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New major at York College will help bring history to the public

Jacqueline Beatty

Most people can give a definition of history. But as York College of Pennsylvania sets out to add a major in Public History, Dr. Corey Brooks always likes to start by defining what that is.

“Public History is a broad field that encompasses a fairly large range of careers involving communicating history, historical information, historical interpretation, to any sort of general public beyond an academic classroom,” the associate professor of History at York College says.

In terms of careers, it could mean anything from being a museum curator to a guide at a historical site, or even as a historian or archivist in a corporate setting.

The future of history

History, in general, is getting more of a digital face, Dr. Brooks notes, and while it won’t eliminate the “old-fashioned” work in the field, it will transform it and open new opportunities, he says.

That’s part of the expertise the major’s first professor, Dr. Jacqueline Beatty, will bring to York this fall.  Dr. Brooks says she’s a “skilled historian” whom they’re very excited to welcome to campus, and with her Ph.D. training at George Mason University, she’s been on the forefront of developing digital approaches to Public History.

“She has the skill and mindset and vision to lead Public History at York College going forward,” Dr. Brooks says.

Dr. Beatty is excited to bring her skills to central Pennsylvania. Currently serving a one-year post at the University of Louisiana-Lafayette in Public History, she’s helping students blend digital and physical components in what will become a traveling Mardi Gras history exhibit.

“They’re using collections in our archives on campus and around the state to build a mobile, physical exhibit in an Airstream trailer,” Dr. Beatty says. “They will be able to take that around the state, but because of my training, they’re also building a web component that will provide further accessibility.”

It’s important to see analog and digital history in conjunction with each other, Beatty says, because each component has limits.

“Public History teaches students to do thoughtful research and make it available to a wider public as well,” she says. “You have to teach students to use analog and digital and define the best way to reach the public, as well.”

Reaching the public

The curriculum for the new major will include much of the traditional academic history curriculum, Dr. Brooks notes, as well as some interdisciplinary possibilities, such as administration courses, writing, foreign languages or GIS for mapping work. This will allow students to build skills that will help them apply history beyond the classroom and prepare for any number of possible jobs.

One key to the major will be a mandatory one-semester, three-credit internship, where students will work with professionals in the field. And the York community is already lining up to take part.

“We’re already beginning to build partnerships,” Dr. Brooks says. “The York History Center, for one, has been in contact and its CEO wrote a letter endorsing this major. We’re very happy that we already know there’s going to be internship opportunities for students there. There are others we have leads for as well.”

This new major will not only offer new opportunities to York College students – it will enhance the school’s greater effort to be a larger part of the York community.

“It’s an opportune time in the college’s history for us to be launching this major because the college is so oriented toward promoting community engagement with York city and the surrounding area,” says Brooks. “It can be a nexus for all sorts of community engagement.”