Nicole is a Project Manager at Grey Advertising and an Adjunct Professor at Wagner College. She received her MA in Public History from NYU in 2010.
When people ask me what I do, I have a hard time answering that question. At my core, I am a Public Historian whose primary goal is to broaden how we experience history.
History is cool, and I want other people to think so too. My job title is Project Manager; so let’s just say I am a Project Managing Public Historian (who wants to make history cool). I also teach an Intro to History class, Who Owns History, at Wagner College.
In order to accomplish my goal of making history relevant and exciting, I have chosen to take a different route than most Public Historians and Archivists. I work at Grey Advertising. Yes; advertising. Where people work to sell things that people don’t need. A world of communication and making things look good. A world where I get to work daily with creative people, researching, codifying and facilitating information. It is within advertising that I have learned about the power of messaging and branding. And it is these powerful tools that I want to exploit most for historical content.
The questions I look to answer are: Why can’t history look good? Why can’t we make history as craveable as an Olive Garden commercial?
In my other job, as an Adjunct Professor at Wagner, I ask my History 101 students to do just that. The workshop class requires the students to concept, develop and pitch a hypothetical exhibit (in or outside of a museum). The results have been tremendous. For a group of non-major undergraduates, my mind has been blown by the creativity and thoughtfulness they have put forth to try something new. They have inspired me to be a better Public Historian.
The Archives and Public History Program at NYU allowed me to find, develop and hone my niche in history. I wasn’t forced into a pigeonhole of specialization; I was encouraged to study, collaborate and try different things. I met amazing people with whom I have partnered to work on side projects ranging from an experimental art/history installation (still in conceptual infancy) to an oral history podcast program. I was taught to be resourceful and most importantly creative– which can only happen when one is in a supportive environment. The program also taught me to think outside the box and beyond museums as the only viable option for employment for historians.
Recently, I read a scary statistic from the American Association of Museums: in 2009 the average annual attendance to historical museums in the United States was 10,000 visitors. Why is this? Why do people not go to museums? What is the future of museums? The information and programming they provide is rich and wonderful, but perhaps the museum model, as we know it, is no longer relevant.
History museums are not creating sustainable engagement with their communities. I want to change this. What is the next iteration of historical content? We as historians know better than most that everything constantly changes, and yet we have tried to preserve and codify the idea of a museum in its most traditional sense. We know what it means to evolve, and I think we should embrace a more effective and engaging model.
Another interesting statistic I read was that 24% of students graduating in the last five years have been Business/Finance majors, while only 2% have been History majors. This may seem daunting, but I think this is actually some of the best news I have heard in a long time. Historians are becoming a rare commodity; we are doing something nobody else is doing and have skills that nobody else has. The Archives and Public History program gives you the tools and access to own and proliferate that skill. I hope now that students (and prospective students) take this as a call-to-action to own and market their skills.
For me, their goal would be nothing less than making delicious looking history. I’ve learned being a Public Historian, isn’t about where I work, it is about how I approach what I do.