Robert (Bob) Weyeneth

Return to Interviews

Interviewee: Robert (Bob) Weyeneth
Interviewer: Catherine Davenport Flowers
Date: October 3, 2016
Accession #: PHP 032
Length of Recording: 50:37
Sound Recording

In his 24 years with the University of South Carolina’s Public History program, Robert (Bob) Weyeneth has served in a variety of roles. He currently serves as a Professor of History and advisor to graduate students concentrating in historic preservation, but previously served as Director of the Public History Program. Additionally, he was elected and served a term as President of the National Council on Public History from 2012 to 2014. Originally from California, he earned his Ph.D. at University of California, Berkeley and his first position out of graduate school was in the Department of American Studies at the University of Hawaii. He came to South Carolina in 1992 from Vancouver, British Columbia where he worked as an historical consultant. His research has centered on community history, often revealed through architecture and environment. Additionally, his positions both with UofSC’s program and with NCPH have led him to work extensively with his colleagues on how to improve public history programs throughout the country. Interview includes discussion of Weyeneth’s personal journey from the West Coast to the South, his view on the changes in the program since 1992, and his vision for the future of public history in universities.



American Studies | Architecture | Built Environment | Community History | Historic Preservation | Historical Consultants | National Council on Public History (NCPH) | University of California, Berkeley | University of Hawaii | Vancouver, British Columbia



Catherine Davenport: Okay. This is Catherine Davenport. It’s October 3, 2016 and I’m interviewing Dr. Robert Weyeneth for USC’s Public History Program Archive. We’re conducting this interview in Dr. Weyeneth’s office on USC campus in Columbia, South Carolina.

So, Dr. Weyeneth, can we just start out with tracing kind of who you are? So, what’s your current position at the university?

Robert Weyeneth: I am a professor of history.

CD: Professor of history at the University—and how long have you held that position?

RW: I’ve been on the USC History faculty for 24 years, since 1992.

CD: Since 1992— so could you kind of trace your professional journey at USC here for us? Where’d you start out?

RW: Sure. Well my Ph.D. is from the University of California Berkeley. My first job out of graduate school was on the faculty of the Department of American Studies at the University of Hawaii, where I discovered the joys of historical consulting and historic preservation. And when the job here at USC was advertised back in 1992, it seemed to describe me perfectly, primarily because I had real world experience in the world of public history and historic preservation. So I moved here in the fall of 1992, although Connie Schulz had included me in the England Field School the summer before I was actually on the payroll, so that was kind of fun because both my wife and I had a chance to get to know Connie, as well as some of the Public History students in the program at that time.

I was hired to supervise the Historic Preservation track, as it was called—of the Applied History program, as that was called at the time, and Connie was kind enough and generous enough to allow me to be the co-director of the program, which I was until she retired in 2008. So…as someone who taught courses in historic preservation and supervised the historic preservation program, I learned…I call it, “casting down my bucket where I am.” Which is to say, I found interested ways to construe classes that would take advantage of where we are here in South Carolina, and similarly with my research to really cast the bucket down where I was. And that’s how I came to really discover African American heritage preservation. It was never something I studied formally in graduate school at Berkeley, but coming here to South Carolina and looking around for interesting local projects, there just seemed to be enormous opportunities and resources. And that has turned out to be a theme that links together a lot of my teaching and research here at USC.

CD: That’s great. This “casting down your bucket where you are”—did that kind of take shape while you were teaching at Hawaii as well, or did it take shape while you were at Berkeley as a student?

RW: Well, the term didn’t really occur to me until I had the opportunity to give a presidential address during my last year as the president of NCPH back in 2014. And I decided for that talk: an article to be autobiographically reflective. And so I came up with the term because I realized that was what I had been doing, even though I wasn’t consciously doing that. But to your question—yes. In Honolulu—because my dissertation had been on the history of urban parks in the United States—I was contacted by the city and county of Honolulu to do some histories of their urban parks. That’s how I got into consulting for the first time. And that’s a fascinating story because they had royal parks dating to the years of the Kingdom of Hawaii. They also had some wonderful New Deal parks from the Great Depression.

So I was able to do histories with the idea of helping the city and county of Honolulu understand what kind of historic resources and material culture they had in the parks, with the idea of preserving and restoring those parks. I also did some historical consulting in the Pacific Northwest based in Vancouver, British Columbia, and there too I found a number of local projects that had national implications, like my work on the Centralia massacre that occurred after the First World War.

CD: Okay, great. And you say when you were here at USC, “casting down your bucket” really had a lot to do with African American history and placing that in a lived environment. So could you speak a little bit to that, what your research has been with the environment of people—the spaces in which people live and how that’s…

RW: What do you mean by lived environment? I’m not sure I’ve ever heard that.

CD: So, a lot of your work, from what I’ve seen, has focused on the environment of segregation, and how people shape the environment to kind of suit their own needs, and how much we look at that now.

RW: Okay. In my work in the Pacific Northwest, and looking at the so-called Centralia massacre, which was a labor—an instance of labor violence in which the IWW was involved, I discovered that this little tiny Washington state lumber town had a historical secret: that the community did not want to acknowledge that the Centralia massacre had occurred, people had been killed, people had been unjusty—unjustly killed in vigilante violence. So when I moved to the South, which was unfamiliar to me as a Californian, in my mind was—just having finished a project and article for the public historian on communities with historical secrets. And I’m old enough to remember civil rights headlines in the San Francisco Chronicle.

What I realized was that professors of history can talk about the civil rights movement easily from a podium down in the first floor of Gambrell Hall. But as a public historian, if you start asking about how the civil rights movement is being remembered in communities in South Carolina or around the South, that’s a little bit different because, at least in the 1990s when I started on the project, the heroes and the villains are still alive—and in many cases, living in the same towns. So that’s very different about…talking about heroes and villains in the civil rights movement from a lecture hall. So I became interested in how the modern civil rights movement of the 1950s and ‘60s was being remembered in communities across the South.

So that was an early project, and that led me to a project to think about the power of apology, because that was certainly connected to how we were making amends or reconciling ourselves about the civil rights movement, but it was also a time in the 1990s when there was lot of public apologizing going on around historical injustices or historical crimes, whatever you want to call it. So I wrote something about the power of apology and…eventually, taking on projects like those and others led me to the project that you ask about: the architecture of racial segregation.

My work on what was being remembered about the civil rights movement caused me to realize that the focus really was on the good guys, the heroes, the people we like to remember. And particularly younger generations coming up didn’t necessarily remember the Jim Crow segregation that had made the civil rights movement necessary. So, obviously much has been written about segregation as a legal system, a political system, economic system, but I found myself thinking about it as a public historian who thinks about spaces and places. And my mind started thinking about, “Well, how did segregation operate as an architectural system?” And that’s what led me to write that article in the Public Historian. The James Marston Fitch Charitable Foundation funded some of the research. And…I think it’s impossible to look at southern cities the same after you read the article like that, because it’s impossible not to see race in space.

CD: Absolutely, that makes sense. So, what kind of perspective do you have coming into this as an outsider, in a way. You know, you’re from California, you come to South Carolina, and you look at these racial spaces—what kind of outlook do you have as an outsider on this? What kind of advantage do you think that might give you? Or disadvantage?

RW: Yeah…I’ve thought about that a bit, particularly when I was a consultant in the Northwest and coming into communities…I think that…my education gives me an understanding of the history. I remember when I first met my wife in graduate school—she was in the English Ph.D. program—she was struck that me and all my history friends always saw things through historical lenses. I didn’t realize that it was just natural to do that. So, I think that historians do do that sort of effortlessly, and that my education prepared me that way—that may be more important as outsider status. I think that having a Ph.D. can be a disadvantage in dealing with communities because many people have stereotypes of people who have Ph.D.s. So I think probably my personality was able to trump that and avoid some misconceptions. I don’t know if being form the West made it easier or harder to talk about race.

Actually, I’ve wondered—since I’ve been here for 25 years—whether it’s easier for me to talk about race, comparing myself to some of my graduate school friends. I have no idea, but race is obviously a complicated matter in American history and today, but… I think I’ve found a comfort level in being able to talk about it. So, for example, when the architecture of segregation project was on the top of my mind, I would find myself bringing it up when I was talking to elderly African Americans after I felt I’d established some sort of rapport, that I could bring it up and see what stories they had. Usually that worked fine; I don’t recall any problems in doing that. Is that the question you were asking?

CD: Yes! Absolutely. And that actually brings up another point too. So, you’re talking about how some people are more comfortable speaking to someone who has a master’s degree versus a Ph.D. in some circumstances. So, when you came to South Carolina to the Public History Program, how did you think of the Public History Program fitting in within that larger history academic environment?

RW: I think this is what you’re asking…the Berkeley history department had no place for public history. Most high-powered research departments in history have no place for public history.

CD: Why do you think that is?

RW: I think that there’s a prejudice against the applied. And—just to remind you—our Public History Program used to be called “Applied History.” Public history became a more fashionable term; I actually prefer the term, “applied history” because I think it’s more intuitive in trying to explain to somebody what public history is. And I think we don’t have that tradition in the historical profession, particularly in the academic historical profession, to quite value so much putting history to work in the world, as we so call it.

So, I mean, I remember as a graduate student I started to learn a little bit about what public history was, and my dissertation advisor said, “Well, Bob, if you’re interested in that, you should transfer to the Santa Barbara campus of the University of California. They’re starting a Public History Program.” I did not take that advice; I stayed at Berkeley. But I definitely maintained my interest in public history.

CD: Okay. What kind of changes have you seen in the Public History Program here as it’s evolved over time? Have you seen the public history students perhaps merging in more with that traditional academic history environment or is there still some kind of divide there that you see?

RW: There’s certainly been a conscious effort here to integrate so-called ‘traditional students’ and public history students. I think it’s certainly a desirable thing to happen, and we certainly see a number of traditional students who come here not knowing what public history is discovering public history here, choosing to get their M.A. in Public History, either on their way to the Ph.D. or as a terminal degree. That effort to integrate the divisions in the graduate program did have an unfortunate result, in my view, in that we gave up a wonderful course that had served as an introduction to public history.

That was the Historical Research Methods course, that I team-taught for a number of years with Connie Schulz. All of the incoming Applied History students would take it, we would get to know them, they would get to know us, get a handle on what public history was, learn specific skills, also really learn research and writing and local repositories—in a way that I don’t really think the 800 courses do quite so successfully because the student constituency there is more varied. And—so anyway, I think that the loss of the Historical Research Methods course was a casualty of a desire to integrate the two. That said, I do think that an integrated program is clearly the right way to go. It’s….it would be a crime if a graduate student goes through our program here and doesn’t learn what public history is. I think that my colleagues who teach the 720, the Introduction to the Historical Profession, do a good job of inviting me or Allison in to talk to the incoming students about what public history is. And it speaks to some, and it doesn’t to others.

CD: So this integration that happened, when you’re taking away these research methods, kind of foundational courses—do you think it is better to perhaps keep more of a separation between public history and academic traditional history, or do you think you’ve seen in this program that overall the benefits have outweighed the cost?

RW: Yeah, I think that’s what I was just saying. Is that the integration is a good thing, but like everything, there are consequences and negatives to a positive development. There are certainly other challenges that the Public History Program faces today and the History department faces.

CD: Can you speak to those challenges as well?

RW: I could. (Laughs) Well, let me say first off, I’m very, very proud of the Public History Program. We are here in 2016 marking either the 40th or the 41st anniversary, depending how you calculate it. We’ve got over 230 alumni in the program, we’ve got a program that gets students in good jobs, we’ve won awards that are quite wonderful. We are regarded in the profession as really a pioneer and a leader in the field, and certainly one of the oldest, and formerly one of the largest Public History Programs in the country. We—I mean we’re successful for all sorts of reasons.

Walter Edgar founded the program in 1975 when Jack Sprote was chair of the History Department. Michael Scardaville was hired, and he moved a generalist program to a program with three distinct tracks: Historical Preservation, Museums, and Archives. That was important in the curriculum. Connie Schulz really made the program self-supporting by finding external agencies and institutions taking advantage of Columbia as a capital city to fund graduate assistantships for Public History students. And I say self-supporting because the History Department paid her salary, my salary, but didn’t really have to support the graduate students because we were bringing in that kind of funding. And that, too, became a kind of model for other programs to aspire to.

What has happened is the Great Recession. In 2008…the budgets of external agencies and institutions were heavily hit, and we saw a falling away of that external support. At the same time, the university as a state agency was facing its own budget crises, but the university could respond by raising tuition. And it did raise tuition, and then it required that agencies that funded graduate assistantships essentially pay for the tuition as well as the stipend. So that made it even more difficult to fund external graduate assistantships, at least in history and the humanities. So, the History Department and the college have no tradition of supporting the Public History Program. So this was very, very difficult. It was very frustrating to me because I would go to chairs of History Departments and say, you know, “We’re facing a big crisis in how we fund the Public History students. We don’t have the external funds, it’s highly unlikely we’re going to see them any time soon. How can we find the funding?”

The solutions have been…well, many things that we’ve done, I think all well-meaning. But we’re limiting the number of Public History students that we can admit. That’s logical, because what’s also happened here is that M.A. students expect full funding. That used to be an expectation of Ph.D. students; it’s now an expectation of M.A. students, and I think that’s great, absolutely. But it makes it harder for an underfunded public university like USC to find the funds for doing that. It’s complicated, too, by the fact that—in a research-oriented school like this—the Ph.D. tends to be privileged. They…the M.A. is really regarded as second-class, to be honest. And really the assumption that M.A. programs need to be self-supported. So, it’s hard to get a research institution to fully fund an M.A. program, even though I think of the M.A. in Public History as a terminal degree like an M.F.A. or a law degree. And certainly if you look at job placement statistics, M.A. students in Public History have a spectacular record that might be compared, by contrast, to a Ph.D program in the humanities.

So it’s hard to get that kind of funding, so what we’ve done is we’ve limited the number of Public History students. That has an impact on the kinds of courses we can offer. The college has required 8 to be the minimum number of students in a graduate seminar for it to be viable; which of course is logical from that perspective, but it removes the range of Public History courses that we can offer, it removes the kind of flexibility. So I, for example, am not able to teach the Introduction to Historic Preservation course. I’ve translated that into a course that appeals to a wider audience of Museums students, of Ph.D. students…and again, that fits the integrated model that we like, but it means that we’re not able to offer as many skill-based courses as we used to. I used to teach a Preservation Practicum that became the vehicle for doing a lot of collaborative student projects, which I think was a real strength of our program and certainly something that I thoroughly enjoyed. And many of them were connected to African American heritage preservation as well. But when you have fewer students, an enrollment minimum, it’s harder to be teaching those kinds of courses.

What we have also done in response to the financial crisis is that we’ve diluted the curriculum, in my opinion. When I came in 1992, it was a 36-credit program. We then dropped it to a 33-credit program, and then it was dropped to a 30-credit program, with the strong encouragement of students to take—to use their two elective courses to, for example, do the Museum Management certificate or the Cultural Resource management certificate. This semester, we’ve lost the tuition abatement money. It’s still a 30-credit program, but we can’t afford to abate the tuition for what used to be the two electives. So from the intellectual content perspective, that’s a real shame, in my opinion.

CD: How do you, you know, in a position as a professor and as a leader in the department, go to bat for the Public History Program? What’s your argument to people who perhaps say that public history isn’t as important as academic history, as traditional Ph.D. history? What’s your argument to them?

RW: I think the biggest obstacle that we have in talking to my colleagues in and outside of the department is that most people don’t know what public history is. They think they know what it is; they think that public history is history for public audiences. That’s a part of it, but it’s not all of it by any stretch of the imagination, and it may actually be a relatively small part of it. Which is why I prefer the older term “applied history”—because…well, the motto of the National Council on Public History is, “Putting history to work in the world.” And that speaks directly to this notion of applying history to real-world problems or everyday concerns, not just providing history—particularly a top-down model of history to public audiences.

I one time heard a traditional academic—not at USC—say that anybody could be a public historian; it just meant that you had to answer the phone and take interview requests…Unfortunately, there are all sorts of misconceptions about what it is and traditional academics are used to giving lectures to public audiences, sharing their scholarly expertise in a variety of public forums. That’s obviously very, very important. But it’s such a small part of what public history is, and it completely ignores the fact that if somebody wants to get a job in the museums field, or the archives field, or the historic preservation field, they need to be equipped with specific skill sets to—for example—write a Historic Register nomination. You have to know something about how to do that. You have to know something about reading landscape or architecture. You have to know something about preservation law. You have to understand the bureaucracy. So, in some ways, I like to say that being a public historian is twice the work. We’re training you first and foremost, of course, to be very good historians; but then we’re training you, too, to have the skills to operate in the museum sector or the historic preservation sector.

I think that’s hard for many academics to see, and that that makes it harder to make the case for why we need certain kinds of courses that we do, why externally funded assistantships are so vital. It’s great that the department is able to provide teaching assistantships for some Public History students, but the real model for good public history education is hands-on training. And that means training at an external assistantship, it means classroom projects where you can actually do real-world projects for clients, as we call them—non-paying clients, perhaps, but…sharing the work there, doing the internship, and that is a real strength of the program that has been eroded in recent years primarily because of the financial crisis.

I’ll say just one other thing related to that, another impact of the Great Recession: It used to be that employers were willing to help train new M.A.s in public history fields. In that sense, the apprenticeship program could continue. If you didn’t know geographic information systems, your employer might help you do that. That has changed since the recession. Employers don’t have the time or the patience to do that kind of additional training. And what that means is that strong graduate programs in public history have to be preparing students to hit the ground running.

CD: That makes sense, that makes a lot of sense. So you’re obviously, Dr. Weyeneth, someone who’s very well-published. You’ve been published in a lot of academic journals. What do you think the importance of writing and being published is to public historians? And to the field of public history in general?

RW: Well, I think it’s certainly important if you’re a public historian in the academy, in a tenure track job, looking to be tenured and promoted. And I can return to that in a second. What I will say is that I wish more of our distinguished alumni would publish their own results, because…I stay in touch with as many of our alumni as I can, it’s a highlight of my professional life to see them, to follow their progress. All of them are doing wonderful, wonderful things working in the public history field, and I can’t count the number of times I’ve said, “This is really great. You should publish this as a report from the field in the Public Historian journal.” Or now that we have the History at Work super-blog, shorter pieces can be published in a more timely fashion that way.

But the realities are that very few people have the time to do that. The people that have the time tend to be faculty, where it’s part of their job to do that. I’m hoping that the digital revolution will help make it possible for more practicing public historians to get their work out.

In terms of faculty who are public historians, publication and teaching are certainly crucial to securing tenure in the academy these days. But one of the things that public historians and particularly the National Council on Public History realized last decade was that the kind of scholarship and research that public historians in the academy do can be quite different. The model—the capstone project—is not necessarily a scholarly monograph if you’re in public history. And this, too, is another reason that sometimes there’s misconceptions about public history in the academy, as we were talking about earlier.

The wonderful news is that NCPH has long been a leader in trying to think through quality public history in and out of the academy. So a number of years ago, John Dichtl, when he became director of the National Council on Public History, eventually convened a task force of the other two traditional American historical societies: the Organization of American Historians and American Historical Association. And they put together guidelines for how colleges and universities should think about appropriate criteria to judge scholarly productivity and teaching for public historians in the academy. It was adopted and endorsed by all three of those organizations, OAH and NCPH, and has really become a model for how to think about that. Unfortunately, at research universities, people are not as familiar with those guidelines and those criteria as they should be.

I will say something else: we think of the Applied History program as an important pioneer and leader in the field, and certainly leading by example, by curriculum, by great alums of the program. But one of the significant contributions of this program has been specifically to that discussion about tenure and promotion in the academy. So a colleague, Kendrick Clements, a long-time advocate of the Applied History program well before I came in 1992, was very thoughtful in thinking about appropriate tenure and promotion guidelines. When this task force was convened, Connie Schulz was appointed as a member of it. The task force was aware that USC had criteria that took into account public history work. So we furnished them with what we initially had—I like to call this a separate but equal set of criteria—that laid out criteria for public historians, and then criteria for non-public historians.

But a number of years ago, the big scholarly organizations were looking for a way to integrate the two—to go back to the question you began with: how can we overcome division and bifurcation between public historians and traditional historians? And again, USC heeded the call and we took our separate but equal tenure and promotion guidelines and created an integrated set that put them into a single set, which I think was a very good thing to do. Because among other things, it is essentially encouraging traditional historians to reach out and be civically engaged, if not take on documentary field projects and museum exhibits, and so forth and so on. That continues to be dicey ground for many colleges and universities, to have tenure and promotion guidelines that recognize it, but it is hugely important if public history is going to thrive in the academy. Because… among things I hear at the professional conferences, is there’s growing concern…well, first of all, public history is hot right now. It is growing, growing, growing.

That’s of course one of the things we say to our Ph.D. students is: if you want a job, you better learn something about public history because every history department is looking for a public historian. Maybe not a Public History Program…because it helps answer the question of parents of history majors: “What are you going to do, Alice, with that B.A. in History?”

CD: (Laughs) I definitely heard that.

RW: Yeah! So it’s a growth field, but looking at it at the professional conferences, the issue of program proliferation has been a concern. Are people—in rushing to create programs and start courses, do people really know what they are doing? And part of the concern is that we have people who are teaching public history—not here—who are not actually practitioners themselves. So that’s a concern for the profession as a whole, that you get students who have classroom learning about what public history is, and they go out into the world never having curated a museum exhibit or done hands-on preservation work and are starting to teach. So it’s a question of quality control. It’s great news that the gospel of public history is catching on, it’s great news that more and more students are being exposed to it at the undergraduate level, but the real question is: is it being taught well? And how do we do that? And again, that’s a real potential strength of our program, to be able to do that.

CD: I think you have a unique perspective on a lot of this because you just recently finished up your term as president of NCPH, National Council on Public History. I’m wondering how you think your time at USC prepared you to step into that position? How did your time as a professor here and as a leader here prepare you for that?

RW: Well, I think very, very well. I would cite first of all the spirit of generosity that Connie Schulz has. I moved 3000 miles away and started a commuting marriage with my wife in Vancouver, British Columbia…

CD: Ha. Wow.

RW: …because when I interviewed, this seemed like the perfect job. And Connie Schulz was Connie Schulz; she was great, she was a fabulous—has always been a fabulous, nurturing colleague. She took me to my first NCPH meeting in Valley Forge, Pennsylvania. We got to know each other team-teaching the Historical Research Methods course. When she retired in 2008, I was happy to become the director of it, so…I guess because it has been such a large and successful program for so long, and Connie herself has been so involved in the profession and so willing to share her professional network, I became more connected in NCPH as a result of that.

I certainly never had an interest in being president of NCPH but… 

CD: (Laughs) 

RW: And I thought long and hard about it when I was asked to run. But I think that in some ways, the field of public history is relatively small, and certainly the conferences—the annual conferences in the spring—are known as very welcoming palces. You do not see the cage fights that you’ll see in a normal job talk, or at an AHA or an OAH panel. You’ll see people far more supportive of their work, in part because I guess we’re all…in it together. Maybe we all feel like second-class citizens at our home institutions, so…

CD: (Laughs) 

RW: …but there’s a genuine community there that is very welcoming. So what that means is you get to know comparable directors of programs and you compare notes about where the field is going, and so forth and so on.  I don’t know if that answers your question.

CD: No, I think it absolutely does. So coming from this larger perspective, since you got to see more than just the University of South Carolina’s program, as president of NCPH you really got to see a broader vision of where public history is and where you think the future of it is heading. So what kind of—if you had to give the state of affairs of public history right now, what do you think it would look like?

RW: Well, as a matter of fact, Catherine, I did that in the most recent issue of the Public Historian.

CD: (Laughs) I know you did, that’s why I wanted to ask you to talk about it!

RW: (Laughs) August 2016. Yeah, that…thank you for that question then.

CD: Yes, absolutely.

RW: I think, again, listening to colleagues I respect at NCPH conferences, people are wondering whether program proliferation is crisis. Are there too many programs? If there are, how do you get rid of them? Should market forces weed and prune them out? Should there be some sort of credentialing, where…some sort of NCPH police force would come in and shut down your program! Well, obviously, those are not friendly or constructive. So, one of the things that I did as president, and I think it does speak to the state of the field, was to build on the good work that John Dichtl and former NCPH colleagues were doing in crafting the tenure and promotion guidelines. I took the view that rather than sweat the details of quantity, let’s really focus on building quality. And again with that idea that it’s a big tent, that I’m not proprietary about secret stuff that we do really well at USC, that I’m happy to share that insight as I think all program directors at NCPH are.

So, what we did is…well, I thought systematically about what could be done to enhance program quality. And one thing was to build on an NCPH tradition of best practices documents. And we thought the time was right for a best practices document on establishing and developing a Public History Program. A number of people contributed to it, the NCPH board of directors eventually approved it—I think during one of my last meetings on the board. It was essentially put together by Daniel Vivian. Dan Vivian was a graduate of our program who went on to work for the National Parks Service, the South Carolina Historic Preservation office, got his Ph.D. at Johns Hopkins, now directs the program at the University of Louisville. He is a very smart guy, he’s a very good example of how alums of the program become friends and valued colleagues.

Dan, with some help, really was the author of that best practices document that is now there on the NCPH website and offers very, very practical advice and even mentions a few red flags. I mean, if something like this is going on, the red flag says that maybe you shouldn’t think about starting a Public History Program. So I think that will have a very good impact on deans and history department chairs who are thinking about jumping on the bandwagon without thoughtful reflection. But we’re certainly not trying to stop the growth of programs, but just say: people have been doing this since the 1970s. There’s a lot of good advice that we would like to share with you.

One other thing that we’ve done was actually suggested by Allison Marsh. For a long time, she’s felt that undergraduates should be better consumers of their education. Part of it is—particularly when it comes to public history—part of it is as an undergraduate, you don’t even know what public history is. We always get the question: “What’s the difference between public history and museum studies?” for example. So, another initiative was to put together what we call “The Navigator”—the “Public History Navigator: How to Choose and Thrive in a Graduate Public History Program.” Obviously it’s online. Every fall NCPH now tries to mention it. But it has very, very good advice about careers in public history, how to choose programs, and once you’re in a Public History Program, how to do well in it. So, that’s addressing the issue of quality control from the standpoint of the student consumer. Those are just a couple of things that we’ve done to try to deal with the sense that there are too many programs out there, but instead, focus on quality.

CD: You know, obviously, you have an investment in the University of South Carolina’s program in particular, so if you could see the future of where this program is going, what does it look like to you?

RW: Well, I am concerned about a number of things here that really do date to the Great Recession as we’ve talked about, in terms of a financial model, in terms of…I think a lot of people who were here when the program was begun, who had those conversations about what public history is, have been long retired. And in some ways, it feels to me like we’re going to have to reeducate folks about what that is, and how a public history M.A. program fits within a high-powered research institution. So those things need to be worked out. I think that we have been a little slow to go down the digital history road. But I am most optimistic because the program has Allison Marsh as director, and she is well-equipped to take the program into the 21st century. So that is where I am optimistic, and I stand ready to help her in any way that I can.

CD: That’s great. Do you have any other final thoughts before we finish up? Anything other things you’d like to say?

RW: Do I have anything else for the record? (Paging through notes) I don’t know, Catherine, I think you’ve been very thorough.

CD: Well good, I’m glad! I’m glad.

RW: I don’t think so.

CD: Okay, good. We will finish up then. Thank you so much, Dr. Weyeneth.

End of Interview