Tanesha Pickering was graduated from Ohio State with a B.A. in history in 2014 and is currently Executive Director of the Galion History Center. Keily Cunningham is a 2018 graduate of OSU with a B.A. in history and minor in anthropology who serves as the Galion History Center’s curator. Here, they discuss the skills developed in the history major and their specific application to careers in public history.
How did you become interested in history as an academic discipline? What made you want to major in History?
Tanesha: I’ve always been very interested in History, even from a young age. I was lucky to have some great history teachers in middle/high school that helped keep my interest alive. When I selected a major in college, I just decided to pursue what interested me and that was History. Those were the classes I wanted to take and made me excited. I didn’t have a real plan on what exactly what I wanted to do with my degree while I was in college, I just wanted to pursue something that I enjoyed doing.
Keily: I became interested in the study of History because of my mother. When I was young, my mother took me to all different types of historical places and always kept me engaged in thinking about how history shaped where and who we are today. From these trips, I created an idolization of Historians, as I always was amazed at how much knowledge they were able to remember and have a “mastery” over. This was and still is a goal for myself.
Tell us about your experience taking courses in the Ohio State Department of History. Do you have any particularly vivid memories from your time as undergraduates?
Tanesha: My experience at the OSU Dept. Of History was fabulous. I took the majority of my classes at the Mansfield branch and my professors were phenomenal! Our cohort of history majors was small and we built great friendships with each other and great relationships with our professors who were always encouraging us and so supportive. One of my favorite memories at OSU-M was winning the Writing Across the Curriculum Award and getting to showcase a research paper I did on Wigs in 18th Century Europe. It was a niche fashion topic and kind of nerdy but the judges loved it and I felt like a professional Historian getting to share my research!
Keily: My most vivid memories when I was getting my degree involved intense research. It was a great thing to be able to spread my wings near the end of my years at OSU and use the knowledge that I gained to conduct my own research for my final papers that I completed. For my thesis, involving German Immigrants and their part in creating the American middle class, was able to travel to several historical archives to transcribe and build my own argument towards my theory. It was a great opportunity to be able to have access to these places and make my own decisions on what historical facts to use. This stands out to me as a great memory because I was able to take that first step into being a professional in the History “scene”.
How did your experience as history majors help prepare you for the future, both professionally and personally?
Tanesha: History majors do a lot of research and presentation. It’s not all just memorizing dates and facts. The research skills I developed at OSU are something I use everyday from crafting new tours and exhibitions for the Galion History Center, to doing presentations on local history, to helping local community members find information on their family history.
Keily: I believe the best experience that helped me to prepare for the future in my career is the juggling act that people who work in History have to do with the facts that need to be remembered. Not only does one need to know that Jane Doe was born in 1861, but the context of what was happening in the world at the time. The world history is always going to affect local history, and this is where we can fill in the blanks of history. Working in archives, there are a lot of missing pieces that can be filled in with the context around the piece.
What advice would you give to current or prospective history majors who are interested in careers in public history?
Tanesha: Museums and History Centers always need volunteers! If you think that pursuing a History or Public History degree could be a fit for you, get involved with a local history organization or historic site and see what it’s all about!
Keily: My advice for current or prospective history majors is to be sure to gain as much hands-on experience as one can during your college years. Having the knowledge of how to conduct Public History is great, but I have always felt that the hands-on experience that I gained, during volunteer work and internships, was more valuable than something from a book. When I completed the hands-on work, I was able to figure out what I liked and what I didn’t like when looking for future career paths.