Thursday, March 18, 2010

National Council for Public History 2010 Conference

This year's NCPH conference took place in Portland, Oregon from March 10th until the 14th. Under the theme of "Currents of Change" scholars and practitioners of public history gathered to present and exchange ideas about their profession. The next few posts will report on some of the sessions and discussions to give the reader an impression of what was going at the conference.
Pretty much since the creation of the public history field, teachers and professionals have been debating the question of how to prepare public history students for their jobs outside the academy. What are the skills, experiences, and qualities that make a person a successful public historian? "Preparing the professional historian: Connecting Academic Training with the Changing Marketplace" was a title of a the "working group" composed of academics and practitioners that met on Saturday morning to explore these characteristics. Here's an overview of what's important for those who would like to try their luck as a public historian:


· Primary Research ·Secondary Research ·Oral History Interviewing

· Artifact and Material Culture Analysis and Interpretation ·Grant Writing

· Management ·Digital Technologies and Fluency ·Evaluation/assessment

· Communication ·Teaching/mentoring ·Written communication in various genres ·Mastery of historiography and historical context of selected subfields or topics ·Mastery of foreign language


· Ability to embrace research agenda set by others · Comfort level interacting with various audiences, including general public · Ability to work independently

· Personnel skills: delegate, supervise, comfort with hierarchy · Critical reasoning


· Awareness of how historical interpretations can be presented in many different

realms and genres · Diverse interdisciplinary interaction · Teamwork ·Project

conceptualization, planning, budgeting, and execution ·Entrepreneurship


· Curious · Adaptable · Outgoing · Disciplined work habits¾time management

Surely, skills such as research, teamwork, interdisciplinary approach can be taught and trained. But what about entrepreneurship, curiosity, or willingness to work for a variety of public and clients - can we learn those in public history programs, or should we look for these qualities in students before admitting them to the programs? It would be interesting to hear from practitioners, which of these skills and trades opened for them the door to their most successful public history projects.

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