the Midwestern winter and speedy grid-like roadways for mild autumn breezes through dense tree-cover and much-to-be-avoided traffic-choked interstates. Of course I also traded a dominant heritage of the fur trade, mid-19th-century westward expansion, and the rise and fall of the auto industry with one of British colonialism, railroads, the Civil War, Reconstruction, and Civil Rights. I also traded one public history community for another. In this post, I share my first impressions and aspirations. In nine months, I will report again on my progress toward my goals. Continue reading
Central Experimental Farm, Ottawa
Photo Credit: Pete Anderson
Academic careers are hard to come by these days. Public historians will not be surprised by the posts on the active #altac hashtag on Twitter or the Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada’s (SSHRC) recent “White Paper on the Future of the PhD in the Humanities” that observed that only between 10 and 15 percent of those who enter PhD programs will be employed at a post-secondary institution . A declining number of tenured and tenure-track positions, coupled with an increased reliance on precarious labor in the form of adjunct and temporary appointments, has destabilized the academic job market for graduates. Deep budget cuts to museums, archives, and other research-oriented institutions–not just in history and the humanities, but also in the social, physical, and life sciences–make finding “traditional” public history jobs increasingly difficult as well.
As a second-year PhD student working towards defending my dissertation proposal and completing my qualifying exams this term, I do not have the answers to questions about the utility of a PhD, but I am interested in designing my project with an awareness of the challenges facing new graduates. As Abby Curtin notes in her recent post on History@Work, while theses provide opportunities to explore rich historical questions, it doesn’t mean one shouldn’t be strategic in project design or have an eye towards future employability. Continue reading
Clue Town Piedmont Park scavenger hunt. Photo credit: Jay Carlson
I can’t even tell you how many crackpot business ideas I’ve had over the years, from producing greeting cards to owning an art supply store to selling candy in vending machines. They never came to fruition, but then I had an idea to create ready-to-solve scavenger hunts. The hunts would be self-guided tours of walkable areas, but a person or team has to solve puzzles using landmarks in order to know where to go next. When my wife, the realist, thought it was a good idea, then I knew I wasn’t just looking through rose-colored glasses. I started selling Clue Town Books in September 2012 with only two hunts: Piedmont Park and Oakland Cemetery in Atlanta, Georgia.
It’s easy to articulate what Clue Town is now, but at the time of its creation I had no idea how it would work. I spent weeks surveying the 190 acres of Piedmont Park in its entirety. I spent months designing paths, beta testing with adults and kids, redesigning paths, and beta testing some more. When I experimented with a path that used permanent landmarks (for example statues and historical markers) instead of self-planted signs, that’s when things fell into place. Folding in history allowed me to transform Clue Town from a series of puzzles to interactive storytelling.
I have a theory that a person doesn’t have an interest in local history until he or she has been affected by change first-hand. Perhaps a favorite restaurant closes or a new skyscraper alters the skyline. This makes each witness a historian for the short term. These bits of change compound over time to make one realize that nothing is constant. The city is different now than when you first arrived, and the city was drastically different generations ago. People and events are changing cities all the time, even while traces of the past often remain. Continue reading
The SHRA team at the Fall 2013 Boise Mayors awards ceremony in Arts and History. Photo credit: Idaho Statesman
Long before I had employees, I began my consulting career as an independent researcher. Although I fall into the introvert category on every personality test that I have taken, I am not your stereotypical introvert. I enjoy interacting with people and seek out opportunities to socialize and work as part of a team. Indeed, I believe that my desire for teamwork was one of the reasons I turned to public history. It gave me the chance to interact with more than just a remote editor in my research and writing. Consulting offers the opportunity to conduct regular face-to-face meetings with exceptionally diverse audiences, where I discuss my work, bounce around ideas, and get instant feedback. Because of the pace of consulting work, I actually have had more opportunities to write than I likely would have had in academia and on subjects that vary widely in both topic and scope. These are bonuses I didn’t anticipate when I turned to consulting as a career.
As the owner of a growing business, I recently have found it necessary to expand my notion of teamwork to include not just clients but also other researchers and writers. I admit that the conversion of my solo consulting career into a research-team-based enterprise has been one of my greatest challenges. Finding an appropriate balance among us on task assignments, making sure our work doesn’t overlap, and setting up procedures for effective team communication have tested me. I often find myself wondering how other historical consulting firms face these challenges. Continue reading
Editor’s note: We are beginning a new series on the Consultants Corner, Ask a Consulting Archivist. In the series, we will interview archivists about their careers, including how they first got started in consulting work, challenges they face, and current projects. We will soon begin similar series with consulting preservationists and curators/museum professionals. Adina Langer leads our first interview, which is with Maija Anderson who, in addition to consulting, works as Head of Historical Collections & Archives at Oregon Health & Science University in Portland.
Maija Anderson surveying an archival collection on-site. Photo credit: Max Johnson
How did you get involved in consulting?
I value the idea that everyone’s history is valid and important and that everyone should have power over their histories. As a university archivist, I’ve always been encouraged to contribute professional service by teaching what I know. I’ve always done mini-consults with anyone who has questions or needs a sounding board, just as a professional courtesy.
My first independent client was a collector of fine-press books. She had purchased some production files from one of her favorite book artists and wanted to make them presentable within her book collection. I think I was really lucky that my first client was a woman entrepreneur.
Consulting Alliances Working Group, NCPH Annual Meeting, Monterey, California, March 2014. Photo credit: Michael Adamson
The Consulting Alliances Working Group formed last fall to explore collaboration as a means by which independent consulting historians might do work that otherwise would not be available to them. After writing, posting (on this blog), and commenting on individual case statements, the group gathered in March in Monterey, California, at the annual meeting of the National Council on Public History (NCPH) to continue their consideration of the extent to which consulting historians may be missing opportunities to join colleagues in competing for projects that are likely beyond their reach as individuals. Consulting historians not only may be missing out on chances to work on more, and more varied, projects but also on opportunities to hone and leverage their talents as professionals. As Bill Willingham noted, by collaborating, historians can increase their creativity and improve their ability to execute projects. 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.
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
The working group that we have organized for the upcoming annual meeting in Monterey explores both the extent to which consulting historians have formed joint ventures to bid for and execute projects and the retention of independent consultants on the part of consulting firms (historical and otherwise) on a project-by-project basis. The group will interrogate the challenges consultants face in forming alliances for particular projects, such as logistics and budgets, assessing opportunities that may exist, and brainstorming ways of taking advantage of identified opportunities going forward. Continue reading
Two HistoryinPics tweets from Feb. 14, 2014, put whimsy and horror side-by-side. Screen shot by History@Work editors.
Continued from Part 1.
Unlike corporations that use historical images as a marketing strategy, museums, archives, libraries, and national historic sites are caretakers of history whose goal is not to distract from serious investigation but rather to promote it. We want people to understand context, to ask questions, and to dig deeper into sources. We appreciate the beauty of old objects and know that history can be fun. But ultimately we recognize that history has the power to motivate people to act in ways that have legitimate consequences in the world and on how human beings treat one another. So when a million people accept a feed such as @HistoryinPics at face-value, are we, perhaps, disappointed that an active and engaged citizenry has not stood up to challenge the whimsical imagery placed in front of them and asked “Can that really be so?” The practical consequence of people believing that John Lennon once played guitar with Che Guevara is probably little (this was one of the doctored images in the @HistoryinPics feed). The more urgent point is remembering that images can be doctored, human emotions can be manipulated, and we should always question what we see no matter how slick its presentation.
This strikes at the heart of the question about the public good and at the use of the word “History.” Had this account been called @ThePastinPictures, the outcry may have been more muted. The usage of the word “History” makes a difference. Continue reading
Screen shot: History in Pictures https://twitter.com/HistoryInPics
Suppose you’d never heard of @HistoryinPics, and I told you that a new social media account had grown to more than a million followers by featuring a different historical image in its feed every couple of hours.
As a public historian, you might be intrigued. “Really?” you might ask. That sounds pretty cool.
In fact, how @HistoryinPics and its copycat accounts have grown has ruffled our collective feathers. From a cautionary article in The Atlantic about copyright to scathing attacks in Slate and on Sarah Werner’s Wynden de Worde blog about improper citation, inaccuracy (or downright untruth, in some cases), lack of context, and no links to actual historical research, the prevailing reaction has been negative.
Which led me to wonder: what’s at stake here? And can we have a conversation around this phenomenon that results in useful takeaways for public historians? Continue reading