By Chelsea Tegels
Where will my history degree take me? What will I do with it? What careers are available to a historian? As a current graduate student in history, I’ve been thinking about these questions a lot. To some, the answer seems obvious. I recently had the incredible opportunity of meeting with my state senator. When I informed him that I was getting a master’s in history, he replied, “Ah, so you’re going to teach!” I decided not to lecture at a senator, but usually my reply is, “I haven’t decided yet. There are so many different things to do with a degree in history.” Figuring out the different roads I could take is part of why I decided to intern at the National History Center of the American Historical Association (NHC).
My main duties as outreach intern at the NHC have been to work on communications—to spread the word about the NHC and our goals of bringing history to public policy. This included managing our online presence. I had never been on Twitter before I ran our @HistoryCtr account over the summer. Coming up with creative ways to get the message across in 140 characters was both challenging and enjoyable. I also updated our LinkedIn page to give people another way to connect with the center. Finally, I managed the website, from adding lectures to the events digest page to creating research guides for historians visiting the DC area. As a historian who loves the past a bit too much, I prefer pen-and-paper and tangible books over the digital world, but since I live in the 21st century, I know I need to navigate social media and the Internet. The new tools that I’ve acquired will come in handy in the future.
Besides running the NHC’s social media presence, I had the opportunity to make some old-fashioned, face-to-face contacts as a part of my outreach duties. In June, I attended the NHC’s congressional intern reception for college students who weren’t history majors, but who were interested in learning about the important role history and historians play on Capitol Hill. (For more on this reception, read fellow intern Kevin Hess’s blog post on the event.) I also met other budding historians through a new group, DC History Grad, which is made up of history graduate students from around the DC area. During the year, the group hosts professional events at different university campuses, including happy hours at Penn Social in downtown DC.
At one summer happy hour, I spoke with Amanda Perry, the current chair of the group. She explained that the goal of the group was to connect the numerous campuses around DC, and form a bond between history graduate students, as well as hosting events that would help them grow professionally. In fact, until then, I myself hadn’t met any other graduate students outside of my own university. At the happy hour, I met PhD and MA students who had come from all over the US and the world. I told them about the NHC; a few had heard of the center, and one had even been to our summer brown bag lunches. By joining this group, I was able to connect young historians to the NHC. When they go on to work at universities, museums, the government, and other places, they will hopefully stay connected with the NHC.
I also spoke to other graduate students who were all studying history and using their degrees in different ways. I met a history graduate who now works at a museum. He is able to continue researching while educating museum visitors—another career option that I’m considering. Of course, the NHC has shown me that I shouldn’t rule out government work, and I certainly wouldn’t mind staying in DC. I’ve learned that for a historian, there are multiple opportunities and career paths.
DC is a city of history, but connecting historians is no easy task. Here at the NHC, we connect visiting history fellows, historians at universities and historians on the Hill, and anyone who wishes to be involved in communicating history to policy makers and the public. I’ve been very lucky to be a part of the NHC this summer, and while I’m still unsure about where I want my history degree to take me, I know that I will continue to look at the world with a historical frame of mind, which will help take me wherever I need to go.
Chelsea Tegels interned at the National History Center during the summer of 2015. She is originally from Ankeny, Iowa, and is currently pursuing a Master’s in History at Georgetown University. Her interests include nineteenth century Environmental and French history.