What employers seek in public history graduates (Part 4): An online discussion in preparation for NCPH 2013

binocularsAs a public historian and manager of historical research at Parks Canada for the past 12 years, I have sat on many hiring committees to hire historians, policy analysts, program officers and university students for a range of heritage and history projects based in our national office in Gatineau, Quebec.  The hiring process for the Government of Canada is highly structured with interview grids, quantitative scoring and little opportunity for those of us on hiring committees to engage in exploratory discussions when candidates have made intriguing statements.  In this context, we take special care to design our hiring process so that written exams, interviews, and reference checks support us in identifying the most outstanding candidates who can have productive careers at Parks Canada.

It is tempting to believe that a combination of education and experience is enough to turn one into a good public historian, and make one desirable to hire. However, my years of reading and listening to candidates suggests it takes so much more than that. Continue reading

What employers seek in public history graduates (Part 3): Skill sets beyond collections management

binocularsThis is the third post in a series to discuss the genesis of the idea for the “What Employers Seek in Public History Graduates” session at the 2013 National Council on Public History meeting in Ottawa. Session panelists will continue to share their thoughts on the topic in entries in the coming weeks.

Before the rapid proliferation of museum studies and public history programs began in the 1960s and 1970s, almost all museum professionals held degrees in traditional academic disciplines related to the content areas of their museums. People who worked in historic sites and history museums usually had degrees in history. Typically, museum-specific skills and knowledge in areas such as collections care, exhibit development, and interpretation were learned “on-the-job.” In today’s economic climate,  fewer museums and heritage sites can afford to hire entry-level professionals who must be trained on-the-job to do the work of public history. Of course, it is still important to be well-educated in history, but today’s employers seek more.

I recently completed a national study for my doctoral dissertation on this very topic. I surveyed 38 leading practitioners from lists of board members of the American Association for State and Local History and the American Alliance of Museums from the last ten years.  The very detailed survey took 65 competencies with definitions, divided into five major areas, and asked museum leaders to rate the level of mastery of each item that they believe is needed for entry-level museum professionals. Continue reading

What employers seek in public history graduates (Part 2): Professional development ideas for public historians: An online discussion in preparation for NCPH 2013

binocularsThis is the second post in a series to discuss the genesis of the idea for the “What Employers Seek in Public History Graduates” session at the 2013 National Council on Public History meeting in Ottawa. Session panelists will continue share their thoughts on the topic in entries in the coming weeks.

I believe a cultural organization’s greatest value rests with its ability to change the world, and that cultural organizations must seek to provide experiences that:

  1. Inspire, challenge, and question;
  2. Nurture, inform, and educate;
  3. Offer dialogue, discourse, and debate;
  4. Provide opportunities for reflection and action; and,
  5. Offer enrichment through authentic interaction with people, place, and heritage.

Building on these values, I believe that professional development experiences must transcend disciplines, careers, and subject matter. The focus must move beyond collections, programs, and exhibits.  We can and should nurture a commitment to these things, but with a re-purposed fundamental intent; to use these skills as a vehicle for a larger purpose. Continue reading

What employers seek in public history graduates (Part 1): An online discussion in preparation for NCPH 2013

binocularsThis is an initial post in a series to discuss the genesis of the idea for the “What Employers Seek in Public History Graduates” session at the 2013 National Council on Public History meeting in Ottawa. Session panelists will share their thoughts on the topic in entries in the coming weeks.

———

Caveat emptor: What I’m not going to do is answer the question about what employers seek in public history grads. (“Say what you’re going to say,” he thinks to himself. “Say it. Say what you said.” Grad school permanently burned that mantra into my brain. Blog posts are different, right?)

Shortly after I completed my M.A. at the University of Central Florida, the UCF history department launched its Public History program. I had been working in the field of public history since midway through my time in graduate school—as education director at the Orange County Regional History Center—and the History Center had supported the department’s creation of the degree track.

In addition to my education duties, I was also in charge of the institution’s volunteer program. I was always seeking ways to engage more folks with our museum and I believed involving these new public history students with us would be a win/win for the History Center, the students, and the department. Thus began conversations with Rose Beiler, one of my thesis advisors and director of the program, about how the department and the museum could work together. Continue reading