Amanda Noll

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Interviewee: Amanda Noll
Interviewer: Olivia Brown
Date: October 14, 2016
Accession #: PHP 021
Length of Recording:
Sound Recording
Summary

Amanda Noll is from Gainesville, Florida. In 2011, she graduated with undergraduate degrees in History and International Affairs with a minor in Museum Studies from Florida State University. In 2013, she received a Master’s degree in Public History from the University of South Carolina as well as a certificate in Museum Management. Her thesis was entitled “The South Carolina Sanatorium: The Landscape of Public Healthcare in the Segregated South.” Since graduation, she has moved to Charleston, South Carolina. At the time of this interview, she worked for the Lowcountry Digital History Initiative through the Lowcountry Digital Library at the College of Charleston. Interview includes discussion of her reasons for choosing UofSC as an institution, her participation in the Charleston Field School, the beneficial classes offered outside the Department of History, her internships in digital history, consulting, and project management, and her graduate assistantship with McKissick Museum. She also gave advice for students applying to graduate public history programs and suggestions for the future of the program.

 

Keywords

Charleston Field School | Charleston, SC | Florida State University | History of Healthcare | International Affairs | Lowcountry Digital History Initiative | Lowcountry Digital Library | McKissick Museum | Museum Management | Sanatoriums in South Carolina

 

Transcript

Olivia Brown: This is Olivia Brown, it is October 27, 2016. I am interviewing Amanda Noll for USC’s Public History Program Archive, and we’re conducting this interview in Charleston, South Carolina. So why don’t we start off by just seeing where are you from originally?

Amanda Noll: Sure. I’m from Gainesville, South—South Carolina—Gainesville, Florida. (laughter) Small college town, yeah.

OB: That’s where Florida State is right?

AN: University of Florida

OB: University of Florida. Oops, mixed them up.

AN: It’s okay, because I did my undergrad at Florida State.

OB: What made you want to come to South Carolina?

AN: I was interested in Public History programs specifically, so I was looking as a history undergrad. I was looking for programs either in the museum field or in the public history field, and I decided Public History programs were more appealing to me for the content that they offered, continuing historical research as opposed to just capturing kind of technical skills, which museum programs focus on, so that’s how I became interested in USC’s program.

OB: So you were looking at both museum studies kinds of programs and public history as well?

AN: Yes.

OB: Can you elaborate a little on what made you decide on this public history field?

AN: Sure. Well, I guess in undergrad I was interested in museums—I did a minor in Museum Studies. I did an internship at the Museum of London through a study abroad program and that’s where I decided I wanted to work in the museum field. When it came time for graduate school, I knew I wanted to get a Master’s, not a PhD, that seemed like too much of a time commitment at that time and place. I was interested in a Master’s program that also potentially offered funding and offered good opportunities for internships, specifically.

It really came down to looking at a couple of Museum Studies programs, largely George Washington’s, versus Public History programs, and largely USC’s, and it came down to choices based on funding opportunities for graduate assistants, Master’s students in general, as well as the ability to continue education in history, in general, not just looking at curatorial practices or registration practices, but maintaining a graduate level coursework in history as well. That’s what I was drawn to in Public History programs that I did not see as much in the Museum Studies programs. I was really wanting to continue coursework and I wanted internships and graduate assistantship opportunities to learn the more hands-on technical skills, and that’s where USC seemed to be a good balance of both of those things.

OB: Why did you choose USC over other Public History programs?

AN: There was funding opportunities. For me and my application process, it came down to University of South Carolina or Middle Tennessee State University who were offering me funding for a Master’s degree. I didn’t even like the sound of Middle Tennessee State because it has middle of nowhere right in the title pretty much, and also Tennessee is a little farther from Florida. I didn’t mind traveling far from Florida, but again to go to a rural location, I would’ve rather have chosen a state capital instead. So I decided USC’s program was a better fit geographically as well for the options that I had that would provide funding, which was really kind of the—one of the main deciding factors for me.

OB: What tracks were available when you were in the Public History program?

AN: They had just—Connie Schulz had just retired, so the archival track I believe was technically still on the application process, and they were still accepting students, but trying to negotiate how those students would go through the program and/or transition to a dual degree in the MLIS and the Public History. So I was kind of in a transition year where the students before me, there were a couple of students who were still in the archive track and then the students after me, there were a couple who had came in in the dual MLIS and Public History. We didn’t have, in our class, anyone pursuing archives specifically. 

OB: What track were you on?

AN: I was in the museum studies track.

OB: And how did you choose museums versus historic preservation?

AN: That wasn’t—I had came in knowing that I wanted to do the museum track, so that wasn’t really a decision for me once I got there, but I think—even though I was in the museum track, I did work with Dr. Bob Weyeneth, he was my thesis advisor. So, for research kind of interests, I found that I was interested in a lot of the historic preservation kind of topics, especially in the region, more so than museum topics in the region. Even though I was museum track and worked really closely with McKissick Museum, I did kind of shoehorn my way into the public history curriculum as well, particularly with the Charleston field school. I took advantage of that opportunity, and I loved it, and now I’m in Charleston (laughs) and think that did have some part—was from the connections that I started making in that field school program.

OB: Do you want to elaborate on what you did in that field school?

AN: Well, yeah, the project—the project that I worked on specifically did not directly correlate to where I ended up, but I worked with the Preservation Society on a group project. So me and two other of my cohort, Jessie Childress and Caitlin Mans, we worked on a survey of cast-iron store fronts in downtown Charleston, which were very prevalent particularly in the late-19th century and have since been removed from a lot of the buildings around. The Preservation Society was very interested in that project, and what I found nice as an alum of the USC program is that in my job now, I work with people at the Preservation Society, not on a regular basis, but it was a wonderful way to get introduced to some of the organizations that are very active in Charleston.

OB: What are the some of the memorable classes that you took during your time in the program?

AN: Well my first instinct is to talk about a class that actually was not in the Public History program. (Laughter)

OB: That’s fine!

AN: And I think it was kind of a unique opportunity. There aren’t that many classes that are offered in other departments on the campus that kind of very much fit into the curriculum pattern of the Public History degree program, and I was able to find one in the Computer Science and Media Art Departments that interested me in my interest in digital history, specifically, that at that point the program didn’t have much digital outreach opportunities, particularly in coursework.

So I reached out to the Computer Science and Media Art Department when I heard about a project that they were working on, which was a mobile application project looking at the history of the University of South Carolina, specifically the history of slavery on campus. That was a continuation of a course that Bob Weyeneth taught building a website about the history of slavery at USC, and this kind of continued that historical topic interpretation and a different platform. That particularly stuck out to me because it provided a different skillset with project management, with working with interdisciplinary teams that I found very beneficial through the Public History program because that’s kind of the field that I ended up working in—was a very collaborative field with working with people from across disciplines so I was grateful that the history program allowed me to take a class outside of the department and also saw the benefit of, letting their students kind of explore other opportunities on campus, not just within the History Department.

OB: Sounds like an interesting class.

AN: It was! I was the only public history student in there. There was one other history PhD student in there as well, so working on a historical topic with a team of non-historians (laughs) was very interesting.

OB: Do you remember what departments some of the other students were from?

AN: They were all computer science or media arts. They were coming at it from, how do you make this technically happen? How do you custom-build a mobile app—a geo-located mobile app? And the media arts students were interested in how this information was visually transmitted from user to user, so it—everyone was coming at it from kind of very different angles.

OB: How did the skills that you learned in that class translate to your career later?

AN: Particularly, project management. I was involved with shaping the team structure of the project with who’s working with who, and how those teams fit together. Timelines for the project. How to organize digital content, particularly in a custom project, so a lot of—a lot of apps even now compared to like a few years ago, they’re kind of template based and you just kind of put information in them and it spits out a lovely product.

Well this was building something completely from scratch so working with computer programmers to see—to let them know what was useful for us on an organizational level—so really kind of organizing digital media, whether that’s images or content, was really important and that has certainly translated into what I do now, which I guess I haven’t even said yet. (laughter) I’m the Digital Project Coordinator for the Lowcountry Digital Library at the College of Charleston, particularly at the College of Charleston Libraries, and I’m also the Project Manager for the Lowcountry Digital History Initiative, which is the educational branch of the Lowcountry Digital Library and we produce online exhibitions. So working with a mobile app as a graduate student really did translate into how I work now as a digital project manager, even though I wasn’t trained in the library field, specifically, I was able to come in as a grad—an early career, recent graduate—with those digital project management skills and be trained by librarians here for the work that we’re specifically doing.

OB: Were there other classes that shaped your career interests?

AN: Well I would say they all did, (laughter) but I think that’s the class that directly correlated to this job that I’m in now, and as I’m currently still in the first job that I’ve had out of grad school and I’m not necessarily expecting to stay in the library field specifically, so I’m also assuming that a lot of the courses and curriculum that I took in graduate school will translate into—you know, I will see their influence on my career as I also progress in my career, a little too.

I worked specifically with collections at McKissick and I did the Museum Management Certificate, so those classes were really helpful in kind of learning the nitty gritty about museums and even just examples of things I didn’t know I would need to know then—down to working with board members at non-profit organizations—has become helpful for me a couple of years down the line where I didn’t expect to be working with board members or in a specific capacity that I ended up working in, so I assume coursework will also continue to pop up along my career as well.

OB: When you were working in the McKissick collections, was that through your internship or through the certificate program?

AN: It was through—I was a graduate assistant at McKissick for a year, so that was separate and then I did take coursework at McKissick as well.

OB: Do you want to elaborate a little on that assistantship and what you were doing at McKissick?

AN: Yeah! I was working in their Collections Department. It was largely working on just day-to-day maintenance of their collections and this was at a time when, unfortunately, McKissick actually lost their head—head of collections, which was Jill—I’m blanking on her last name now. That’s bad but—she was a wonderful woman and it was very, it was a really sad loss for McKissick, but I was there during the transition where there was no kind of full-time staff member to take over this day-to-day responsibility.

It was a lot of maintaining storage facilities, continuing to accession material, working in their PastPerfect collection management system, marking materials, and then because of the limited staff that they had when I was there, were also—it was kind of all hands on deck for exhibitions too, so helping out a little bit more with object research and exhibition research than I think usually the collections graduate assistants get a chance to do. So that was a really great opportunity as well. Yeah they were working on a couple of—changing their permanent exhibition space, which used to be rotating exhibition space into a permanent exhibit, so we got to help install some of that material, which was great hands-on experience and I know other graduate assistants that were there the same time I was got to help kind of design some of those panels that are permanently installed and things like that.

OB: Did that correlate with your McKissick classwork through the certificate as well?

AN: I don’t think there was technically crossover, they were two separate things.

OB: But maybe some of the skills did?

AN: Oh yeah, sure. Certainly some of the skills did, mhmm.

OB: So where did you complete your internship then?

AN: Well I decided to do two internships. Because I did the certificate program, I decided to stay an extra full semester, so that would give me two full summers as a graduate student to complete internships, which a) I wasn’t necessarily super eager to graduate early and/or have to finish my thesis early too, (laughter) so an extra semester was great, but it really gave me that opportunity to have that extra summer.

My first summer, I was able to find a paid, which is not all that common, internship in New York City and I was working with a media design firm called Local Projects. They’re a contracting firm who works with all sorts of non-profit and for-profit organizations, but a lot with museums, National Park Service sites, things like that, and they mainly focus on on-site interactives, website design, mobile websites and apps and things like that. So, I found an internship working for them. I think I dubbed myself their Digital Public History Intern, I don’t think they necessarily had a title for me. I was again, kind of in the situation where I was pretty much the only historian on the team and it was largely a team of computer programmers and media designers, but we worked on projects.

I think some of the bigger projects that they had going on when I was there was working with the 9/11 Memorial Museum. They were finishing up some of their media installations there, which my role was going back through some of the news footage from day of and immediate day after on 9/11, and just creating a list of particularly meaningful clips that they could use in some of the documentaries and smaller interactives that they were designing for the museum that has since opened.

We were also working with an organization in DC who was attempting to build a new memorial to Dwight D. Eisenhower, which is—four years later is still in progress, and making headlines for its odd design choices—but I was a part of the team who was helping research how to incorporate a mobile app into the physical memorial that they were planning. We also worked with the Mayor’s office in New York on a research project that they were hoping to boost kind of the history of Broadway, so that entailed a physical installation of a sculpture in Times Square as well as a website talking about the history of Broadway.

So those were a few of the projects that I worked on there, and I actually came back from that internship to the class that I mentioned earlier that was working on a mobile app with a team of computer programmers and media design students, so that internship really influenced kind of how I worked on collaborative teams and I think more importantly, it showed me how contracting firms work in the field of public history and museums. I found it incredibly helpful to be on the side of a contracting firm, not because I want to work for a contracting firm, (laughter) particularly after I saw the nature of the game from that perspective, but it showed me kind of how to—as a public historian or a museum professional—how you should work with a contracting firm, so it kind of gave me the confidence to say like, “I can work a with a contracting firm because I’ve seen what is on the other side and how they work in their business environment.” That was an incredibly helpful internship.

OB: What’re the reasons that you didn’t want to go into contracting after that internship?

AN: Well I guess maybe I should qualify and say, like really high-end—the like biggest contract firms. I was just really disillusioned by the types of requests for proposals that we were getting in where organizations—you know, the largest most respected organizations in the country—were requesting these contract firms to create content for them and I was the historian in the office and if I wasn’t there on the internship, there would be no one there to create the content, but the people who are submitting requests for proposals didn’t’ know that, and/or that’s not the product that they were looking for. They were looking for a design firm who can produce eye-catching interactives, websites, things like that, but it seemed like the content was what was getting kind of pushed aside, and as someone working in the museum field, I feel like I’m better able now to say well, contractors can’t fix all of—or meet all of the needs that we have as professionals, but the contractors were never comfortable saying that.

They would say, “Of course we can do this, we can provide these services,” but could really get a glimpse into the fact that content was never the goal. (Laughter) Quality content was never the goal even if they put the good faith effort into it. Obviously, all contract firms are going to be different but it—because it’s kind of the business-driven idea, it seemed to me that that’s the easiest thing to go first is the quality of the content, so that’s what I disliked about (laughs) that experience.

OB: Just out of curiosity, have you visited the 9/11 Memorial Museum?

AN: I have not had a chance to, no. It opened up a couple years after the internship, so I haven’t been back to New York, but I mean it’s met with pretty good reviews for how long it took to build.

OB: That what it seems. I haven’t visited either, but you were working on the project, I wanted to know if you’ve seen anything about it yet.

AN: No, no. I definitely read all of the reviews that were coming out and it seemed to be met with a good reception, but I think the test will be how it stands up 10+ years from now, since it’s still a very fresh topic.

OB: So I want to talk a little about inter-departmental relationships and maybe some relationships that you had with professors within the department. Are there professors that stand out in your memory that were extremely helpful, that you—that shaped your graduate career while you were there?

AN: Well, since it’s such a small department in public history, (laughter) I certainly have to mention both of the professors that were there when I was. Allison Marsh and Bob Weyeneth were certainly both very influential in providing general knowledge about what the field is, where it has been, and also doing a great job of where they think it’s going, and encouraging their students to look at where the field is going and explore that on their own. I appreciated the opportunity to express my own interests and kind of shape them within the program, so I guess flexibility was (laughter) one of the things that I appreciated in the form of support from both of those professors.

OB: How did they shape your view of the public history field?

AN: I would say I always appreciated the perspective that both of them brought from a very realistic stance. They never sugarcoated anything, (laughter) whether that’s issues in historical interpretation or issues in the structure of non-profit organizations or museums or you know, very conceptual issues of the direction of museum collections and collecting practices and things like that. I have—talking to other people who either are not familiar with the field or who come from, just come from different schools or different backgrounds—I appreciated the fact that it was never a promise of a bright, shiny (laughter) field of public history. It was always taken with a perspective of: this is challenging work, and it’s important work, but realizing the challenges is your starting place.

OB: You mentioned that Dr. Weyeneth was your thesis advisor.

AN: Yes.

OB: So why don’t we talk a little about your thesis itself—how did you come to the idea for your research topic?

AN: Sure. Well I came to the idea of my research topic, which was on the South Carolina Sanatorium, which is a hospital complex that is kind of right outside of the South Carolina State Archives, but is currently in a very bad state of disrepair and/or many of the buildings on the property have been since demolished. I was just talking to Mark Smith, who is one of the collections managers at McKissick Museum, and who’s actually also an alum of the Public History program. He just mentioned to me one day, like “Oh, I think it’s odd that no one has really written on the South Carolina Sanatorium, and that it’s right outside of the state archives, like you can look out the window and there’s these crumbling hospital buildings.” I said, “Yeah that is interesting.”

So I looked into it a little bit more, and there hasn’t been much published on the property and at the same time, a lot of research was being done and/or had been done on the South Carolina State Mental Institution, so the Bull Street property and that was kind of a hot topic when I was there. There was coursework on it. But I saw this kind of little bit further down the road hospital site that also had an interesting history that was going kind of unnoticed, so that’s how I came to that topic. I was drawn toward working with Dr. Weyeneth not just because of the historical preservation element to the project, but because it was a segregated hospital facility and I wanted that to be part of my research focus as well—working with him to kind of shape the research goals of how segregation shaped the environment of the hospital building as well as the treatment of the patients.

Because of those structural…the structure of segregation on the hospital site did shape how patients were treated on the hospital site as well. Because of Dr. Weyeneth’s background in segregation on site-specific properties that brought me to working with him, and then I also worked with Dr. Lydia Brandt who is in the Architecture Department. So even though I was in the museum field, I definitely took a slight more historic preservation approach to my thesis topic.

OB: With such limited things being written about the sanatorium itself, how did you use the resources in Columbia and at USC to help you with your thesis?

AN: I was mainly working with the State Archives, so being so close to the State Archives in the state capital was certainly very, very helpful. There was some source material certainly at the Caroliniana Library also—it was primarily working with primary sources rather than having any secondary sources to pull from for that specific site, but looking into secondary sources of the history of medicine, the history of tuberculosis, and the history of segregated medicine—that’s certainly where USC’s Library Department became useful in general.

OB: Were there other resources that you found helpful at USC during your graduate experience there?

AN: I was able to take a GIS course when I was there, so again it kind of comes back to the History Department in general was a good home base, but I was able to get out of the History Department in my coursework a little bit, which I did find very helpful. They have a very strong GIS Department, and that was, I think, a good opportunity not that I continued to use GIS on a regular basis, but I certainly use data visualization tools on a regular basis and that was a good conceptual framework for that. Just the libraries in general, were useful not only for sources, but also for professional development opportunities. We—on the history of slavery at South Carolina College project at large, which includes the website, the continued work that they’ve been doing. A lot of the librarians at the Caroliniana have been very helpful and able to work with them on a conference presentation as one example as a professionalization opportunity there. That was kind of my experience with the libraries, that it just had more than just sources, but their librarians in general were good resources for a growing professional—I say that slightly rolling my eyes, but—

OB: How was the Public History department or program viewed within the larger History Department itself?

AN: I personally had a great relationship with the History Department. I really appreciated—and this was one of the selling points for me in the program—was that the coursework also continued within the larger History Department so that you were taking courses with other people who were getting their Master’s in history and/or working towards their PhD in history, which was not typical let’s say in a Museum Studies program, and I’m not sure if it’s typical in other Public History programs. I’ve found that strong relationship with coursework within the broader History Department really helped strengthen the curriculum in your historical field. A lot of the cohorts that we were taking classes with, it seemed to spark certainly interesting conversations and I think important ones that we were able to learn from more of the traditional academic historians and I think they were able to learn from a public historian perspective. In research methodology, but also just the interpretation that you take away from the historical content that we were talking about.

OB: So you moved from Florida where you grew up, up to South Carolina—how did you feel about Columbia outside of school and academia, but the city itself?

AN: I went in with extremely low expectations and was pleasantly surprised. When I was looking at graduate schools, it was between GW, which you know DC has wonderful opportunities and a lovely urban environment, and then MTSU, outside of Nashville, which is very rural and in Tennessee, (laughter) and then USC. So those—I was intrigued with potentially the happy medium that Columbia had to offer with enough of a vibrancy in the city that could keep my interest for a little while, (laughter) but that also had, unlike DC, affordable housing options and things like that. I was pleasantly surprised. I thought Columbia also seemed to be changing and growing when I was there, even from when I started to when I left, so I loved to see the development of the Main Street area. I chose to live on Main Street in a renovated historic apartment building, and since I’ve left there are many more apartment buildings open on Main Street, so it’s kind of nice to see that change over time too.

OB; Great, that makes sense that you find this kind of middle ground between big city DC and rural Tennessee, right?

AN: Yeah. (Laughs)

OB: What made you want to go to graduate school, just in the general sense, after you completed your undergraduate career?

AN: I guess I didn’t know what else to do. (Laughter) I was always good at school and I liked school, so continuing in school sounded like a good option, and I also assumed that it would just be harder to go back to grad school if I took a good amount of time off. For me that was the easiest.

OB: Did you go straight from undergraduate to grad school?

AN: I did, yeah.

OB: When you were applying to these graduate programs, did you seek out advice from professors that you had, or other people around you?

AN: Yeah I have a bit of a bias in that, since my father is a historian at the University of Florida, so he has plenty of opinions on this topic. He knew that I was not interested in teaching and/or researching at the university level, a PhD was never in my viewpoint, my goal set. He suggested I originally look at Public History programs and/or museum programs and then, because I was working on my museum minor at Florida State, I was getting perspectives from our advisors there and we had—I took a couple of historic preservation classes in undergrad also, so I was able to talk with the program coordinator at Florida State to get tips on what programs to look at and what locations to look at. But in addition to the strengths and/or weaknesses of programs, I was also interested in looking at, just at places I wanted to be too, geographically. That was certainly a consideration also.

OB: What was some of the best advice you received—whether from your father or from someone else?

AN: Yeah the best advice was, “Always get funding.” Easier said than done, and it certainly changes over time and I think that is more important for a PhD student, but it’s certainly important for a Master’s student to continue as well. That was what I took to heart the most. And then it was really finding—making sure to look at the curriculum, but also the other opportunities that are available during grad programs. The internships and particularly the graduate assistantship opportunities were essential in making my decision. Not a lot of graduate programs seem to have graduate assistantships, particularly that are actually relevant to the field, so they may be like grading assistantship or something like that, but I was really drawn to McKissick’s—for example—their museum assistantships. I would say the funding, but also the practical experience and the emphasis on getting practical experience was what I was looking for and what people in the field were telling me were very important too.

OB: If a student solicited advice from you now, would you give the same advice or do you have other tidbits to offer?

AN: No I think that was pretty sound advice. It’s important to consider long-term financial decisions when you’re going to graduate school, particularly in a relatively low-paying field, and it’s really important to focus on that practical workplace experience while you’re continuing kind of that strong curriculum core in history and public history because on the job application, that’s what’s going to make you stand out, is your graduate assistant experience and your assistantship experience. That’s really like the strength that I was looking at at USC, and that’s what I see kind of the weaknesses coming out of other programs and/or talking to other recent graduates about the job market, which is hard for everyone, (laughter) but that kind of hands-on experience, that would be my suggestion on what to focus on for students who are interested in pursuing a degree like this.

OB: The job market is obviously a challenge for many people when they graduate, even undergraduate or graduate experience. What were some challenges you faced while you were still in school?

AN: So challenges like within the program or—

OB: Either within the program, or—it doesn’t have to be limited.

AN: Um, (laughter) well I guess balancing what I thought could be good opportunities versus what I had time for. There were a few projects that I was really interested in partaking in the early development stages, but then I kind of realized, “Oh I don’t actually have time to really put in the effort that I would like to.” Opportunities to work with Historic Columbia Foundation came up before I kind of realized, “Well if I want to write a thesis and do additional internships and get out of Columbia for the summers, I probably can’t take on another project.” (Laughter) But that being said, I don’t even know if that counts as a challenge because it was still a great opportunity to be even a part of a conversation to deal with a developing project, it’s just—you have to deal with divided time as a student, I think a little bit more than I was even expecting. I don’t know if that counts.

OB: Yeah I mean, whatever you kind of viewed it as within your graduate experience is relevant to that question regardless. So how do you think you overcame this challenge of balancing your time?

AN: I just dropped stuff (laughter) that I decided wasn’t worth it in the long run or in the short run for paper deadlines or—no, but I—I guess the takeaway from that is just to be very aware of your own personal time limitations and then just to be honest and professionally courteous with how you express those limitations to other people. I would’ve liked to be a little more involved with the HCF, I don’t think I cut any ties or bridges with them either. I think they’re very respective of student time and things like that.

OB: They do have a lot of students working with them, so I’m sure they understood as well. So why don’t we transition and talk a little about what you did after you graduated from the Public History program. Going on the job market is something difficult that everybody has to face at some point. How did you decide places you were going to apply to and where did you view yourself within the public history field?

AN: So, I decided to apply in several different directions and I also didn’t limit myself geographically, I was open to anywhere, I just happened to end up pretty close by. (laughter) I was largely targeting, I would say, two categories of museum registrar work, since that’s kind of my background at McKissick and my internship at the Holocaust Memorial Museum in DC came from, as well as project management and/or digital history opportunities. Those were kind of my two different tracks that I was looking into. I found that it was—I had to even broaden my scope from there, so I think I did apply to like curatorial positions depending on the location and I learned to get creative by pitching myself into different categories.

I felt like I hadn’t done that much curatorial work, I did get a couple of curatorial job interviews because I was able to pitch my project management experience in the mobile app as well as some of the content that I created for that as a curatorial experience. I was surprised how much it came down to not only the types of experience I had, but also the types of projects that I had worked on for the jobs that I was able to get an interview for. I’ve found much more opportunity in the Southeast even though I wasn’t limiting myself to the Southeast region for job applications, but because—or I assume what is because—most of my research topics that I had worked on—all the projects, they were largely focused on Southern history, that seemed to be a draw for museums in the Southeast region. That was a little frustrating considering I would’ve loved to have an opportunity to try the West Coast or something like that, but it certainly worked out okay.

I was also surprised with how much it just came down to luck and/or people you know. Most of the job interviews I had when I was looking, and it took me I think about three months after graduation to find a full-time position—the job interviews in the meantime were either in South Carolina or an institution that had a connection to USC or someone I knew through a past internship or something experience. I also found that a little bit limiting, but it’s also nice to know that a network will begin to form out of your graduate career and kind of help find job opportunities as well.

OB: How did you end up in Charleston working in digital history?

AN: I had the opportunity to present on my work on the mobile application about the history of slavery at South Carolina College along with Bob Weyeneth, who talked about starting that project and the website, his undergraduate and graduate course in previous years had worked on as well as presenting with a fellow cohort Evan Kutzler, who’s now my fiancé, (laughter) at the Avery Research Center. It was just a brown bag presentation talking about our research and our projects that we had interpreting this for the public and—I can’t even remember if it was very well attended, but it’s funny now to think about the faculty members who were asking us questions are people that I talk to regularly now—but because of that opportunity, which I wasn’t overly eager to do because the presentation was the day after I turned in my first draft of my thesis to Dr. Weyeneth, and then I had to spend a Charleston ride in a van with him. (laughter)

A little nerve-wracking, but I did the presentation because it’s always good to take opportunities when they come to you and I knew that they would have a job opening—I had heard through the grapevine that they were hiring for a one-year grant-funded position for the project coordinator of the Lowcountry Digital History Initiative—I knew the job would be posted. I took the opportunity to present at the Avery Research Center, which is part of the College of Charleston Libraries and I think that certainly didn’t hurt. It was a way to get my name more known to the College of Charleston and the woman who coordinated that talk later became my direct supervisor, so I think that was an essential way to get my name known and the type of work that I had done known.

Other than that, it was just the general—I applied, was able to get an interview and (unintelligible) my way through the really awful hiring process at the University, I think it was maybe a solid two months before they told me I had the job, (laughter) so it’s a long waiting process, but—and then since I’ve been here. That was initially a one-year grant-funded position, I have been very, very fortunate to work with some wonderful colleagues who understand the difficulties of grant-funded positions and they’ve been able to turn a one-year position into a three year position—I’m going on three years—so I’ve done a lot of different things at the library since then, but I’ve continued to have my role with the Lowcountry Digital History Initiative and expanded my role as a digital project coordinator here.

OB: So now that you’ve spent some time working in this digital history branch, how do you see it changing the field of public history?

AN: I see—I guess a few years ago it might have seemed revolutionary, and now it seems more of a new tool set, and not a new approach at large. I see it more becoming a tool that public historians in any capacity use in their jobs, whether that’s in education, interpretation, even preservation type of work, it just can fit so many different needs and so many different areas of the field. I also assume that means a lot of public historians will have to learn basic digital humanities skillsets, which are becoming easier and easier to do because tools are now not focused on just coding-specific computer languages, but they’re designed for people without that skillset to use them on a daily basis. I would also hope that schools take that into consideration for training programs, graduate, undergraduate, what have you, and realize that these are skills that are important in the job market and that are only going to become more and more prevalent.

OB: When you look at the future of either the public history field or USC’s program specifically, what kind of things do you want to be changed or added or influenced?

AN: I think a focus on digital toolsets—skillsets—I think is one area where they can continue to strengthen, and that kind of brings it to the larger point of I think USC has a done a good job of this in the past and then they can continue to build and/or shape this for the future, is working with partners along the way. Working with partners on-campus and off-campus, I feel like is a good structure for a strong program. They’ve created fantastic working relations with Historic Charleston Foundation, which provides students with a wonderful training opportunity, but to continue to do that on campus as well, like with the Computer Science department, the School of Architecture—to continue to strengthen those relationships and provide different opportunities to students, I think would be—it will be—it’s a continuous challenge because you have to continue to strengthen those relationships over time even if they were strong at one point, they need refreshers sometimes. I think that would be—I benefitted from that a lot—strong partners within the public history program, and I think that it’s a good direction for the department as well.

OB: Earlier you mentioned how the alumni network of USC has helped you a little bit when you were in the job search. How would you like to see that alumni network used more in the future, now that you’re on the other side of it?

AN: (laughter) I think—I myself don’t actively use things like LinkedIn on a regular basis—I have one, it sits there, I use it sometimes, but I’ve really benefitted from the alumni networks at conferences—NCPH in particular has been a wonderful way to stay in touch with people, face to face. That being said, I’m also right now in a position that supports me to go to conferences, and I also know that conferences are expensive and hard for a lot of public history professionals to go if they don’t get funding. I think that it would be nice to find a balance between the strong conference scene that the alumni network has continued to build, and other options that will allow to participate over time. In a way, even though I’m in the digital history field, I’m totally old school and I love a good listserv (laughter) so even just—

OB: If that can be considered old school right?

AN: Yeah! I mean I think it can be at this point. (Laughter) I read the emails that I get and see what people are up to and keep a mental list of who’s where or if I’m going to a specific location, to kind of make an effort to see if there’s any USC alum in the area or things like that. It’s something that individuals need to keep up, but then it’s great to get support from the department to maintain those networks as well.

OB: So through that listserv that we—Dr. Marsh sent out this ask for volunteers, or call for volunteers to be interviewed for our project. When you saw that email, what motivated you to respond and to volunteer yourself?

AN: At first, I was like, “No.” (laughter) Oral histories are always a funny thing when you feel like you’re not in the historical moment, but I do—I did find it to be an important skillset. I did a lot of oral history work in undergrad and I really enjoyed that opportunity, and I thought it was a good way for people to get practice and see if this is a field that they’re interested—or a direction that they’re interested in going in. And since I’m still pretty close to Columbia, I figured I would throw Charleston out there as an option for people to come since Dr. Marsh said she was really encouraging in-person interviews.

OB: Well we appreciate that you ended up volunteering for the project. As we conclude our interview session today, is there anything that I haven’t brought up or haven’t asked that maybe you’d like to add about your overall graduate experience?

AN: I’m thinking about it. (Laughter) No, I guess I’ll end on the alumni connection that we had talked about. It’s—I’m still meeting even alumnis in the Columbia area or the South Carolina area that have wonderful things to say about the program and where they are now from a decade or two ago. So that brings—that makes me feel good about maybe potential career trajectories moving forward for myself, but I also hope that the program is able to sustain and continue to be a strong source for the field as it as has been in the past, probably for selfish reasons. I think that it would be doing not only the alumni, but the Columbia area a disservice if the program was weakened or changed. I just hope it continues because I’ve heard such great things from alumnis that I— I didn’t know even going into the program, and I’m looking forward to meeting people who continue to sign up for the program.

OB: Well great, thank you so much for your willingness to be interviewed today.

AN: Yeah.

OB: And we’ll end our interview here.

AN: Thank you.

End of Interview