How We Grow: A Supportive Community

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Editor’s Note: This post is part of a series that illustrates the role of the NCPH Endowment in supporting and growing the field. To find out more about how the NCPH Endowment Fund supports the work of public historians and to make your pledge to the 2020 Vision campaign, please visit:

In this post we hear from Abby Gautreau, an Assistant Professor of History at Grand Valley State University, who reflects on how NCPH has provided her with valuable resources for professional growth, early-career support, and a space to work through the emotional labor of public history alongside supportive friends and colleagues.

Photo of Abigail Gautreau

Photo courtesy of Abby Gautreau

Why are you a member of NCPH?

I am a member of NCPH for a number of reasons. I became a member during graduate school because Rebecca Conard, our then-program director and a former NCPH president, told us to join, and I had no reason to doubt her judgment. I’m still a member because NCPH has become my professional home. I’m currently an Assistant Professor of (Public) History at Grand Valley State University, but I spent a couple of years on the job market before winning that particular lottery. When I was looking for work, NCPH was my connection to the field. Through annual meetings I was able to connect with my peers across the country, forming professional and personal relationships that both grounded me and helped me develop the skills I needed to string together the gigs that eventually led to a job. For example, in 2016 I got a part-time job as a content developer at the Tennessee Historical Society, which was developing a new website. I ended up creating a temporary site so we could register students and teachers for Tennessee History Day while we waited on the developers. I was able to do this because I had attended a THATCamp at an annual meeting where Sharon Leon (NCPH Secretary/Treasurer and digital historian par excellence) convinced me to develop a standalone website, and someone there mentioned online coding classes. 

Beyond these practical benefits, NCPH has also become an anchor for the emotional labor of public history. As practitioners, our work can be exhausting and isolating. I love doing projects with my students and partners, but those same projects often require many hours of my own time doing revisions before they’re truly completed, and my own research involves engaging with the traumatic past. Through NCPH, I’ve made friends who understand the field and are always open to listening and offering advice. The community has become an invaluable resource to me, to the point where annual meetings feel more like a reunion and a chance to meet new people than work (though I always learn a lot!). 

How has the NCPH Endowment helped you in your work as a public historian?

My most direct connection to the Endowment is through the fund’s support for Mini-Cons and expanded staff. Last fall I was able to bring a group of undergraduate students to the Careers in History Symposium in Indianapolis, and it’s difficult to quantify the impact this had on all of the students who attended. For many of my students, it was their first chance to talk to graduate students in the field, and it was a welcome opportunity to meet public historians working outside of Western Michigan. These Mini-Cons are possible in large part due to a growing Endowment, which allows NCPH to provide more opportunities for members to connect outside of the annual meeting. These meetings also create opportunities for potential new members and future public historians to encounter NCPH on a smaller scale.

In what ways would you like to see NCPH further support public historians?

I would like to see NCPH continue to grow in thoughtful ways. I realize that I’m part of the explosive growth of the organization (since I joined in 2012 membership has grown by 45%), and I’ve been impressed with the way that NCPH has created new opportunities for community building within the field. As co-chair of the Long-Range Planning Committee, I’m excited to see where NCPH is as we meet our goals in regard to both creating a more inclusive membership and organizing annual meetings that offer more opportunities for collaboration with local host communities.

~Abby Gautreau is an Assistant Professor of History at Grand Valley State University.

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