When I graduated from Oberlin College six years ago, I knew that I’d caught the history bug. I was excited about my honors research into the genesis of America’s eastern National Parks and the narratives of sacred and public space that led to their creation. I knew that I wanted to work in the field and seized an opportunity to intern in collections and public affairs at the fledgling 9/11 Memorial Museum. Graduate school seemed a logical next step, and NYU’s newly unified program in Archives and Public History appeared to offer the perfect combination of intellectually stimulating coursework and practical opportunities in the heart of the vibrant city that was my temporary home.
I approached graduate school with some trepidation, because I had been offered a full-time position at the 9/11 Memorial as Curatorial Assistant. After some soul-searching, I decided to cut down my hours slightly at the 9/11 Memorial so that I could pursue my graduate studies. I was not disappointed with my decision. I found the APH program to be unusually welcoming to students with demanding jobs. My experiences on the job enabled me to offer a unique perspective when my courses approached the politics of traumatic collective memory and the sensitivity with which public historians must approach multiple constituencies. Peter Wosh, the program’s director, also devoted an extraordinary amount of time to ensuring a tailored experience for each student. In my case, he helped me find internships that would provide balance to my day-to-day work at the 9/11 Memorial. I enjoyed traveling all over the city researching Orchard Street residents for the Lower East Side Tenement Museum and spending time at CUNY’s American Social History Project organizing teacher resources and offering suggestions for improving searches on the organization’s website. One of NYU APH’s strengths is its focus on new media. This was just kicking off when I was a student in the program, but the program’s inquisitive digital history environment gave me the confidence to manage digital projects for the 9/11 Memorial, including an Artists Registry that launched in 2008, and to make digital history a focus of my capstone research project on collaboration between public history institutions and educators to promote historical thinking.
The APH program also provided me a stepping stone toward greater involvement in professional organizations. In 2008, with generous support from APH’s Paul Mattingly Award, I attended my first National Council on Public History (NCPH) conference in Providence, Rhode Island where I presented an oral history blog application that I’d developed for a graduate course taught by Rachel Bernstein. I was inspired by the energy of the organization and knew I wanted to get more involved. After I graduated from the APH program in 2009, I began working for the 9/11 Memorial full-time remotely from my new home in Michigan. As a telecommuter, Peter Wosh thought that I would have some insights to offer NCPH’s consultants’ committee, so he nominated me to join. I also became a regular contributor for NCPH’s “Off the Wall” exhibition review blog which morphed into History@Work, a public history commons offering a variety of perspectives on the field.
After three years working remotely on the 9/11 Memorial Museum’s memorial exhibition project, with monthly return visits to New York City, I found myself missing the variety of projects that had characterized my graduate school experience. I also wanted to become more involved in my local community, connecting people with the history around them. Inspired by my NCPH consultant colleagues, I took the plunge in May 2012, leaving my position at the 9/11 Memorial and launching my own public history and museum consulting company, Artiflection, LLC.
Owning my own business has proven exhilarating, challenging me to balance paid projects with volunteer service and pursuit of my own research interests. I owe my ability to weather these challenges in large part to the confidence I gained during graduate school. I would encourage future APH students to pursue a wide variety of educational and practical pursuits during graduate school, taking full advantage of NYU’s resources and the web of connections that can keep you linked to the “center of the universe” no matter where your career takes you.