Public/Applied History  Interviews


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dotWhat to Expect

Expect to do a lot of reading and writing if you decide to go into an archival studies program.

During Jackie Nicholls' master's program, two seminar-style classes made up her weekly course schedule. Each was three hours long.

"The remainder of the week, you are doing readings and writing," says Nicholls.

She says she had to read anywhere from 500 to 1,000 pages each week to get ready for the seminar classes.

And since her program is so small -- it only accepts a handful of students each year -- unprepared students couldn't hide. So you can't afford to slack off.

"Compared to my undergrad [degree], it was a really heavy course load," she says.

Another difference from the undergraduate years was researching and writing a major academic thesis. "It was the hardest academic thing I have ever done," she recalls.

Still, she could not be happier with the choice she made. The intensity is actually an advantage, she says. "You are completely immersed in this stuff," she says.

David McCartney is a product of the archival studies program at the University of Maryland. "For me, grad school was a lot easier than undergrad, because I was in a field I absolutely loved," he says. "I really felt passionate about what I was learning."

McCartney also liked that the program was small. He says the atmosphere among the students was really collaborative. "There was a very strong sense of community because we all had a lot at stake professionally," he says.

Archival study programs also expose their students to the newest information technologies. That contradicts a common image of archivists.

"There is a stereotype of archivists that we are tucked away back in the stacks, and that we have runny noses," says McCartney.

But if you think you'll be hidden away in the back of a row of bookshelves, you might want to consider another field, he says.

"If you really love interacting with people, if you like helping people on a treasure hunt trying to find the documents they are looking for, it is a wonderful profession."