B) Careers in History
History can be defined as a chronological or theoretical record of the past. It is the discipline that records and analyzes past events.
HISTORY, man's study of his own past, the collective memory of mankind. Primitive peoples keep the past alive in songs and poems. but these hardly try to describe or explain and are not truly historical, although they might serve as sources for an historian. The ancient Egyptians and Chinese kept extensive records, but since these were never combined together into a connected narrative, they cannot be regarded as history either, though, again, the historian of today could find them extremely valuable for his own work. True history begins in Greece in the 5th century BC, and Herodotus is usually considered the first man to have written a proper historical work. He described the wars between Greece and Persia, and attempted to explain them as a clash between different kinds of states, and oriental autocracy and a league of Greek cities, who misunderstood and distrusted each other.
In the 20th century historians have become increasingly skeptical of the idea that history accumulates more and more facts until, at last, the past can be perfectly known. In place of great speculative systems which tried to explain the "goals" and "direction" of history, philosophers of history now deal with technical questions: "What is a cause of an event?" or "what have historians done when they say they have explained something?" There is a new self-consciousness about the writing of history, and new questioning of the historian's proper task. (The New American Desk Encyclopedia, Fourth Edition, p. 606-607)
There are many things one can do with a history degree. Taking positions in an academic facility is the most common position for historians. Public history is becoming more and more popular to those interested in history but do not wish to teach. For further research into history majors, go to What can I do with a history major? at http://www.library.csi.cuny.edu/dept/history/major.html.
1) Academe: people who chose to take careers in academe work for an educational facility. teachers, researchers, writers, editors, information managers, advocates, business people.
2) Public Historians: serve a public audience. As Historians go towards public history, they are able to pursue a variety of careers in the public and private sectors and not just traditional academic settings.
The different occupations in the field of Public history "rests upon the historians ability to evaluate evidence from the past" (Kemp and Howe, Public History, p.1) through searching in archives, libraries; finding letters and other manuscript material, researching artifacts of monuments of the past and putting all the material together in a comprehensible narrative. Overall, public historians are investigative historians, while in academe, teachers lecture mainly in classrooms, write seminars, and teach courses at universities. Public historians primarily educate the public through lectures. Public historians can choose from a number of positions in archival management, oral history, editing public records, letters or manuscripts, historic preservation, industrial archeology, work with public policy or policy for private sectors and politics. They take on careers such as working in libraries or historical sites, museums as a curator/director/planner or manager, corporate history, consulting firms, government offices or agencies, tourist attractions and contract history firms.
Public Historians not only need to develop their skills as a scholastic historian and teacher, but as the British Royal Marine, Rudyard Kipling, once said that a British Royal Marine must be a soldier as well as a sailor. Thus public historians should be like the Marine Kipling of history. The idea of Public History is interdisciplinary work. Team work is essential because the volume of work that needs to be done, complexity of work involved in a project or time constraints on a plan that needs to be completed. Afterall, hundreds of feet of government records cannot be processed effectively by one individual; deadlines or other aspects require the cooperation or perhaps the expertise of several people.
C) Duties of Public Historians
The duties of a public historian differs depending on the position, but the main duties every Historian must do are to research, write and educate.
A common duty of a public historian is working mostly with primary sources such as manuscripts, artifacts, historic buildings and sites; and participate in sharing the excitement and importance of these things with the general public.
D) Education and Required skills for a Career in Public History
One way of receiving the best type of education in public history is through interning. Interning gives hands on experiences, working in the field of public history. There are many types of internships. Most are volunteer work. Many universities also give credits toward a degree for fulfilling an internship. You should try looking for an internship that would suit your talents, interests and career goals.
Public Historians can seek employment in many different areas and professions. They can work for historical sites or societies, museums, educational facilities, libraries, archives, private corporations, and public facilities.
Public historians can try different things that could lead to employment. They can ask for advice in the history department or career development department of an academic facility. Search through the papers and send out resumes to different historical societies, organizations and professional associations. Try all different search engines and find different organizations to send resume to.
Interning is especially important when seeking permanent positions in the fields of public history.
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Prepared by Yvonne Tu, for HST 594--Independent Study--Public History, with assistance from Professor Catherine Lavender, Department of History, The College of Staten Island/CUNY. Last updated: Monday, 29 March 1999.