Public History

Since 2000, the History Department at FIU has had a strong and growing Public History (PH) program. Over the past fifteen plus years, we have worked on it in cooperation with the Frost Museum, the Wolfsonian-FIU, the Green Library and, more recently, the Department of Religious Studies and the School of Public Health. PH has trained students to conduct research, develop programming with a historical and cultural content, implement hands-on cultural and historical projects, find targeted and active-learning-driven internships, prepare engaging portfolios of their work and accomplishments, and, ultimately, secure placement in major graduate programs and employment beyond the traditional academic areas.

PH has been the source of pioneering collaborative engagement on the part of faculty and students with, among others, Miami-Dade County Public Schools, the City of Miami Beach, HistoryMiami, the Vizcaya Museum and Gardens, the City of Coral Gables Historical Resource Department, the S. Florida Collections Management Center in Everglades National Park, and the Miami Military Museum, affording FIU students unique hands-on learning opportunities and strengthening considerably FIU’s and the Department’s community outreach.

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Internships

Students in our PH program have completed internships at, for instance, the Wolfsonian-FIU Museum, Stonewall Library and Archives, Historic Hampton House Community Trust Inc., Miami Christian Hospital, Miami Beach Historical Archives, Miami Art Museum, Miami Dade Parks and Recreation Dept., Spain-Florida Foundation, FIU Special Collections and University Archives, City of Coral Gables Historical Resources Dept., Historic Stranahan House Museum, S. Florida Collection Management Center in Everglades National Park, Vizcaya Museum and Gardens, the Green Library’s Digital Library of the Caribbean, the Miami Military Museum, and the Smithsonian National Museum of American History’s Division of Culture and the Arts.

Internship in Public History Option

MA students can choose an internship as a graduation alternative to the writing of a thesis or a research report. Students graduating under the public history track are subject to the following requirements.

  1. A minimum of 30 semester hours for the degree, including 6 semester hours of Independent Study tied to an internship in the fields of Museum Studies or Public History. The internship requires a minimum of 300 hours of work that is to be documented by the project supervisor or museum director. The internship must be approved by the Graduate Program Director and supervised by a regular member of the department’s faculty. Students must submit a written report following departmental regulations of their internship activities to the Graduate Committee before the degree can be awarded.
  2. A minimum of 24 semester hours of course work, of which 6 credit hours must be taken from the following list of courses: HIS 5067 (Public History Theory and Practice), HIS 5084 (History, Memory and the Public), ARH 5850 (Introduction to Museum Studies), ARH 5851 (Museum Ethics). Other appropriate courses may be substituted with permission of the Graduate Program Director.
  3. Students must complete one two-semester research seminar.
  4. HIS 6059: Historical Methods.

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Public History Course Options

Undergraduate Students

HIS 4941 Internship in History (1-6) Students enrolled in this internship will gain hands-on experience in archives, libraries, museums, or public history projects. This experience will provide useful preparation for a number of careers or fields of study. Prerequisite: Permission of the instructor.

Graduate Students

HIS 5067 Public History Theory and Practice (3) Theory and methods of history in non-academic settings, with practical interactions with professional and institutions such as museums, monuments, archives, parks, and government. Prerequisite: Graduate standing.

HIS 5084 History, Memory and the Public (3) Critical examination of theories and texts on museums, monuments, archives, historical sites, community organizations, and/or oral histories. Specific topical focus to be determined by instructor. Prerequisite: Graduate standing.

HIS 6059 Historical Methods (3) A seminar designed to introduce the beginning graduate student to the technical aspects of the study of history. Prerequisite: Graduate standing.

HIS 6942 Internship in Public History (3-6) Offers hands-on experience in public history and museum studies to students in public history option. Prerequisites: Enrollment in History MA Option in Public History; permission of the instructor.

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Student Training and Opportunities

At the MA level, while graduating at a healthy average rate of two years, Public History Track students have held internships in most of the institutions listed. They have also received external funding to join in the establishment, organization, and digitization of a major historical urban archive; assist in the implementation of oral histories of local veterans; and contribute to the development and curating of a variety of exhibits in local museums. Several others, both at the MA and PhD level (for whom time-to-degree has been reduced to an impressive 5.6 years, way below the national average of 8 years!), have been active in more global endeavors, such as the digitization and cataloguing of an archive on the history of Christianity in Latin America, and in the implementation of Green Library’s DLOC (Digital Library of the Caribbean) within which they have curated their own digital exhibits. Some more have gone on to law schools and doctoral programs at the University of Pennsylvania, Harvard, Columbia, and equivalent institutions, or started professional careers in private institutions, city and state agencies in and beyond Florida.

Our graduates work not only in cultural and historical institutions such as museums, parks, archives, but also in government agencies and other institutional settings, as well as journalism and digital media. At the PhD level, thanks to their training in public history, the Department has also placed students with the federal government, working in country analysis, defense intelligence, and foreign affairs, where their history training and skills were perceived as particularly valuable.

External Funding

The PH program has benefitted from external funding in areas strategic to FIU, in particular urban outreach, health, and the environment. For instance, we have received major support from the Federal Department of Education and the Florida Department of Education for the MA training of local school teachers. We received funding from the Florida Humanities Council to develop “Talking Service”, a reading and discussion group for military veterans from FIU and the surrounding community. From the Chris Webber Memorial Fellowship Fund funding has just become available for an oral history of African American advocacy on AIDS and affordable housing in Black communities. We entered into a significant contract with the City of Miami Beach for the digitization of its archives. Most recently, the Department received a pioneering NEH “Humanities in the Public Square Grant” to address in a historical and multidisciplinary way the long-term nature and impact of sea level rise and related environmental concerns in Miami and South Florida (“Fragile Habitats: Conversations for Miami’s Future”). These grants have relied on our students’ active involvement.

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Faculty

The History Department already has in place a number of faculty that connect our students to wider careers beyond academia and link the humanities to interdisciplinary questions of great public significance. Professors Jessica Adler, Victor Uribe, and Chantalle Verna hold joint appointments in non-humanities departments—public health, law, and international relations. Professor Kenneth Lipartito’s scholarship and teaching bridge history with economics, business, and technology. Dr. Sherry Johnson works on environmental history and professor April Merleaux has graduate degrees in both history and nutrition and her work engages food, agriculture and also the environment. Professors Jessica Adler’s, Okezi Otovo’s, and Daniel Royles’s scholarship deal with medicine and public health. Other faculty have unique strengths and skills in the public history area: Dan Royles and Terrence G. Peterson are trained oral historians; Aurora Morcillo and Michael Bustamante conduct research on historical memory, a key area of inquiry within PH. Dr. Shane Landrum is an expert in digital history with a background in information technology. Finally, most other members of the faculty conduct PH-relevant research and teaching on gender and ethnic relations and conflicts, areas with a heavy PH potential.

Vision

The track record and success of the Department’s current PH program provides a basis for launching broader initiatives, in particular the expansion of our program to other fields in the humanities. Our vision is to contribute to training and placing students for a wider range of nonacademic careers. The History Department has already taken a first step through its application to the NEH Next Generation Humanities PhD planning grant initiative, to undertake a broad revamping of PhD training to expand career preparation outside of the traditional academic fields for graduates. In the same vein, we are also finishing the last touches of an application to a Career Diversity Grant from the American Historical Association. We shall also apply for Emerging Preeminent Program status at FIU in hopes of receiving additional resources to make it possible for graduate and undergraduate students in history to intern and work in business, law, public policy, health and medicine, and the environment, whether in the public sector, private sector, or the NGO community.