Imagining New Careers in Public History

A working group

Where Public Historians Are Needed the Most Today

At last we’re really getting into “Imagining New Careers in History.”

However, I believe there is a big difference between where public historians are needed today, and where they can successfully insinuate themselves today.

I believe public historians are needed the most in fields where they currently are not in the majority, but where other professions have laid greater claim.  These fields include:

  • Cultural resource management (currently dominated by archaeologists – even for historical resources – with a large dose of academic historians)
  • National Security Information classification review (currently dominated by veterans of the military/intelligence communities and the State Department)
  •  Environmental assessment (perhaps currently dominated by environmental scientists)

I cannot say, however, that public historians could have the biggest impact along these career paths “right now.”  If that were the case, historians would be making a beeline for these fields right now.  Instead, two things have to happen:

1) Public historians will need to broaden their education.  For example, to be competitive in environmental assessment, historians should have some background in chemistry and environmental science.  And, depending on the particular property or property types being studied, cultural resource management specialists should have a firm background in the history and subject of those property types (but this is what public historians can do best).

2) NCPH, and other spokespersons for public history, must make a concerted effort to convince the hiring authorities for these new public history venues (often in the federal civil service) that “our” historians, properly trained, can indeed fulfill the requirements of the positions we are applying for, and can do it in a superior fashion. ~ Michael


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