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.