MISSOULA – In the midst of the COVID-19 outbreak last summer, a band of undergraduates, alumni and doctoral students from the Department of History at the University of Montana gathered 20 oral testimonies from people, businesses and organizations that had been affected by the pandemic.
This work was part of an initiative to give students access to more hands-on, community-driven research as part of a new Certificate in Public History program, just approved by the Montana University System Board of Regents.
The certificate, the only one offered in the state, provides students with quality instruction, real-life experience and professional contacts, preparing them for a dynamic career in the 21st-century workforce, said Regents Professor of History Anya Jabour, director of UM’s Public History Program.
“This certificate program reflects our students’ interests and current trends in the historical profession,” Jabour said. “We are excited to offer our students specialized courses and hands-on training in public history and to provide them with credentials that will increase their employment opportunities.”
Already students in the Public History Program have used their service-learning internships to design historical walking tours for the Unseen Missoula partnership, curate artifacts at the Historical Museum at Fort Missoula and create “living history” programs at Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail Interpretive Center. They’ve also created an interactive exhibit on the history of women and environmental activism in Missoula.
This spring, history major Clara McRae will participate in the Map Missoula community archive project, interning with the Missoula County Clerk & Treasurer's Office. She said the internship will help her shape a community’s understanding of the world.
“One of the reasons I chose to study history is because I believe that making historical information more accessible to the general public can improve civic life by strengthening our understanding of existing structures and institutions,” she said. “By helping improve a tool that will provide clear and unbiased historical information to the Missoula and Montana community, I hope to be able to strengthen public knowledge of local history.”
Making the past relevant and accessible to the wider public is a goal for the 12-credit public history program.
“I think the public history certificate is extremely important, especially among social movements like Black Lives Matter, which raise public discussions of historical memory,” history major Maddie Hagan said. “Public history is a vital part of the history program at UM and continues to challenge students to engage critically with how history can impact and reflect their communities.”
As well as the UM Covid-19 Oral History Project, history students, alumni and faculty also have contributed to “Documenting COVID-19 in Missoula County: A Community Archive Project.”
The work is ongoing. This spring, in Making History Public, taught by Professor Claire Arcenas, UM undergraduates will partner with lifelong learning students in Professor Jody Pavilack’s MOLLI Oral History course to complete a new phase of the UM Covid-19 Oral History Project.
The collaboration between UM undergraduates and MOLLI students will result in a series called “Cross-Generational Conversations in the Age of Covid-19.”
“The oral histories that result from these intergenerational conversations between UM undergraduates and MOLLI students will provide a unique, historically valuable perspective on the pandemic,” Arcenas said. “The collection of interviews that emerge as a result of Professor Pavilack’s and my students’ work will be a tremendous resource for our community today and for generations to come, who will look back on 2020-21 with curiosity and wonder.”
The establishment of the Certificate of Public History reflects the history department’s longstanding commitment to #MakingHistoryPublic and is part of the creation of the H. Duane Hampton Public History Program, generously supported by UM alumni.
Since 2007, the Department of History has sponsored an annual lecture series in honor of Professor Emeritus Hampton, bringing a series of national experts on western, environmental and public history to campus. With the help of three UM history alums – Alan Newell, Carla Homstad and Daniel Gallacher – the department has pledged to grow the endowed Hampton Fund, which currently stands at roughly $150,000, to $500,000. Collectively, the generous donors have pledged to match dollar for dollar the first $65,000 raised in this current effort.
“We know that many UM graduates, such as the three of us, have spent their careers working inside and outside academia employing various skills embodied in the field of public history,” the donors said. “That field, now more than 40 years old, continues to offer history graduates rewarding and productive employment in both public and private sectors.”
Contributions to the Hampton Fund will increase the history department’s ability to offer paid internships to students engaged in public history programs in the surrounding community. Learn more at the “Supporting UM History” page or contact Professor Kyle G. Volk, chair of the Department of History.
To learn more about the new Public History Certificate visit the UM Department of History site.
Contact: Anya Jabour, director UM Public History Program, Regents Professor of History, firstname.lastname@example.org.