Imagining New Careers in Public History

A working group


I was puzzled by question #2 because I couldn’t fathom someone still looking to get established in the field declining to work on any kind of public history project, conventional or un-.  But, then, my path to public history has been a decidedly non-linear one.

When my career as an oil company geologist came to an abrupt end in the early 90s with yet another precipitous fall in oil prices, I fell back on my scientific education/work background and military history hobby, and began the transformation into a military history/environmental consultant with a specialization in the Cold War. 

Because I was born and raised in Los Angeles, I find myself heavily influenced by Hollywood, where the strategy for up-and-comers is to accumulate “credits” – credits for doing anything in show business.  As someone without a history degree of any kind, I had to establish some personal credibility by earning some “history credits.”  And I did that by volunteering to work on as many military history projects as I could find. 

Some turned out well, some not so well.  For two different projects, I got to go to Hawaii, which was interesting not because I was working in a resort area (working in a resort area where the other visitors are vacationing is downright frustrating!) but because I got to visit a couple of “backwater” military installations I wouldn’t have been able to visit otherwise.  By contrast, on a Base Closure and Realignment project, I tried to be honest and follow the tenets of Section 106 instead of giving the customer the answer he wanted, and was “rewarded” by being dumped from a follow-on project.

So, what scale of potential earnings was necessary to motivate my participation in unconventional collaborations?  ANY earnings at all.  ~ Michael


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