19 September 2006

Making Money through History

As a student of public history, I entered this field of study with the intent of developing a set of skills that would enable me to enter the working world with, what I hoped would be, an advantage over others. What that advantage will be, I still have not too much of an idea. I like history and thinking through things in the ways my mentors have taught me. But how do I apply this interest into a succesful, lucrative career? After today's seminar and readings in HIS 500, I came to the conclusion that that elusive skill set is not the goal of the program. Instead, and I am thankful for this, those of us enrolled in the program are engaged in what Donald Schön calls "reflective practice." Now, I am still trying to wrap my head around the whole concept, but in essence, I think that I am to think about what it is I am doing, all the time, in relation to history. I like that. I am excited and a little scared about having to think. Excited becuase it is a challenge; scared because I worry that I will think the wrong thoughts or not think in the correct or best ways.

I am going to change tacks now.

I found it quite interesting that Cohen and Rosenzweig, in their essay, "Exploring the History Web," refer to two websites with which I am quite familiar. I am referring to the American Memory Project and The Valley of the Shadow. In a class for my undergraduate degree at
Dalhousie University on the American Civil War and Reconstruction, my professor, John O'Brien frequently urged us to visit these sites. What I liked about these websites was that they were not created with only a young audience in mind, as so many other history websites that I had visited up to that point were. More interesting than those sites, however, is the website DoHistory.org, developed in conjunction with Laurel Thatcher Ulrich's best-selling and remarkable work, A Midwife's Tale: The Life of Martha Ballard Based on Her Diary, 1785-1812. The website could easily have been incorporated into Cohen and Rosenzweig's "Teaching and Learning" section of their online book Digital History. DoHistory.org not only allows visitors to the site to navigate Ulrich's book, but also to learn skills valuable to the historian. (The book, for those interested in public history, was also subsequently made into a made-for-television movie through PBS' American Experience series.) Ulrich is a fascinating historian, employing a variety of research and writing techniques and tools. I was introduced to her work through another course at Dalhousie, "Popular Culture in the Atlantic World, 1650-1850," taught by my undergraduate thesis advisor, Jerry Bannister.

Well, where does this blog go from here? Let's go back to the start and talk briefly again about careers in public history. An interesting question occured to me during a seminar today: why do I want to be a public historian? Most will concur that it cannot be for the money (though I do hope to be able to live a comfortable lifestyle; I cannot expect my fiancée to carry the bulk of our financial obligations for too long). I always said to myself (and others) that my reason for entering a graduate program in Public History was because I want to be engaged, somehow, in matters historical, though not necessarily as a profesor. I mean, come on, history professors have it really hard, don't they? Really, though, I do not know if the academic life is for me, and I figured that some training in a field of history that occurs mostly outside the university setting would allow me to think in the way(s) I have been trained and enjoy. I think the question "Why do I want to be a public historian?" will be one of the guiding questions for me in this blog.

One last thing: I would like to recommend to all of my fellow Public History and graduate students out there that they subscribe to H-Net, in one or more of its forms. I am currently on a list for H-Canada, H-Public, and Film and History. They are useful, though sometimes cumbersome resources that provide an online community for historians of all sorts. Most of what I receive has no application for me, but occasionally I get real golden nuggets in there. And when the time comes for me to look for a job or internship, there are weekly postings in numerous fields.


laurenburger said...

Thanks for your recommendation about subscribing to H-Net - that's something I've always been meaning to do, but had forgotten about it lately. Thanks for the reminder!

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