Public History MA Alumna Samantha Chmelik Publishes New Book
Graduates of Loyola’s Public History MA program go on to successful careers in a variety of fields, from public service, to small non-profits, to teaching. Samantha Chmelik (MA, 2013) is putting her education and experience in public history to work as an author and consultant. Chmelik’s first book, Museum and Historic Site Management: A Case Study Approach, was recently published by Rowman and Littlefield. With case studies covering topics such as collections, fundraising, and board management, Chmelik’s book helps public historians learn to work through major issues encountered in the field.
As Dr. Ted Karamanski, Director of Loyola’s Public History Program, explained in his review of the book, "this is a most welcome and long-needed book. Museum professionals and public history educators will greatly benefit from Chmelik's imaginative and useful case-studies. It belongs on every museum studies required reading list. One can only hope that this is the first of a series of volumes bringing the case-study approach to public history education."
PhD candidate Katie Macica caught up with Samantha Chmelik to talk about her experience writing the book.
What have you been up to since finishing your MA?
Since finishing my MA, I have continued my research into grave marker symbolism and a few new topics that grew out of that research. I have also pursued publication opportunities, which resulted in my recently published book Museum and Historic Site Management: A Case Study Approach. My editor has asked me to submit a proposal for another book that we have discussed, so more ink might be spilled in 2016.
Give us an overview of your book and how you became involved in the project.
Museum and Historic Site Management evolved from my Loyola coursework. Though we participated in internships and practicums, we did not have nitty gritty coursework in organizational management: personnel management, financial planning, fundraising, contracts, etc. When I attended business school, we used case studies as an immersive exercise to learn about those management practicalities, as well as to improve communication and decision-making skills. Why can’t public history or museum studies or non-profit management programs use case studies? So when Rowman & Littlefield issued an RFP for authors, I submitted my proposal.
How did you conduct the research for the book? Did you learn anything that surprised you during the course of your research?
I had been collecting stories/issues for a couple of years - from my own experiences or those of colleagues. I reviewed museum and non-profit publications to see which issues were constantly problematic and to identify different solutions to problems. The case studies themselves are amalgamations of situations that occurred at different institutions. One case study might include problems from three or four institutions to increase the complexity. I also did not want people to fixate on trying to figure out the “real” institution. It’s like Dragnet: the names have been changed to protect the innocent. You should think about what you would do in these situations with the specific personalities involved.
What was the most interesting aspect of the project for you?
Formulating the different points of view, establishing the distinct character personalities, and writing the argument scenes were the most interesting parts of writing the book. Since improving communication skills is a key point of the book, I wanted readers to confront a diverse array of protagonists. (Loyola readers should be able to figure out the protagonist who is an homage to Dr. Karamanski.) The protagonists’ personalities shape how the conflicts play out. The key for me as the author was to ensure that multiple viable solutions were presented. No easy answers.
How did your education in the Public History program prepare you for this project?
My Public History background supplied the general framework and situations presented in the book. My particular intellectual approach to these case studies grew out of a methodology used by my business school operations management professor. Another lesson of the book is that we should open ourselves to cross-disciplinary learnings/practices. The concept of shared authority underscores how public historians balance multiple perspectives and interests in their work. That same concept can be applied to the site management responsibilities, too.
Congratulations Samantha! We look forward to your next book!