2016 graduate Rebecca P’Simer, Curator of Collections at the East Tennessee Historical Society, on why she chose history, the value of a UTC history degree, and her career in public history.
I studied history at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, trying my best to take classes that were either focused on the Colonial or Antebellum period in U.S. history. In an effort to better understand potential career paths with a history degree, I was guided to take the internship course offered. Under the direction of Dr. Thompson, I interned at the Museum Center at 5ive Points. Thanks to a mentor who was invested in passing down museum management skills, the internship later turned into two contract positions. By taking a chance and applying for an internship in Wyoming, I was able to spend the summer at the Cody Firearms Museum gaining skills in public education and research. After graduation in 2016, I decided to return to school a year later to obtain a master’s degree in history through the University of Memphis online.
To learn additional skills, I worked towards volunteering and interning as much as possible, including updating firearm records at Andrew Jackson’s Hermitage, taking an archives position at the Biltmore Company, and working as an interpretation and collections intern with the Doak House and the Andrew Johnson Museum and Library. After these short-term positions, I obtained a contract job as a museum technician at Great Smoky Mountain National Park. There, I was able to network and learn additional skills that I otherwise wouldn’t have been able to. At the end of 2018, I secured a permanent position in the museum field at the East Tennessee Historical Society as Curator of Collections. I also serve on the Board of Directors at the Historic Ramsey House, as well as a Secretary for the Northeast Tennessee Museum Association. In any extra time, I serve as Chair for the East Tennessee Emerging Museum Professionals to engage students and professionals through networking and resources.
When considering a career in the public history or museum field, it’s important to be open-minding and adaptable. The best decision I made at the start of my journey was taking positions outside of my comfort zone to explore different job opportunities. This taught me the value of these positions while giving me a chance to test the jobs out. It also gave me the opportunity to understand the differences and variety among in terms of their sizes, available positions, and the responsibilities at each institution. This career path has allowed me to meet unique people who are passionate about preserving history for future generations, work with artifacts, and teach others about the best preservation practices.
Images: Collections Preservation Center, Great Smoky Mountain National Park