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Jayne Dooley records and processes new additions to the Chippewa Valley Museum's collection.

Making history

New programs expand career options
for future historians

By Judy Berthiaume

When Jayne Dooley was an undergraduate student some 20 years ago, she considered majoring in history but discarded the idea because she didn't want to teach and was uncertain about what else she could do with the degree.

Instead, she majored in accounting and has spent the last 20 years working for the Wisconsin Department of Revenue, most recently supervising tax auditors.

"I knew accounting would give me a secure career," said Dooley, who is 43 and lives in Eau Claire. "But accounting is not the love of my life. I can't see doing this for another 20 years. I needed a new plan for the future."

She found the resources she needed to create that plan in UW-Eau Claire's history department, a department widely recognized for its innovative approach to preparing future historians to succeed in any number of professional settings.

Dooley, who is now studying history at UW-Eau Claire as a part-time graduate student, hopes to one day work for the National Park Service or the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources' state parks program. Her dream job would involve doing research for a parks system and helping create interpretive displays to educate park visitors about the history of the parks, the environment and conservation issues.

"I've always had an interest in the outdoors and conservation issues as well as history," Dooley said. "Until recently, I didn't realize I could combine those interests in this way."

Dooley is among a growing number of history students who are focusing their academic and professional ambitions on public history, a relatively new field that refers to history-related interests and jobs outside the university setting, said John Mann, director of the public history programs at UW-Eau Claire.

In the public history programs, students learn to do professional historical research and writing, and they then present their findings to the general public in addition to academic audiences, Mann said.

Among the goals of UW-Eau Claire's three-year-old public history programs is to introduce students to the many career options open to history majors, helping students like Dooley realize that a degree in history can open doors in any number of fields, Mann said.

Career options in public history include work in historic preservation, museums, archives, cultural resource management, contract history, documentary film and video, and other occupations in the private sector and for government agencies, Mann said, noting that public history students at UW-Eau Claire have had internships at national parks, Civil War battlefields, museums and historical societies.

UW-Eau Claire history faculty have long been involved in local and regional public history efforts and research, but degree offerings in the field were established only in recent years, Mann said. More than 100 universities and colleges in the United States now offer courses in public history, but UW-Eau Claire is one of just a handful of the institutions to offer academic programs in public history at the undergraduate and graduate levels, he said.

"Faculty here were engaged in public history long before I arrived on campus," Mann said. "They were doing all sorts of things with museums, Indian Tribes, the Supreme Court, and many other agencies and organizations. We had all the pieces here, but it's been my job to put them together."

UW-Eau Claire now offers a public history emphasis for undergraduate majors and a graduate certificate in public history for graduate students. Currently, about 20 students are enrolled in the undergraduate program and another 10 are enrolled in the graduate certificate program.

Mann expects enrollment numbers to increase as history students learn more about public history and the kinds of opportunities available to its graduates.

Alumnus Brent Hensel, the first student to complete the university's graduate certificate in public history, now works for the New England Patriots football organization. The former social studies teacher is helping the Patriots build a team museum and hall of fame and is serving as curator and team historian. A lifelong football fan, he describes his work as his "dream job."

Hensel pursued a graduate certificate in public history because he wanted to use his history degree in a nonteaching field. After completing the public history course work, he was an intern with the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio, an experience that helped him land his job with the Patriots.

"I was trained to be a curator of a museum," Hensel said of his internship. "I learned accessioning of a collection, including categorizing, labeling, identification numbering and storage of artifacts. I learned the skills of researching artifacts, restoration, and design and implementation of exhibits. UW-Eau Claire and the public history program gave me the academic understanding, resources and opportunities that led up to this opportunity."

In recent years, UW-Eau Claire's history department has established the public history programs, strengthened its commitment to student research, secured grants that total more than $3.5 million to establish graduate programs for K-12 teachers, and established a center dedicated to history teaching and learning, said Kate Lang, associate professor of history and chair of the history department.

The initiatives all involve partnerships with community agencies and organizations, such as the public schools and the Chippewa Valley Museum, Lang said.

"One of the most important benefits of the growing interest in public history is the impact it allows the department and the university to have on the community," Lang said. "The public history program is the direct result of the faculty's determination to reach beyond the campus. As our faculty have identified changing needs in the community and the profession, they've responded with innovative programs to help meet those needs."

For example, the history department and Center for History Teaching and Learning, in partnership with the Chippewa Valley Museum and Cooperative Educational Service Agency 10, run a graduate program for history teachers called Learning by Doing: Public History in the Classroom. The program - the first graduate public history certificate program in the United States designed for elementary and secondary teachers - helps hundreds of public school teachers learn new ways to teach American history by providing them with the necessary content, experience and resources to develop curricula that emphasize project-based strategies. Research demonstrates that history is best learned when students apply their knowledge and skills within and beyond the classroom.

Thousands of Wisconsin schoolchildren will eventually benefit from the Learning by Doing program and other UW-Eau Claire-initiated programs that will provide history teachers with new skills, strategies and resources.

"By helping teachers become skilled practitioners of public history, we are greatly improving history education in Wisconsin," Lang said.

The history faculty's innovation and accomplishments were recognized in fall 2006 by the UW System's Board of Regents, which awarded the history department the 14th annual Regents Teaching Excellence Award for Academic Departments and Programs.

The award recognizes an academic department or program at a UW System institution that demonstrates exceptional commitment to teaching and learning.

"It was a tremendous honor," Lang said of the prestigious award. "Our history faculty are committed to helping all of our students learn, including those who pursue their Ph.D.s, those who teach in the K-12 schools and those who study history as part of a liberal arts education. It's wonderful to be recognized for our commitment and for the faculty's hard work."

The honor is well-deserved, said Dooley, who takes one class a semester so she can continue to work full time. The faculty are knowledgeable, approachable and supportive, she said.

"I'm enjoying college and especially the professors," said Dooley, who also is collaborating with faculty on research projects and volunteering at the Chippewa Valley Museum. "I've not yet had a class that I've disliked. The professors are interesting and easy to get to know, and they've gone above and beyond to make this work for me. With their help, I now know what I want to do in the future and I know what I need to do to get there."

Judy Berthiaume is director of the UW-Eau Claire News Bureau.

 

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