Remembering Cliff Kuhn

Cliff Kuhn with outgoing National Council on Public History director John Dichtl, Nashville, April 2015. Photo credit: Cathy Stanton

Cliff Kuhn with outgoing National Council on Public History director John Dichtl, Nashville, April 2015. Photo credit: Cathy Stanton

Like so many of my friends and colleagues across the full spectrum of the historical profession, I am thankful for having known Cliff Kuhn. His death three weeks ago took us all by surprise. Cliff radiated vitality–intellectual, spiritual and personal. He was known for cycling every morning from his home in Atlanta’s Virginia Highland neighborhood to his office at Georgia State University in the heart of downtown. He seemed like a man on the verge of a very long life. Continue reading

Film and history: An invitation

Photo credit: Tomás Fano

Photo credit: Tomás Fano

To moviemakers, history is an endless source of human drama.

To historians, movies are a powerful art form that can accurately represent the past, seriously distort it–or both.

As historians and other professionals concerned with presenting or preserving history, you have a perspective on the role of history in movies that is critically important.

Which is why Smithsonian magazine and the National Museum of American History are inviting you to take part in this survey. It is being conducted in conjunction with the “History Film Forum: Secrets of American History” festival at the museum November 19 to 22. Continue reading

Reflections on relocating (Part 2)

The author's son. Image courtesy of Adina Langer.

The author’s son. Photo credit:  Adina Langer

Last December, I shared this post about my then-recent relocation from Lansing, Michigan, to Atlanta, Georgia. I wrote about my efforts to make connections in my new community and to nurture my career as a public history consultant and educator. Ten months later, I am writing from an altered vantage point; over the summer, I decided to apply for and ultimately accepted a new job as Curator of the Museum of History and Holocaust Education at Kennesaw State University.

Although I am very excited about my new job, I was trepidatious about writing this post. I have been co-chair of the National Council for Public History Consultants Committee since 2012, advocating for consultants within the public history community and trying my best to offer advice to young professionals and those seeking to make an adjustment to consulting. Ironically, I believe that an analysis of my decision to leave consulting in favor of a full-time job can offer some additional insights for those interested in pursuing a consulting career. Continue reading

Remembering David Kyvig

David Kyvig. Image source: The Public Historian

David Kyvig. Photo credit: The Public Historian

He was tall–but not intimidating.

He was funny–sometimes in the “bring down the house” style; sometimes just for chuckles.

He was balding–and joked about it.

He was a hard worker–which prompted others to match the pace.

He was a well-known public historian–with many publications.

He was a well-known constitutional historian–with many publications.

He always provided timely responses–for support letters, papers, committee work, articles, books.

He was a model collaborator.

He had many, many friends.

And in early March 1990 he became “Chair” (later President) of the National Council on Public History for one year, which he continued to remind us was actually 14 months. Continue reading

Ask a Public Historian Q&A: Anne Mitchell Whisnant

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

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

Government Historians and the NCPH

United States Capitol Building, Washington, D.C. and Parliament, Centre Block, Ottawa, Wikicommons.

United States Capitol Building, Washington, D.C. and Parliament, Centre Block, Ottawa.  Photo credit: Wikicommons

As employees of municipal, local, state, provincial, and federal governments, government historians have been a core group of the National Council on Public History since its founding. Yet, for a variety of reasons, these practitioners have at times felt “out on the edge” within the organization. During the 2014 annual meeting in Monterey, a small group of government historians pondered this conundrum: What was the best way to insure that questions related to the experiences, challenges, and unique working environments of government history practitioners were better represented within the organization? Continue reading

Public history student swaps mobcap for hard hat

Willowbank students squaring and carving stone.  Photo credit: Juliana Glassco

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

Report from the task force on public history education and employment

Graphic from public history employers' survey showing skills in demand for entry-level employees. Image credit: Public History Education and Employment Task Force

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