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Student Success Story

Museums Offer Student Window into History

By Anne Bentzel

Priya Chhaya, MA history ’06, grew up in Springfield, Virginia, a suburb of Washington, D.C. “My family spent a lot of time visiting the Smithsonian museums,” she says. “My father felt it was important to learn more about our cultural heritage and took us many times to see the superb collection of Indian art at the Freer Sackler Galleries.”

The museum experiences stayed with her: “As I grew up, I realized that I wanted to work in a museum setting.” She graduated from William and Mary with a degree in history and interned for the U.S. Park Service. Then she found out about AU’s master’s degree in public history.

“The program focuses on ways historians can teach history outside of the classroom,” she says. “It’s important because research shows that museums are one of the main places people go to understand history and the past.”

Exploring Museums Near and Far

During her first year in the program, Chhaya interned at the British Museum in London where she developed a nine-panel exhibition for the museum’s education department. She had to leave before the exhibit was installed. “When I mentioned this to the Bob Griffith, chair of the history department, he secured a grant for me to travel to London to see the final exhibit. This is emblematic of the support I have received from the faculty here.” 

Recently, she worked with some of the students to raise funds for an endangered historic brew master’s castle in D.C. “I have found with public history, that’s it is not so much a matter of fact, of what was right or wrong. It is about the public interpreting history to form their own meaning of the past.”