Imagining New Careers in Public History

A working group

Project Management

Many museums and historical not-for-profits suffer from poor management.  Therefore, I would argue that public historians are most needed as project managers.  Good public historians have highly refined skills of collaboration, communication, and teamwork.  They are also extremely well organized.  Coordinating an exhibition or other public historical project requires overseeing various moving parts, including assigning tasks to team members, setting deadlines, making budgets, and identifying clear objectives.

These skills are equally applicable to work in the not-for-profit and for-profit worlds. Here is part of the job description for a project management position at a for-profit corporation that is listed in the New York Times today:

Position Responsibilities:

-Manage multiple projects, with cross-functional impact or significant impact in a single functional area and/or business.

-Develop a thorough understanding of work processes, user needs and client needs for segments of the business impacted by assigned projects.

-Monitor and control projects so they remain aligned with strategic business initiatives, communicate project updates as necessary to sponsors/committees and ensures adequate resource requirements are available.

-Manage the overall project from inception to execution.

-Practice established project management protocols including the development of project plans/timelines, facilitation of project meetings, etc.

-Identify critical paths and contingency plans for large scale projects, including development of a work breakdown structure, identification of major milestones and changes in project scope, and sequencing of project activities.

-Partner with various key stakeholders, internal and external, to gather inputs and develop objectives, project scope, goals and deliverables for key business projects and initiatives.

-Create innovative and robust presentation documents in support of Recruiting efforts.

-Interface with leadership within the business.

-Research, develop and implement practices and procedures designed to eliminate bureaucracy and inefficiencies and improve service quality.

-Act as a subject matter expert and advise / consult with the Recruiting team or other key stakeholders; develop and cultivate business relationships vital to success of projects/business initiatives.

What are the essential skills highlighted here?  1) Organizing multiple projects with various moving parts from inception to execution; 2) Communicating effectively with stakeholders; 3) Interfacing with leadership (in the not-for-profit world that would be the director and board); and 4) Being an expert in a particular subject area.

Sounds like a public historian would be a perfect fit for this position!



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One thought on “Project Management

  1. Will:

    Thanks for the suggestion of project management – I really like this avenue. I think that this career also brings in the importance of training new historians at the MA and PhD level in working collaboratively, team-building and organizational skills. While these are things I have learned from working in public history institutions, it would be great to be bringing best practices into the classroom as well.


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