Halie Brazier

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Interviewee: Halie Brazier
Interviewer: Joshua Whitfield
Date: October 6, 2016
Accession #: PHP 002
Length of Recording: 59:12
Sound Recording

Halie Brazier entered the University of South Carolina in 2003 as an undergraduate student and received her BA in History in 2006. Afterwards, she joined the Public History Program and concentrated in museums. Brazier held internships/assistantships at McKissick Museum, the South Carolina State Museum, and the Columbia Museum of Art and received her MA degree in 2009. She worked outside the public history profession including work as an Administrative Assistant for Richland County Library, a Community Impact Program Assistant for United Way of the Midlands, and a Grants Administrator at the South Carolina State Library. In May of 2016 she became the Executive Director of Historic Camden. Interview includes discussion of her reasons for choosing USC, comments of personal and professional relationships during her education, her thoughts on the gender dynamics within the Program versus the public history profession, and discussions about her research and professional work. She also discussed the impact of the Great Recession of 2008, its impact on her career, and reflected on her anxieties in trying to pursue employment in the field of public history, yet working outside of the field.



Gender and the Workplace | Great Recession of 2008 | Historic Camden | McKissick Museum | Public Libraries | South Carolina State Library | South Carolina State Museum | United Way | Women in Academia



Joshua Whitfield: My name is Joshua Whitfield. The date is October 6, 2016. The time is 6:40pm. We are in Richland County Library, Main Library on Assembly Street.

Halie Brazier: Do I introduce myself? (Laughs)

JW: You can do that. I was going to ask if you could maybe tell us your name and where you’re from.

HB: Okay. I’m Halie Brazier. I currently live in West Columbia in South Carolina. Grew up in Lexington. Wasn’t born in South Carolina, but consider myself a native. I was born in Parkersburg, West Virginia. But, I’m a greater Columbia gal. (Laughs)

JW: So you’ve been in Columbia most of your life?

HB: Yeah, since I was 5 years old. So, yeah. Whether it’s suburbs or downtown. I used to come to this library whenever it was first built, when I was, I think, 7 years old. So that was a really wonderful thing to see the Where the Wild Things Are mural downstairs and spend my time there. (Laughs)

JW: Yeah, so you’ve seen the city change over the years. You’ve seen the University change over the years.

HB: Absolutely. Yeah, well especially, I haven’t seen the University change as much as the city just because as a child I didn’t go to the University as much although I did have some art camps in the summer at McKissick Museum. So I have gone there since I was about 10 years old, but the city itself has changed a lot from really a beautification standpoint I think more than anything. All the trees lining Gervais and Assembly, that didn’t used to be there 25 years ago. A lot more festivals and activities, as well,

JW: Yeah, I’m really growing to love the city myself.

HB: Mmhm.

JW: So were you always planning on going to USC as a young adult or did that sort of just happen?

HB: Sort of. I grew up in a family of Carolina fans. My dad, both of my parents went to WVU, but my dad got his JD and MBA from USC so that’s why we were here in Columbia actually. He got that as an adult. Like, big kid adult. (Laughs) Not as a 22-year-old. So I’ve always kind of had in the back of my head as going to USC, but as I excelled more in school and really had an interest in especially colonial history, I dreamed of going to William and Mary. So that was one thing, or maybe UNC Chapel Hill. Kind of schools that were a little more higher-tier at that time in the early 2000s.

JW: Yeah.

HB: I graduated high school in 2003, so just to give you a little bit of time frame there. (Laughs)

JW: Yes. I appreciate that.

HB: But the reason I chose USC ultimately was because of a boy. (Laughs)

JW: Okay, now just to clarify did you go for your undergrad at USC…

HB: Yes.

JW: …as well as your graduate?

HB: Yep yep yep. Since I grew up here, coming to USC was the easiest. I met my now husband when I was 16 and he was 18. He was from England and we met on a British teen chat room. Because I’ve always been an Anglophile.

JW: (Laughs)

HB: You know, in the early 2000s being on chat rooms was a big thing. So we would chat on there. He came over here to meet me. He really liked the area. He applied to USC and got in, so since he came over here for me, I wasn’t going to go leave South Carolina once he got here. (Laughs)

JW: You go to Maine while he goes to South Carolina.

HB: Right, yeah that would be very silly.

JW: (Laughs)

HB: So what I did to kind of compromise was I applied to the Honors College Program at USC and I got into that, just barely with my SAT scores. Everything else was good but the SAT was a little wonky. But I got in and that satisfied my need for kind of that higher-quality degree. But still being here with my boyfriend. (Laughs)

JW: So what led you to decide to join the graduate program at USC?

HB: Well, I learned over the years that I really wanted to be in history. I wasn’t originally a History major; I was originally in Journalism because I did a lot of scholastic journalism in high school. I was editor and all that kind of stuff but I didn’t really like real-world journalism very much, I didn’t want to pursue that. So I went into History. Realized I did not want to teach high school, or kind of grade school kind of stuff. I don’t have that kind of personality and most of that is classroom management. So I didn’t really…that didn’t really appeal to me. I really considered being a professor and, I’m not sure necessarily of what, maybe colonial history, maybe not, maybe British history, something like that. So, I really, really, really considered that for a while.

I also, though, wanted to look at other options in the history field that didn’t involve teaching. Museums were a big one. So I actually just went up to McKissick Museum as an undergrad and just said, “Hey, can I volunteer for y’all?” And I volunteered there for maybe about a semester, once a week, something like that. That was with, I remember her last name, it was Alice Bouknight was who I volunteered with going mostly kind of…you know, stuffing envelopes and calling churches, stuff like that, but giving some tours and things like that too. I really liked museum work. Then I spoke, I had a really wonderful conversation with Christine Ames, who I believe is still with the program.

JW: She’s the Chair now.

HB: Really? I didn’t know that! Good for her! I really loved her and she’s always been a good guide for me because she was always just very honest and very straightforward and we had a really great conversation one day over lunch, where I kind of talked to her about what it meant to be a professor. What kind of life that was. How you get jobs, how…because there’s several professors I know in the program where they live apart from their spouses for various reasons, but a lot of times it’s because they had to get jobs at different universities. Things like that. So I really wanted to get the real…a good idea of what being a professors was like, and it really wasn’t for me, I decided. And part of it was that, you have to kind of go wherever the market takes you. Or you don’t get paid very much as an adjunct, and also politics of academia, sometimes that’s not very friendly for women as well. And it all just kind of seemed to be “Ugh, maybe I don’t want to get into that field, but I still love history, so what do I do?”

So I went back to thinking about museums and I took a class, it was a summer class with Bob Weyeneth that was the undergrad public history course. I think 480 or something like that. So there was a bunch of different options of things to do. I selected working with Fritz Hamer at the Stare Museum and that summer I did research for him about the First World War on the home front here in South Carolina. So I did everything from the influenza epidemic to how University of South Carolina was involved. Did a lot of research at South Caroliniana and places like that and the archives. I also learned about writing text panels and label copy and things like that and helped with the installation, too. So it was a really great introduction to exhibit development, in particular. I really liked that class. At that point, I was like, alright, this seems to be a really good opportunity for me to stay in history but also do some other cool stuff that’s for the public, too, so it doesn’t just have to be for that ivory tower world.

JW: Right.

HB: At that point, I didn’t really want to go anywhere besides USC. I knew the program was here, it was a good program. I don’t think I applied to anywhere else…which was probably pretty stupid. (Laughs) But I did try to…I at least knew some of the people in the Department, so I felt they at least knew what kind of student I was and that I would be a good quality applicant for them. And once again, my GRE scores this time, rather than SAT were just good enough. So once I got that score I was like, “Okay, phew!” (Laughs) “Now I’m golden!” And ended up getting in.

JW: Yeah. So Bob’s class – Dr. Weyeneth’s class – really helped guide you towards this sort of field.

HB: It did, yeah. The class actually…because there were a variety of choices of projects, that each person got to, they were at different institutions and everything, each person got to pick one, so that really kind of gave me a good view of the variety of roles that public historians can take. So that was kind of a good introduction to the field in general and then I got to do some really cool hands-on, real-world work at an institution that I’d been to since I was 5 years old, that I love. (Laughs) You know, it was just a great experience.

JW: Yeah. So you entered the program in 2007?

HB: Yes.

JW: Is that right?

HB: Mmhm.

JW: So try to, I was pretty young, I was in high school in 2007. Not that young, I remember what it was like, you know the economic crisis happened. So take me back to 2007-2008. What was that like as a first-year grad student?

HB: Well, it was an interesting transition into grad school. It was very different from undergrad. I’m pretty good at school, doesn’t necessarily mean I’m smart, (laughs) but I get academia. Okay, and I make good grades. So undergrad, I made one B the entire time. It’s all As, everything like that. So I thought, “Okay, I can do this again. All right. Two more years, no problem.” Well, the workload and the kind of work you’re doing is so different as a graduate student. I remember, I started, I think this was the first semester, in [Dr. Daniel] Littlefield’s 701. Just the intro kind of to early American history and he had us reading a monograph a week. I was blown away by that as a first-year graduate student. (Laughs) “Are you kidding me? I can read one of these per semester, maybe.”

JW: (Laughs)

HB: “But anything else is just too much!” So I learned at that point, okay, you got to skim. You got to read the key parts of it – the beginning, the end, and all that kind of stuff. So I learned to get those what I call, “Grad school skills.” That sometimes involve I guess, kind of skimming a little bit. Trying to get around all the work that you have to do. (Laughs) But still, regardless, the final project that you put together is usually of high enough quality that if you do the work, you’d good. (Laughs)

JW: Did you appreciate the work, even though it was a higher workload?

HB: I did. I learned a lot and I could tell that I was learning at a much different and higher and better level than I did before. It wasn’t just rote memorization or anything like that. It was more of how to be a historian rather than remembering specific facts, which to me was kind of more what the undergrad experience was. It’s more about learning skills and I appreciated that and I didn’t mind it so much once I kind of figured out how to do grad school. But it’s still, even over the two and plus years I was there, it still was a lot. (Laughs)

JW: Yeah.

HB: At lot of work.

JW: So what kind of classes did you take in grad school?

HB: Mostly colonial history. I was there with…so I did a little bit with Littlefield, that’s Dan Littlefield right?

JW: I think so.

HB: Not Val, but Dan. I did a lot of Jessica Kross and she, I think, has retired since I graduated. And they were kind of my two people I did a lot of work with. But I also worked with Carol Harrison a lot, too. Although she’s more European history, she did a lot with the Enlightenment and kind of themes that I was interested in and I took some classes with her as an undergrad with her, as well as Jessica Kross, too. So, the historical stuff was mostly colonial American and then I focused on museums otherwise and material culture and on the kind of public history side of things.

JW: So, how did you get to your thesis, per say? Because I know a lot of students get, like myself…

HB: Oh, I meant to bring that in for you, I forgot. (Laughs)

JW: Oh, that’s fine. I was able to skim through it. But for the record…

HB: Sorry.

JW: No, it was great. I really enjoyed it.

HB: Thank you. (Laughs)

JW: For the record, what’s your thesis?

HB: Um, my thesis was complicated. (Laughter) It was, it also had a very long title. I’m not going to repeat it now. But it was basically looking through a case study of looking at the history of silver, silver goods like teapots and spoons and all that not the coin silver, basically. Looking at that. The importation, use, and purchasing of that. The consumption of it and how the American Revolution affected that. Ultimately, I would love to do just how the American Revolution affected all kinds of consumer goods. I’m really interested in consumerism and the Market Revolution that happened during that time, but I decided to focus on silver, kind of on a whim.

And honestly, well there’s also more parts of my thesis too before I go off on how I got there, another part of it was also the boycotts of the American Revolution. Those were actually the first boycotts that ever happed in the world, as far as consumers being politically active. So, I thought that was really interesting, so I focused on that, too.

JW: And you chose Charleston as the focus of your study, right?

HB: Yes, yes, because that’s where silversmiths were at the time. There weren’t any silversmiths…actually, Columbia didn’t exist until 1786 I think? Something like that. So anything colonial would need to be Charleston. That was also where all the research was and all the information was so that was just kind of easiest. But I also looked at if there was, through the lens of the silver trade, if there was the development of an American mentality or an American culture and ultimately I decided there wasn’t, at least not through silver. Silver was a weird choice to pick, and I’ll explain why in a second.

JW: Okay.

HB: So, I got into my second year. First semester, second year. I was in Larry Glickman’s 801. So whatever the first research of your thesis class is. I got in there and on the very first day they said, “Alright, what are you all going to research this semester?” (Laughter) “What? I should have thought about this? I thought this was what this class was, for us to develop what we were going to talk about.”

JW: Mmhm.

HB: No. Then at that point, I discovered that maybe not everybody in the class…it sure seemed like everybody in the class knew, they’d done research over the summer during their downtime. They…Yeah, I don’t know, some of these guys really did buckle down in the summer.

JW: (Laughs)

HB: Those are the kind of people that always make you feel like a bad student, like you’re not good enough, but yeah but most people don’t…But, yeah. So I was like, “Oh my gosh, what am I going to do?” My undergraduate senior thesis had dealt with, again, this how things changed because of the Revolution. I focused on newspaper ads and how the language in newspaper ads changed – this was in Massachusetts and Charleston and maybe Philadelphia. How the language for advertisements changed. So I kind of already had a little bit of a basis of using newspaper advertisements. I knew that silver goods were advertised in newspapers.

So, I thought about, “All right, I can look at how the language changed. Maybe make some count of how many – because I like to make things quantifiable – count how many ads there were before, during, and after the Revolution and how that might’ve affected the change, show what the importation rate might’ve been.” And if people were really wanting British, “Imported from London!” says that, if people still want than during the Revolution whenever you are in open war with this country, that really intrigued me. That kind of cogitative dissidence basically is what it was.

JW: And how did you think South Carolina’s position as a southern colony affected that? In terms of this anti-English sentiment?

HB: It was a little different because the Southerners were not as vehemently anti-British as some of the Puritans were, basically, up North. (Laughter) Basically, most of the Southern, the wealthy people at least were planters and they had a pretty good relationship. They were Anglican. For the most part. So, I didn’t really take all that into too much account. Maybe I should’ve done that more in my thesis. But my main thing was whatever was easiest to get through it, which was South Carolina, Charleston, it’s here. South Caroliniana Library. That was really the easiest thing. I had the resources here. (Laughs)

JW: Uh-huh. I’m doing the same thing. (Laughter)

HB: Getting through that thesis was really, really hard. It’s the toughest thing I’ve probably ever done and I would never do it again.

JW: Who were your thesis advisors for this?

HB: Allison Marsh, during her first year, I think, at USC.

JW: Oh, wow.

HB: Because I wanted her opinion about the material culture side of it and the actual study of the silver goods, and then Jessica Kross for the colonial side of it. In Larry Glickman’s class, it got around to me, I don’t think I picked silver at that point, but I thought maybe about doing porcelain and China and whiteware, because I actually have more interest in that. But that just seemed, whenever I said, “Alright, I’m going to do something like this. You know, look at how the Revolution impacted the market and the importation.” The China stuff was so difficult to pinpoint exactly where it was made, a lot of it wasn’t made in South Carolina, whereas we did have silversmiths in Charleston so I thought that that might be a more interesting take as far as, there was already American products that people could choose to use, as opposed to China where you kind of had to get it overseas basically for the most part.

JW: Mmhm. Yeah.

HB: So that was kind of how I came around to that decision.

JW: So, you worked at McKissick, volunteered at McKissick during your undergrad.

HB: Mmhm.

JW: I think, didn’t you work at McKissick during your graduate program?

HB: I did, yeah. That was my second year, I think. My first year I had a graduate assistantship at Columbia Museum of Art and there I was introduced to registration and being a registrar and collections and all of that. I really enjoyed being in an art museum. It was just such a beautiful environment. I got a lot of hands-on exhibit installation, not so much the development side of things. But I did a lot of with traveling exhibits, so I learned a lot about the paperwork with that and doing and kind of a code around the room to show where you have a box that you need to fill back up, that you need to fill back up. Where did this piece go, which box did it go in, and doing that kind of coding, basically.

So I enjoyed it there. I had kind of a weird relationship with my supervisor there, she was kind of a difficult person to get along with. She liked me, but it was a weird kind of day-to-day kind of relationship. I learned about auction houses too and I thought that might be a cool place to work someday, because they would deaccession to auction houses usually.

JW: Oh, okay.

HB: So that was a cool place. Then, during the second semester, things got weirder because the University took away some of my hours for the graduate assistantship and had me grade for like History 101 or something like that in addition to working the assistantship and they didn’t, I don’t think, communicate that well with the museum. (Laughs)

JW: Was that in 2008?

HB: Yeah.

JW: So…

HB: Early 2008, before the recession but kind of right before then.

JW: So there’s no connection with the recession at all…

HB: Not that I know of, but it might have been early signs. So, the museum was kind of mad that they didn’t get me as much as they wanted me to be there. The work that was promised to them, basically. It was okay, it ended up being okay. They were a little mad at me too for making that decision. “Well if you want to do that then that’s your choice.” That kind of thing.

JW: Oh, wow.

HB: That’s fine. So then I ended up grading and I decided I definitely didn’t want to be a professor because I really hated how little the students cared or how poorly they wrote or…I mean, sometimes we weren’t even getting real sentences. I’m like, “How did y’all graduate from high school much less get into college and you got into my Alma Mater? I was competing with you guys? Ugh.” You know? It just made me sad every day to grade papers. (Laughs)

JW: Yeah.

HB: So I was definitely happy to be in the public history side of things rather than just getting my history side of stuff, where you can only kind of can only be in academia if you go into history, I think. That was my impression at least.

JW: How did your experience at McKissick compare to your experience at the Museum of Art?

HB: McKissick was, yeah that was my second year and with that I was tasked with going through all of the accession files over seventy years, fifty years something like that. A long time. To make sure that they were complete because they were about to go through an AAM reaccreditation process. So I learned a little bit about that process, sort of what goes into it. I also got really intimate with the collection at McKissick and I got to do everything from take pictures to match up everything and all that. However, it was a very paperwork heavy paperwork job. It was also super boring.

JW: (Laughs)

HB: Because I was just looking at accession folders all day. You know, with that job, I kind of didn’t do my best work. I didn’t go as fast as I probably should have just because I was so bored, I would go on Facebook. (Laughs)

JW: Was it paid or unpaid?

HB: Yeah, it was a graduate assistantship.

JW: Okay.

HB: That one though was also shared with grading for another semester too. One of the classes I graded was Wesley Joyner’s Islamic Civ, I think 105 or something like that. I had another colleague in the Public History Program doing that with me. But, so yeah, it was a more boring job I would say but then at the end of it, I got to do some cool stuff. I got to develop a case about silver, actually.

JW: (Laughs)

HB: I got to use what I know. I got to show off the University mace, for example, and some of the really cool stuff in their collection. Write for it and all of that. I got to redesign…I got to put a design together, I didn’t physically move anything, the registration room for the best use of the space, which was really kind of cool. Then I did get to do some cataloging and get ready for exhibits and stuff like that, so eventually it got a little better. But for a while that first semester, it was pretty boring. (Laughs)

JW: One thing that you mentioned earlier and I’m not quite how you phrased it, but you mentioned the experience of women in the program. Would you mind commenting on that a little bit?

HB: Sure. I never had a problem as a woman in the Public History Program. I just know that in academia itself, it can be a little difficult for women to get respect, have the same salary for example, or get published at the same amount as a man. In fact, many women that I know just go by their first initials of their names, like J.K. Rowling, that kind of thing instead of having a feminine name at the top of a paper, for example. There’s just some inherent sexism, it’s almost  like a good ol’ boy system, I guess, but the more ivory tower sense of that in academia was the understanding that I had of the field. I don’t know if it still is.

From what I’ve read, it hasn’t changed tremendously over the years, but I have never experienced first hand any kind of sexism in the field or anything like that and in fact, out in the world, outside of academia, most museums are staffed with women. Same with…I’ve also been in the non-profit world and in the library field and all of those are very female dominated. So, I’ve actually felt okay in my field, I’ve felt that I’m an active member and treated pretty equally with everyone else in my field. I think public history is great for that.

JW: Speaking of the field, do you think that public history had sort of an advocacy sort of role for gender equality, for social advocacy of that nature?

HB: I think that it depends because there’s in the real world of museum, again kind of outside of the academic side of it, there’s I think a lot of people don’t want to talk about controversial subjects. So I don’t think you’re going to find a museum, not many museums that are outside of New York and L.A. and London, you know, that might tackle something like abortion or parental leave or something like that. I think that museums do do a pretty good job of highlighting the history of women in certain fields, of these are famous female doctors or scientists and all of that and I think museums mostly focus on kind of that: the history of women and the great things women have done, rather than the issues that effect women. I think that tends to be how it goes, really out in the field.

JW: So, I think I want to go on, maybe leave your graduate education aside for a second and maybe come back to that in a second but…

HB: Mmhm, okay.

JW: How did you get to the point where you became…you came to Historic Camden and got to where you are today? Just overall, what was that journey like after graduation?

HB: Well, I started grad school in 2007, thinking, “You know, okay, the world’s going to be the same as it always was and I’m going to get through this and have a museum job, great. There’s tons of museums out there, I’m going to go to D.C. and go to the Smithsonian, or I can be at the State Museum, wonderful, whatever.” And so then I basically started grad school before the recession and ended it in the height of it. (Laughs)

It was August of 2009 when I graduated. I should’ve graduate in May but I needed a little more time to finish that awful thesis, which I think a lot of people end up taking that summer to finish it off too. So don’t feel bad if you have to as well.

JW: I may have to.

HB: Yeah, it happens. But so I graduated Summer of 2009 and everyone was just laying people off at museums and museums were closing and it was a very bad time because they were just seen as non-essential. I mean, even schools, which are actually essential in the grand scheme of things, they had trouble keeping funding and all of that. What I found, I applied for 50, 60 museum jobs really around the country. I was looking, I wasn’t looking too up North because I can’t handle snow. It was mostly South, I didn’t really go out West, didn’t really think about that, mostly in the South and D.C. It was extremely hard to find a job. Most museums didn’t even think twice at me. I thought, “Really? Well, I’ve got this master’s degree.” Well I don’t know if maybe there was a glut of people with the degree, like it is in the library field right now, that I’m also enrolled in. We can talk about that later. (Laughs)

But it was very difficult to find a job and what I discovered was that the people were getting the jobs were people with 10 or 15 years of experience who gotten laid off from another museum. So they really weren’t even looking at people who didn’t have that experience. And I did have a couple years, but as a student. That didn’t really count as much as I hoped it would in the real world whenever things got a lot more competitive. After a while, I had to, I would just take whatever job. I ended up getting a job here, in this very building, in the HR department as an administrative assistant because I had that background too. Pretty much for almost 5 years after I got my master’s degree, I was an administrative assistant. I was not happy about that. I just knew…I enjoyed a lot of the work but I knew I had higher expectations of myself. First of all, of being in the public history field, but also for just being at higher levels in an organization. So I worked for here for 2 and a half years…

JW: Was there a time between that when you didn’t have employment?

HB: Yes, from August of ’09 until February of ’10. So about six months. That’s how long it took me to find any job.

JW: Oh, wow.

HB: So, yeah. That was hard. I got some, I got a few interviews, I did. But once again, people with the more experience, the older people…because I was 24, 23 or 24 whenever I graduated with the public history degree…

JW: And what kind of jobs were you applying to at the time?

HB: Mostly curatorial and registrar jobs. Nothing in management or anything like that. Well, there might’ve been a couple of very small museum directors and I got a couple interviews for that, too. But mostly curatorial. That was what I was mostly interested in and then just working with the collections, in general. Then I just started to be like, “Alright, I’ll just be an administrative assistant.” (Laughs)

JW: Yeah.

HB: You know, that’s fine.

JW: So you started working at Richland County Library…

HB: Yeah, so I was here for two and a half years and then I kind of again redefined what my goals were. Instead of just being in museums, I was happy being in the non-profit world, being in education facilities, educational institution, so whether that was museums, libraries, Big Brothers, Big Sisters, whatever. Any of those kinds of places that value those things.

JW: That’s pretty interesting because earlier you said that when you were teaching undergrads, they didn’t seem to appreciate that educational…

HB: And I don’t like the teaching. I like training, actually, I love training adults but I don’t like the teaching. But I like organizations that educate. But I don’t have to be doing that education hands-on. So, I liked being behind the scenes here at Richland Library. I would not have wanted to be out on the front desk, talking with the general public or anything like that. That’s not for me. But I then was able to find a job at United Way in the Midlands. There I did a lot of grant management which I thought was going to be good background for going back into museums, any of that fundraising stuff, because those were the jobs that were available. Tons and tons of museum development jobs and fundraising jobs that I had no experience with and that the Public History Program here didn’t give me any background in. That’s not their role, necessarily, some may think that, but it is something that was lacking in my education at the time, was knowing how to fundraise and having any of that kind of experience.

And so, I was able then to get the job at United Way of the Midlands, stayed there for two and a half years. Really liked it, was happy to be at an organization that helped people and also still was part of that kind of educational sphere. Then I wanted to do more with grant work and actually not be an administrative assistant anymore. I turned 30 and I was like, “I want to do more with my life.” So, I got a job, the job title that I wanted, was available at the State Library so I went there.

JW: What was the title of that?

HB: It was Grant Administrator.

JW: Okay.

HB: So, something that wasn’t “Grant Assistant,” or something. (Laughter) For me… you’re younger than me so you aren’t part of that generation basically, there’s a hole, that is this recession generation of people where we could not get on that first rung of the later so therefore our entire career trajectory has been stunted, has been catching up. Has been constantly playing catch up. So that’s why I was an administrative assistant for five or six years after I got my master’s degree. I have a lot of friends that are stuck in much lower-level jobs than they anticipated for themselves and a big part of that was the recession.

JW: 2008 just had a huge impact on everyone in the field…

HB: Absolutely, absolutely. Yeah, yeah. Yeah, it wasn’t just us getting started. There were a lot of older people who got laid off, too. I mean, it wasn’t just us. But in general this generation of new college grads in ’08 through ’10, maybe, 2010, that was the hardest hit as far as starting their career.

JW: Did you ever consider going back? Because I know some people that I talk to from…graduated in 2008, went back to school so they didn’t have to…

HB: Yeah. No, really, I was enjoying the work I was doing an honestly, this program did a number on me as far as the workload, as far as getting through the thesis, I promised myself, “I am not going to go back to school because that is just too much. It’s too hard on my heart.” You know? (Laughter) So I didn’t want to go back to grad school. Once was enough. It ended up not being enough…but so I went to the State Library, did federal grants there, which I really enjoyed. I like doing grant work, like a lot. I have a weird personality where I like the details, I like the accounting, I like the paperwork and the spreadsheets and all of that but also kind of being connected to these larger programs that are happening in the real world and keeping people compliant. I don’t know, I’m a nerd like that.

I like the work, but I knew I wouldn’t be there forever. I always wanted to get back into museums, it was just every time… you know, I applied for the registrar job at the Columbia Museum of Art whenever it came open, whenever my boss there retired. They were like, “You haven’t done any registrar work in the real world, so we need somebody with that experience.” Dang it. So even after I’d been in the world for a few years, still didn’t care. So, I did apply to a few museum jobs, but nobody was interested. I kind of felt like, “Oh great, my degree’s kind of rusting and I’m getting further and further away from the things I learned from the degree, too.” And in addition to it just kind of being older and now I’m not as up to date on the standards of the field. I was a little worried about that.

While I was at the State Library, I really loved libraries. I loved that it was still an intellectual sphere but also that non-profit helping sphere, so it was a great combination of that. You can’t get anywhere in libraries without the MLIS degree. The public history degree doesn’t work so much in libraries, so I decided to enroll in the MLIS program at USC. So I’m in the process of getting my third degree. (Laughs)

JW: When did you start on that?

HB: I started last summer so I should finish up in May. I’m trying to bust through it because like I said, I did not want to go to grad school again. The only reason I was doing it was to get jobs in that field. Libraries had hired me. Libraries were good to me. The public history field was not, basically. I just could not find a job. So, I wanted to continue in that field. I enrolled in that program. The only reason I was okay with doing that is because there was no thesis. If I had to do a thesis for it, I wouldn’t do it. I would just stay in non-profits. Wouldn’t even be in libraries. (Laughter) But it’s also really a much easier program. It’s all online. It’s not a rigorous as the Public History Program was. It’s just like, “All right, I can get through this. Let me do this kind of…it’s a little bit more busy-worky kind of stuff than the rigors of the Public History Program.”

JW: So it sounds like you’re saying it’s better pay off for less work.

HB: A little bit, yeah. For my situation as it was, yeah yeah. So, like I said, it’s not as good of a program as the Public History Program is. Because I’ve got that context, I can tell that. I do miss some of the academic parts of the Public History Program, going to conferences and stuff like that. But so then, about a year and a half later, my friend just forwarded me this job at Historic Camden, it was executive director. I had never heard of Historic Camden before.

JW: What do you mean by “forwarded you the job”?

HB: In a chat room, or in a chat window, she gave me a link. (Laughter) She was like, “Hey! This reminded me of you!”

JW: Yeah.

HB: Oh, okay.

JW: So you went through the application process and…

HB: Yeah.

JW: How was that?

HB: It was fine. Honestly, it was just me submitting my resume and I wrote a cover letter. I didn’t expect to get the job because I’d never been an executive director before. I’d never been a boss of anything. Never been a supervisor or anything like that. So I was, “You know what? I’m just going to throw it in there.” Because it was a Revolutionary War site. If it was Civil War, I wouldn’t bother with it, especially with today’s climate of just not really liking Confederate flag stuff…it’s a little too political right now.

So it was my colonial history stuff, it also, the executive director stuff really brought in a lot of my non-profit experience because at United Way, I was not just doing grants. I was also doing capacity building, in about 90 partner agencies. So I got to see how they run, how to make them run better, I did board governance kind of stuff there, so I learned so much about how to run a non-profit even though I wasn’t doing it there. I was just surrounded by it. I also learned a lot about fundraising there even though I wasn’t on the fundraising side of things, I was on the grant side of things. I ended up just applying there and I got a call back and I was really surprised. Later, I learned they were in a pretty desperate situation. They had a long-time director, she was there for 26 years, the place was very stale. Very kind of old ideas. Attendance was dropping, money was dropping, they were losing money for years. The board was kind of a mess too, so I think they had somewhat low standards compared to (laughs) if I were to be the executive director of the State Museum or something that is much larger. It is also a very small museum; it is $175,000 budget each year. $125, [000], even, sorry.

But also, what they really liked about me, was that I combined the museum stuff that had been lacking, because the previous director was not a public historian. She was actually a descendant of Joseph Kershaw, she was a descendant of the history, so she knew the history and loved the history but there were, the collections were a mess. They aren’t up to the standards in the field, basically. So they liked the idea that I knew that and could clean them up from the museum side, but that I also had that non-profit experience too. I wouldn’t have got the job if I didn’t have this detour because of the recession.

JW: Because of United Way…

HB: Right because of United Way and working with the federal grants. That’s also very attractive to them. I can find money. I know where to look, I know how to write it and all that. So, now that I’m back in the public history field… It’s one of those things where everything works out for a reason, I think. That, this is, kind of one of my dream jobs, I’ve always wanted to be, if not an executive director, that at least kind of management team kind of. Did not expect to get that at age 31. (Laughs) Which is what I am now. I literally went from being an administrative assistant to executive director in a year and a half and that’s just how different the job market is today, than it was in 2009 whenever I was first looking. (Laughs)

JW: Yeah.

HB: So, it’s a lot more flexible today. People are willing to give you a little more of the benefit of the doubt or to look at your other skills that might make you a better candidate besides just the one job that’s related, things like that. So yeah, I ended up through very circuitous route, ended back in public history 7 years later, I’m happy to be here. (Laughs)

JW: That’s really interesting because you’d almost expect that you would build on that process…

HB: Right.

JW: …because of 2008 it just like…

HB: Yeah, it stunted. Stunted me, basically.

JW: Wow.

HB: Stunted a lot of people. But I think that my situation is kind of unusual, as far as getting that director job. But I always felt bad that, I know that Bob Weyeneth and Allison and Connie and all that, that they kept track of their alumni and they would always say, “Oh, 60% or 90% or however many of our graduates get a public history job within a year.” Or something like that. And I always felt awful that I was not in that percentage. That I was messing up their numbers and that actually stayed with me for a few years. I didn’t…I kind of messed up their advocacy numbers, the kind of stuff that they would send out there. Eventually, I got over it, because I had to live my life. But once I got this job, that week I emailed Bob and Allison. (Laughter) “I’m back in the field!” So now I’m hoping that they can use my number. (Laughter) To kind of make them look better out in the world, too. (Laughs)

JW: Do you try to keep in touch with people in the program?

HB: I do some. Really, the main way I’ve done that is working at Historic Columbia. I was a weekend tour guide for 5 years there. I tended to use that job, so while I’m going through all these circuitous routes, I’m also a tour guide on weekends.

JW: Oh, okay. So that was during the recession.

HB: Yeah, yeah. Absolutely. From 2009 to 2014, so I thought by getting this weekend job at Historic Columbia, who by the way had also turned me down for a graduate assistantship, they went with another person. (Laughs) But they got me this job, okay. But I thought maybe by being on the weekend staff, doing a great job, I could get a job there eventually. Or I could at least stay in the field in that way. I could at least stay connected to the history and still be doing the history job and that’s why I’m a good tour guide, I’m a good trainer. Being in front of people just talking, that’s fine because I did it for 5 years there. (Laughs) But I was hoping I’d get a job there. Never did. I applied for maybe one or two there, there weren’t all that many that came open while I worked there. But I was also using that to keep me active in the field and keep my resume not looking too non-museumy. And being at Historic Columbia also helped me get this Historic Camden job, too, because they liked the fact that I have tour guide, historic experience and also that I could basically tell Historic Columbia’s…not secrets, but the way they do things. I could use the way that they do things with that experience and help improve Historic Camden.

JW: Sort of like a plan or something…

HB: Right, yeah yeah. Exactly. But because I was a tour guide, most of the weekend tour guides were in the Public History Program, or they were in the History program, like Jen Taylor or Bingo…no, is Bingo [Gunter] in public history?

JW: No, she’s PhD…

HB: Okay, I thought she was in. But she and Jen both worked there. Jennifer Thrailkill, who I think at one point was in the program…maybe not, but she’s at the State Museum. There were other people too. A whole bunch of people in the program. So I got to keep in touch with what was going on too, through that. Some of my individual colleagues I do still keep in touch with, and I don’t keep in touch with the professors as much as I’d like to but I do check in every once in a while. Every year or two or so I would say with Bob and Allison. Just had a drink with Allison a couple weeks ago, too, to talk about Historic Camden kind of stuff.

JW: That’s great.

HB: Yeah, it’s great to keep in touch with your colleagues there because sometimes they can help you out in the future, too.

JW: So, you can answer this question any way you want.

HB: Okay. (Laughs)

JW: Considering your experience in 2008 and considering perhaps the Public History Program didn’t give you exactly what you needed to get a job in that kind of environment…

HB: Mmhm.

JW: …you mentioned fundraising experience, grant writing experience. What do you think would’ve served you better in the public history field, coming out of the Public History Program? Was there something that the Public History Program kind of missed in terms of your training or education?

HB: I think that the program was very focused on the curatorial side of things: registration, exhibits, research, academia, that kind of thing. Which is really only one section of the museum world. It’s, I think the best, it’s the most fun, it’s what I’m interested in, so I loved it. But you’ve also got in any given museum, especially the larger ones, you’ve got the administration people – everyone from HR to the director and all that – finance people, you’ve got marketing people, you’ve got fundraising, development people. You’ve got the membership management people. You’ve got event planners, you’ve got security. There’s just so much to a museum, that I think the program really only focused on one thing…or not one thing. Only one particular aspect of it.

I think I did miss one class. I think there was one class in the McKissick series of classes and I think it might’ve been the administration class. Whereas I took the exhibit development one, the collections and all that, I took all of those but I think I missed the administration one. So there might’ve been stuff in that administration class I didn’t learn just because I had to take another class instead. But in general, I left kind of feeling, “Okay, great. I’m great academically at doing the historical side, but as far as how to run a museum or how to fundraise for a museum, no.”

And those happened to be the jobs that actually still are the greatest number of jobs in the field. I also think there’s a lot of turnover in those kinds of jobs, too. (Laughter) Because fundraising sucks. (Laughs) But for a while, while I was trying to find a job at first in the field, I was a little bit bitter at the fact that I didn’t have this development experience. This magical word. I felt that it wasn’t as well-rounded of a program as I thought that the real world wanted me to be. Eventually though, I kind of got over it because I had to think about the constraints of the program and the fact that there are other programs that teach you how to fundraise, there are other programs that teach you about marketing and if you wanted to do that, you should take those classes or you should take certificates in that, too. Or you should get that job experience. It’s kind of like, the program can’t be everything to everyone or to every museum. So I came around to that thinking but it is something that you have to be aware of, that being out in the real world of museums, there’s a lot more to it than what you learn in the Public History Program.

JW: Do you think you would’ve benefitted from more internships, external assistantships, hands-on experience? Or did you think you had enough…

HB: I think so. I would’ve loved to have more hands-on stuff. In fact, I probably would’ve preferred that over the sort of academic jobs, or the academic classes. Because that was another kind of thing about the program that I don’t know if it’s as beneficial as it really could be, is that the program was half museum stuff, half academic historian stuff. So I feel that I am trained as a historian, and I love that about myself, but that’s pretty useless in the museum world outside of being the curator. I feel like some of the history-based, history-only classes, could probably get rid of maybe two of those in the program and do a couple more hands-on or just museum-based classes in general. As opposed to being half-museum, half-historian person.

JW: So, final question.

HB: Mmhm.

JW: You can answer this one anyway you want.

HB: Okay.

JW: What is your vision for either of the Public History Program or the public history in general?

HB: Hm. Let me think about that for a second. I think that, I can probably answer the field better. I think for the public history field, I would like for it to continue to prove to the community, prove to society, that museums are worthwhile. That saving our material culture is important, whether on a larger societal scale or on an individual scale of (keys rattling) this stupid keychain of a sheep that I got in Dublin that represents a lot more than that to me. From a very personal kind of level, material culture can have that hold on someone. Or it can be everything from Judy Garland’s ruby red slippers from Wizard of Oz that mean so much, to so many people.

So I think material culture is something that is really important in life and gives people a lot of emotions: good, bad, everything. It keeps people going sometimes, to hold on to something like that. I really love that about the museum field and I think that’s what public historians bring to people. I also think that museums can tell stories that get lost among the larger narratives, whether it’s a child’s experience during Hurricane Katrina or a tiny little thing like that to the Native American experience in Utah. Larger than that, I think that museums can really take us out of our great man theory of history and help us focus on individual things and special kinds of stories can really bring that to life. I think that’s my vision for the field itself, to really focus on how material culture and stories really affect us personally. I think that is how we bring value to museums and therefore how we also prove to funders and the federal government and people like that (laughs) that we’re worth funding or to the University system as well (laughs) that the Public History Program is worth funding.

For the program itself, I would love to continue to see really, I think, really wonderful work being done in a variety of fields. I think that’s actually one great thing about the program is that they don’t limit you as far as what you want to study. So, while I kind of maligned the historical aspect of it, kind of half of that being the program, I think that part of that is still needed to give you that context to write your thesis, and to have, I don’t know, kind of a specialty. But I think that there’s so many different stories… Just every time of read about the new crop of theses that are defended any everything every year, it’s fascinating, all these different perspectives and all these stories and I especially love how our program in particular focuses a lot on minority history and I think that that is, again, something that is kind of lost for the public more than anything. So, I want to continue those, I would love to see those kinds of stories continue to be told in the Public History Program.

JW: That’s a fantastic answer.

HB: Cool.

JW: Thank you so much.

HB: It’s long-winded. (Laughs)

JW: This was a really great interview.

HB: Okay, good! Thank you.

JW: I really appreciate that.

HB: Thank you, thank you.

JW: It’s good to meet you, too!

HB: It’s so nice to meet you. Yeah, just let me know how this turns out. I’m hoping y’all…Are y’all putting together a…

End of Interview