“What do you do?” It’s a common question asked in Washington, D.C. When asked of me, I answer succinctly that I am a Liaison Specialist for the Library of Congress Veterans History Project.
“What does that mean?” is the response I usually get.
“I ensure the stories of America’s veterans are preserved at the Library of Congress,” I then say. At this point the questioner usually gives me a look of incredulity.
“Yup,” I go on to say, reading their expression. “I have the greatest job in the world.”
I have a position I am deeply passionate about. It’s a position I would never have received be it not for the NYU program. The technical and theoretical instruction I learned under Peter Wosh and others prepared me for real world challenges and problem solving. The connections forged have proven invaluable in developing a unique skill set ideal for this job.
I came to the program after 3 ½ years as an Assistant Curator at the Museum of Jewish Heritage – A Living Memorial to the Holocaust. I curated the award-winning exhibitionOurs to Fight For: American Jews in the Second World War, and the acclaimed exhibitNew York: City of Refuge–Stories from the Last 60 Years. I loved exhibitions and oral history, but I wanted a more thorough understanding of the public history profession, from back rooms to board rooms. NYU offered me that.
Class work instructed me in everything from archival processing to EAD. Opportunities to work with the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame and New York Public Library allowed me to view all angles of the profession. Positions as an archivist, oral historian, curator, project manager, and consultant made me an ideal candidate for the Veterans History Project (VHP) opening. I got the job the old-fashioned way: I applied.
For two years I have worked with Members of Congress, volunteer and veterans’ service organizations, and individuals nationwide to ensure the oral histories and original documents of America’s veterans are preserved at the Library of Congress. The Project means so much to veterans, families, and communities—knowing that their sacrifices will be remembered in the nation’s premier institution of knowledge. It makes a profound impact on veterans to know that someone wants to hear their story.
An anecdote I often relate is that of a volunteer in Texas who interviewed a World War II veteran for VHP through her local Red Cross. The veteran had not shared his combat experiences with anyone over the course of 65 years. In the last weeks of his life, in hospice care, he decided it was time. Shortly after he granted the interview, he died. In gratitude for having a keepsake of his life and words, the family played the interview at his funeral. They invited the volunteer that recorded his story to give the eulogy.
Public history is a powerful force for good in the world—a world increasingly in short supply of forces for good that unite communities. I’m proud to contribute to a better world, and proud that NYU helped me get there.
Posted January 2012