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MA in Public History at York University (UK)

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One of the programs I'm thinking of applying to for Fall 2018 is the Public History program at York (or at least History with a Public History concentration). I know York itself has a great reputation, but I'm curious if anyone knows anything specifically about the Public History aspect? I'm not from the UK, so I'm less familiar with that.


Edited by fuzzylogician
edited title at OP's request
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Unless you plan to work in the UK, there's no point in getting a public history degree overseas. When you graduate and return to the US, you will have left your networking connections in another country. Also, with the uncertainty created by Brexit, it might be difficult to get hired for internships.

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3 hours ago, Lily9 said:

That's a really good point and something I was worried about.

Yep. I'm in the field, and a number of Americans and Canadians who got their museum studies or public history MAs abroad said the degree was practically meaningless when they came back to North America.

I personally advise you to go for a regular history MA and work/intern while in school. My classes gave me the terminology and best practices for working in public history, but based on my experience--pub hist work is 90% about relationships with coworkers, the public, boards of directors, funding entities, and docents, and 10% what you learn from books.  

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Also, just to point out, public history isn't as common overseas. They still tend to have museum studies programs in larger numbers or cultural heritage. Public history really began in the U.S. and so there's just a lot more opportunity here. I'm inclined to disagree with NoirFemme on the regular MA program. Yes, your internships and connections are super vital to finding a job, but a good MA public history program is going to have a strong alumni network and be better geared towards non-academic historians.

Also, @NoirFemme, I was thinking the other day that it might be useful to have some sort of public history post pinned to the top of posts. It seems like every year we have a couple public historians on here amid a sea of traditional historians, and it might be useful to just have a post that provides public history-geared resources.

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@emhafe eh, I believe that attending the annual NCPH conference, being a member of NCPH, and connecting with public historians on social media is sufficient for networking if you attend a regular history MA program (Also, I think getting a regular history degree+specializing in pubhist helps to stop pubhist from being "ghettoized" by the overall history profession. And if you want to work in a specific area--such as Native American institutions--it helps tremendously to be trained as an historian of that area). 

I have a public history degree and currently work in a museum. I get blank looks from past and current employers/coworkers when I say "I am a public historian"--when I fudge a little and say museum studies or history degree, they don't look confused. Lol.

But I think a sticky for public history would be a good thing. It's a great field, but one that often garners some misconceptions.

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Yeah if I went overseas I wouldn't see the point in actually getting a Public History MA-- I'd more likely get a regular history MA (orPh.D.), I just would want the university to be regarded well when it came to public history which is why I'm curious what people have heard about York in that regard. But honestly, I agree. A degree overseas in general would be risky-- the connections are so easily lost once I come back to the states/Canada.


Edited by Lily9
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10 hours ago, Lily9 said:

Yeah if I went overseas I wouldn't see the point in actually getting a Public History MA-- I'd more likely get a regular history MA (orPh.D.), I just would want the university to be regarded well when it came to public history which is why I'm curious what people have heard about York in that regard. But honestly, I agree. A degree overseas in general would be risky-- the connections are so easily lost once I come back to the states/Canada.


There really aren't any rankings for public history programs because there are so few of them around (and I mean Public History MA [and Ph.D], not a certificate or concentration or coursework). The common rule of thumb is to go to school where you want to work; however, the field is extremely competitive and everyone wants to attend school and work in NYC, Boston, DC, LA, etc. 

What do you want to do exactly in public history? Its broadness in scope is exciting, but it can also obscure the realities of the job market. In general:

Curators and conservators need Ph.Ds.

Archivists need an MLIS/MLS (sometimes you can get a position with a History degree+lots of experience).

Historic preservationists need an MA in HP (usually found in architecture departments).

Registrars and collections managers need at least an MA plus experience. 

Well paid, full-time museum work is incredibly difficult to come by, and you'll often have to work multiple part-time jobs, or work at a museum in the middle of nowhere with a tiny or non-existent budget. 

The gov't is the biggest employer of public historians (Smithsonian, National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management, etc), but getting in takes patience and serious networking--and who knows if anyone will be hired on for the foreseeable future. 

If you're still getting your feet wet in the field, I would say the best places to apply to in the US are: UMass Amherst, NC State, Middle Tennessee State, Brown (Public Humanities), Rutgers-Newark (American Studies w/Public Humanities track), and UC Riverside.







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Thanks for the information! :) I'm an undergrad now and I have some Public History experiences (three classes and I work as an intern at a nonprofit that does oral histories. plus volunteer at a museum). I'm hoping to get my MA and/or PhD in a research track of History (with funding) but possibly do a side concentration in Public History or at least go to an institute that is good about connecting students to internships/public history projects. I really enjoy the activism aspect that comes through Public History (at least at my undergrad). I definitely have some thinking to do in the next couple of months though so I can make a more concrete plan of what I want to study and do in the future.

Thanks again!! 

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You can also become an archivist with a graduate certificate/program in archival studies, which you can normally get alongside a history or public history (etc.) MA. This can be a good option if you know you don't want to be a librarian and the MLIS would be a waste of time and money for you, but you would still like the archival experience and skills (to enhance your public history practice or work in archives themselves). The SAA has some information on archiving programs here. It does position you differently in the field, but it doesn't necessarily close off all options, and a lot of archiving jobs do not require the MLIS for this reason--the MLIS doesn't qualify you on its own. I've heard mixed things about the job field for certificate holders--they enter the market more qualified than an MLIS-holder without archival specialization, sure, but they aren't necessarily as versatile in, for example, a special collections setting. I dunno! 

This link describes the difference a little. In general, the most important thing is taking description (etc.) courses and getting experience.

Here are some recent job postings in archives for which an MLIS would not uniquely qualify you, or for which something like a history/public history MA + archiving certification (and practicum experience) might: a project archivist at San Francisco State ("or an advanced degree in an applicable subject field with archival training," "a minimum of one year of archival experience"), university library specialist at UNC Greensboro, project archivist at Chapman University's Holocaust Memorial library. If you browse the archives gig blog you can get a sense of the breadth of archival work out there, a lot of which is in historical settings. 

In terms of programs, that SAA link above covers (I think) MLIS programs and PhDs with an archives focus as well as certification programs, I'm not totally sure how many schools have a standalone specialization/certification curriculum. It looks like Western Washington has a History MA with a built-in archives and records management program (including the internship), Wayne State in Detroit has masters programs in History and Public History as well as a History PhD, and they offer the certificate. I think UMass Boston's program looks something like that.

If you do want the MLIS, though, there are lots of joint MA/MLIS or PhD/MLS programs! That would qualify you for archival work (if you take archival classes and get experience) as well as something like subject librarianship. 

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