November 12, 2013

Getting a job as an interpreter at a historic site: What to include on your resume and why

Updated April 4, 2014: If you are looking for a job related to history, you'll be interested in the video of the panel discussion at History Camp on that subject: "Employment options for history lovers."

Updated April 22, 2014: This new post focuses on landing an internship.

"What should I include on my resume if I want to get a job as an interpreter at a historic site?"  That question and others like it have been asked on various lists, however I have yet to see anyone who hires people reply.

I recently talked with someone who is responsible for hiring interpreters at a historic site in the greater Boston area and was fascinated by what she looks for when she reviews resumes.  Some of it surprised me, and I knew all of it would be of interest to anyone looking to get a job as an interpreter at a historic site.  Note that this site is not owned by the National Park Service.  (The photo of the interpreter was taken at Old Sturbridge Village; Old Sturbridge Village is not the historic site where the person interviewed for this post works.)

Six critical skills

Historic interpreter in the farm at Old Sturbridge Village

Interest in history: "I can't tell you how many cover letters I get in which the writer claims that they really love history, but when I look through their resume, they've never done anything that shows they have that interest--not even joining the history club in college."

Dealing with children: "They might have worked at a children's museum or been a teacher."

Communicating to the public: "This is fundamental.  Have they had to talk to the public before?  I need to see that experience on their resume.  Mybe they were a tour guide at their college.”

Customer service: “Customer service experience—-hospitality—-is a key role for interpreters.  They’re the people that our guests, who coming here on their free time—-on the weekend or maybe on vacation-—interact with  They want to learn, but they also want an enjoyable experience.” 

Dealing with pressure: "We have a lot of people come through, and sometime it gets hectic.  People have to know how to deal with that and not get flustered."

Experience handling money:  "All or our interpreters may, at some point, be involved with selling tickets or items in the gift shop.  Working as a cashier at a supermarket or a waiter or waitress clearly shows that they can handle money, but people will leave those jobs off their resumes.  They're thinking that those jobs are going to detract from their history work, but I'm looking for experience handling money, so when I see those types of jobs, that boosts their chances.  They definitely should leave them on. . . Being a cashier at a supermarket is great experience.  You can deal with money and pressure, and you had to be nice to every person that went through your line, even if they weren't." 

Other comments

"Mormon Missionary!  I saw that once and I called that person immediately.  Those people have to get out, introduce themselves to others, interest them in what they have to say, and be polite, regardless of the reaction of the person they're talking with.  And then, even if they had the door slammed in their face, they walk down the street, knock on another door, smiling and pleasant."

"Some people put down their experience with archives and collections, and that's fine, but since we do interpretation and aren't involved in that area, that experience just isn’t that relevant as an interpreter, at least at our site.  And because those jobs turn over so rarely, it's not as if that person is  likely to even have an opportunity to be considered for that position.  It is a good demonstration of an interest in history and in museums, but six different internships in archives makes me think you ought to be looking for a position in archives.  A guide job is not likely to turn into an archives position.   I'm really looking for people who want to be museum interpreters."

“A museum studies degree helps, but that’s certainly not enough on its own.  I’m willing to help a museum studies or public history student get started with an entry level position, but they need to have the other skills.” 

"Our hiring is somewhat seasonal, and I hang on to resumes.  So you may not hear from me for three months, but I've kept your resume, and I'll pull it out and look at it for our next round of hiring."

"It's a small positive if someone speaks a foreign language.  Sometimes they put it down separately.  If they've studied the language in school or spent a semester abroad, I assume that they can can speak at least a little of the language."

"You don't need to list that you know Microsoft Word or have 'computer skills.'  This is an interpreter job, not an office job.  I'm far more interested in their verbal skills than their computer skills."

"People need to be patient and to realize that not everyone has the same background as they do when it comes to the period we represent.  You can't talk down to people, and yes, you'll get some dumb questions, so teaching or coaching experience shows me that you can break things down and understand how to explain things to someone who just doesn't have the knowledge or background that you do.  Some people need you to start with the basics., but that doesn't mean that they aren't smart.  They've come here and have shown an interest.  What a great opportunity for someone who loves teaching."

"A masters or PhD in history does not guarantee you a spot on the short list, and you don't have to have to have been a history undergrad.  You do need to have some of these other skills, I need to see those on your resume."

Your experience

Comments received since the inital post include . . .

Another thing we often look for is people with a bit of acting experience.  Community theatre in addition to the love of history often moves that person up on our list.  You automatically know that they are okay with costumes, scripts and first person interpretation.  Having a Masters or PhD cannot guarantee that.

— Public Programs Coordinator at a state museum (November 13, 2013)


Be sure to include special skills and successful experience you might have: storytelling, music, theater, puppeteer, drawing/painting/sculpting, historic trade or domestic art, whittling, historic gardening or agricultural activities, horse backing riding, etc.  These are skills that might enhance one's interpretation and serve different learning styles.  And, please indicate that you understand that interpretation is more than just giving toursthere are a lot of different modes of interpretation.  If you don't know about this, read up on the current literature and intern with good mentors or trainers.  Look at the work and workshops of National Association for Interpretation; Association for Living History, Agricultural and Farm Museums; and specialty skill organizations.

— Kathryn "Katie" Boardman
Principal at The Cherry Valley Group, Adjunct Professor CGP, Board Member at Cooperstown Graduate Association (CGA)
(November 18, 2013)


Have you hired interpreters or others for a historic site or other history organization?  If you'd like to share your recommendations, let me know.  We'll add them here or in another post; we won't publish your name or organization.

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October 31, 2013

Presenting on collaboration at the 2013 New England Museum Association conference

Updated November 11, 2013: The final presentation is in this post in the Resources section.

Together with Adriene Katz of the Shelburne Museum, Jennifer Brundage of the Smithsonian, and Debbie Douglas of MIT, I'm participating on a panel at the upcoming New England Museum Association (NEMA) conference on collaboration: "Collaborations: Who, What, When, Where, Why--and Why Not."

The session is Thursday, November 14 at 9 a.m.

In order to make the session as helpful as possible, both to those in attendance and those who read the slides afterward, we're interested in your thoughts: 

  • What examples of collaborations have you been involved with or know of?
  • What insights have you gained?
  • If you were to create a checklist to evaluate or plan a collaborative project, either within an institution or between institutions, what would you include?
  • What questions would you like to see addressed?

Please post your thoughts and suggestions below or send them to me.

I hope to meet you at the conference—send me a note if you'd like to arrange a meeting—but we'll also post our slides and a master checklist after our session so that everyone has access to the information.  In fact, we've posted one of them as a case study: Forming a regional group of historical societies to increase awareness and attendance.

As part of the presentation, I'll also mention the informal collaboration around the holiday campaign for history, history organizations, and historic sites: "Make this holiday historic!"

2013 NEMA Conference Program

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July 20, 2013

The 2013 Leadership in History Awards from the American Association for State and Local History (AASLH)

Updated August 17, 2013: Slides with more information on and links to each of the winning projects are in this post in the Resources section.

Congratulations to this year's award recipients, who will be recognized at the 2013 AASLH Conference, “Turning Points: Ordinary People, Extraordinary Change," on September 20th in Birmingham.  If you have changes to or suggestions for the links below, please let us know.  The list, as issued, is here.  (The 2012 winners, with links, is also available.)

You can add your history-related organization, site, event, or exhibit to The History List.  Read what other organizations say about why the are participating or learn what makes The History List valuable for history organizations.

The Albert B. Corey Award 

Southlake Historical Society

The Albert B. Corey Award recognizes primarily volunteer-operated historical organizations that best display the qualities of vigor, scholarship, and imagination in their work.  Regional chairs may recommend any primarily volunteer organization that is nominated for the Award of Merit. This is an award made at the discretion of the Awards Committee.


The Sitka Historical Society for the exhibit Alaska Native Brotherhood/Alaska Native Sisterhood 100-Year Panels 


The Butler Center for Arkansas Studies for the Encyclopedia of Arkansas History and Culture Mobile Website

Lakeport Plantation for the Lakeport Plantation Permanent Exhibits


Mesa Historical Museum  for Play Ball: The Cactus League Experience


Louis P. Doody, Betty Kikumi Meltzer, and Malki Museum’s Malki-Ballena Press for the publication Losing Ground: The Displacement of San Gorgonio Pass Cahuilla People in the 19th Century

Gerald W. Haslam and Janice E. Haslam for the publication In Thought and Action: The Enigmatic Life of S.I. Hayakwa 

Museum of Teaching and Learning and Ray Rast for the exhibit  A Class Action: The Grassroots Struggle for School Desegregation in California

Oakland Museum of California, Lee Simpson, and the California State University, Sacramento, Public History Principles and Techniques Class, Fall 2011 for the exhibit What's Happening Sacramento?


Aspen Historical Society  for the exhibit  Seasons of the Nuche: Transitions of the Ute People  

City of Fort Collins Preservation Division and Landmark  for the preservation and interpretation of the Coca-Cola/Angell’sDelicatessen Ghost Sign

History Colorado for excellence in preserving and interpreting the history of Colorado

History Colorado for the publication of  A Civil War Scrapbook: I Was There Too!

Ann E. Komara for the publication Lawrence Halprin's Skyline Park


Deborah Edwards, Dr. Mark Jones, Amy Trout, and Dr. Cynthia Roznoy for the exhibit Art for Everyone: The Federal Art Project in Connecticut

Litchfield Historical Society  for the publication Litchfield, The Making of a New England Town

The New London County Historical Society, Mystic Seaport, The Stonington Historical Society, The New London Maritime Society, and the Lyman Allyn Art Museum for the exhibit The Rocket's Red Glare - Connecticut and the War of 1812

Writer's Block Ink and Connecticut Landmarks for the project Stories of Slavery and Freedom 

District of Columbia 

President Lincoln's Cottage, a National Trust for Historic Preservation site, for the exhibit Can You Walk Away? Modern Slavery: Human Trafficking in the United States


John H. Hendricks for the publication Following the Tracks of Daniel Callahan 

History Miami for the exhibit The Guayabera: A Shirt's Story. This nominee is also the recipient of a History in Progress Award.


Georgia Historical Society for Today in Georgia History


John H. Mock for his passionate dedication to preserving the heritage of Lewiston, ID


John Adelmann and the students of Dubuque’s Central Alternative High School for The Dubuque Shot Tower  project

Living History Farms  for the exterior shell restoration of the Flynn Mansion (fundraising video; description upon completion)


Joliet Area Historical Museum  for the exhibit Strike Up The Band! 100 Years of the Joliet Township H.S. Bands

Lakeview Museum of Arts and Sciences and Channy Lyons for the exhibit Skirting Convention:  Illinois Women Artists, 1840-1940


Maine State Museum  for the exhibit Malaga Island, Fragmented Live.  This nominee is also the recipient of a History in Progress Award.


Gordon E. Katz for the publication "102 Gentlemen & A Lady" The Story of the Atlantic Hotel Company in Ocean City, Maryland

Julia A. King for the publication Archaeology, Narrative, and the Politics of the Past The View from Southern Maryland 


Judy Anderson for the publicationGlorious Splendor - The 18th-Century Wallpapers in the Jeremiah Lee Mansion in Marblehead, Massachusetts

Gore Place for My Farm at Waltham: Outdoor Multimedia Tours at Gore Place

Historic New England,  AVA Gallery and Art Center, and CATV of the Upper Valley  for the documentary  Connecting the Threads: Overalls to Art - The H.W. Carter and Sons Factory

Lowell National Historical Park and The University of Massachusetts, Lowell for the exhibit Dickens and Massachusetts: A Tale of Power and Transformation

Newbury Preservation Trust, Thomas Kolterjahn, and Karen Holt for the Newburyport Powder House Restoration Project

Calantha Doane Sears for a lifelong commitment to preserving the history of Nahant, MA

U.S.S. Constitution Museum for the project A Sailor’s Life for Me! (featured in a case study on The History List.)


Historical Society of Saginaw County for Project 1893: Unearthing Saginaw's Great Fire

Sandra L. Planisek for chronicling and preserving the history of the village of Mackinaw City, MI


Alexander Ramsey House and Minnesota Historical Society  for the Ramsey Redevelopment Project

Bill and Bonnie Daniels Firefighters Hall and Museum for the exhibit 81 Minutes: Story of the 35W Bridge Collapse

Brown Historic Society  for the exhibit Never Shall I Forget: Brown County and the U.S.-Dakota War

Historical and Cultural Society of Clay County, Claudia Pratt, and Amanda Nordick for the exhibit Hjemkomst Sagas: One Dream, A Viking Ship, Many Stories

Minnesota Historical Society  for the exhibit Then Now Wow

Minnesota Historical Society  for the project The U.S. Dakota War of 1862.  This nominee is also the recipient of a History in Progress Award.

Nicollet County Historical Society and Gustavus Adolphus College  for the exhibit Commemorating Controversy: The Dakota-U.S. War of 1862

Gwen Westerman and Bruce White  for the publication  Mni Sota Makoce: The Land of the Dakota 


Missouri History Museum  for the exhibit Underneath It All


Nancy Plain for the publication Light on the Prairie: Solomon D. Butcher, Photographer of Nebraska’s Pioneer Days

L. Robert Puschedorf for the publication Nebraska's Post Office Murals: Born of the Depression, Fostered by the New Deal


University of Nevada Press for the publication The Gold Rush Letters of E. Allen Grosh and Hosea B. Grosh 

New Jersey 

John Whiteclay Chambers, II, for the publication Cranbury: A New Jersey Town from the Colonial Era to the Present 

Cumberland County Cultural and Heritage Commission for the West Jersey Time Traveler Interpretive Program 

New York

The New York State Museum for the exhibit An Irrepressible Conflict:The Empire State in the Civil War

Shaker Heritage Society  for the Virtual Watervliet.  This nominee is also the recipient of a History in Progress Award.

North Carolina

North Carolina Museum of History  Award of Merit for the exhibit History in Every Direction: Tar Heel Junior Historian Association Discovery Gallery

The Awards Committee, at its discretion, may present an Award of Merit to a nominee whose work is highly inspirational, exhibits exceptional scholarship, or is exceedingly entrepreneurial in terms of funding, partnerships, or collaborations, creative problem solving, or unusual project design and inclusiveness. 

North Dakota  

State Historical Society of North Dakota for the documentary The People of the Upper Missouri: The Mandans


The Betts House for the exhibit The Big Shake: How the 1811-1812 New Madrid Earthquakes Rocked the Ohio River Valley


Oregon Historical Society for the exhibit Oregon Voices: Change and Challenge in Modern Oregon History


PA Civil War 150, Senator John Heinz History Center, Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, and the Pennsylvania Heritage Foundation  for the publication The Civil War in Pennsylvania: A Photographic History

Senator John Heinz History Center for the exhibit From Slavery to Freedom

Rhode Island 

Rhode Island Historical Society for the John Brown House Museum Audio Tour

Hearthside House Museum  for the exhibit Color and Light: Early 20th Century Portraits of Hearthside

South Carolina 

Spirit of ’45 Committee and Travelers Rest Historical Society for the Spirit of '45 Celebration

South Dakota 

South Dakota Humanities Council for the publication What Makes a South Dakotan

The Center for Western Studies at Augustana College  for the 44th Dakota Conference


Oaklands Historic House Museum for Wedding Dresses Through the Decades (video)


Texas Archive of the Moving Image for their new website


Church History Department, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, and Canada’s Mormon Trail Steering Committee, for the Southern Alberta Historic Markers and App Project


Vermont Agency of Transportation, the New York State Department of Transportation,  and the Federal Highway Commission for the Lake Champlain Bridge Commemoration Project.  This nominee is also the recipient of a History in Progress Award.

Peacham Historical Association, Jutta R. Scott, Michelle A. Sherburne, and Lynn A.Bonfield  for the publication A Vermont Hill Town in the Civil War: Peacham's Story

Vermont Division for Historic Preservation for the exhibit “More Than Two Works”: The Life and Legacy of Calvin Coolidge 


Community Design Assistance Center, Virginia Tech for the publication Lost Communities of Virginia

Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation for Anna's Adventures Video Series

The Library of Virginia and the Virginia Sesquicentennial of the American Civil War Commission for the Civil War 150 Legacy Project: Document Digitization and Access

Loudoun County Public Schools for the Frederick Douglas Elementary School Memorial Exhibit

Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media for the website

Virginia Sesquicentennial of the American Civil War Commission  for the Civil War 150 History Mobile


Granite Falls Historical Society for the project Technology Journey

Museum of History and Industry for the exhibitTrue Northwest:The Seattle Journey

West Virginia 

National Park Service, Southeast Region for the Hispanics and the Civil War: From Battlefield to Homefront Initiative

West Virginia Botanic Garden, Inc. for the exhibit "No More Wiggle-Tail Water": Interpreting the History of Morgantown's Water Supply


Buildings-Landscapes-Cultures Field School, Department of Architecture, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, and Arijit Sen for the project Picturing Milwaukee: Thurston Woods Pilot Study

History Museum at the Castle for the exhibitProgressive Appleton: Through the Lens of W.D. Schlafer

Martin C. Perkins for his scholarship in the field of historic preservation and the significant role he played in the development of Old World Wisconsin

Wisconsin Historical Society Press and Wisconsin Public Television for the publication Bottoms Up: A Toast to Wisconsin's Historic Bars and Breweries

 Wisconsin Library Services for Recollection Wisconsin

 Wisconsin Public Radio for the audio essay series Wisconsin Life


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July 11, 2013

Guide to social media for historic sites and history organizations

We're working on a guide to social media for historic sites and history and heritage organizations.  It will be available individually in electronic form at no cost.  If the first one is well-received, we'll do a follow up with more advanced topics.  (To be notified when the guide is available, and for occasional updates on The History List, sign up here.) 

We're looking for your experiences, insights, recommendations, and questions regarding increasing awareness of and attendance at your site and events, including . . .

  • Using Twitter, Facebook, Vine, Google+, YouTube, Vimeo, Instagram, Flickr, HistoryPin, Pinterest, and others
  • Policies and practices, including getting started, gaining followers, growing and expanding, and managing growth
  • Handling reviews and recommendations, including Trip Advisor, Yelp, Google, and others

Here's an example of a great tip we received from Matt Wilding, who heads the web and social media efforts at The Freedom Trail Foundation:

Guide to social media for historic sites and history organizationsEveryone knows you’re supposed to use hashtags, but often they’re not used very well. Using a tag regularly that might be used by someone else (such as #thisdayinhistory, #history, #mapoli, etc) is a good strategy, but a really good way to boost visibility is to find ways to tie what you’re posting to what’s going on in the world. For example, we have used #pirates when the Pittsburg Pirates are being buzzed about. #Occupy and #OccupyBoston were handy during the Occupy Movement to post about the British Occupation.

Our goal is for this to be useful regardless of the size of your organization or your level of experience with social media.

Please send problems you've encountered, your solutions, your ongoing struggles, your questions, and your successes and failures.  We'll attribute your tips and suggestions to you—unless you'd rather we not.  Just let us know.

Your contributions can be as short as a single sentence or question, a few bullets, or a longer form case study with before and after data points.  

Our deadline for submissions is July 20.  Send us a note, and please include links and screenshots, where appropriate.  

To receive updates on The History List, including information on the guide, sign up here.

And check out the case study we wrote last year about Matt's ongoing "On this day" campaign of 365 videos, which are posted on YouTube and promoted through Facebook and Twitter.

Update on The History List on social media

We started with Facebook and Twitter accounts for The History List.  We recently added Facebook and Twitter accounts under the "Seeing History" name.  

Going forward, the accounts for The History List will primarily focus on the interests of the organizations that participate on The History List, including ways to increase awareness and attendance.  Seeing History is primarily focused on individuals and families looking for something interesting to do in their communities or as part of planning a trip.  The recommendations on Seeing History are drawn from listings on The History List.  In the months ahead we will introduce additional ways organizations can publicize the events they list on The History List through social media.

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