Today in class we heard the perspectives of four public historians working in the field, Devin Manzullo-Thomas who is the Director of The Sider Institute for Anabaptist, Pietist, and Wesleyan Studies and the Archives Coordinator for The Ernest L. Boyer Center at Messiah College, Heather Thakar who is The Director of Temple’s Anthropology Lab , Clare Sauro who is the Curator of the Robert and Penny Fox Historic Costume Collection at Drexel University and Jessica Baumert who serves as Executive Director of the Woodlands.
This is an image of the Woodlands, which we discussed with the director Jessica Baumert. Photo courtesy of Hidden City Philadelphia. hiddencityphila.org/2011/10/new-direction-for-the-woodlands/
Each of these speakers had very different career specifications spoke about about similar themes: the difficulty of finding employment, the difficulty of dealing with boards and institutions, community involvement and outreach and a lack of funding. Many of these public historians worked on staffs of one or two and this was something that had never really occurred to me. Beyond the overwhelming amount of work that a small staff necessitates, it made me think about the emotional effects of this kind of social isolation. A few weeks ago my Managing History class read The Wages of History by Amy Tyson. In Tyson's book she refers extensively to the emotional labor of "cultural workers." Tyson says "but cultural workers at mission-driven, nonprofit institutions often expend energy, both on and off the clock, on work related projects."(Tyson 4). While Tyson writes extensively about labor conditions, her example of Fort Snelling was not a place with a particularly small staff. The visiting public historians did make me think of types of emotional labor not particularly present in Tyson's work, that might be more acute within a small staff.
Devin Manzullo-Thomas and Heather Thakar both taught history classes in addition to their professional responsibilities in an archive and museum respectively. They discusses integrating museums and archives into their classes through visits, projects, and my formal internships and projects for the institution. While I don't necessarily want to work in a historic site for my career, I am very interested in teaching public history. Learning about the ways professionals involve students in their collections via projects was very helpful.
This is an image of the Temple Anthropology Lab, where Heather Thakar works and engages anthropology students. This photo is courtesy of the Temple University Anthropology department. www.cla.temple.edu/anthro/laboratory-museum
These talks were also particularly interesting because two of the speakers had a literature background, one a background in historic preservation (through an art school), and one a background in Archeology. This semester I have been exploring what credentials and experiences will help qualify me for a public history job and in many ways I have come to the conclusion that while some things are beneficial there is no one path. These speakers backgrounds all spoke to that. While they all hold very different positions within the public history world, they come from different academic backgrounds and those backgrounds have benefitted them each in differing ways. Manzullo-Thomas has an academic interest in religious studies and history and this background has helped his work in the archives at religiously affiliated Messiah College. While scary in some ways, these speakers did evoke that there is no one track or background that qualifies you for these positions necessarily.
Most of the speakers also spoke about engaging either their local community or a community outside the academy in their programs. The attempts at this kind of community engagement ranged from directly working within schools to holdings festivals on the site grounds. While working on the Powel house, a lot of our conversation has been about how to engage both the community and visitors to the city that may not normally visit when we try to reframe interpretations. It was helpful to hear about successful attempts at this kind of engagement from institutions across the city.