College students majoring in history traditionally follow a few select paths after graduation: teaching social studies in the K-12 school system...or continuing graduate study, aiming for a college/university professorship... or going on to law school. The Social Sciences Department at Marywood University has now added a new option for students intrigued by the relationship of our past to our present: Public History.
"It's a field where historians work with the public," says Alisha Hoffman-Mirilovich, history instructor at Marywood University. "They can work with documents, archives and museums."
After more than a year of planning, Mrs. Hoffman-Mirilovich says, the first public history courses were offered in the spring 2012 semester and the new social sciences concentration was well received. Previously, history students could choose political science, pre-law or education as their concentration. The new Public History option gives students more choices. It is the only program of its kind in the area.
But that is only the beginning....
Together with faculty member Jayashree Shamanna, Mrs. Hoffman-Mirilovich has been building contacts in the area and has already landed several public history projects for her students. In April, four students planned and organized an exhibit at the Everhart Museum in Scranton, PA, titled, "Titanic 2012: Explore the Legend and 100 Years of History." From the planning stages to the execution, students were directly involved with every aspect of the exhibit.
Through their research, the students discovered local ties to the Titanic, including local newspaper coverage just hours after its sinking as well as news of individuals from Northeastern Pennsylvania who traveled on the ship.
Marywood Public History students have also formed collaborations with the Waverly Community House, in Waverly, PA, and with the Steamtown National Historic Site.
"We have a lot of history here dealing with the collection and archives," says Pat McKnight, park historian and archivist at Steamtown. "The students will be doing some historical research and present a report about the equipment."
Over the years, Steamtown had acquired several train cars that are in dire condition. Hesitating to scrap the cars, McKnight decided to employ the help of Marywood's student historians to photograph, research and document the equipment with the aim of determining their historical value.
"When you're in school, everything is theoretical," says McKnight. "This will give them an opportunity to get some hands-on experience."
McKnight says he hopes to form more relationships with Marywood students in the future.
"Public history is a booming field, and it gives history majors options," Mrs. Hoffman-Mirilovich says. "We were convinced this would be a fantastic addition to our program."
With hands-on community experience and a strong theoretical foundation, Marywood public history students are making positive contributions to the community, helping to preserve the history, heritage and culture of the anthracite region.
"After our first semester, it has already exploded," explains Mrs. Hoffman-Mirilovich. "Now that we've started, it could keep growing."