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Washington State University
History | FAQ: Public History

What is public history?

Modern historians recognize that their discipline can play a vital role outside the classroom. Public history draws on the basic skills and methods of history and applies them to a wider audience. Their skills are used in the interpretation, preservation, and management of historical resources. In addition, public historians are engaged in such diverse activities as museum and archival administration, historic preservation, and research for government or corporate clients.

How long has WSU had a public history program?

In the fall of 1979, the Department of History first offered M.A. and Ph.D. tracks in public history. Since then approximately 75 students have completed the program. Several found professional employment with a variety of local and state historical societies, state historical agencies, public and private archives and libraries, and numerous federal agencies such as the Bureau of Land Management, the National Park Service, and the U.S. Forest Service. Others have found work with private research firms, which undertake contracted research and historical report preparation.

What makes public history at WSU unique?

Specific graduate courses offer introductory background and training in public history. In addition, the program stresses “real-world” application and practical connections in private sector and institutional agencies that utilize historical techniques and methodologies. Internships, additional course work (including workshops, seminars, and short courses), and the thesis/dissertation offer further training. Areas of specialization include archives, business and corporate history, cultural resource management, historic preservation, litigation support, museum studies, and public policy.

Are internships important?

A supervised internship is an integral part of the public history track. It affords students the opportunity to work as temporary employees, and it provides them with firsthand experience (in some cases compensated) in settings such as archives, museums, or historical societies. Internships provide students with practical insights into historical employment. Private sector or institutional supervisors provide mentoring relationships, and they introduce students to the professional networks common to the public historian’s work environment.

Where is Washington State University?

The main campus is in Pullman, a town of 24,000 residents located in the Palouse country of southeastern Washington. Together with the University of Idaho, 8 miles to the east in Moscow, the Pullman area provides an increasingly diverse population with a center of cultural and intellectual life, and thus combines many of the advantages of an urban community with the character and amenities of a small town. Hiking, camping, fishing, skiing, boating, and other outdoor recreational activities are easily accessible at the Snake River parks and at the mountain and lake regions of Washington and northern Idaho.

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Does a degree in public history preclude me from working in the academy?

No. Several of WSU’s graduate students have gone on to teach history in the academy.

Does WSU meet the technological needs of the 21st-century graduate student?

Washington State University is well known for its friendly learning environment and extensive use of educational technology. According to Yahoo Internet Life’s annual report on “America’s Top 100 Wired Colleges 2000,” Washington State University ranked #9 in the nation, and #1 in both the West and the Pac-10. Forbes magazine lists WSU as one of the top 20 cyber-universities in America for its use of technology in distance education. In all, WSU reaches students in 45 states and 16 countries around the globe. In the year 2000, WSU was one of 29 research institutions in the United States designated Internet2 members by President Clinton. Finally, WSU ranks in the top 100 colleges for its research library system and for the computer access and Internet connections, among some 2,000 colleges and universities nationwide.