Imagining New Careers in Public History

A working group

Response to Question #2

Nancy, I’d like to thank you for your contributions to the conversation so far.  I hope that you are willing to stay in touch and also wonder if you would be willing to let Seth and me know privately by email exactly how you imagined the working group conversation was going to go.

Seth and I had hoped that the question we posed would be an expansive, inclusive one that encouraged the group to think about low/minimal compensation, moderate compensation, and high compensation.  We were attempting to ask about scale of earnings and about success in the same question, not saying one has to have high earnings to be successful.  In fact, we might have even intended to imply the opposite.  In our eyes, success in public history comes from being a participant in lots of collaborations, regardless of compensation.

As to conference attendance, I can only write about my own experience.  I started attending NCPH when I was a graduate student.  I received no (or very little) financial support for attending my first couple of years.  However, the network of contacts I made at those conferences has proven invaluable in my career.  Without sounding like an advertisement for the organization, I would not be the scholar or public history practitioner that I am without NCPH.  Although everyone must make their own determination regarding the cost-benefit of attending the conference, I can say that it has been an investment that has paid off for me.

So how to proceed?

Our inclination is to revise, but not abandon, Question #2.  To that end, Seth and I would like to solicit suggestions from the group for a modified version of this question.  We’ll wait a few days to give the group a chance to respond and then proceed.

I do hope that we can continue to build on a promising start.

~Will

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2 thoughts on “Response to Question #2

  1. Will:

    I think this line of questioning about funding/employment is central to the discussion about new careers in history. That said, you asked for modified versions of this question and these are my two cents.

    Building off of Nancy’s comments, public historians constantly face questions about how much we should contribute our time, energy, and money to create engaging history projects for the public while building a sustainable future for ourselves. I’m interested in what new areas of history we might think about that will do both of these things. Nancy’s call for us to think seriously about gender (and I would add race and class) is particularly important in these conversations – both in regards to the practitioners and the types of projects.

    What are other folks are thinking here?

    ~Anne

  2. angifullerwildt on said:

    I think that the more projects that public historians take on for little to no monetary compensation may devalue the profession. While there are many non-profits with small budgets who may reasonably take advantage of the free labor that interns have to offer, which is of course a benefit to the student as well, anyone with a degree who holds out hope that gratis projects might lead to a paid project down the road may be perpetuating the situation. If traditional avenues are shrinking, and they seem to be, then what other areas may benefit from our skills and experience? This is what I hope to find out during our in-person brainstorming. Perhaps there are other ways to fund the type of work we do traditionally. Has everyone written a grant proposal, for example? If we were to do so in conjunction with a non-profit, we could create our own work with that entity, if only for a year or two. Research article writing seems appealing, but would it be a sustainable living? I think being a guest historian on History Detectives, Who Do You Think You Are, etc., would be a lot of fun, but again, how sustainable is that unless you have a full-time gig already? Looking forward to lots of great ideas in April.

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