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Public History Program Requirements

Graduate Certificate in Public History 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 or PhD student on the UMass Amherst campus, the graduate certificate in Public History develops skills in museum studies, oral history, digital history, historic preservation, archival management, and other fields within the larger scope of public history.

A graduate certificate in Public History is granted to students who complete the public history foundation seminar (History 659), two courses in a defined area of practice (ideally including at least one course in another department or discipline, to strengthen interdiciplinary knowledge), and an internship or internships reflecting 300 hours of hands=on experience.  These three seminars count toward the overall degree requirements of students pusuring either the MA or the PhD in History; put another way, public history students concentrate their 600-level electives in three courses related to public history practice.  

Whatever track a student chooses, he or she are asked to support it by completing four professional development workshops--seminars or other skill- and network-building activities with regional or national organizations (see below)--sometime during the course of their work toward the degree.


The course sequence (the foundation course followed by two courses in a defined area of practice) requires students to read deeply and widely in the literatures of Public History. In most of our seminars, students put those readings to the test in field experiences that allow them to exercise 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. For program requirements, please refer to this checklist


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 usually consists of the following required courses: 

  • History 659 (Public History): This foundation course is the common core of the Public History program.  Readings explore themes in the history and current state of public history practice, from shared authority to cultural entrepreneurship.  In a substantial group field project, students develop skills in project management, collaboration, and community engagement.
  • 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, offered alternate Spring semesters with Hist 662 below), Anthropology 597 (Historical Archeology), Art History 527 (Decorative Arts in America ), as well as the UMass Summer Field School in Historical Archeology.  
  • 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 with Hist 661 above. 
  • Site Internship: Students are required to accumulate approximately 300 hours working at museums, historic sites, or other relevant settings, 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, and is closely aligned with the historic preservation program in the Department of Architecture. [NOTE: Professor Max Page has been elected to a leadership role in the Massachusetts Teachers Association and will be away from most of his teaching and advising duties for the forseable future).

The Historic Preservation track consists of the following courses: 

  • History 659 (Public History- see description under Museum Studies, above). 
  • At least one course in Architectural or Environmental History: Several courses presently meet this requirement, including those in architectural or urban history (see especially 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),Landscape 691E (People and the Environment: Applications of Environmental Psychology Research to Planning and Design), and Building Materials and Wood Technology 597T (North American Building Traditions).
  • Historic Preservation Seminar with Professor Max Page in the Department of Architecture. 
  • Historic Preservation Internship: Students are required to accumulate approximately 300 hours working at an historic preservation agency, historic site, or other relevant setting, 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), and are encouraged to do so. 

III. Writing History Beyond the Academy/History Communication 

The History Department has had a long tradition of supporting writers who aim to reach audiences beyond the academy.   For more than a decade, we have annually hosted writers-in-residence  (brought to campus each spring for a week of intense conversation about writing) like Rebecca Onion, Robin D.G. Kelley, Jill Lepore, Charles Mann, and Debby Applegate, and in Spring 2016 we hosted the nation's first summit on History Communication as an emerging field.  This track -- designed for students who want to concentrate during their training on writing history in the form of narrative nonfiction, newspaper editorials, magazine articles and other formats -- can consist of the following courses: 

  • Public History (see description under Museum Studies, above). 
  • 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 work by writers who have had success in bringing narrative nonfiction to “publics” outside the academy. 
  • History Communication, a course that introduces students to this emerging field of practice.  Students explore how history content fares in new media contexts, from Twitter and blogs to graphic nonfiction to radio and podcasts.  Students also consider magazine writing, policy briefs, and other ways historical insight is conveyed in short-form genres.
  • A related course from the departments of English, Journalism or Communication, selected with approval of the Public History Program director. 
  • Internship: Approximately 300 hours working at university or trade press, with a literary agent, magazine, or some other venue for history publishing.  

IV. Archives 

This track is designed to prepare students for an entry-level archival position. Students complete this track with courses from Simmons College either online, in South Hadley, or in Boston. Requirements are as follows: 

  • Public History (see description under Museum Studies, above). 
  • LIS 438 Introduction to Archival Methods and Sources (Simmons College): Fundamentals of a wide range of archival activities, including appraisal, acquisitions, arrangement, description, reference, and access. Overview of history and terminology of the profession. Includes a required 60-hour internship completed in an archives or manuscript repository. (See Simmons College for more information)
  • LIS 440 Archival Access and Use (Simmons College): Explores access to and use of archives and manuscript collections within the framework of archival description and representation. (See Simmons College for more information)
  • Archival Internship: Approximately 300 hours working at an archive, completion of a substantial project. 

V. 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.  


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.  Thanks to the generosity of alumnus Charles K. Hyde, we are able to offer scholarship support for many students whose internships are either unfunded or underfunded. Internships sites in recent years have included placements at the National Parks Service, the Stone House Museum, the Smithsonian National Museum of American History, Mass HumanitiesMonadnock Media, the National Museum of American History, the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination, the Lower East Side Tenement Museum, and the Sacred Ground Historical Reclimation Project. Other  placements have included Historic New England, City Lore, the W.E.B. Du Bois National Historic Site, and Colonial WilliamsburgOld 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,the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission, and 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 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 approval 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 Societyand 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 Support 

The history department offers a number of teaching and administrative assistantships to qualified applicants; these are awarded on the basic of academic performance. Occasionally, through grants and contracts, we are able to arrange for public history students graduate assistantships or contract positions with historical organizations.

Please consult the department's Graduate Program Handbook for information on other kinds of support provided to graduate students in our department.  Of particular relevance to public history students are the Hands-On grant program, which helps students acquire skills needed for their research or practice, and the support offered to students presenting papers or posters at national conferences.

The University's Financial Aid Services office provides educational financial planning information.