The Economics and Ethics of Internships at the Center of Public History Education
- Alexandra Lord, National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution
- Gregory Smoak, American West Center, University of Utah
- Carolyn Barske
- Steven Burg
- Andrea Burns
- Kim Campbell
- Caridad de la Vega
- Jennifer Dickey
- Robert M. Ehrenreich
- Scot French
- Julie Holcomb
- Chanell Lowery
- Elizabeth Worley Medley
Because internships are an integral part of every undergraduate and graduate public history program, the economics and actual benefit of internships must be considered critically. Most public history students intern with non-profit organizations and government agencies which are not required to pay them. For decades, these institutions, many of which face shrinking budgets, have benefited from unpaid labor while effectively shifting the economic burden for these positions to interns themselves.
Although rarely discussed, this practice raises serious concerns about the high cost of public history degrees, the future of the profession, and the expectations the job market imposes on students. Students of modest means who cannot rely on family support and must pay their own way may, for example, be “priced out” of prestigious internships at institutions far from their homes. Does this practice threaten to make public history an increasingly elitist profession? And what are the effects of internships on new public history professionals? Does the ready availability of unpaid labor drive down their earnings or even reduce their job opportunities? Do internships also impose a burden on practitioners who are forced to assume teaching duties that may be beyond the scope of their jobs?
This working group will bring together public history educators and representatives of institutions large and small to weigh the costs and benefits of internship programs as they currently exist while also raising questions as to whether internships help or hinder the creation of a diverse workforce.