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Faculty Q&A: Taking History to the People

Mar 19, 2015

When most of us think about history, things like the Roman Empire or World War II might come to mind. But whether you’re talking about the Spanish Inquisition or Ponce de Leon landing in St. Augustine, there is one aspect that connects them all, and that’s the area that Kelly Enright finds the most fascinating: people.

Enright, an assistant professor of history at Flagler College, serves as the director of the college’s new Public History program, a field that Enright says looks to expand our knowledge of the social and cultural experiences of people in the past by collecting things like oral histories and family photos instead of focusing just on the big names and events.

Under her leadership, Public History students have collected stories from the community to create the St. Augustine Memory Project and worked with the Andrew Young Foundation to create the Civil Rights Library of St. Augustine, which makes available to the public historical material documenting local race relations during the 1960s.

After the Public History program’s first graduates were granted degrees this past December, Flagler College Magazine sat down with Enright to talk about the field and one of Flagler’s newest majors.

Q. First off, to an outsider, the name public history might not mean much. Can you explain what that means?

A. Public history is history that is both for and of the public. The field interprets academic research in a way that is accessible to a larger audience. It’s not condensed or “dumbed-down,” but presented in a way that makes it relevant to people’s lives, experiences and heritage.

Public historians are also people who archive and preserve historic documents, artifacts and buildings so that they are accessible to the public.

Q. What drew you to this field?

A. After college, I worked in publishing for a few years, but knew I wanted to think, research and write at a higher level. I was always drawn to archaeology and spent a summer in Honduras excavating at the Mayan site of Copan. While in the field, I envied the people working in the town’s museum, so when I returned to the states, I enrolled in a master’s program in museum anthropology. This allowed me to intern, then work, at some of New York City’s bigger institutions, and when I went for my Ph.D., I still worked in a museum part time and supervised interns throughout New Jersey. It really appealed to the diversity of my interests.

Q. Tell me a little about the history of the program at Flagler.

A. Before my time at Flagler, Assistant Professors Wayne Riggs and Leslee Keys surveyed community resources and pushed through the minor in Public History in 2011. And Assistant Professor Steve Voguit has been teaching this class for many years and students have collected a variety of stories from the community. I was hired in 2012 to supplement the strengths of the existing faculty and to create curriculum for a major in the field. That major was implemented during the 2014-15 academic year. We just graduated our first two majors in December.

Q. One of the things we mention a lot is the inclusion of the community in many of these projects. How has the St. Augustine community taken to it?

A. I’ve received wonderful support from the community. In particular, for a project that is now called the St. Augustine Memory Project ( I wanted to find a way to include the community in its history. … Being in St. Augustine gives students a variety of opportunities with very little competition for positions. So location is truly one of our program’s highlights. Our focus on community-engaged projects in a community actively interpreting and collecting its history is a very strong point of the program.

Q.  For a student who majors in Public History, what can the future hold? What job opportunities are available?

A. Our majors can choose from a variety of job opportunities in museums, state and national parks, historic sites, government agencies, libraries, tourism businesses and non-profits. They can do interpretation and work directly with visitors or be behind the scenes cataloging artifacts. Our program encourages students to take courses in a variety of disciplines, including business, so even jobs in fundraising and management are possibilities.


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