This week we had three brief readings; however, my blog will focus on the roundtable discussion we had in class yesterday. The talk comprised of four professionals in various fields of public history in which they discussed their work and how they got there. The four speakers were Clare Sauro, curator of the Robert and Penny Fox Historic Costume Collection at Drexel University; Jessica Baumert, Executive Director of The Woodlands; Devin Manzullo-Thomas, Director of The Sider Institute for Anabaptist, Pietist, and Wesleyan Studies, and Archives Coordinator of The Ernest L. Boyer Center, Messiah College; and finally Heather Thakar, Director of Temple’s Anthropology Lab. The conversation was very insight so I will try to unpack as much as I can.
Clare Sauro began the talk with a look at her path to her position at Drexel, with one of the main takeaways being the need to make sure you find a job that fits with your personal goals and beliefs. This was because if there is a conflict of ideals then you will not be happy and that has to be the ultimate goal. This was enlightening as it reinforced that we have to be content with the choices we make so that we can be proud of the work we have done. The two main lessons that I learned from Jessica Baumert’s discussion was that there has to be a goal to engage the community in a meaningful way in order to make the work worthwhile. This idea is in line with much of our reading over the course of the semester, as many of the books stressed the need to reach out beyond the institute to have a positive influence on the local people. The other main idea was that it is all right if you do not know everything or it is chaotic beyond the scenes of the institute, as long it appears to the public that everything is in order. While this was a bit concerning at first, after thinking about it, it shows that the job is not going to be perfect or easy but as long as at the end of the day it serves the public then that is all that matters.
Devin Manzullo-Thomas as having many different roles at Messiah College showed that it is important be a jack of all trade of sorts in order to be able to meet the various challenges of the different jobs. This sentiment was echoed by the other speakers as they expressed the need for understanding of business, such as accounting and granting writing as essential parts of their jobs. This was a great bit of information to learn because it will give me time to try to broaden my skill set to become more marketable in the highly competitive fields. Heather Thakar shared a similar idea of Jessica in that Heather discussed the need to make sure the projects reach a wider audience. She talked of her work to try to bring high school students in the lab in order to experience what it is like. This idea really illustrates the importance of public history as trying to reach out to the community and engage with them in meaningful ways.
All of the speakers gave great insight into what to expect once we graduate from the Master’s program and fully enter the work force. Indeed, I will take all of these lessons to heart and it will definitely help shape my path going forward.
Finally, I also wanted to mention one of the readings we had for the week The Hart Island Project, which is a project focused on giving stories to the thousands of people buried in mass graves in New York City. The graveyard one the island is for people who have no known next of kin or babies who died that the state buried. While there are some concerns with the project since anyone can add information and it does not need to be verified, I found it an extremely moving, since people would write very personal stories. Indeed, the amount of emotions that people poured out onto the website is overwhelming and very powerful. I would encourage every one to read some of the 200 stories that have been added (there are still over 64,000 people without stories).