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Public History

Available as a concentration

Public History is a real-world discipline where history is interpreted for the public. The field includes the areas of historic preservation, cultural resource management, archival science, heritage tourism, oral history and museum curatorship.

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Curriculum & Courses

HIST 205: Introduction to Public History 
HIST 207: American Material Culture 
HIST 365: Issues in 19th Century America

Student holding a file in the library

Learn By Doing

Samantha Rosenthal portrait, hair blowing in the wind.

Dr. G. Samantha Rosenthal, along with students in the Introduction to Public History class, spent weeks digitizing newspaper clippings detailing the history of desegregation, racism and the overall racial history of the city of Salem. It was a unique way to explore such a charged topic.

"As their professor, I'm very impressed that they've developed such an understanding of local history and such a compassionate understanding of the diversity of people's experience over time," Rosenthal said. "We could have just as easily read a bunch of books and sat around the class, but I do think this kind of public engagement is what an education should look like."

While the field of public history has been led by brick-and-mortar institutions, there's a growing movement to create digital experiences through websites and apps for historical archives, online museums and virtual tours.

Student Experiences

“My research really opened up my eyes to the opportunities for heritage tourism," said Kathleen Ouyang ’13, a Fulbright Scholar.

Study Abroad

This course examined the urban change in New York City through engagement with community leaders, historic preservationists, anti-gentrification activists, and others fighting to preserve the city's diverse pasts and create a more inclusive and just future.

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students in nyc
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students in time square
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Schomburg Center

Roanoke has a special semester-long, faculty-led program in the Yucatán Peninsula in Mexico. Students take classes with their professor, go on cultural excursions, experience language immersion and perform service projects. Learn more.

Students at a natural water pool with a Roanoke College banner
Students in front of ruins in the Yucatan
Students at a natural water pool
Flamingoes in a river
Student holding a spider
Students in front of a mural
Students in front of ruins in the Yucatan
Students getting ready to eat food

Making A Difference

Careers & Outcomes

A diver in a scuba suit on the bottom of the ocean

Kim Eslinger '98 entered Roanoke College with the intention of becoming a doctor. At the end of her freshman year, after taking an honors class, Turning Points, Eslinger decided she wanted to pursue history. By the end of her junior year, she announced her decision to study shipwrecks.

After graduating from Roanoke, she pursued a career in marine archaeology. Eslinger's fieldwork includes the Queen Anne's Revenge (Blackbeard's flagship), USS Monitor and SS Commodore projects. Each project employed Eslinger's skills in various manners, with her primary work being conducted in the laboratory. 

"My degree in history from Roanoke College taught me the importance of untold stories, but my minor in theatre arts gave me an appreciation for the people themselves," Eslinger said. "Archaeology is much like that; it takes the historical record and uses it as a guide. I use the scraps people have lost over their lives and use them to fill out the picture of who they really were."




  • Are you a student involved in research? Are you interested sharing your research in 90 seconds with a public audience to win up to $100? 

    April 18, 2024
    6 - 8 p.m.

    Antrim Chapel

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At Roanoke, you'll have opportunities to work with professors and local historical institutions to conduct research and gain valuable firsthand experience in the field. The Roanoke Valley is rich with history and has a strong tradition of historic preservation — and a number of historical museums.

Many of our History Department graduates have gone on to careers in public history, working at the National Archives and Records Administration, the Smithsonian and the National Museum of the Marine Corps.

We offer a concentration in Public History.