Unwritten Histories

The Unwritten Rules of History

Program Spotlight: UVic’s Master of Arts in Public History

public history ma


As many of you know, one of the primary objectives of Unwritten Histories is to shine a light on the teaching and learning of history. With that in mind, I’m proud to introduce a new series here on Unwritten Histories, called “Spotlight.” In each post, I will highlight a different history program or department. Canada is home to a number of amazing history programs and departments, but it’s difficult to understand the differences between them just by looking at their websites. So, in this series, I will be taking readers behind the scenes, so to speak, and talking about the features that each program or department has to offer. While I will be concentrating on Canadian universities to begin with, I do hope to expand this to American and international universities as well, and eventually to also include related programs and departments (like archaeology, museum studies, etc…).

As many of you also know, my Ph.D is from UVic, so it makes sense that I should start with my alma mater! In this first “Spotlight” post, we’re going to be talking with my former supervisor, Dr. Lynne Marks, about the new Master of Arts program in Public History, premiering September 2017.


Program Breakdown

University University of Victoria (located in Victoria, BC)
Department History
Program Name M.A. in History (Public History Stream)
Program Website http://www.uvic.ca/humanities/history/future-students/graduate/ma-program/index.php
Graduate Adviser Dr. Sara Beam
Total Credits Required 16.5 credits
Estimated Tuition and Fees (per semester) –       $2,632 (Canadian citizens)

–       $2,985 (international students)

Course Requirements –       HSTR 500: Historiography

–       HSTR 515A: Public History

–       HA 486A: Museum Principles and Practices 1: Communities, Curatorship, and Collections or CH 560: Cultural Heritage Stewardship and Sustainability *Depending on course availability

–       HA 487A: Heritage Resource Management or CH 561: Social Engagement or CH 562: Curatorial Planning and Practice *Depending on course availability

–       2 graduate history courses (may include field school course)

NB: HA and CH courses are part of the Cultural Resource Management program, which is jointly run by the Department of Art History and Visual Studies and the Division of Continuing Studies.

Other Requirements –     work experience for course credit (HSTR 801)

–     major research paper, 40 to 50 pages on a public history topic, based on primary source research, or a website, exhibit, or other public history project. (  HSTR 597)

Estimated Completion Time 16 months (full time)
Application Requirements –       Application to graduate studies

–       One-page statement of research intent (statement of intent)

–       All transcripts

–       2 letters of reference

–       Writing Sample

–       English-Language Proficiency (if required)

–       Also advisable to contact faculty members with similar research interests about possible supervision.

Application Deadline(s) –       February 1st (to be considered for funding)

–       June 30th otherwise

Admission Requirements –       A bachelor’s degree (preferably in history)

–       Minimum overall grade average of B+ (6.0 GPA) or minimum average of A- (7.0 GPA) in the final year

–       International students: TOEFL (TWE included) score of at least 600 on the paper-based exam

–       Applicants with non-history backgrounds may first be required to complete a year of undergraduate study in history before being admitted

–       Significant experience in community-based or professional historical engagement may be sufficient if previously mentioned requirements are not met.


Interview with Dr. Lynne Marks
What was the inspiration behind this new program?

There were a few sources of inspiration for our new MA stream in public history.   One was that we were concerned that the job market for those with graduate History degrees could be difficult, and we wanted to provide a more “hands-on” degree.  As well, increasing numbers of our faculty were becoming involved in community-engaged scholarship, and we had started to offer a graduate course in public history, which was immediately very popular with our students.  Finally, we became aware that there was an excellent program at UVic in cultural resource management, through Art History and Continuing Studies, that offered applied training for museum-based and cultural heritage work, and we thought it would be wonderful to develop a stream to combine these skills with historical training.


How does this program differ from a traditional master’s degree in history?

The MA stream in Public History includes “traditional” history courses, and also provides a public history focus, through our required course in public history, as well as two courses in cultural resource management and a three month practicum in a public history setting such as a museum, archives, or heritage site.   Students will also have the opportunity to do a major research project, which can be a website, museum exhibit, or video, or could take other forms related to public history.

Public History MA


What is the difference between public history and other fields, like museum studies or library and archive science?
​The way public history will be taught in our Public History stream is different from fields such as museum studies or library and archival science because of  its breadth (the range of public engagements with history that we consider and facilitate in the program) and its historical depth.

In the public history seminar, for example, that will be part of the public history stream, we have had students do applied work in a variety of settings: students have worked with the provincial archives to produce television segments featuring their holdings; they have written historical materials for a regional tourism office; they have collaborated with a local religious institution (the oldest synagogue in Canada) to digitize their historical records; and they have supported the curation of museum exhibits at a variety of museums, at institutions from the local to the national level. Because the program includes students working in a wide range of public historical settings, our seminar discussions of public history are similarly wide-ranging, as we ask very broadly about the significance of history in public. Our public history stream will build upon these diverse collaborations to maintain wide-ranging opportunities within public history.

Our public history students will also acquire the in-depth historical training of our regular history MA students. While they will do important applied assignments, and learn applied skills, they are also being trained as historians, with geographic and temporal specialization. This depth of historical knowledge and their enhanced skill in telling the stories of the past will complement more technical and practical training to make them particularly able to contribute to deepening public appreciation of and engagement with history.

Having said that, if potential students definitely know that they want employment in library and archives they might want to look at the graduate programs specific to those professions.  Anyone interested in Museum Studies would get a mix of practical training, theoretical background and research and historical training in our program while a Museum Studies MA would focus more on practical skills.  I think the two programs suit different kinds of students and employers, with our program offering the kind of well-rounded public history education not currently available west of Ontario.  We are also aware that some students may choose to take our public history MA, which provides a graduate credential in public history, and then complement it with a shorter certificate or diploma in cultural resource management.


What kinds of students has this program been designed for?
This program has been designed for students graduating with a history major, who are looking for a more “hands-on”, community-based approach to history, and a graduate degree that leads more directly to history-related employment, as well as for individuals who have already been working in the public history field (in galleries, museums, archives and heritage sites), who are looking for a graduate degree in a field related to their employment.

Public History MA


How will the internships/work experience positions/practicums aspect of the program work? Will these be arranged by the department or the university, or will students have to arrange for them individually?

The internships will be arranged by the department, in co-operation with the cultural resource management program at UVic.  Some of the internships will be provided through UVic’s co-op program.  The latter will be paid, but more effort will be required of the student, who will have to apply for and be interviewed for these co-op positions (from positions advertised through UVic’s co-op program).  Some of the other internships for this program will also be paid.   Paid internships will be full-time for three months.  Unpaid internships will be half-time for three months, generally over the summer.


What makes your public history program different from others offered in Canada and elsewhere? 

Our public history MA stream will be the only public history graduate offering west of Ontario.  Our department has particular strengths in community-based public history related to social justice issues, such as the study of racism and immigration, diasporic communities, colonialism, poverty and Indigenous histories, as well as in Northwest coast environmental history and the study of commemoration.   We also have particular strengths in digital history.

Which instructors will be leading this program and why?  What kind of expertise as public historians do they bring to the program?

Students in the Public History Stream can work with any of our faculty members; the department as a whole has endorsed this new direction. Ten of our faculty work directly in the field of public history, in the areas identified above. The three faculty members who will be taking a particular lead have been teaching the graduate public history course in our current program and have particularly strong expertise in this field.  They are Dr. John Lutz, with an extensive and award-winning background in digital historical work, including the Great Unsolved Mysteries in Canadian History project (http://canadianmysteries.ca/en/index.php), as well as in community-based research with Indigenous communities, Dr. Jordan Stanger-Ross, the principal investigator of a 2.5 million SSHRC community-engaged study, Landscapes of Injustice (http://landscapesofinjustice.com/), which examines the history of the forced sale of Japanese-Canadian-owned property during the 1940s,​ in close collaboration with a range of museums and community organizations across Canada, and Dr. Kristin Semmens, whose research has focused on issues on commemoration, and who teaches both graduate and undergraduate public history courses.


What kind of positions are you hoping your graduates will move into?

We are hoping that they will move into positions in museums, archives, heritage sites, galleries, media organizations as well as work relating to history and heritage with both government and private organizations.  A range of BC museums and heritage organizations have expressed interest in our public history MA stream and stated that there is a need for graduates from such a program in their organizations.


What local resources (museums, community organizations, etc…) will you be using as part of the program?
We have especially good connections with the Royal BC Museum, which is excited about our Public History stream, ​and plans to involve students in practicums. In our public history seminar, we have also worked with the Canadian War Museum, the Jewish Museum and Archives of British Columbia, the Maritime Museum of British Columbia, the Nikkei National Museum, Emily Carr House and Tourism Victoria. Members of the department are also currently working on projects in connection with specific BC First Nations communities, the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria, the Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21 (Halifax), the Oral History Centre (Winnipeg), the Royal Ontario Museum, and a significant number of smaller local and regional museums across British Columbia.


What types of field schools can UVic students participate in?
They currently have access to three field schools — the long-running graduate Ethnohistory Field School run by Dr. John Lutz and Dr. Keith Carlson of the U of Saskatchewan, in Stó:lō territory in the Fraser Valley, where students complete community-engaged projects identified by the Stó:lō​ community, the Colonial Legacies Field School run by Dr. Elizabeth Vibert, in which students travel to South Africa to explore issues of poverty and colonialism in both urban and rural South Africa, and the I Witness Field School, which explores issues of Holocaust commemoration in Europe.  The latter field school is run by the Department of Germanic and Slavic Studies, but many History students take this course.  These courses can be taken as one of the two “regular” history courses that are part of the public history MA stream, and fit very well with a public history focus.


What will the two courses on Cultural Resources Management involve?
We will direct students to different courses in this area, depending on their background. For students with little practical experience in the field, we will encourage them to take two key introductory courses, the Museum Principles and Practices I course​, which “covers the foundations of museum practice and goes on to explore the various ways in which museums create and preserve knowledge through their curatorial and collections management functions” and the introductory course in Heritage Resource Management which provides “an introduction to the principles and practices of heritage conservation. The concept of heritage has expanded to encompass historic districts, cultural landscapes and living heritage as well as buildings, structures and gardens.”   The course examines “the types of strategies employed to safeguard historic places and the role of heritage practitioners.”
For students who have worked extensively in public history settings we will direct them to more advanced and specialized cultural resource management courses offered at UVic.

The UVic history department has a great reputation for their work in digital history. Will this be a component of the new degree, and if so, in what way?

public history ma

Sacred Sites: Dishonour and Healing website

Digital historical work is by now a significant focus of public history, and we’re delighted to be able to foster digital work as part of our new stream, both within courses and in students’ final projects, with the expertise of various faculty members. There is precedent for this within our program already. Two students in our public history seminar created a digital exhibit, “Sacred Sites: Dishonour and Healing,” on the desecration of Jewish and indigenous gravesites (http://jewishmuseum.ca/exhibit/sacred-sites/), which won the Peter G. Lidell Humanities Computing Award.

public history ma

Birth of a Regiment: Princess Patricia’s Light Infantry, 1914-1919 website

One of our MA students, Jim Kempling, submitted an outstanding thesis in the form of website (http://www.birthofaregiment.com/birth-of-a-regiment/background/background/), and other students in the department are now following suit with digital projects of their own. For example, students with the Landscapes of Injustice project recently launched a digital forum on the relation between scholarship and activism (https://scholarshipandactivism.wordpress.com/). Dr. John Lutz brings particular expertise to supervising digital projects, and other faculty also have considerable experience in this area, including Dr. Zhongping Chen and Dr. John Price, who have directed various website projects and most recently ​led the Chinese Canadian Artifacts Project, which combines digital history and museum studies by making “accessible in a single, searchable database over 6000 Chinese Canadian artefacts held by 16 local and regional museums throughout British Columbia” (https://ccap.uvic.ca).   We’re excited to teach digital history skills and offer support and direction for the digital historical creations of our incoming students in public history.


A big thank you to Dr. Marks for agreeing to participate in this interview! I don’t know about you guys, but I wish I could go back to school to do this program. You know, if it wasn’t ridiculous to get an MA in history when I already have a PhD in the same field. Sigh. If you are interested in featuring your department or program on this series, please get in touch with me at unwritten histories [at] gmail [dot] com. And if you enjoyed this blog post, please consider sharing it on Facebook, Twitter, or any other social media website. Finally, don’t forget to check back in on Friday for another edition of Upcoming Publications! See you then!

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  1. Good post, Andrea. Athabasca University has a similar program and it seems like programs of this type are nice blend of employable skills with academic study in history.

    • Andrea Eidinger

      January 18, 2017 at 6:07 pm

      Thank you! I’m glad you liked it. It is definitely great to see more departments emphasizing this. Especially since enrolment numbers in history are dropping since it’s considered a useless degree.

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