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What if I love history?

Soon after Dr. John Krugler began advising students he also began anticipating a frequently asked question: What can I do with a history major if I don’t want to teach it?

The history professor seized the moment and told students about the altogether different work of public historians. “When I could move them from thinking about academic history to public history it changed their perspective dramatically,” he says.

Krugler received four grants from the Helen Way Klingler College of Arts and Sciences since 2005 that helped establish an interdisciplinary minor in public history and brought a parade of prominent public historians to campus to discuss their work as museum curators, authors, lecturers and more.

“When I saw the course description, it was like ‘bammo!’  a career where I can be involved in history daily,” says arts and sciences junior Emily Swenson.

Guided by this year’s guest historians, students are exploring how American Indian culture has been presented to the public. Otis Halfmoon, a Nez Pierce who works for the National Park Service, challenged students with his lecture, “Are You Ready for the Truth?” In February, Ojibwe Brenda Child will address Indian boarding schools.

“There can be a tension between truths,” Krugler says, when people have different perspectives.

“It’s the same way that multiple people see the same car accident, and everyone tells a different story,” says arts and sciences senior Kevin Benninger. “The more one learns about history, the more one has to question whose history is being talked about.”

“A public historian seems to act as a mediator between the public interests and actual facts of history,” says arts and sciences junior Ellen Faletti.

During the spring term students will negotiate that tension when they produce a documentary on the Lakota people and Jesuit missions on the Rosebud and Pine Ridge reservations at the beginning of the 20th century. Students also will create an exhibit tracing Marquette’s previous use of Indian-inspired mascots for sports teams.

“Both issues are potentially controversial,” Krugler says, “but as public historians, students must learn how to present contested issues to the public.” JMM

Attention, history buffs: Check out the Department of History's new blog, Historians@Work, or stay up on the latest news on the department's Facebook page.


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