The blog of the American Historical Association (AHA) is running a two part interview with Richard Gillespie, director of the Mosby Heritage Area Association in Middleburg, VA. Part Two of the interview deals with advice for job hunters with history degrees. There is a lot of good stuff here. Gillespie affirms many of the things I have been telling history majors for years.
A few snippets from the interview:
My first advice is don’t think you have to work for famous places just because you go to a good school. You don’t have to work at Smithsonian. You don’t have to work for Colonial Williamsburg. Local historical societies, local historical organizations, the local museum, the national park that’s closest, the state park, if it’s a history site, that’s closest. College towns inevitably have huge histories. Are college students welcome? Yes. Will they pay you? Maybe. Maybe not, but you are trying to build a resume in a field that is highly competitive. What I would say is grab every history opportunity you can get your hands on if public history is what you want.
You don’t think people are very interested in history. Your job is to grab them, your job is to provoke them, your job is to start them on their journey. You’re not going to get them there, but you can start them. You can plant that seed, and you may not know whether you did, so you just keep planting—play Johnny Appleseed. I think that is what history is about. It’s not just finding out what happened. I think overwhelmingly, if I’ve gotten anything out of my love of history it is if you play history and you aren’t provoked to think, what was the point?
I think college education is now more and more towards liberal arts: the idea is to learn to read, learn to write, learn to think—history does that. Don’t feel like you have to stay in the history field just because you majored in it. Let’s say you don’t want to become a college professor or you don’t want to go into public education, but you do like history. The number one thing I would say is as early as possible you want to start to prepare a resume to show that you’ve been involved in history. People don’t care what school you went to or what your history degree is in, but if you have a resume that shows you’ve done a bunch of stuff in history, you’re going to be hirable.