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A Hands-On Approach to History

The Master of Arts in Public History opens the door to careers in museums, cultural tourism, community history, historic preservation, cultural resource management, libraries, archives, new media, and many other professional fields. In this program, students explore how audiences understand the past while developing research and interpretive skills to enrich the public's understanding of history. Students learn the best practices in public history and develop expertise in their chosen historical field, learning how professional historians conduct scholarly analysis. Students graduate with a record of original research and a command of historiographical literature.

Washington, DC

Design Your MA to Develop Your Expertise

The MA in Public History prepares students for an exciting career with historical knowledge, research skills, and hands-on practical experience. Students have the freedom to develop their own unique set of skills and expertise, pursuing internships and classwork in fields of their choice, developed with their academic advisor. Full-time students complete the 33-credit program in 18 months. Please see Frequently Asked Questions for prospective students.

The program prides itself on a commitment to mentorship, collegiality, and public service. As part of AU's public history community, students explore the capital city and beyond, engaging in class trips to local cultural institutions. They build teamwork and leadership skills by engaging in service projects. Students further their academic and professional careers and gain networking experience by attending national public history conferences and working with high-profile historical institutions. With the close support and guidance of AU's academic community you will acquire the tools to succeed in this dynamic field.

Coursework expands students' historical knowledge and provides a solid foundation in historiography. Core courses include a seminar on public history, a practicum, and an internship. Students develop skills with courses in oral history or history and new media, in addition to conducting original research combining academic and public history during research seminars.

Study History Where It Happens

In Washington, DC, history is being made every day. The unparalleled professional and intellectual opportunities offered by the nation's capital make AU the ideal place to study public history. Students have access to renowned museums and archives — such as the Smithsonian, the National Archives, and the Library of Congress — where they can further their research, explore career options, and make a unique impact on the field.

In public history practicum, students engage in hands-on learning and assist in the development of interpretive programming and exhibits for high-profile institutions such as the National Park Service, the Historical Society of Washington, National Public Radio, and the White House Historical Association. As part of the Washington, DC Consortium, American University's students are able to take courses at colleges and universities throughout the DC metropolitan area, providing the opportunity to work with a variety of faculty in diverse programs and fields of study.

Students get a head start on their careers by interning at one of the city's many museums, archives, or historic sites. Local partnerships help students find internships with the area's most important institutions and employers. Whether students are interested in working at government institutions or a small nonprofits, DC has something for you. We also offer yearly fellowship opportunities with with a variety of partner institutions.

Learn from Our History-Making Faculty

At AU, students work closely with experienced scholars whose work blurs the lines between the academic and the public. Students learn from respected professors of AU's Public History program, faculty across the History department, and Public Historians in Residence who are practitioners in the field. Our faculty’s variety of research interests and areas of expertise offers students a wide field of research options.

Explore the Possibilities

AU Public History graduates work for museums, archives, historical societies, and related institutions. With a strong curriculum, prime location, and connections with professional organizations across the United States, graduates are well prepared to begin highly rewarding careers. In the DC area, AU alumni work at the Smithsonian Institution, the National Archives and Records Administration, the National Trust for Historic Preservation, and President Lincoln’s College. Graduates find positions nationwide in reputable institutions such as the Southern Oral History Program, the Nantucket Preservation Trust, and the Rhode Island Historical Society.

In and around DC

  • American Historical Association, Deputy Director
  • Anacostia Community Museum, Program Coordinator
  • Coalition to Protect America's National Parks, Communications and Advocacy Director
  • DC Oral History Collaborative, Consulting Oral Historian and Project Manager
  • HumanitiesDC, Curator of Digital Collections
  • National Archives and Records Administration, Archives Technician
  • National Museum of African American History and Culture, Curatorial Assistant at the Earl W. and Amanda Stafford Center for African American Media Arts
  • NPR, Historian and Grantwriter for Research, Archives, and Data Strategy
  • National Trust for Historic Preservation, Associate Director of Publications and Programs
  • White House Historical Association, Education Manager

Around the Country

  • Atlanta History Center (Atlanta, GA), Exhibition Project Manager
  • Bainbridge Island Historical Museum (Bainbridge Island, WA), Executive Director
  • Maryland Historical Society (Baltimore, MD), Digital Education Manager
  • Owls Head Transportation Museum (Owls Head, ME), Curator
  • Thinc Design (New York, NY), Interpretive Planner
  • University at Albany Archives and Special Collections (Albany, NY), Supervisory Archivist
The National Museum of African American History and Culture. Photo by Alan Karchmer.

Alumni ·

AU Alumni Preserving Black History at the Smithsonian

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Melyssa Laureano

DC Preservation LeagueMelyssa Laureano

As the DC Preservation Leagues' Programs Associate, I administer the bulk of the organization's educational programming and serve as staff lead for DCPL’s Education Committee and collaborates with committee volunteers to organize educational activities about historic preservation in DC. These programs include tours of historic sites, workshops, and lectures. I also manages DCPL’s social media presence across a variety of platforms.

My favorite part of my AU Public History experience was… Being able to learn and grow professionally as a public historian with colleagues in my cohort. We learned from our professors, but also one another. This was especially true during our practicum, where we worked in groups to create community projects and exhibits using the Humanities Truck.

Mia Owens

MA, Public History, '22
Mia Owens, Public History.

As a public historian, I wanted my work with the fellowship to provide not only information, but also materials for the community to continue learning about and engaging in conversation with AU's history and legacy in relation to slavery. Through the subject guide, I hope that students, faculty, and staff at AU can build upon the working group's preliminary findings to expand our understanding of AU history and connections to slavery and settler colonialism.

Mia Owens has left behind an important legacy at American University: a virtual subject guide, Influence of Slavery on American University, which students and researchers can use to learn about the historical influences of slavery on the AU campus and throughout the metropolitan area.

Mia was the inaugural Public History Fellow in the History of Slavery and Its Legacies in Washington, DC, a two-year graduate fellowship created through a partnership between AU’s Antiracist Research and Policy Center, the Master of Arts in Public History Program, and the White House Historical Association. During her fellowship, she spent two years conducting research for projects related to the history of enslaved people in the nation’s capital. Her work resulted in a series of articles that promote a deeper understanding of slavery in DC, as well as the subject guide, which will give future researchers the tools to build upon her work.

Mia is currently working as a research intern at the Smithsonian Institution’s Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage and as a research associate with the 1882 Foundation, focusing on local Chinese American history and historic resources.

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