Defining success: Seeking clarity or accepting uncertainty?

A 50-foot (15 m) tape measure produced by the Lufkin Rule Co. in Saginaw, Michigan at some point after 1929 (patent 1,713,807).

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?

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Do you hire public historians?

three people at table

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

“Why this topic?”: Inspiration and growth through writing history

 The Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture.  Photo credit: Flickr user trini_map

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

Best practices for establishing and developing a public history program

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 daniel.vivian@louisville.edu 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.

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

Can public history play? A conference pop-up preview

swirls of light

Photo credit: Rick Harrison

It’s the week of the National Council on Public History Annual Meeting, and you’re getting ready to jet off to the Volunteer State.

You’ve watched the requisite Tennessee-based movies: The Thing Called Love, Inherit the Wind, and The Blind Side.

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

You can do better

Wikipedia 101 workshop at the 2014 NCPH Annual Meeting in Monterey, CA. Photo credit: Courtesy of NCPH.

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

Proposing a Business and History program

 

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