The University of Massachusetts Amherst
HFA - College of Humanities & Fine Arts view HFA submenu
Section Menu

Austin Clark

M.A. Candidate
Fields: Public History, graveyard and cemetery preservation, the Civil War and the transnational 19th century, Classical Art History

Photo of Austin Clark in a cemetery

History is tricky business. Between graduating from Gettysburg College in 2012 and coming to UMass in 2016, I worked a variety of jobs – as a librarian in a small public library, a substitute teacher for two separate middle schools, and as a site supervisor and interpreter for Canterbury Shaker Village in Canterbury, NH. While diverse in experience, the jobs I enjoyed the most had one thing in common. They were where history hit the pavement. I found great fulfillment in engaging with multi-faceted positions that required not only creative historical scholarship and interpretation, but also day-to-day ingenuity in solving the seemingly mundane problems of maintaining an organization as a vibrant public resource. In other words, I began to pursue a career as a public historian.

Studying at UMass is a natural step in that career. While here, I have become immersed in both the practical and the philosophical aspects of public history and have come to understand the field as something greater than both – public service. No matter where they are, in academia or in the field, I believe public historians are defined by their conscious service to the public, in whatever form that takes. The opportunity UMass gave me to intern with Mass Humanities only reinforced this conviction. I worked on a variety of projects, including editing grants and arranging the donation of over 11,000 books. These tasks helped me understand that a large part of the work of public service is facilitating public access to humanities material and scholarship. Humanities, and history as a key part of that, is data in the human sense, information people need to make informed and critical decisions. Making sure that people have the access to the resources they need to keep telling stories and putting together projects remains crucial to my sense of purpose as a public historian.

The larger purpose of my education at UMass is to help me become a “student in the field,” a practitioner with enough confidence and knowledge to move forward, but with curiosity and an engaged mind that will keep making creative connections. So far, I have kept up this curiosity by studying and writing about graveyards and cemeteries, both in and academic and professional capacity. Along with fellow M.A. student Nolan Cool, I was hired as a historical consultant by the Leverett Cemetery Association to research six of their historic graveyards and make sure these sites were documented in the Massachusetts Cultural Resource Information System (MACRIS). This experience not only helped me develop as a professional, but remains foundational for much of my research and inquiry into preservation and public history.

My academic interests lie in diverse areas, but at UMass I focused on the intersection of violence and nation-making in the nineteenth century and the history of classical art in college collections. I have researched and written about the history of the classical art collection at Mount Holyoke College and how early professors, notably Louise Fitz-Randolph and Caroline Galt, used the medium of display to drive the professionalization of their department. It is work I hope to expand on in the future and come to a greater understanding not just of art and museums, but of how art as a category of knowledge influences the way we see objects and artifacts today.