Archives, genealogy projects, museums, libraries — all of these are potential career paths for history majors, combining historical knowledge with technical skills and a love of the public. Drs. John Giggie, James Mixson, and Dan Riches , along with the Summersell Center for the Study of the South, have teamed up to create a track for both undergraduate and graduate students interested in public history. The Summersell Initiative in Public History is a year-long program: over the Fall 2016 semester, students attended an introductory lecture series featuring speakers from campus institutions — such as Gorgas Library, W.S. Hoole Special Collections, and The University of Alabama Press — and community groups such as local churches, museums, and organizations. The speakers shared insight into their personal career path, their institution, and their field in general, as well as stories and artifacts. In the Spring semester, the students in the initiative will have the opportunity to intern with one of these institutions, helping them to translate their histories into a narrative that is accessible to the public.
The department is very excited about this development, which is brand new for the 2016-2017 school year. “This didn’t exist three months ago,” says Dr. Mixson. The class was advertised for 24 hours before it reached its registration cap. Dr Giggie is excited about the program because of the student involvement: “students cooperate with other dimensions of the university…pulling together things in a different way,” and in a student-led environment. Further, Dr. Riches says that this is a great gateway for finding “really amazing opportunities in the community” for students interested in public history. Additionally, because of the faculty involvement, all aspects of the department are involved — the Undergraduate and Graduate programs and the Summersell Center. The goal is to also increase the multidisciplinary and multimedia exposure of the students involved in order to prepare them for the increasingly diverse and digital world of humanities.