Is a STEM or a Liberal Arts Education better for employment?

If you have the time, this article makes some interesting points about the importance and value of liberal education over a hard-nosed focus on STEM education when thinking about employability and the US economic system.

Of Paychecks & Personal Histories

The first sentence in the American Historical Association’s “Historians as Consultants and Contractors” article perfectly encapsulates this career path:

A career in consulting is ideal for historians with a sense of adventure…”

Yes, please sign me up for the adventure of not knowing when & where my next paycheck is coming from! All joking aside contracting truly is the part of history where you regularly have to hustle and be vying for that next job in order to make a decent salary. It is entrepreneurship through and through.

“…or for those who prefer flexibility and a variety of projects.”

On the plus side, the AHA article mentions that contractors have more opportunities to pick and choose projects that interest them. It’s nice to have a new challenge every once in a while. I’m curious if researching for such a variety of topics creates a wide knowledge (knowing a little about a lot) rather than a deep knowledge (knowing a lot about a certain topic). I suppose it would vary based on what kind of opportunities were out there. How do contract historians to gain enough prestige and expertise to make their way out of grey literature?

The next article, “Crafting a New Historian”, implied that it was somewhat impossible to be both an academic and contract historian:

Was I ready to leave a job where I produced real things for immediate use in public history, to return to one where I produced papers for classes in anticipation of a payoff in the future?”

I’m not sure I understand why he could not continue making costumes as a side gig. Can you be a part-time contractor, or is there a non-compete clause that prevents historians from doing so? Is it there a stigma against historians who do side work like this? Or, did he simply not have enough time to do both? Even I’ve flirted with the idea of doing some freelance genealogy or personal history research for a little extra money. Is that something a fulltime employer would frown upon?

Speaking of personal history, I loved exploring the Association of Personal Historians website. I wonder if their work has become harder or easier to do since the advent of social media. Their “Find a Personal Historian” feature had no listings for Idaho. Opportunity knocking?

On the flipside of personal history is corporate history. I certainly think that this career path would be rewarding to some. The pay is probably steady and the research easier than many personal histories since companies often save documents for legal reasons. However, the marketing and PR departments would probably put a lid on any controversial topics that historical research might reveal.

Side note, I think offering classes on cultural resource legislation and entrepreneurship would be wonderful for the MAHR program!

It’s a big world out there…let’s go for it!

Post for 3/30/15
I often hear that there are few federal jobs in our field. While it’s true many are higher-graded jobs, if you are willing to relocate for a bit, opportunities exist! My experience with the feds was that once you were in the door, and proved yourself a hard worker, many people work to help your career along. One of my regrets was that I never did work in D.C. As Dr. Madsen-Brooks noted, what an opportunity to work at the Smithsonian as a museum tech, or even for a summer at a national park!

Versatilephd – neat site! I love the community aspects of this –vesatilephd group opportunities for discussion and connection Hoping Dr Madsen-Broosk talks more abut this resource and how it has helped her.

The field of history
Out most recent experience at Boise State with the history department’s fate is a great example of a failure to understand the depth and breadth of history. As can be seen by the AHA Careers site, professional careers are as diverse, complex, and hopefully – rewarding – as any person could ever want. What I can’t help but think is we need to step up more to “defend” the relevance of history. If we buy into myths that there are not opportunities, or that history is narrow in scope, the demise of this amazing field is sure to occur. The beauty of public history is its flexibility, and applicability, to everyday people in the “real world.” It gets us in the public, in the classroom, and in communities – not just within a small academic scope. That, I believe is where our greatest impact can be made.

Personal Histories:
Wow! I loved this APH “The Life Story People” site! Does anyone want to do something like that here with me? I had no idea that there was an organization of people who work to tell life stories. I love oral history, and have enjoyed the honor of interviewing Basque people. Preserving the stories of others is one way to help preserve the historic record. This made me get really excited to try something like this in a more dedicated way. I recently went to Portland Oregon for a day-long documentary film I am working on about a program I help with in Boise that gets kids outside and watching birds. The filmmaker and I were talking about wanting to do oral histories in Boise, so I will share this with him as well. One thing we asked about, which is a huge issue for oral history is the state of technology and the preservation of film records. Digital technology is a double-edged sword, and he was saying it is the most troublesome issue for him today. He is absolutely high-tech as most film people are, and incredibly creative…his points about preserving digital images are good:
– You are only as current as the most recent software (or hardware) update.
– If you fall behind, there is often no way to preserve the record (consider computer disk floppies)
– If someone can not access your files, they are “lost”
– It seems once something is digitized it can often be forgotten due to intangible record storage. Think about back-up hard copy storage.
– Sharing visuals is one way of perpetuating stories and sharing the power of memory – if access is limited to a select few, is this really accomplishing that?

Consulting as a Profession
I know Barbara and Elizabeth, and they have worked darned hard to get where they are today! Their business has had its ups and owns, ins and outs, but they are rock-steady professionals. I appreciated their two tips: try to get some federal/state experience and learn about business before attempting to strike out on your own. I took some courses at the Small Business Association Women’s Small Business program, and the tips such as writing a business plan were really good. There is help for women especially, but it’s hard to wrangle through the federal red tape for some of it. Meeting small business criteria can also be difficult. Partnerships are good ways to enter into consulting, but they can also be very difficult if you have divergent work habits, perspectives, or methods of accomplishing goals. I do a little freelance business, and my biggest issue is underestimating the time it takes to do something very well. Oh, and saying “yes,” when I should say….”let me think about it,” then really do take the time to think about it and if it is worth your energy to do 120% well. Consulting is hard work, but it can be gratifying and very creative. I have enjoyed trying consulting and want to do more because I have skills in several areas, like graphic design and interpretive signage, and it’s hard to find people who can write and design. They are my two loves. Carving out a niche to do that takes time and flexibility. I am forever grateful for the experiences I had in a government agency because it taught me a lot about organizations and how individuals work in teams to accomplish great things.

Great food for thought! I appreciated the perspectives about training, and business, especially. Barbara and Elizabeth also mentioned the need for business training of some sort. I don’t know the local Stevens firm, but they seem like they ahev built a nice business, too. One thing for sure, an independent consultant must be organized and disciplined, and must also have good “people skills” to be able to communicate vision. I learned most recently that some people though not intentionally, may take advantage of your skills and/or underestimate the time and talent you may have to accomplish their project. My solution: a contract. It spells out the scope of work, expectations, and rough cost estimates. Specialized skills can may or break a professional project – that’s sometimes hard to sell. BUT! Contracting is often, as the article says, a good way for institutions to accomplish their goals and stay within tight budgets, without having to hire an employee and pay overhead and wages. It may be worth trying to pick up a few little projects to see if you like this.

Graduates and Careers
Good advice! Join associations! Learning from others is so great, and the networking is very helpful, even if it’s uncomfortable at first. I am thrilled to have joined NCPH…
I also printed out their 8 tips and hung them right y my computer where I can read them very day to remind me of my intentions in public history.

Public History Consultancy

It was somewhat dispiriting to find that historical consulting is a growing field because organizations can’t afford, or have other priorities, than employing full time historians. It appears that the reality is, as it is for many Americans, that a job no longer comes with benefits and retirement plans. And with government agencies relying more on contract workers, what was once a secure method of entry to the middle-class will continue to shrink. So whereas in the past a national or state public history agency may have hired a full-time staff member the push now is to pay for piece-work. Perhaps, as some would argue this increases productivity and creativity in a competitive market, winnowing out the chaff from the wheat, but it also denies a stable and secure work environment for many who are committed to history. Likewise, in “Crafting a New Historian,” T.R. Putman writing in the Chronical of Higher Education online, “wondered whether history was becoming a world of outworkers” where a career now means a life of short-term contracts and adjunct faculty positions. He also wonders what this means to the craft of history by analogy to his tailoring, in a world where the apprentice has no master craftsperson to mentor him.

The article, “Historians as Consultants and Contractors,” on the AHA website, stresses gaining as much knowledge as possible outside your specialty to enhance your utility for a potential employer. This advice make practical sense as evidenced by the person who can say “not only can I build exhibits, instruct educational programs, lead a group project, but I also have experience in accessions, storage, and as a docent,” versus a one dimensional applicant. We are informed that interning is the path to build a diverse skill set, while “writing, research, and communication are essential components,” for anyone aspiring to a successful career in public history. Additionally, knowledge of the rules and regulations concerning cultural resources, land use and preservation is helpful.

Bob Beatty’s advice in “What employers seek in public history graduates (Part 1),” is to join professional organizations, regularly attend conferences, read the latest publications online and take onsite workshops and training. Basically, he says be attuned to the career field, be part of it and don’t underestimate the importance of collaborative work experience. The second part of the post has Scott Stroh exhorting us to go beyond our discipline and expertise for a “personal, societal and organizational advancement within the context of historical understanding, an awareness of place, and a relationship with humanity.” He lists eight steps that mix common sense (hone public speaking skills, get involved with a civic organization, get a mentor, continually evaluate your intentions/goals) and idealism (annotate everything that inspires, raise money outside your organization for a cause you care about, and “be relentlessly positive”). I doubt I could ever be relentlessly positive, but I agree with Stroh that “professional development, however, is a life-long commitment.” His comment that there is an “unbreakable link between mission and money,” was epitomized by the History Factory’s website’s sales pitch for their consultancy. I have to admit to finding something sleazy about it, despite its haut monde patina. Maybe it affronted my Western US sense of polite self-effacement, or my naive view of history as something grand and noble. It made me feel dirty, to be in the business of history, as opposed to the vocation of History, of having to sell history like it is common wares in a haberdashery. I suppose this makes me guilty of romanticizing history, while also crediting it with something that lifts it above the pedestrian, in an elitist claim to avoid the market place of ideas and public support. As Putnam, mentioned above, says “historians need to spend less time in the library and more time confronting the rigorously critical world of the nonacademic public.”

However, I did like the statistic presented on the History Factory site, informing us that people are ‘twenty-two times more likely to remember and internalize a “story” as opposed to a series of facts or bullet-points.’

I enjoyed learning about The Arrow Rock Group which now is owned by two sisters with an office in Boise. They are a local company making it in the history consultancy business, showing that it is possible to make a living in history outside of teaching. They, as the AHA post did, stressed the importance of knowing how to run a business and having basic knowledge of the finances, regulations and procedures to be a viable concern. Their website sparked a debate amongst my friends over the sisters’ US Department of Transportation (DOT) classification as a Disadvantaged Business Enterprise (DBE). According to the Idaho DOT website, a DBE must be at least “51% owned and controlled by socially and economically disadvantaged individuals,” a category that automatically includes women, once their “adjusted personal net worth is no more than $1.32 million.” Some friends thought it was insulting to women because it assumed they were disadvantaged without looking at an individual’s situation. Others wanted to know why a woman whose net worth might be $1.2 million, just under the cap, qualifies to be an “economically disadvantaged” person, and presumably would get preference for contracts over a man whose net worth might only be $100,000. All reasonable questions but on the whole the answer is to be found in historic patterns of discrimination be it overt societal norms (“women’s work”) or covert institutional practices (not lending money to women). In the Idaho Statesman’s May 30, 2013, Business Review website it was reported that women are least represented as business owners in construction (8%), and in the insurance and finance fields at 20%. Furthermore, the businesses women are most likely to own are in the health and education arenas, in part because these fields are more amenable to childcare, a responsibility that primarily falls to women. It was noteworthy that two of the women owners of construction businesses in Idaho, were quoted as saying they had grown up helping their fathers, in one case work on engines and in the other, he had taught her to weld.

Clio’ website has an interesting presentation on “Antipictorialism,” and the emergence of visual literacy in the early 1800s. Prior to this date illustrations and pictures were seen as a corrupting influence, bringing undue emotionality to serious topics. It made me wonder in what ways the past is interpreted differently when words and pictures are used versus words alone. The piece also delves into the relationship between the writer, illustrator and editors of early illustrated American histories highlighting the tensions in the process of presenting a history. On a further note of interest, we are told that one writer used “unabashed nationalism” as a theme to unite his narrative, while he also generalized slavery “by universalizing” it as an experience. It seems to me that this skewed version of history is still quite popular today.


The Business of Consulting

Consulting has always been high on my list of answers to the question, “What in the world are you going to do with a Master’s of History?” I like to research and I like having varied projects which require me to work with many different kids of people. However, I am only interested in working for a governmental agency or an already established business. I respect’s assertion that, “consulting is a business…and the historical consultant should be skilled in dealing with a variety of clients, preparing realistic and fair proposals, and completing high-quality work on schedule”, yet I have zero interest in running my own business. I have a high appreciation for professionalism and client relationships, but I lack the ambition to “be my own boss.” I prefer the stability of an established company to any independence that might come from being a small business owner.

While I think museum, archives or city/state consulting would be wonderful, my dream consulting job would be as a production consultant. Who among us wouldn’t love to be a historical consultant in media? Be an advisor for our favorite BBC show or help weed out anachronisms in a Hollywood script? Sign me up!  Although it seems like those kind of consulting jobs come at the end of  a long and studied career as an expert on a specific topic. Still…a girl can dream!

My other dream job would be working for a company which develops digital tools for public history or history education. I interviewed John Lutz for my professional career assignment, but I also interviewed another digital pioneer, Mark Tebeau, creator of Curatescape. He described the long and winding journey to creating this city or state history tool (check out this Kentucky example), but he also gave me some great advice about how to break into this field. He discussed how the humanities are facing a period of crisis, where they are having to fight against STEM and Business for funding and importance (as we WELL know). However, he cautioned against seeing these disciplines as the enemy and to instead embrace them to help show history’s relevance. He noted that public historians are not going to be handed funding for projects, but must instead design their own projects that engages the local community in a new and interesting way. Use technology to serve underrepresented areas. Use networking to connect unlikely allies. Use K-12 education as a way to break into the game. As I already mentioned, I do not want to run my own business, but I would like to create something that I can then use to partner with some organization to engage the public with history.

Business and Civic Minded Citizens

The piece on historic consulting on the American Historical Association website reminded me of contract archaeology work. I encountered and applied for many of these history contract projects in the UK. Most often they were for city or shire councils and on occasion for smaller organizations like local museums or churches. I had not thought about the business savvy aspect of consulting work, but it makes perfect sense. You have to market yourself and deliver what you advertise because you are the only one held accountable. If you do not maintain a good business reputation, your consulting opportunities will dwindle. This aspect is very clear in the “Careers” section of The History Factory website, “The History Factory employs passionate, energetic, hardworking and intellectually curious people who have an interest in business and history.”



This article was eerily similar to my experience after completely my master’s degree in Viking Archaeology. I was able to get a job to pay the bills while I volunteered at a local historic house. I worked with the Learning Officer to start an outreach program, but I was only there once a week. I often felt that my actual job was a waste of time, but I relied on it as I also turned in CV and cover letters to no avail. “Knitting and bicycling [and coffee making] don’t translate into completed articles and conference papers,” (Putman). I spent a lot of time teaching myself about various aspects of archaeology and history; eventually I managed to find some contract archaeology work and I did some freelance work for a publishing company and a local history project. Finally I landed a job at the National Museum of Scotland. I became a Visitor Services Assistant based not on my history or archaeology merits, but because I had worked in the service industry for five years. The job I had thought was a waste became my doorway into paid museum work. Yet, after all of that, I am back in school. Like Putman, I often wonder if I will end up in the same situation after graduation, in that seemingly eternal struggle for a paid heritage position.


I read the two parts of the Public History Commons online discussion of “What employers seek in public history graduates.” Both parts gave me hope and inspired me to take new actions in preparing for my future and living more fully. The information on professional groups in Beatty’s piece and the eight steps outlined by Stroh are starting points and points of reflection that I will incorporate into my life. I wholeheartedly agree with the following excerpt from Stroh’s piece:

“The focus must move beyond collections, programs, and exhibits.  We can and should nurture a commitment to these things, but with a re-purposed fundamental intent; to use these skills as a vehicle for a larger purpose.

This larger purpose is personal, societal, and organizational advancement within the context of historical understanding, an awareness of place, and a relationship with humanity. Instead of focusing on career specializations or subject matter expertise, professional development, especially beyond academia, must focus on the development of people — of civic minded citizens — able to lead, inspire and engage community based on an appreciation, knowledge and love of history. In practice, this approach develops skills necessary to do great history, but also those important for an informed democratic society and modern workforce.”

If any of this excerpt resonates with you I would highly recommend reading Amy Gutmann’s Democratic Education and the American Alliance of Museums’ Equity and Excellence report. Gutmann can be a bit of struggle, but she’s worth it and will challenge your beliefs in a constructive manner.

Getting a Job

I began graduate school in the fall of 2013 with the plan to take my sweet time going through the program.   A few weeks ago, I realized that I might be able to graduate in December, if all goes well.  If not, May is also a lovely time to graduate.   But, realizing that we are at the end of the program put everything into panic mode.   I have not written a resume for 15 years.   I have not interviewed for a job in 12 years, so this week’s discussion is perfect.   What do people do in interviews nowadays?  I have a feeling that binders with lesson plans in plastic sheet covers is no longer considered uber professional.

As for digital resumes, I found this site helpful:   old/


My only initial concern was that on the example resumes, the applicants had accomplished SO much.   How could I ever achieve that level of activity within the field?   But then, I helped my father with a presentation that he is doing about researching military records for genealogical purposes and I helped him clean up his presentation and suggested handouts so people attending the class could find  research clues on draft records, etc.   I realized that I had just done consulting work and felt better about what I have to offer.   I think the secret is confidence.   One thing that I have been on the soapbox about this month is that I need to be proud of not being a traditional student.   I have a knowledge base that the younger whipper snappers do not have, and as someone hoping to go into the archivist field, will work to my advantage.   Oh, someone has donated a box of 16 mm films of Ernest Hemmingway?  Yes!  I know how to use one of those projectors!   (And to brag, will learn how to digitize old film this summer.)

On the other hand, I am not sure about the amount of confidence it would take to be a freelance historian, personally.   I know professional genealogists and they do quite well for themselves, but they also have spouses with steady work that they could fall back on if work is slow for a few months.   There is money to be made out there, though.  I did a little looking into the Reel Tributes and the initial price is 5,000.  The founder, David Adelman, spent 25,000 for equipment and 6 movies later, had paid off his debt and started making a profit.  Adelman works from home and the movies are about 10 minutes long.  He says that people want to preserve the memory of loved ones and that money spent is seen as comparable to costs of a wedding photographer.   Adelman also offers digitation of family heirlooms if a family does not want a movie, but does want things preserved and shared.

The most exciting research this week was at the USA jobs website.  There was a job posting for an archivist for Yellowstone National Park.   Wouldn’t that be dreamy?



Re: Wikipedia Bias

KCRW’s program Press Play covered the issue of Wikipedia & gender bias on the same day that we discussed it in class! What are the chances?

According to the report, people have begun to address some of Wikipedia’s issues by hosting “edit-a-thons”. At an edit-a-thon, a group of volunteers comes together to collaborate and edit Wikipedia. The volunteers usually all work on creating or editing pages based upon a specific topic, for example “Women in Art.”  One of the women interviewed in the KCRW piece mentions that it takes about 6-8 hours to create a well-researched article. That’s some hardcore volunteer dedication!

Ego-Stroking and Romanticizing the Past

“Apparently he leads his men through steep gorges in their period clothes and shoes, yelling at them to keep up.” This immediately reminded me of my German archaeologist friend who creates authentic replicas of Anglo-Saxon and Viking clothing and accoutrements and forced two of his friends to camp in the Highlands with only the replica gear. Archaeologists are crazy.

I had no idea that some of the first reenactments were done by veterans of the battles they reenacted. “Psychologically, those re-enactments must have been a way of keeping past traumas real and under control; a means of talking about tough experiences with people who’ve been through the same. But I’ve never understood why anyone would re-enact a war in which they’ve never fought.” (Nick Kowalczyk). I wonder about the importance of intervening time between re-enactments and the actual events. For example, the Vietnam War, how soon is too soon for those not involved with the actual event to recreate it? Is there a ‘correct’ time or should it matter? I have been perplexed by battlefield re-enactors my whole life. I cannot decide if the act can be considered ‘appropriate’ commemoration, or simply more a way for people to try to lose themselves in another time period.

(For goodness sake, if one more of these readings mentions Starbucks I think I might cry.)

Ann M. Little’s point, “Romaticizing the past, like re-enacting, is a White thing,” is spot on. Her discussion of the “blinkered and segregated” history re-enactments often tell made me realize that it is not the actual act of re-enactment that I dislike, but the stories on which they focus. Not just the death and battle aspect, but the fact that they are the stories of the victors and the defeated, the oppressor and the oppressed. “Are there women’s groups who regularly dress up in hundred-year old clothing styles and re-enact the violent climax of the suffrage movement?  Personally, I would turn out as a spectator for these events–and I might even be persuaded to get into costume and participate myself–but who will play the thugs with the torches, guns, clubs, firehoses, chains, and gavage equipment?  Will middle-aged white men be persuaded to cede the heroic roles to other reenactors?” I love these questions. Let’s change our group project and see if we can get some answers.

The article on the Sons of Confederate Veterans’ National Heritage Rally was good, but not startling or groundbreaking. Of course the SCV needs to recognize the glaringly obvious faults in the Confederacy’s argument, while still acknowledging the courage of the average soldier. This should not be news. However, the conclusion bothered me. Why does the author think that, “[m]aking the Civil War relevant today is a formidable task, given how much our technology and values keep us focused on the triviality of the present.”? It shouldn’t be difficult considering modern events still easily tie into the history of the Civil War and slavery. Is he really just afraid to say that word?

The statement that Sue Gardner’s issue are “the traditions of the computer world and an obsessive fact-loving realm that is dominated by men and, some say, uncomfortable for women” is an interesting one. The first part about the computer world is probably true. After reading the other two articles on Wikipedia, I wonder if “fact-loving” is really the best way to phrase the Wiki world, or would “stick-measuring” or “ego-stroking” be more accurate? Aside from the fact that secondary sources are valued more highly simply for verification purposes, the whole process of editing a Wiki page sounds rather more hostile than the community-based forum it is portrayed to be in common use. “By offering our scholarly findings to the Wikipedia community as peers in a larger process of negotiating the truth, we have the best chance of helping to build a Wikipedia that truly reflects the fullest and best picture possible of the always fraught and diverse process of establishing what we know.” While this conclusion to Famiglietti’s article makes a great point, and we shouldn’t rely on the accuracy of any one scholar, I am worried by the undervaluing of primary sources. Afterall, in today’s easy-access Internet market, many primary sources are digitized and therefore verifiable are they not?