Track 3: Public History


A rewarding career for historians outside of tenured and non-tenured professorial positions is the diverse field of public history. Each of the occupations outlined here seeks employees with analytical, presentation, writing, and organizational abilities that result from the study of history. Many involve direct work with the public (for example in historical interpretation or answering questions about publications and documents) and most require working in a team environment. However, like academia, it is a very competitive environment in which to get a job. Those who are hired often bring with them additional accreditation and work experience that can give them a definite edge over those who do not, which means that a history degree alone may not suffice.

Public history requires one to function in a very public sphere, which is a significantly different experience than working within academia. This type of work comes with its own set of challenges and rewards and is best suited to historians who would like to have direct interaction with the public and make an impact in the public sphere. This can range from educational activities to advocacy. While many of these positions are public in the sense that they are funded through taxpayer dollars, others are within corporate and privately-funded institutions that commercially benefit from interests in history – such as private museums, foundations, non-governmental organizations, publishers, and film production companies. Public history positions tend to be focused on specific tasks with assignments that are not as diverse, perhaps, as one would encounter as a university faculty member. In addition, employees in public history jobs usually have to adhere to the specific mandate set by their employer which leaves less room for analytical interpretations or work that falls outside of those specifications.

Also see brief summaries of “public” careers in Media and the Arts.