department of history

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Department of History
203 Cockefair Hall

Phone: 816-235-1631
Fax: 816-235-5723

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Master of Arts in History with a Public History Emphasis

The Department of History’s M.A. with a Public History Emphasisstudent working in the archives prepares  students for careers in museums, historical societies, archives, and other cultural institutions. Following the guidelines laid out by the National Council on Public History’s program navigator, the emphasis combines rigorous instruction in historical research with a practical training in transferable, professional skills. The emphasis also provides students with several opportunities for real-world work experience, taking advantage of Kansas City’s many historical institutions to offer funded and unfunded internships.   All students accepted to the department's M.A. are eligible to earn a Public History Emphasis. But they must first declare their intent to be on the Public History Emphasis track by filling out the Public History Emphasis form. You can find the Public History Emphasis Declaration Form here.

The Curriculum

Course Number Course Name Credit Hours
Foundational Courses    
        HIST 5581GR How to History I 3
        HIST 5582GR How to History II 3
Graduate Readings Colloquia x 3   9
        HIST 5585GR Colloquium in US History
        HIST 5586GR Colloquium in World History
Research Seminar    
        HIST 5587RA Research Seminar 3
Public History Core    
        HIST 5579 Public History: Theory & Method 3
        HIST 5592 Internships 5
Concentration Electives   9
        Picked in consultation with committee    
        HIST 5990 Capstone 1
  Total Credit: 36

All students in the department’s M.A. program take a number of foundational courses that train students in the standards and practices of the discipline. How to History 1 and 2 (HIST 5581GR and 5582GR, respectively) introduce students to the major theoretical schools and methods of historical research. Alongside these introductory courses, students are also required to take three Graduate Readings Colloquia (HIST 5585GR in US History or 5586GR in World History) in order to become familiar with the historiographical trends in their region of focus. Finally every student takes one Research Seminar (HIST5587RA) where they spend a semester conducting original primary source research.

In addition to these common courses, students in the Public History Emphasis are also required to take a common core of courses related to the practice of public history. The first is Public History: Theory and Method (HIST5579), which introduces students to basic interpretive practices as well as current and established trends in the field. Second, students are expected to complete five credit hours of internships during their time at UMKC (HIST5592), which can be taken at any point during the year. Previous internship placements include:

Arrowhead Art Collection, Kansas City Chiefs Football Club City of Kansas City Historic Preservation Office
National World War I Museum & Monument Truman Presidential Library & Museum
National Archives and Records Administration Missouri Valley Room, Kansas City Public Library
American Royal Museum State Historical Society of Missouri
Mahaffie Stagecoach House and Farmstead Marr Sound Archives
LaBudde Special Collections, UMKC Kansas City Museum
Wornall-Majors House Johnson County Museum
Eisterhold & Associates Exhibit Design Midwest Center for Holocaust Education

For more examples of places where students have interned, see the UMKC HistoryMaker blog. (Students who received funded internships as part of their financial package are exempt from having to find additional institutions internship opportunities. For more information, see Funding below.)

Concentrationsstudent working in the archives
Graduates from the Public History Emphasis in the M.A.program will have both titles printed upon their diplomas. Yet public history is an exceptionally broad term, encompassing everything from National Park rangers to documentary filmmakers. For this reason the Public History Emphasis allows students to take 9 credit hours of electives in one of two concentrations: historical administration and archival methods.

There are no required courses for these concentrations. Rather, students will consult with their M.A. committees to determine what kinds of courses best fit their desired career goals. Concentration elective courses, however, will tend to emphasize professional skills over historical content. Potential courses for each concentration include:

Historical Administration
●      HIST5593: Museum Studies
●      HIST5597: Public History and New Media
●      PUB-ADM5555A: Organizing for Successful Fundraising
●      PUB-ADM5555F: Prospect Research and Proposal Writing
●      EDUC-C&I5506: Curriculum Design
●      GEOG5507: Archaeological Resources Management

Archival Methods
●      HIST5591: Archival Methods
●      HIST5597: Public History and New Media
●      HIST5570: Intro to Material Culture
●      ILST7313: Managing Collections and Access
●      ILST7312: Principles of Cataloging and Classification
●      ART-HIST5573: Visual Arts Administration

All students are required to orally defend a final project before completing the program. This project can be, but is not limited to being, an exhibit, walking tour, digital project, documentary film, oral history, archival collection finding aid, conservation plan, national register nomination, or a journal-length article of original research focused on some aspect of public history. At a minimum, students will defend an interpretive plan of 8,000-9,000 words, complete with wireframes and mockups. (Students wishing to write a journal-length article will adhere to the department’s guidelines for professional papers, which is 10,000-12,000 words.) In this interpretive plan, students will:
●     Summarize the literature(s) relating to this area of research. Students will take a critical position in their work and engage questions about chronology, bibliography, major themes, and interpretations.
●     Narrate a creative and compelling public project grounded in primary sources that communicates a scholarly argument to a public audience. This includes providing the text or script for a project.
●     Explain and justify the project’s theory and methods.
●     Identify the project’s target audience and provide a plan to reach them.
While an interpretive plan of a potential public history project fulfills the requirements for the Public History degree, students can (and are encouraged to) receive approval to have the installation of an actual public history project for which they are the primary curator count as their capstone project. In this case, the length of the written material and interpretive plan will be worked out with the student’s M.A. committee. All decisions regarding the final project must be made with approval of the student’s advisory committee.

All candidates for the M.A. in History with a Public History Emphasis are eligible for the department’s traditional Graduate Teaching Assistantship. Information about applying for GTA positions can be found on the department’s website. But in addition to teaching assistantships, students in the Public History Emphasis are also eligible for a number of funded internships opportunities the department negotiates. Like GTAships, funded internships provide students with a monthly stipend and tuition remission. Unlike GTAs, however, funded interns will work twenty hours a week from August through May at a local museum or historical society. Ongoing funded internships currently exist at the Kansas City Chiefs Football Club’s Arrowhead Art Program, UMKC’s LaBudde Special Collections, and the Marr Sound Archive. Other internships become available every year based on projects.
student working in the archivesStudents wishing to be considered for a funded internship must fill out an application (available here) and submit it to the director of the Public History Emphasis, Dr. Chris Cantwell (

Students who receive a 10 month funded internship are exempt from having to find additional institutions to intern at as required by the Public History Emphasis. For every funded internship a student receives, they can register for 3 credit hours of HIST5592. Students can therefore complete the program’s internship requirement through their funded internships. Note, however, students are still required to complete five credit hours of HIST5592 in order to successfully complete the program.

Graduates of the department have gone on to find positions like museum technicians at the Truman Presidential Library and Museum, curators at the Johnson County Museum, and archivists at the Jackson County Historical Society.