The historian knows too well the clichés that will muttered back about their field of study. “History is boring, it’s just memorizing dates and people.” “All you do in history classes is read a textbook.” These statements represent the larger misconceptions about studying history. At the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, a plethora of study abroad opportunities, collaborative research and graduate school preparation transcends these clichés, and offers a diversified learning experience. Below, soon to be and recent graduates who will be attending graduate school share their unique experiences that shaped their public history degree at UW-Eau Claire.
Cari Dowden will graduate this May with a degree in Public History and Geography. In the fall, she will be pursing her master’s degree in Geography at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Cari has participated in a variety of study abroad and research opportunities. In the summer of 2017, she was a participant in the Public History in England immersion program. Cari describes this program as her first opportunity to apply her public history knowledge outside of Eau Claire. While back on campus, she has been busy completing a half dozen research projects. Her first project was titled “Is Tolerant Good Enough?” in which a research team interviewed local government representatives to find their perceptions of “welcomeness” in our community. Cari is also a Robert E. McNair scholar. The McNair scholar’s program encourages low income, first generation and minority students to pursue graduate study. As a part of this program, Cari completed a summer research project that was an extension of the “Is Tolerant Good Enough?” project described above. This research is being presented on campus at CERCA (Celebration of Research and Creative Activity) and will also be published through Astra (a McNair program journal). Cari was also a research participant in a project titled “The Sounds of Eau Claire” in which Cari and a team of student researchers collected artifacts about the music history of Eau Claire. One of Cari’s interviews with Nate Sorenson won an award for the Wisconsin Broadcast Association’s Best Documentary Series- Radio. This interview, along with the others, were turned into podcasts that aired on Converge Radio. In addition, Cari is working on both her History and Geography capstone projects. Her history capstone titled “Queen Cow and the Eau Claire Rule” has been submitted for possible publication in the Wisconsin Magazine of History. This research project also won the Fall 2018 Miller Award for Outstanding History Paper. Cari cites the combination of her study abroad and research experiences as motivating factors for pursuing graduate level study. Without the McNair program, Cari admits she may not have ever considered going to graduate school. Cari has two pieces of advice for incoming students. She suggests getting to know professors early to have them point you to opportunities that may be a good fit. She also suggests joining student-lead clubs and organizations. Organizations are an excellent way to meet fellow students and build relationships.
Hannah Lahti will also graduate this May, with a degree in Public History and a minor in European Studies. In the fall, Hannah will be pursuing a joint PhD program in U.S. and Public History at Loyola University-Chicago. Hannah has supplemented her public history experience through multiple research projects and study abroad. Hannah was a member of team who worked with Hungarian students to digitize a journal written by a physician who lived in Budapest during the Second World War. This research is ongoing, and a book is expected to be published with the journals. In addition to studying abroad in Hungary, Hannah also participated in a semester long study abroad experience in Winchester, England. This was an excellent opportunity for Hannah to complete her European Studies minor. Hannah has also completed research projects on campus. She has been consistently working on a research project on Holocaust memory in Great Britain, specifically with the plans for a Holocaust memorial and learning center in London. Hannah has also recently completed her capstone research project, which is titled “Holocaust Memory and Public History: Examining Holocaust Museums from 1947-2001.” Through this project, Hannah has analyzed the similarities and differences between four prominent Holocaust museums and how they have changed over time. Lastly, she was a participant in the “Sounds of Eau Claire” project described above. Hannah offers a simple piece of advice for incoming history students: the opportunities are available; you just have to make the effort to find them. She suggests getting to know your professors and describing your future goals. This will allow new students to be connected to the opportunities that will be the most impactful to them.
Lizzy Schmidt is a recent Public History graduate. She will also be attending Loyola University- Chicago this coming fall, pursuing her master’s degree in Public History. Lizzy describes the opportunities at UW-Eau Claire as the building blocks for pursing graduate level study, which have allowed her to set herself apart as a competitive candidate. Lizzy has conducted multiple research projects, presented at conferences, studied abroad, and pursued leadership roles in history organizations. Lizzy served as the project manager for the “Sounds of Eau Claire” research mentioned earlier. Through this project, she conducted oral histories, digitized artifacts, and collected information about the music history of Eau Claire. Her capstone research centered around this project as well, analyzing the 1990’s music festival “Shake, Rattle and Roll.” She had the opportunity to present this research not only on campus at CERCA, but also at the Midwest Archives Conference and the local history and historic preservation conference. Through these conferences, Lizzy had the opportunity to collaborate and network with professional historians. In addition to research, Lizzy participated in the Public History in England immersion program. This four-week summer immersion involved travelling throughout England while studying the particular ways history is represented in the country. Following her return from the program, Lizzy says she knew she was in the right field of study. Lastly, Lizzy also served as the President of the history honors society Phi Alpha Theta. Through this organization, Lizzy says she was able to meet and network with other history majors. She offers a piece of advice to incoming history students that echo her colleagues above; take the time to get to know your professors and use them as a resource to find exciting opportunities like collaborative research.
While non-history majors may view the field as “textbooks” and “dates”, the three outstanding history students highlighted above show that the subject is much more. With a public history degree from the University of Wisconsin- Eau Claire, one can engage in a variety of collaborative research projects, study abroad opportunities, and student-lead organizations that create a personalized and impactful experience. Like the students above described, the opportunities are there; history students should be sure to reach out to their instructors and faculty advisers to determine how they too can take advantage of these exciting and dynamic educational experiences.