Undergraduate Public History

Cook and Ennis on internship

Peter Cook and Kelsey Ennis, public history interns, assist a Music House Museum visitor.

Are you passionate about history and want to help bring it alive for a broader public? Then the public history major or minor in the Department of History at Western Michigan University is for you!

Public historians work in a wide variety of fields, including:

  • Museums, monuments and memorials
  • Historical and archeological sites
  • Archives and libraries
  • National parks and other governmental organizations
  • As preservationists
  • As tour guides, interpreters, and historical re-enactors
  • Education

WMU’s public history major and minor are unique and internationally renowned, and is one of only three undergraduate public history programs in the country. As a WMU public history major or minor, you will receive an in depth education on a wide range of fascinating historical topics, including:

  • American, European, and world history
  • Ancient, medieval, early modern, and modern history
  • Specialized topics such as World War II and the Holocaust, slavery, sports, gender, the Renaissance, and the history of food!

In addition, you will receive extensive, specialized professional training in archives administration, museum studies, and historic preservations. A major part of your training as a Public History professional will be hands-on, consisting of two separate field internships.

Contact Dr. David Benac, coordinator of the public history program, for more information.



Internship experience

  Kelsey Ennis interned during Spring 2017 in Bonn Germany at the Haus der Geschichte - a museum of contemporary German history. She discusses her internship in this video.

  She also created a marketing video for the museum.




Claire Ranly painting plane

Claire Ranly paints the F-4E Phantom

Claire Ranly, WMU public history major, interned in the Restoration Department of the Kalamazoo Air Zoo during fall semester 2015.  The internship is a chance to learn hands-on skills and experience how the public interacts with history. Claire learned new skills, and gained experiences that cannot be found in any classroom. She particularly valued “the opportunity to work hands on with experts on artifacts from different aircraft.” 

Claire worked in the Air Zoo’s East Campus, which exhibits historic airplanes as well as displaying others in the restoration process. She assisted U.S. military veterans (some who had flown the types of planes in the museum) and other volunteers as part of a restoration team. The combined expertise of the team addressed virtually every question of airplane mechanics, tool use, and conservation skills. In addition to learning conservation skills, Claire enjoyed listening to the veterans’ “countless stories from their military days or from living in the Kalamazoo area for so many years.”

Claire Ranly standing on the F-4E Phantom

Ranly stands on the finished F-4E Phantom

The work of the public historian is a blend of do-it-yourself labor and rigorous scholarly accuracy. Claire began by working on the FM-2 Wildcat and B-57 Intruder, before graduating to the F-4E Phantom. During her internship, Claire used a power sander, paint guns, and model paintbrushes to work on the aircrafts. She also applied her research talents to photographs and military documents, including Air Force acquisition manifests to determine the appropriate markings and their proper positioning. According to Claire her internship “was a complete hands-on experience and showed me a new side of history.”