Public History

Public History is a real-world discipline where history is interpreted for the public.

The practice of public history includes the areas of historic preservation, cultural resource management, archival science, heritage tourism, oral history and museum curatorship.

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.

While public history is a new concentration at Roanoke, many of our history grads have gone on to careers in this field, 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.

May Term 2018: The Future of History in New York | with Dr. Gregory Samantha Rosenthal

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.


Rosenthal invited to speak at Virginia Festival of the Book event

The author of "Living Queer History: Remembrance and Belonging in a Southern City" is part of the speaker lineup announced by the literary festival taking place next month in Charlottesville.

Student researchers contribute to the Genealogy of Slavery

Six students conducted in-depth research to help build a database of information about enslaved people who lived in Southwest Virginia before and during the Civil War.

Researching heritage tourism in China

Watch Video Kathleen Ouyang
“My research really opened my eyes to the different career opportunities in the heritage tourism field.” Kathleen Ouyang ’13

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

Living history in the Yucatan

Professor Wallace-Fuentes' class traveled to the Yucatan to help them understand how the rich indigenous past and present can best be presented to tourists.

Work to Preserve Documents Provides Unique Teaching Opportunity

Dr. Gregory Samantha Rosenthal, along with 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."

Sample Course Offerings:

  • HIST 205: Introduction to Public History Student working with a professor
  • HIST 207: American Material Culture 
  • HIST 365: Issues in 19th Century America

    View all courses 

Kim Eslinger scuba divingStories from Davey Jones' Locker

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