The terms “historian” and “entrepreneur” are not often mentioned in the same sentence. The historian studies and writes about the past, while an entrepreneur is focused on innovating for the future and taking risks—and in many instances ends up being the one making history. Historians are not traditionally taught to be entrepreneurs. In the age of new media, however, this is starting to change.
Students aspiring to careers in Public History are facing unique challenges. In the wake of budget cuts and a lagging economy, jobs are often tough to find in traditional public sectors (museums, preservation, government agencies or archives). Academia is responding. At Boise State University in Idaho, Professor Leslie Madsen-Brooks is incorporating entrepreneurship modules into her graduate seminar in applied history, “History 502: Applied Historical Research.” The course is about methods, controversies, ideas and ideologies, and the way history gets deployed in everyday life in the United States. The course addresses important questions such as:
- What is public history, and in what ways does it differ from academic history?
- Should “the public” be the audience for, participants in, or creators of programs and projects that fall under the banner of “public history”?
- What role should—and do—professional historians take in public history?
- How do historians working outside the academy make a living?
The syllabus for the course includes traditional topics such as historic preservation, museums and libraries, ethical dilemmas, and public history careers, but also explores ideas such as reinventing the museum, and the public’s practice of history, analog and digital. Students are required to purchase or borrow an iPad or similar mobile device, and are encouraged to use them in class to explore digital history and for other course-related activities. There is a Blog for the course encouraging posts not just from participants but from anyone who wants to share comments. Assignments include a Public History Career Introduction, a Wiki assignment, and an App development plan.
One entire section of the course is dedicated to entrepreneurialism. Madsen-Brooks believes that being entrepreneurial is a “very useful skill for humanists, along with digital fluency and savvy,” and encourages her students to think outside the traditional career box. A number websites are suggested, including the Association of Personal Historians, Museumpreneurs, and Reel Tributes.
Reel Tributes’ Role
Madsen-Brooks includes Reel Tributes as a link in the “Entrepreneurialism” section of the HIST 502 course because she found that many of her students expressed an interest in documentary film production and lists Reel Tributes as: “One example of a way that a company is promoting history in a way that is useful and personally meaningful to individuals in a public audience.”
Reel Tributes aims to give families the opportunity to preserve the stories (and histories) of loved ones in a timeless film tribute. Reel Tributes Founder and CEO David Adelman is delighted that his site is being used to inspire students and to educate them on the importance of technology in preserving history.
“It’s amazing to see our company being used to teach grad students about history in a fun and interactive way,” Adelman says. “In the digital age, it’s no longer just about the textbooks and lectures.”
There’s no doubt that 21st century historians face new challenges and that innovative thinking is critical to ensure that future generations continue to learn and link to the past. With so many digital tools available to novices and professionals alike, collaborations between historians and entrepreneurs are likely to keep increasing. We can only hope that this dynamic will promote the study of history in meaningful ways, and help preserve the world’s most cherished moments for years to come.
Lisa A. Alzo is a freelance writer, instructor, and lecturer with over 22 years’ experience in the field of genealogy. She earned a Master of Fine Arts degree in Nonfiction Writing from the University of Pittsburgh, and is the author of nine books. Lisa has written hundreds of articles, and chronicles her adventures in family history on her blog, The Accidental Genealogist.
[Image credit: Library of Congress]