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 →
The Schomburg Center at the New York Public Library. Photo credit: trini_map
As I scrolled through my list of unread emails a couple weeks ago, I paused on a subject line that was at once nostalgic and saddening: “A Celebration of the Life of Dr. Vivian O. Windley.” Dr. Windley was a well-respected educator and highly regarded volunteer at the New York Public Library’s Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. Although we did not know each other personally, some brief remarks that she and another volunteer made to me in 2009 regarding a request for oral history interviews have profoundly influenced my understanding and appreciation of writing history. Continue reading →
The Library at the University of South Carolina, on a campus that has had a long-time and active public history program. Photo credit: USC
The Curriculum and Training Committee of the National Council on Public History has prepared a draft best practices document, “Best Practices for Establishing and Developing a Public History Program.” This document is intended to supplement the existing best practices documents on MA programs in public history, public history for undergraduate students, and certificate programs in public history. By focusing on resources and support, it seeks to ensure high-quality training at the graduate level. Designed mainly for college and university faculty and administrators, the draft provides guidance on subjects, such as funding, hiring practices, tenure and promotion, curriculum development, and areas of specialization. We invite comments on this document. Please send comments and suggested revisions to email@example.com by July 31. We look forward to hearing your thoughts. Here is a link to the document.
~ Daniel Vivian is assistant professor of history and director of public history at the University of Louisville in Louisville, Kentucky. He is chair of the Curriculum and Training Committee for the 2015-2016 academic year.
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 →
You’ve got your must-do list all set–a visit to the Grand Ole Opry (wait, since when is that in a suburban shopping center?), a night out at the Blue Bird Café, and a lunch date with your college roommate at The Wild Cow.
Now, like all good public historians, you pull up the program and begin to map out your conference schedule.
THATCamp NCPH Boot Camp on Wednesday afternoon? Check.
“History on the Cutting Edge” on Saturday and the Nashville Crime Walking Tour Friday? Add those to the list.
And speed networking on Thursday morning? You definitely want to make time for that.
But wait. You have a free two hours on Thursday afternoon. How will you ever fill the time? Continue reading →
Banners telling the stories of particular El Paso buildings were the first iteration of the Museo Urbano project. Photo credit: Bruce Berman
Hardball history that places historians at the center of politics, advocacy, and activism can be a difficult journey, but it can also be inspiring. My introduction to public history coincided with the 2006 unveiling of a controversial downtown revitalization plan in the city of El Paso, Texas. The plan included the demolition of more than thirty acres of El Segundo Barrio, a historic and predominantly Mexican-American neighborhood.
I was twenty-two and a senior at the University of Texas at El Paso. I learned about the downtown plan in a political science class, where everyone was given a brochure and a map of the area slated for construction. In place of churches and homes were shopping malls and parking lots. The woman giving us the presentation also mentioned that residents who could not afford new tax increases would need to be relocated. I was not the only student that had questions about the plan, the residents, and the process. The same semester I was also taking a Mexican-American History class taught by Dr. Yolanda Chávez Leyva. Her class incorporated the rich history of the area. Ironically, I had Dr. Leyva’s class right before the political science class. 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 →