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UMass Sesquicentennial

University of Massachusetts Amherst

History Department

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Contact us:

History Dept., Herter Hall Room 612
University of Massachusetts
161 Presidents Drive
Amherst, MA 01003-9312

Tel. 413.545.1330
Fax. 413.545.6137



UMass/Five College Graduate Program in History
Graduate Certificate in Public History
Master of Arts Degree Requirements

The combined strength of the University's history faculty and professional staff at nearby historical institutions offers graduate students an excellent environment for public history training. Available to any MA student on the UMass Amherst campus, the graduate certificate in Public History develops skills in museum studies, historic preservation, archival management, and other fields within the larger scope of public history. The requirements for a Master's degree in History with a concentration in public history consists of five history courses in a research field, such as U.S. history, and four courses in a public history field: an introductory public history seminar with two linked courses plus an internship in their area(s) of specialization.

A graduate certificate in Public History is granted to students who complete a track in Museum Studies, Archives, Digital History, and Historic Preservation, or a track of the student's own creation. Students may specialize in public history fields currently without tracks, such as public policy or documentary editing by completing the public history seminar, two relevant outside courses, and an internship. Whatever track a student chooses, he or she must support it by completing four professional development workshops, seminars or other professional development activities with a regional or national organization (see below).



The requirements for an M.A. with a concentration in Public History include five History courses in a research field, such as U.S. history (two linked historiography courses, a research seminar, and two others). M.A. candidates seeking the certificate in Public History are also required to take History 659, Introduction to Public History. Students then complete one of a number of tracks, or concentrations, in an area within public history. A track consists of two linked courses, which should include at least one course in another department or discipline, in an area within the field.

The course sequence requires students to read deeply and widely in the literatures of Public History. Students will put those readings to the test in field experiences that allow them to excersice their skills on projects for local clients. By the time students leave the program they have completed a number of real-world assignments to take on the job market. For a sampling of the kinds of projects presently undertaken by our students, see our gallery of student profiles.


I. Museum Studies

The principal track of the public history program, designed to prepare students for positions in museums, historic sites, and historical societies. It consists of the following required courses:

1. History 659 (Public History): This course is the common core of the Public History program. Half of the course explores the nature of historical consciousness, the other half introduces students to history in various settings through guest speakers and field trips to area archives, museums, and historic sites. This course requires a substantial group field project.

2. At least one course in material culture. Several courses presently taught on campus introduce students to the study of objects. Among them are: History 661 (American Material Culture), Anthropology 597 (Historical Archeology), Art History 527 (Decorative Arts in America ), as well as the UMass Summer Field School in Historical Archeology. Kevin Sweeney of Amherst College and Joshua Lane of Historic Deerfield have also taught courses on various aspects of material culture open to UMass graduate students by arrangement.

3. History 662 (Museum/Historic Site Interpretation Seminar): This is an advanced level course concerning the practice of museums and historic sites. Students are required to produce a field project with a local museum or historic site. This class is usually offered in alternate Spring semesters.

4. Site Internship: Students are required to accumulate approximately 300 hours working at a museum or historic site and complete a substantial project. Click here for a sample internship contract.

II. Historic Preservation

This track is designed to prepare students to work in local, state, federal governments, or in preservation agencies. Students interested in this track might consider pursuing a joint M.A. in History/M.R.P. in Regional Planning or M.S. in Design and Historic Preservation (see more below) so that they would be fully qualified as planners as well as have a specialty in historic preservation. The Historic Preservation track consists of the following courses:

1. History 659 (Public History- see description under Museum Studies, above).

2. At least one course in Architectural or Environmental History: Several courses presently meet this requirement, including those in architectural or urban history (see courses offered by Professors Max Page and Tim Rohan). Also recommended is Landscape Architecture 544 (History and Theory II, Landscape History since the Renaissance), 597B (Cultural Landscapes: Theory, Management, Design- Please click here to open a word document of the syllabus.), Landscape 691E (People and the Environment: Applications of Environmental Psychology Research to Planning and Design), Building Materials and Wood Technology 597T (North American Building Traditions), and Art 297T (History and Theory of Historic Preservation).

3. Historic Preservation Seminar with Professor Page in Architecture and Design.

4. Historic Preservation Internship: Students are required to accumulate approximately 300 hours working at an historic preservation agency and complete a substantial project.

Additional courses: Students would benefit from taking additional courses, such as Regional Planning 651 (Planning History and Theory), and Anthropology 525 (Archeology and Law).

NB: The Historic Preservation track in the UMass Public History program is closely aligned with a sister program in the department of Architecture & Design led by Professor Max Page. Click here to watch a short video that conveys the content and flavor of preservation studies at UMass.

III. Writing History for the Public

The History Department has had a long tradition of supporting writers who aim to reach popular audiences.  From faculty members like Stephen Oates, Kevin Boyle and Heather Cox Richardson to writers-in-residence like Charles Mann and Debby Applegate (brought to campus each spring for a week of intense conversation about writing), to coursework on Writing Biography (Hist 771) and courses outside the department such as JOURNAL497B (Diaries, Memoirs & Journals) and 479P (The Politician and the Journalist), the department seeks to help writers bring historical insight well beyond the academy.  This is track is designed for students who want to concentrate during their training on writing history for audiences beyond the academy, in the form of newspaper editorials, narrative nonfiction, magazine articles and other formats. The track consists of the following core courses:

1. Public History (see description under Museum Studies, above).

2. History 691W: Writing History, a course that combines a passion for history and a dedication to writing. It explores ways in which historians and others with a reverence for the past write well, in diverse manners, for their particular, chosen audiences. The course features visits by writers who have had success in bringing history to “publics” outside the academy.

3. A related course from the departments of English, Journalism or Communication, selected with approval of the Public History Program director.

4. Internship: Approximately 300 hours working at university or trade press, with a literary agent, magazine, or some other venue for history publishing. Students to date have crafted internships at the University of Massachusetts Press and the University of Florida Press.

IV. Archives

This track is designed to prepare students for an entry-level archival position. It is available in collaboration with Simmons College, which is one of the region's premiere institutions specializing in this area and teaches its archival management courses at Mount Holyoke College. The track consists of the following courses:

1. Public History (see description under Museum Studies, above).

2. Archival Management: TBA.

3. Archives Seminar: TBA.

4. Archival Internship: Approximately 300 hours working at an archive, completion of a substantial project.

Additional Courses and Fields in Public History

In addition to the three tracks leading to a Certificate in Public History, students, in consultation with the program director, may develop concentrations in public history in areas presently without formal tracks, such as community and local history, public policy, and documentary editing by completing the Public History course, two relevant outside courses, and an internship. Students in any of these tracks would also benefit from taking Arts Management courses.

Richard Anderson at a church service in Pittsfield with the co-chairs of the Upper Housatonic African-American Heritage Trail, where he interned in 2010 and 2011.

Internships: Internships, the final requirement for Public History students, serve all aspects of our mission, enabling students to draw connections between theory and practice while contributing to communities of public historians. Internships, both paid and unpaid, are available at a variety of area historical institutions such as Old Sturbridge Village, Historic Deerfield, the Springfield Armory National Historic Site, Lowell National Historical Park, Strawbery Banke Museum, Museums of Old York, the Connecticut Valley Historical Museum, Pioneer Valley Planning Commission, Monadnock Media, and the American Radio Works. Please see the Public History Internship page for internship details and a sample internship contract.

Professional Development: Students who are accepted into the Public History Program must supplement their academic training by completing a series of 4 skills-based workshops, seminars or institutes over the course of their graduate work, selected with the consent of the director of the Public History program. You may complete one each semester, or any other arrangement convenient to your course of study. An on-line workshop is acceptable, but since "virtual" workshops do not lend themselves to networking, no more than 1 of the 4 can be completed on-line. In order to complete this requirement, degree candidates are strongly urged to join the New England Museum Association, and/or the Massachusetts Historical Society and take advantage of their program offerings. Other appropriate organizations include the American Association of Museums, the National Council on Public History, the American Association for State and Local History, The Society of American Archivists, the Oral History Association or other professional associations related to your career goals.

Financial Aid: The history department also offers a number of teaching and research assistantships to qualified applicants as well as graduate assistantships with historical organizations, from local institutions like the Pocumtuck Valley Memorial Association to National Park Service sites like Lindenwald, the home of Martin Van Buren and Theodore Roosevelt's home at Sagamore Hill. The University's Financial Aid Services office provides educational financial planning information.

Externships: These are a form of financial aid that are occasionally available to graduate students, when a number of specific conditions are met. The earnings requirements for externships are the same as for TA's and RA's in terms of meeting thresholds for waivers; that is, the position must be compensated at the same rate as TA-ships and RA-ships, over the same number of hours. Like Internships, the Externship position can not be regular staff employment; the externship must be created for the student, and involve substantial supervision and training. In addition, the externship must be professional and directly related to the student's academics, in the judgment of the Director of the Public History Program in consultation with the Graduate Program Director. Students who think they have identified a potential Externship should send a proposal describing the position to the Public History program director, who will forward it to the Graduate School for review. The graduate school will then determine whether the position is eligible.