Wednesday, November 14, 2012

A Question for Public Historians

Here in the Messiah College History Department we want to strengthen our concentration in public history. At the moment, students who do this concentration are required to take a full history major (39 hours), including an upper-level course in public history, three courses in American history, and a 4-9 credit internship.

We are thinking seriously about adding some non-history courses to the concentration. Students would receive a menu of courses offered outside the history department and be required to take one or two (or more?) of them. This menu might include courses in:
  • GIS
  • Web design
  • Museum studies
  • Digital history or humanities
  • Event planning
  • Photography
  • Documentary film-making
  • Digital media
  • Computer programming
  • Graphic design
What other kinds of courses do you think would be appropriate? What kinds of non-history tools might the undergraduate public historian need in his or her toolbox? Are there any courses on this list that are not useful to the work of a public historian?


Devin C. Manzullo-Thomas said...

John: Two that strike me as being pertinent. First, a course on grant writing (or perhaps a more expansive course on nonprofit management that includes info on grant writing, etc.) could be very useful for aspiring public historians, especially those that are looking to work in historical societies, small museums, archives, etc.

Second, a course on archives management. Obviously students who are serious about going into the archives field will do graduate-level work in this area, but it seems to me that early exposure to some of the basics (appraisal, arrangement, description, access/references, etc.) would help students gain a leg up both in the job market and in graduate coursework.

Devin C. Manzullo-Thomas said...

Also, oral history and local/state history.

John Fea said...

Thanks, Devin. These are both great ideas. We are definitely limited at Messiah in what we can offer (I don't think we have a course in grant-writing and I know we don't have one in archives management), but these are certainly things to explore.

Susan Fletcher said...

I would absolutely recommend Museum Studies as an addition to the program. I earned a minor in Museum Studies in undergrad and those academic studies combined with numerous internships over the years have been invaluable. I think some art courses would be useful too, especially if your students are thinking about doing exhibit design. Maybe you could work with your art department to create a public design course (for history and art exhibits, teaching the fundamentals of design, and also film and graphic arts).

I would add a business course to the listing too. I took a historical administration course in grad school that helped me understand that one day I would have to do icky stuff like creating budgets and managing other people. Turns out, an education in straight history doesn't prepare you very well in these two areas. I do both of these things in my public history job today, and could have used a stronger background in business. I second Devin's suggestion for grant-writing, but feel it could be collapsed into the general business-of-history course.

When your students go on to grad school, they will hopefully have the opportunity to do more specialized courses like Historic Preservation, Archives, Historic Site Interpretation, etc.

You should hire me to come aboard at Messiah! That would be so much fun :)

John Fea said...

Thanks, Susan. This is very helpful. I will look and see what Messiah offers in business and art along these lines.

And I would love to hire a full-time public historian! Maybe some day,

Tom Van Dyke said...

I'd recommend your history majors be required to take your POLI 204 course, the history of Western Political Thought.

Your website listing says it covers thinkers "from Plato to Marx" but hopefully is abundant in "Christian Thought" ala this similar listing from Trinity Christian College:


Students examine the main contributors to Western political thought, such as Plato, Aristotle, Cicero, Augustine, Aquinas, Luther, Machiavelli, Hobbes, Locke, the American founding fathers, and Marx. Thinkers and systems are examined in the light of biblical principles and insights, especially those emanating from the Reformed tradition such as Calvin, Rutherford, A. Kuyper, and Dooyeweerd. Students also compare the significant insights available within Roman Catholic, Lutheran, and Anabaptist communions.

A historian armed with this background should find the going much easier in negotiating the zeitgeist of this era or that.

Dan said...

I will echo Susan and recommend Principles of Accounting.

Devin C. Manzullo-Thomas said...

You may not have an archives management course yet, John... but you could always hire me to teach one. :)

John Fea said...

Wow! A lot of public historians looking for jobs. I wish I could hire you all!