Imagining New Careers in Public History

A working group

NEW AREAS OF HISTORY

Our working group is called “Imagining New Careers in History.”  I volunteered for the group because I have a strong belief in the ability of public historians to occupy positions not normally associated with historians, such as the document reviewer/classifier/declassifier position that I, a non-traditional historian (no history degree), currently occupy with the Department of the Air Force.  In fact, I submitted a proposal for such a talk at a previous NCPH annual meeting, but it was not accepted.

Our third question suggests what I consider a rather traditional view of what constitutes public history – to “create engaging history projects” for public consumption.  This, to me, does not speak to “new careers.”  In “imagining new careers,” I am focusing on new types of positions which historians heretofore may not have considered or applied for – positions in which public historians can thrive and on which they can have a substantial positive impact. 

My Air Force reviewer/classifier job is such a position.  Usually, the only prerequisite for such a job is a security clearance; previous experience as a reviewer is a plus but not always necessary.  Over the past eleven years I observed that trained historians can often do better in these reviewer positions than non-historians because of their knowledge of and interest in the subject, their grasp of historical context, their experience with historical records and archives, and their ability to develop and deliver training curricula.  My experience includes the statement of a Department of Energy reviewer/classifier who had the recommended physics degree but wished he had got a history degree instead; and the fact that one of the best reviewers in my current organization is our newest and youngest employee, who happens to have bachelors and masters degrees in history. ~ Michael

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