2 thoughts on “What “counts” as a public history dissertation? Some views from the field

  1. I earned my PhD in public history this past May, so my thoughts on your post are based on the goals I had for myself during the program as well as the experience I’ve had on the job market. You may be putting more on the dissertation than is warranted. It has two purposes: so you can earn the degree and to give you a basis for some publications. You will get a job based on experience as a whole, and the dissertation is only a small part of that. I discussed it in a small paragraph in my cover letter and it is discussed on my portfolio, but the only question I got relating to it during a recent successful interview process was: your research is on x, how would you apply that in our location?

    If your goal is to teach public history, it will be your public history experience that will make you an attractive candidate. What sort of work have you done with communities and “in the field”? Some of this will be the dissertation and that should make a contribution to public history, but you will have other experience as well. You will have designed exhibits, written NR nominations, created heritage tourism plans, etc.

    As a graduate student, I worked with professors who made sure my historical research was solid and with public history professors who had spent several years working in the field, unrelated to the academy. It was that later group that helped me really “get” how public history works on the ground and in communities. I assume, and it helped me get one job, at least, that departments looking for a public historian will be looking for that balance and versatility. We will see how that continues to work out for me. ;)

    All that to say, find a topic that will help you connect to people where the context is your historical field. Get as much other ph experience as you can, and get finished. I found looking at NCPH’s tenure suggestions helpful as well. Seems like you are on the right track to me. Let’s hope we both are! Good luck!

  2. Pingback: Year in review: Public history scholarship on History@Work | History@Work

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