The Public History Article
Thinking about the article
Before developing your article proposal, you should first set up your committee (link). Your article should be related, in some way, to your internship (if you did more than one, it could relate to one or more of them), and it should be publishable in a peer reviewed journal. (Actual publication, however, is not required to complete our program.) In deciding on a topic, you should think about what others in the field of public history might learn from. Once you’ve identified a topic, you should ask yourself: “What’s the big deal” about it? What “big news” do you have to offer on this subject that others haven’t? The article should offer advice, analysis, or interpretation, or all three, that would be of value to a reader of a peer reviewed academic journal.
The article may grow directly out of your internship, though it should not simply be a description of what you did or how the institution you worked for did something. For example, it might be about how museums (or archives, or sites, etc.) might improve their practices in a particular area that you worked on or how museums or sites (not just the one you worked at) interpret a particular topic. Or if your work was somehow on the cutting edge, you could discuss your work as a case study for a new approach. For example:
A student who worked at a local museum that was trying to figure out how best to publicize new exhibits wrote an article about how museums nationwide use social media to publicize their events.
A student who assisted with an exhibit on the history of education at a local museum wrote a paper about how museums nationwide interpret the history of education.
A student who worked at a National Battlefield wrote a paper about how the National Park Service interprets the Civil War.
A student who worked for a history museum in Los Angeles wrote about how the museum handled a controversy that arose when it acquired another museum that was also a significant historic site.
Another approach is to take a subject you worked on and develop it into more of a research project. For example:
A student who worked on the preservation of an adobe building wrote a history of how Portland cement came to replace lime plaster as an outer coating on adobe buildings in the 1930s.
A student who worked at a national historic site that included a Civil War battlefield wrote on the significance of women soldiers in the Civil War.
A student who wrote a history of a site for the National Park Service turned one chapter—based on original research on a hitherto unknown part of that history—into an article.
If your internship was in an archive, you could write a history based on an archival collection you processed.
In thinking about your article, look at actual peer reviewed journals in the relevant field(s) (for example, The Public Historian, CRM, Common Ground, American Archivist, Museum, Curator: The Museum Journal, Heritage and Society, Oral History Review, or perhaps The New Mexico Historical Review or another regional publication). Your advisor can help you identify appropriate journals. Look at the journals’ guidelines for submissions, which will specify the types of articles they solicit, the acceptable length, the citation style, and so forth. Then look at actual articles in several issues of the target journals and note what types of articles they carry, the kind of focus they generally have (case studies? pragmatic practice? theory? national or regional breadth?), the tone of the writing, and so forth. Find the journal that’s most suitable to your topic, approach, and style, or tailor your article to suit the journal you want to aim for. Your intent is ultimately to submit your article for publication, since a publication on your resume will improve your employment prospects. You should think about where you are most likely to find success in publishing and how you want to position yourself as you enter the job market. You might choose one long shot that typically carries articles written by senior professionals and one or more less-prestigious journals, where newly minted public historians are more likely to be published.
Your proposal should be written in a clear, direct manner and should follow the outline below; you may want to use the main points of the outline (indicated with Roman numerals) as headings. The purpose of the proposal is to guide you in thinking about the development of the article, compel you to do the preliminary work necessary to organize your research and writing project, and help your committee understand your project and offer guidance. Your argument and approach will likely change as you research and write your article, but the proposal helps you start on a firm foundation.
This proposal should be written and defended shortly after you complete your internship and before you begin writing the article. DO NOT expect to write and defend your proposal in the same semester that you plan to produce the article and take your oral exam. Every article requires some research, and you need to allow yourself the time to get your committee’s advice, do the necessary research, and write and revise the article.
OUTLINE of ARTICLE PROPOSAL
I. Overview of internship (write this in narrative form)
a. Where did you do your internship? (If you did more than one, focus on the one(s) that is (are) relevant to the article.)
b. What were your principle responsibilities?
c. What was your most significant project?
d. What major lessons did you learn?
e. How does your internship relate to your article? Why did you choose this topic?
II. Overview of the article (write in narrative form)
a. What is the article’s “big idea” (that is, the general subject and its significance)?
b. What is your working thesis statement (the specific argument you think you will make)? This should be no more than one paragraph long, and it should be clear and concise. The thesis statement is the most important part of your proposal. It must be more than a statement of fact. It is the original claim that you intend to prove with evidence. The thesis statement provides the framework for your article, and it should offer “big news” to the profession.
c. What topics/themes/subjects will be covered? What examples will you use?
d. How will this contribute to knowledge in the field of public history? (This requires that you know what’s been written by others on the topic.)
e. What journal will you aim this at?
III. Outline of Article (suggested)
IV. Plan for completion
a. Research necessary for the article (narrative description).
b. Annotated bibliography of the primary sources and secondary literature you will draw on.
c. Research and writing schedule – try to be realistic.