Pretty much every non-historian I know has at some point asked me the dreaded question…. What are you going to do with a history degree…. teach or something? I find that the lack of understanding of what it takes to write history/ be a historian in the world outside of to end up feeling quite uneducated and even condescending. As stated in the post “What Employers Seek in History Graduates” points out, “…students of history develop skills in the ability to assess evidence, ability to assess conflicting interpretations, and experience in assessing past examples of change. I believe these skills are most effectively taught within the university setting.” Personally I would add to that the ability to think critically (a dying art form in my opinion), an understanding for what the world really was, and possibly most of all, passion.
Having come from the business department early in my academic career, I found the in generalized lack of passion disturbing. It seemed to me that all too often people were there because they thought it would make them more money or that they were doing what they were supposed to. In the history department I see every member of each class I have as passionate about something. Possibly this stems from the fact that history is not the pathway to fly cars, gold necklaces, and the easy life. In that I find the history department to be refreshing.
I think that “Crafting a new Historian” has it the closest that I saw to correct. Really being a historian is like most jobs “you fake it until you make it” or as Tyler Rudd Putman more eloquently puts it, “Craftsmen move from mimicry to mastery.” There is no golden ticket. There is no right way to life. Life tends to take your plans and crumple them up and throw them away. The trick is not to let it get you down and to keep moving even when you feel beaten down.
This week’s readings were simultaneously filled with hope and depression. On the brighter side, there are many more positions available to students of history than I had thought. Far beyond the Professor/Researcher dichotomy, there are dozens of different kinds of work that can be done with a Master’s Degree or better. On the depressing side, according to the BLS search results, these occupations are growing at far below the average 7%/year (with the exception of archivists) and competition for what positions do get created is high. I suppose I’ll take that as motivation to look harder for a good PhD program, though even that degree isn’t a one-way ticket to being employed.
Part of this depression in job growth is due to the overall lack of emphasis on the importance of the Liberal Arts in general and History in particular that our nation has developed in the last fifty years. While it is true that the STEM fields are incredibly important, without a proper understanding of history those programs of study lose a valuable part of their context and a good deal of the most interesting stories surrounding them. It’s a pity that rather than emphasizing education of all sorts, this nation has all but declared fully half the human experience as worthless.
Regardless of the realities of the job market for historians in academia, I know that I’m stubborn. I want to get a PhD, I want to teach at the college level, I want to research, and I want to write. But I can definitely appreciate the wealth of “back-up plans” that are available when the inevitable happens and I don’t get the job that I want.
I’m intrigued by the idea of exhibit design. A hundred years ago, I wanted to go to art school, and the idea of combining multiple personal passions into a job is… while still seemingly unrealistic… a tempting one. The folks at West Office have put together some really cool looking spaces.
I’ve learned in the last year that I have absolutely no idea what I’m good at, and what I’m suited to do for the rest of my life. Reading about these different careers keep me hopeful that if it turns out that I totally suck at the whole academia thing, I might have a plan B,C, D… X…Y… oh look, I’ve depressed myself again.
I just wonder how prepared history majors might be for the outside world when they realize that being a historian isn’t a black and white gig. Once you get deep into the major, as a junior and senior undergrad, it’s difficult to get a glimpse of the outside world again before you graduate. Ages ago, I had a conversation with Shiann about how history majors should be required to take a statistics class. I also wonder now if we should be required to take a business class or two, as it might better prepare those who wish to pursue careers outside of the ivory tower.
I have to come to see that historians play an incredibly important role in both the field of history as well as in the world of business. After reading the online source, “Historians as Consultants and Contractors” by the American Historical Association (AHA) on the website www.historians.org, I can imagine the idea that historians can serve our country best as consultants or even contractors in the ever-growing community of business and trade. Expertise in navigating the bidding process and the requirements of Section 106 are essential for professional contractors. Few individuals in business such as corporate executives or Chief Executive Officers have knowledge of the field of history, and I believe that those who conduct big business can benefit from people who have spent their lives studying past events and historic figures, and that knowledge can aid individuals in the modern age, such as the business deeds of the tycoons who lived during the Gilded Age. Historians even find their services needed in movies, such as documentaries, dramas, and even programs like edutainment; entertainment media designed for educating the viewers, with the digital age becoming a huge resource for research and project development.
I found Tyler Rudd Putman’s article in http://chronicle.com to be quite entertaining honest and informative about the challenges of finding work post-Master’s. Putman’s story about how he spent ten years of his life making clothes for museums and other historical institutions while looking for other work showed his resourcefulness and dedication. Putman is a true academic in that despite his education and experience continues to study and learn. I can appreciate his challenge in finding a “real job” that left him in a situation of falling “back on what [he] knew,” which was sewing historical garments for museums and reeenactors. That passage sent a message about how difficult it is for historians to find work and is an excellent example of how we need to be creative. Putman said that today most specialists in the fields of professional work are mostly “self-taught.” I feel that should be applauded as an inspiration for the next generation of experts in all fields, including history. Putman took to heart what he did for a living while looking for a position in the field of history, and became a tailor, in which he could hand sew a garment to look like it came from a certain historical period. In my opinion, I would say that Putman’s activities as a historical tailor can provide an experience to the public about history, about perseverance and about utilizing the research and education skills of historians.
TAG Historical Research is a company I explored as they do historical research for several clients such as cities and other government entities, historical preservation committees, as well as individuals. Their background in historic research and work is impressive and their expertise in Section 106 documentation has been very beneficial for their clients. TAG Research has completed a “National of Register of Historic Places nominations for individual buildings and historic districts.” Their staff is predominantly women and they have been in business since 1993. One of the interesting services that TAG Research provides is the development and implementation of tours. Another interesting service is researching and providing the historical information for particular homeowners. With Boise having so many well-preserved homes dating back to the 1800’s, as well as historic commercial buildings such as the Central Fire Station, there is a wealth of history in Boise.
I’ve never really delved into the possibilities of what a history degree could mean for a career path. I have always had my heart set on writing and teaching. Reading about different jobs that historians have available to them is very interesting and has opened my eyes to possibilities. Historical consultation sounds like something that could be very rewarding. Consulting on movie sets for example would be very rewarding and could help rid American movie goers from the bad history we all witness in movies every year.
The article, “Crafting a New Historian” really peaked my interest. Historians and students really must be flexible. We must allow for the field to change and adapt in order to stay relevant. Realizing that professorships at universities will be hard to find once I am finished with school has made me realize that I must be prepared to use my historical “skills” in other areas until the time is right for me to be a professor. Historians must be willing to engage in the historical field in other, meaningful ways.
While looking through the various websites assigned to us this week, it really put in perspective how much real-life experience college students should get. While I wish I could shut myself in a dark room and just conduct research, I need tangible experience in a variety of areas to better my chances of working in the field of history. Being experienced in a variety of things (museum work, archival work, teaching, research, etc) can really help the chances of being hired in general after school. By more historians being open to a variety of work, historians can strengthen the community and diversify public history in general. If more historians became consultants, historical clothes makers, museum workers, etc, we could all grow the public reach of history.
I like the fact that these articles give a historian a better idea of what to look forward to after education. The fact that you can do consulting work in a field that you are looking at getting a job in is a good alternative that I never initially thought about prior to the readings. It seems that when searching for jobs on USAA.jobs website that Park Ranger or interpreter comes up frequently, which I knew it would, I have two friends I know who went that route do to military retirement and veterans preference. They love their job for the National Park Service. These articles also left me thinking what career or position I want after school? I thought Archival work or eve Park Ranger but know I don’t really know? I am happy I have more options then I initially thought.
I think that Historians can gain a lot of experience by doing consulting and contracting work. The experience gained can help a historian’s CV and get them more of a network to where when the time comes to apply for a job they have lots of letters of recommendation to help get that job. All the history that is in the South getting a consulting job, whether long term or short term, is very doable from what I saw in Charleston during their major festival times. “Each client brings new questions and opportunities to explore different subjects and resources. While some assignments may be short term, such as preparing a short history for an organization’s or town’s centennial celebration, others may involve extensive research and travel, and perhaps even testifying as an expert witness.” This would open numerous doors in the History career field and get their feet wet in something they wanted to do as permeant work.
The “Crafting the New Historian” article showed that you can somehow find a different route into the history field then you initially thought while in school. I thought that there were only certain jobs in History and you had to certain things in education and internships just to get them. This article showed alternative ways to get involved and network in the field by using skills not normally attributed to the study of history. “But when my temporary Archeological position ended and no permeant work materialized in the cultural heritage field, I fell back on what I knew. I had taught myself to sew historical costumes as a hobby over the past decade, and soon I was taking orders for clothing from museums, historical interpreters, and living historians (re-enactors).” This ended up helping the author to pursue their doctorate and still do the costume business as well.
The USAA Jobs website was helpful in that they have changed it since I last looked at it for the better. For a disabled vet with a 30% or higher disability rating it helps me fill out the paperwork for veteran’s preference job that they did not have on it before. This helps because I get a higher payed position with less a hassle in less time on the job. The site is also easier to navigate finding an archival and historian positons was way easier than a couple of years ago, for a person who is willing to relocate there are quite a bit of options out there for both fields.
 Phillip I. Cantelon, and Christopher S. Clark. “Historians as Consultants and Contractors.” American Historical Association.
 Tyler Rudd Putnam. “Crafting a New Historian.” The Chronical of Higher Education.
In reviewing all of the materials presented for this week I felt compelled to quote President George W. Bush’s comments following the inaugural speech of the current occupant of the White House, “That was some weird shit.” (Please excuse the profanity.)
I hate to throw that quote in, but it kind of captures my thoughts after exploring all of the links and articles. I had no idea just how many options and opportunities there are for historians. Granted, both Tyler Rudd Putman’s article Crafting a New Historian on the Chronicle of Higher Education site and the AHA story Historians as Consultants and Contractors point out all of the obstacles and challenges which await newly minted historians. In this vein, the comments by former National Council of Public History President Robert Weyeneth, found on their web site, are probably the most disheartening. The abbreviated summary goes like this, “There are now too many public history programs,…producing record numbers of new MAs, …who can’t find jobs,…in part because they are poorly trained…[or because]…the stodgy curricula haven’t kept up with the realities of the twenty-first-century economy and the digital revolution.” (http://ncph.org/what-is-public-history/weyeneth-essay/)
Continuing my exploration I was startled by a comment Bob Beatty in his blog about, What employers seek in public history graduates Part 1, “One reason I pulled this session together is that more than anything, I don’t believe it’s the job of history departments to train museum professionals.” Why am I here then? He goes on to make a case that universities should focus on training historians and museums and professional organizations can train history graduates with the “technical skills of museum work.”
Part 2 of What employers seek in public history graduates, written by Scott Stroh provides a list of concrete skills that are useful for history professionals, which I won’t repeat here. In the paragraph that follows that list, he shares what he looks for when he hires someone. It should come as no surprise that virtually every employer looks for the same qualities in their new employees. I can’t say I was impressed by this particular exchange.
All of this left me with both rose-colored glasses and the “deer in the headlights” look. I have over fifty years of experience looking for jobs and I am generally optimistic that I will find something “worth” doing in the field of history.