In recent years, the field of public history has become a viable and vibrant career option for students interested in history. What do public historians do?  In simple terms, they help bring history and historical resources to life for the benefit of the general public. Many avenues exist in public history, ranging from documentary filmmaking to educational programs at museums and historical societies.

With the focused time allowed by the block plan, the Cornell history department supports a number of exciting opportunities related to public history.

Newberry Library Seminar in Chicago

Chicago's Newberry Library is a rich source of original materials related to the city's history and evolution. Cornell undergraduates have the rare opportunity to explore the Newberry's resources and many of Chicago's other historical treasures while developing independent research papers. They also have the dedicated assistance of the museum's outreach staff during this seminar tailored to the block plan.

Newberry Seminar testimonials:

Newberry Group

Public Memory and Public History

This course features mini-internships at local historical societies, libraries,and museums. Students create virtual museum exhibits, using archival materials, that showcase particular aspects of their host institutions' collections. These virtual exhibits have been featured on the Web sites of the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum, the Iowa State Historical Society, and the African American Museum of Iowa.

Public Memory

The Documentary Imagination During the Great Depression

Students first explore historical truth and fiction through an examination of documentaries made of depression era America. Then they become documentary filmmakers themselves, conducting and recording oral history interviews.

In 2009, students focused on the Scattergood Hostel, which hosted refugees from Europe during World War II, as part of the Cedar County Historical Society's commemoration of the 70th anniversary of the hostel. Students created films based on interviews with individuals who worked at the hostel, as well as one of the refugees who stayed there as a child.

Students from past years have worked with the African American Historical Museum of Iowa, interviewing notable African American residents and civil rights activists, such as the late Cecil Reed, the first African American to be elected to the Iowa legislature; the late Dr. Philip Hubbard, the first African American professor at the University of Iowa; and Dr. Percy and Lileah Harris, who broke the color barrier in housing in Cedar Rapids.

Documentary course