Graduate Education, NCPH

Public History Programs on the Culinary School Model

I just saw this in my Facebook newsfeed

The article suggests that Public History MA programs might benefit from using a “culinary school model” meaning students would need past experience in Public History before they entered the program. The author, Trevor Jones, points out that required previous experience would give students an idea of their weaknesses, give them experience they need to find post-program employment and make them aware of what the job they desire requires of them. (I would add it would give them a reference point for understanding the concepts they learn in the academic program). Jones also states that this could solve the problem that Robert Weyeneth wrote about in the NCPH’s last newsletter, which lamented the number of Public History programs and graduate’s lack of experience and skill.

Making a prerequisite for Public History programs would certainly limited the number of applicants. Especially considering that BA holders are hard pressed to find a job in a museum or at a historical site that would place them in “the kitchen” (curatorial staff) without the almighty MA. (Jones even makes the point to say that MAs are now the requirement for white collard work and museums are pretty white collar). While a BA can find work at a museum front desk (in the culinary metaphor this would be the hostess/host; I would not want the host making my food) or volunteering (soup kitchen?). Paid .employment/experience is hard to find out side of internships.

Here is a photo from google of the kitchen at GEWA, where I worked this summer. Why no get kitchen experience in a kitchen? ;)
Here is a photo from google of the kitchen at GEWA, where I worked this summer. Why not get kitchen experience in a kitchen? 😉

Experience coupled with the academic training is the winning combination for employment. However, rather than requiring students to have experience in the field before applying, programs should focus on “real world” (as opposed to in-class) projects. The department I am in is growing the Public History option with a split academic/applicable training model. Which I support, because it is important for Public Historians to be conversant with the academic side in order to understand the larger project (movement?) they are taking part in(among other reasons…).

I would like to see MA students given the same time and credit option for PH projects as thesis projects. For example a friend of mine is working on three public history projects in downtown Tampa she should be given the option (encouraged!) to take the equivalent of thesis credit hours to develop these projects instead of doing her projects AND taking more seminars. This would celebrate and connate the importance/value of non-academic projects and force students to take their skills out for a walk, gain marketable experience, and make connections in the field.

There is certainly a value in having previous experience, which should yield graduate level funding, but it does not need to be a requirement. Lets not forget Public History is the product of a public AND academic partnership, students with academic backgrounds should not be excluded, they have a lot to offer. The field should not be made so specialized where as academic historians are barred form jumping in. Internships and experience are important, but making that a prerequisite will not help make better public historians, making students do in-program internships, avoiding meaningless in-class projects, and prizing activity will make better public historians.


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