Monday, February 15, 2010

So What CAN You Do With a History Major? Part 24

Work in the research room for NBC's Olympic Coverage.

Today's timely interview is with Amy Bass (pictured at the 2006 Torino Winter Games), the director of the honors program at The College of New Rochelle and the supervisor of the research room for NBC's coverage of the Vancouver Olympics.

Amy is a prolific scholar of sport and race in American culture. Her most recent book is Those About Him Remained Silent: The Battle over W.E.B. DuBois. She has also chronicled her experience working for NBC in a great Journal of American History article: "Exploring the Wide World of Sports: Taking a Class to the (Virtual) Olympics." I should probably also mention that she is a friend from graduate school days.

Here is my interview with Amy:

JF: How did you get involved with NBC's Olympic Coverage?

AB: My first Games was Atlanta, 1996 - I was, the winter before, gearing up to defend my doctoral dissertation proposal, which was about cultural ideas of American citizenship. One piece of that proposal dealt with the black power movement at the Mexico City Olympics in 1968. I was immersed in Olympic research when I got the call: NBC Research -- they needed someone who could think fast, write well, research creatively, and was desperate enough to work 45 hour days. I fit the bill. Next thing I knew, I was buried in 30 Rock, sometimes logging in to my computer at 10AM on a Sunday and not logging out until Wednesday afternoon. It was brutal, but by the time I found myself on the infield of Olympic Stadium during Closing Ceremony, hanging out with the U.S. Water Polo team, I knew I could never go back.

JF: What are your responsibilities?

AB: Since Atlanta, I've become Supervisor of the Research Room. The Room serves as the brain of the broadcast - it is a team of geopolitical specialists, sports experts, linguists, journalists, etc., all of whom are excellent in their own way. It is about as diverse a group of people as you can work with, and we've done battle together many times. These are the people that know the name of every person carrying a flag in the Opening Ceremony, what could happen in every event before it happens, and how to find out whatever anyone else doesn't know. It is an amazing, tense, busy, scary place to work, and about as high of a rush as you can get.

JF: How have the skills you have gleaned as a historian helped you to be more effective doing this kind of work?:

AB: Historians have made research an art form -- we know how to turn the tiniest details into important pieces of the big picture and -- perhaps most importantly -- we know how to express it well. The ability to think, write, speak, communicate, innovate and create: that is history well done.

JF: Any career advice for undergraduate history majors?:

AB: Write as much as you can with your mentors, professors, and advisors -- you'll never have these kinds of folks to bounce stuff off of again. Use office hours until even you think you're a pain in the neck, speak up in class, and create lengthy conversations about heady things with your peers. And take as many non-history classes as you can -- literature, arts, communication, sociology -- you only (hopefully) get to do college once, so make the most of it.