Public History Brings History to the People
Public history -- defined as putting history to work in the world -- has become one of the most vibrant aspects of historical study and includes a wide range of practices and professions, including
- museum professionals
- oral historians
- cultural resource managers
- documentary film producers, and
- historic preservationists.
All of them are dedicated to making history relevant to the public at large. By connecting research, education, and outreach public historians actively bring the past into a public dialogue with the present. Students graduating with a concentration in public history will have a significant advantage in the job market for careers in public history as well as when applying to graduate programs in public history, museum studies, library sciences, documentary filmmaking, and other public history-related programs.
Hands-On Learning in Internships
Designed for students who want to pursue the professional work of historians, we offer a concentration in Public History -- one of a very few undergraduate program of its kind in the nation. Students fully engage in the work of historic preservation, museum studies, or library and archive studies. Unique courses and experiences prepare students for professions or graduate training in the field through hands-on internships with our community partners at:
- ALSAC/St. Jude Archives
- Blues Foundation and Museum
- Cotton Museum
- Dixon Gallery and Gardens
- Ernest Withers Collection*
- Facing History and Ourselves
- Lausanne Collegiate School Archives
- Levitt Shell Archives
- Memphis Heritage
- Memphis Public Libraries
- Mississippi River Heritage Museum
- National Civil Rights Museum
- OutMemphis Archives
- Pink Palace Museum
- Shelby County Archives
- Stax Museum of American Soul Music
- Temple Israel Archives
- True Story Pictures (documentary film)
- Victorian Village Community Development Corporation
- *The Ernest Withers Collection is pending final confirmation of setup.
For a complete list of internships and descriptions, click here.
In these internships, students work behind-the-scenes of some of Memphis’ premiere public history institutions helping to research, create, and maintain displays; working to restore, digitize, and publish one-of-a-kind archival material; giving tours; and promoting the work of their internship institution within the city. Students work closely with professionals in the field to develop the skills of a public historian. And they talk with members of the public about history, bringing the past to life for Memphians and the millions of tourists who come to the Bluff City. Read more about Public History in action at Rhodes. Read about one Public History student's experience on a blog entry for the National Council on Public History.
Students must apply for internships through Career Services using the following form.
Requirements for a Concentration in Public History
- Completion of the Requirements for a Bachelor of Arts in History
- History 360: Public History and accompanying Internship
- At least one of the following courses:
- History 260: Topics in Public History and Memory
- History 463: Public History Practicum at the National Civil Rights Museum
- History 490: Directed Research (when on a topic relating to public history)
- Interdepartmental 225: Geographic Information Systems (GIS)
- At least one of the following experiences:
- Archaeology 120: Field Research in Environmental Archaeology
- Archaeology 450: Archaeological Field School
- History 461: Internship (prerequisite History 360)
- Archival Studies Fellowship at the Memphis and Shelby County Public Library: a paid summer fellowship where students receive hands-on training in archival processing and digitization.
- Shelby Foote Fellowship: a paid fellowship working with the History department to process the archival collection of one of Memphis’ most famous writers
Public History Graduate Study
Students with a concentration in public history can pursue graduate work at the master’s level in museum studies, digital history, archival studies, library sciences, historic preservation, documentary filmmaking, or a doctorate in history. Graduate programs in public history seek to admit students who are dedicated to the field, so the concentration in Public History at Rhodes is a great way to demonstrate that commitment.
For more information, visit the National Council for Public History’s brochure on graduate training in public history called “The Public History Navigator.”
Jobs in Public History
Public historians work in a wide range of institutions including:
- National, State, and Local Museums
- Historic House Museums
- Historic Preservation Societies, such as the National Trust for Historic Preservation
- State and Local Historical Societies
- Libraries and Archives
- Historical consulting firms
- US National Park Service and State and Local Parks
- Federal, State and Local governments
The National Council on Public History maintains an active database of available jobs.
Rhodes History alumni have gone on to outstanding careers in Public History including Jim Gardner who serves as Executive for Legislative Archives, Presidential Libraries, and Museum Services, US National Archives and Record Administration and Kira Duke, Educational Specialist, Center for Historic Preservation, Middle Tennessee State University, Murfreesboro, TN
Public History Advising
Prof. Jeff Jackson is the History Department’s public history advisor and is able to discuss specific scheduling issues for history majors who are also pursuing the concentration in public history.