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What would be the most important thing for future historians to consider when researching the past?

My aim is to become a curator at the Smithsonian Museum in Washington D.C. and only the top historians are considered for the job because of its prestige, and in doing so having a leg up on the competition would be helpful. #smithsonian #washingtondc #history #european-history


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Taylor’s Answer

Hi, Joshua! That's a terrific question -- and that's what all good historians start with: Good questions about the past that they want to answer, mostly because no one else yet has. That question can be about how people lived, or what they thought, or why they did some of the crazy, noble, or just weird things they did. The questions that interest you will determine what kind of historian you'll be. If you're interested in how people related to each other, than you might become a social historian. If you're interested in how people thought about their government, you might become a political historian. I was interested in why colonial Americans wanted independence from Great Britain, so I became a historian of the American Revolution (and then an adviser to C-SPAN and Disney). If you want to become a Smithsonian curator, then your questions might revolve around objects, what we call "material culture" (or, if someone drops that object and it breaks into pieces and gets buried, then we call it "archaeology"), because that's their biggest responsibility -- taking care of America's most historically valuable objects. But there are many ways to do history. The key is to find out what interests you so much that you'll never get tired of researching, reading, writing, and talking to other people about it, especially because it takes a lot of extra education to get the degree you'll need to get that kind of job (It took me six years *after* college to become a doctor [Ph.D.], and that was relatively quick).

Taylor recommends the following next steps:

I would start off by making a list of the things about the past that you really like. Is it the Presidents? The wars? The technology? The way regular people lived? Anything goes. You might kick things off by thinking about your favorite history TV shows, movies, books, or a really good class that you liked. What were they about? That might point you to the kind of historian you already are.
I'd then volunteer at a museum or a library, helping out the folks who do what you want to do (and, trust me, they ALWAYS need help). That will give you a major leg-up on the competition for the job you want, because a) you'll already know what you want to do (believe it or not, not everyone does), and b) you'll already know the skills a historian needs, which, because they're about thinking critically and expressing yourself clearly, can help you in so many ways.
And always think of the next question you want to answer. When you've answered it, figure out the next one. But never stop, because no one has said the last word on any historical subject.

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