Sat, December 22, 2018

Putting History to Work in Alaska: Public History at UA

The UAA History Department is exploring the development of a Public History program that gives University of Alaska graduates a range of tools that make them attractive to potential employers. Across the country, universities have developed graduate programs tailored to their specific geographic needs that put history to work. The purpose of this inquiry is to assess Alaska’s specific needs. Once determined, those needs will serve as a framework for a program proposal. As practitioners of public history and potential employers of our graduates, your input into the development of a Public History program is critical and greatly appreciated. 
Public history is the practical application of history to real-world issues. Public history expertise is utilized by a broad range of professions that share a commitment to making history relevant and useful in the public sphere, such as: historical/cultural consultants, museum professionals, government historians, archivists, oral historians, cultural resource managers, curators, film and media producers, historical interpreters, librarians, historic preservationists, historic architects, policy advisers, local historians, industrial archeologists and community activists.
Although public historians can sometimes be professors, practitioners usually find employment beyond the walls of the traditional classroom. Areas of study that serve the professional community include:
         Interpretation: History consumed by the public.
History interpreted via museums, documentaries, podcasts, historical societies, lecture series, digital publication, storytelling workshops, libraries, national/state/local parks, battlefields and memorials, guided tours.
         Cultural Resources Management: The protection and management of the tangible remains of past human activities.
History associated with buildings, structures, districts, prehistoric sites, historic or prehistoric objects or collection, rock inscription, earthworks or landscapes. Management types include Section 106 compliance, Historic Resource Surveys, Cultural Landscape reports, Ethnographic surveys, oral histories, and Traditional Cultural Places.
         Professional Services: History conducted for clients.
History applied to institutional histories, corporate archives, exhibit curation, legal or legislative histories, educational initiatives, non-profits, grant writing and management, environmental impact statements, public policy, commercial operators, and genealogy.
         Historic Preservation: History to protect and promote place.
History promoted via architectural & historic surveys, heritage tourism, community projects, walking tours, archives and collections, reuse and rehabilitation of sites, historical societies, and land trusts.
While theory and methodology remain firmly in the discipline of history, public history is, by definition, interdisciplinary. Public historians routinely engage in collaborative work with community members, stakeholders, as well as with university and professional colleagues.
Public historians consult/work directly with archeologists, anthropologists, folklorists, archivists, ethnographers, architects, cartographers, museum curators, education specialists, surveyors, natural resource managers, artists, ecologists, linguists, geologists, scientists, attorneys, cultural bearers, military personnel, tribal affiliations, Native corporations, business leaders, board of directors, nonprofits and community advocates. In fact, collaboration is a fundamental and defining characteristic of what public historians do
If you are interested in helping the department develop a practical and appropriate program that would serve Alaska’s needs, please consider writing a letter that incorporates insights based on the following questions. Please address letters to:
Paul Dunscomb, Chair
UAA Department of History
3211 Providence Drive
Anchorage, Alaska 99508
Please describe your work/program/organization and feel free to consider the following questions:
1.      Does your work/program/organization either employ or work in collaboration with public history practitioners? If so, can you share a few examples?
2.      Are public history positions typically filled by in-state (University of Alaska trained) or out-of-state hires? (How many, if any, of the in-state hires are History graduates?)
3.      Does a demand exist for qualified public history practitioners in your work place or field?
4.      What specific skills does your work/program/organization require from public history practitioners?
5.      How might a Public History MA Graduate Program at UAA benefit your work/program/organization?
6.      Would your work/program/organization benefit from UAA Interns? If so, can you provide a few examples?
7.      Would your work/program/organization consider participating in class projects/seminars that teach specific skills while offering students professional experience?
8.      In terms of public history, what is your work/program/organization’s greatest need and how might a Public History program at the University of Alaska fill that need?
If you have questions, please do not hesitate to contact Katherine Ringsmuth at 907-830-2251 or To learn more about the field of Public History, visit the National Council on Public History’s website.