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Five Questions for Public History Student Jen Giambrone

Jen Giambrone, MA Public History

Jen Giambrone is a second year graduate student in the public history master's program at American University. She attended Gettysburg College for her undergraduate degree and completed a double major in history and sociology. In 2010, she graduated from Gettysburg summa cum laude and was a member of Phi Beta Kappa, as well as the Phi Alpha Theta and Alpha Kappa Delta honors societies.  

She interned at Musselman Library Special Collections, the Smithsonian National Postal Museum, and the Genesee Country Village and Museum. After college she worked at the National Museum of Play in Rochester, New York, and in 2012 moved to Washington, DC, to work with History Associates, Incorporated, a historical consulting firm. She began her fellowship at the White House Historical Association in September 2015.  


Why did you choose WHHA? 

For three years before I started at the White House Historical Association, I had the privilege to work in consulting, which is interesting and challenging work. But with so many different projects at a given time, I did not often have the opportunity to delve deeply into a single topic, or to do so for very long. WHHA offered me the chance to immerse myself in White House history, and also to study the past of a city that I absolutely love living in. I also looked forward to the opportunity to explore digital history and social media, two areas that I had not had much experience in but was interested in learning more about. 

What does a digital history fellow do at WHHA? 

Digital history is a rich and multi-faceted field, and as the Digital History Fellow at WHHA I get to explore many of those facets. The catchall way I would describe what I do is to say that I develop content for the web. I research and write Facebook posts, find photographs for blogs, and contribute to an effort to make thousands of the images from WHHA’s collection available online. One of my tasks is to write descriptions for the images, so visitors will know what they are looking at and why it’s important. In the spring I will also be involved in an online project to chart the history of East and West Wings ahead of the upcoming election. 

How is technology changing the work of WHHA—and people's access to its work? 

Technology has made a tremendous difference in how people engage with the past. WHHA recently launched a beautiful new website that enables people to access an incredible amount of information—from longer scholarly pieces to trivia and photographs. They are making history available to anyone who goes looking for it or simply stumbles upon it. Of course, a lot of hard work goes into enabling that kind of accessibility. Historians need to produce content for different digital mediums: Twitter, Facebook, and website stories all need to have the appropriate tone and length. Thousands of images need to be scanned, described, and tagged with metadata. It is a daunting and endless task, but one that I think is extremely worthwhile. 

What is the most rewarding part of your fellowship? 

I think for me the most rewarding part of working at WHHA is the opportunity to be exposed to an organization that is so enthusiastic and forward thinking. Not all institutions have embraced digital history, and it is wonderful to be a part of an effort that is crucial to teaching people about the past. It is, at its core, an effort to make history truly public, to eliminate nearly all barriers to access. I also enjoy being in an environment that also stresses quality, which is so important in a world where anyone can produce digital content with the click of a few buttons. 

How is the experience preparing you for the future?

I have always believed that it is important to engage with the practice of public history in new and challenging ways—to try something new and explore the field because there are so many different avenues that a career can take. In that sense, the fellowship is exposing me to a new and rewarding experience. I am also thrilled to be learning more about digital history. Coming into the Masters program, I was very focused on tangible exhibit work, but my time at AU and WHHA has opened my eyes to a new aspect of public history that I find very engaging and exciting. It is something I never expected, but something I now hope to make a foundation of my career.