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Public History - Overview


Public history programs prepare people to store and present artifacts for the public. Students learn to plan and manage record services. They also learn to create historical presentations in several formats. In addition, students gain an understanding of different historical periods.

If you've been to Washington, D.C., you may have visited the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. This museum is dedicated to studying the history of the Holocaust. In one of the exhibits, you can stand in a train car that took prisoners to concentration camps. You also can view uniforms that officers and prisoners wore. One of the most chilling displays is an enormous pile of shoes that belonged to Holocaust victims. Other parts of the museum play recordings of individual survival stories.

Many of the people who work at the Holocaust Memorial Museum are called public historians. They take history and present it to the public in several ways. In addition, they make sure that historical records and artifacts are stored correctly.

In a public history program, you take courses in ancient, medieval, American, and 20th century history. You also take courses in preservation, records management, and historical research. Depending on your interests, you can study different countries, revolutions, and wars.

A few schools offer public history programs as an undergraduate major or minor. Other schools offer concentrations in public history as part of a history program. In both cases, public history programs are usually part of the history department. Most four-year colleges and universities offer bachelor's degrees in history. Typically you finish your bachelor's degree in four years.

With a degree in public history, you can work for museums, libraries, or historical societies. You can also work for businesses to help them organize and store important papers. You can use your knowledge of history and computer skills to design historical web sites and software. You can even become a documentary filmmaker!

About ten schools offer graduate programs in public history. Graduate degrees take from two to five years after you finish your bachelor's degree. Most people with graduate degrees in public history become professors or professional historians.

Source: Illinois Career Information System (CIS) brought to you by Illinois Department of Employment Security.
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