Jenny is an Oral Historian at the 9/11 Memorial Museum and Adjunct Professor in History at Wagner College
I am the Oral Historian at the 9/11 Memorial Museum and an Adjunct Professor in the History Department at Wagner College. I graduated from New York University’s Pubic History program in 2007 and I use my Masters degree on a daily basis.
I have worked at the 9/11 Memorial Museum for the past four and a half years. The job started as a summer internship, and turned into a full time Exhibition Researcher position and then evolved to my current role of Oral Historian. Together with the Senior Oral Historian, I interview survivors, first responders, family members, lower Manhattan residents and business owners, and others who are closely impacted by the events of September 11, 2001 and February 26, 1993 and the aftermath of both attacks. Currently, our oral history collection is approaching 550 interviews. Many of these interviews will be used in the Museum’s planned exhibitions, scheduled to open in the Fall of 2012.
I did my undergraduate work at the University of California at Berkeley and graduated from the History Department with my Bachelors of Arts in 2003. My focus at the time was Cold War Civil Rights and Southern history. Wanting to continue my studies beyond the undergraduate level, I automatically applied for PhD programs feeling that was the next logical step. I took a year off and accepted an entry level position at Credit Suisse. In this year away from academia, I rethought my decision to commit to a seven year PhD program and researched alternatives. I debated between Museum Studies and Public History, and ultimately decided Public History aligned most closely with my interests and allowed me to continue the academic study of history while learning how to make history accessible to a general audience.
While at NYU, my work was centered on a video-taped oral history project with members of the politically radical modern dance troop active in the 1950s called the New Dance Group. I didn’t enter the program aspiring to become a professional oral historian, nor did I have a background in dance, but it was through this project that I found my niche. Because I knew that I was ultimately interested in working in a museum, I took quite a few classes in the Museum Studies department. My current work directly benefits from the cross-departmental course load.
Securing my position at the 9/11 Memorial is a direct result of my internship experience. In addition to my internship at the 9/11 Memorial, I interned at the Lower East Side Tenement Museum and Acoustiguide. I also worked as a Museum Educator at the Museum of the City of New York, and spent two memorable years at the Fales Archives working to process the Downtown collection. My advice for current students is to take the initiative and go after as many internships and part-time jobs in the field as you possibly can. Also, don’t write off job experience from past careers. Although the financial industry is very different from the non-profit arts world, I am incredibly grateful for the skills that I garnered during my year and a half at the investment bank and know that the practical skills I learned in this industry have made me an attractive candidate for other jobs.
I have found the reality of working in the field to be quite different from the study of the field. Making professional relationships and gaining practical experience is just as important as the degree you will graduate with. Success is centered not only on an aptitude for understanding the academics of Public History but is about creating personal relationships, following through with connections and continuing to be aware of new opportunities. The job market is clearly tough, but look for positions that have a potential to develop into another job more closely suited to your interests. Stay in touch with your classmates (who are all potential future colleagues), touch base with department staff regularly, and try to be opened-minded and strategic while hunting for jobs.
Posted November 2011