Monday, 22 April 2013

Resources for the Consulting Historian

I've been working as a consulting historian in one capacity or another for three years, and as a public history professional for the last five. In this time I've come across a number of podcasts and posts that I've found especially useful in answering the questions that any humanities and/or social science graduate would reasonably have when striking out into the business world.

After discussions at the 2013 National Council on Public History conference, held from April 17-20 here in Ottawa, I've decided to aggregate those resources into a list so that others with similar questions have a 'jumping off' point as they start explore the private sector for themselves. If you have other resources that may be of use, please leave a note in the comments!

  • Be ethical: don't take work you can't complete, don't be afraid to recommend someone who has the skills for a job when you don't or to offer to work together on a project, behave in a professional manner towards you clients and colleagues, value your work. The Canadian Association of Heritage Professionals have a good Code of Professional Conduct and Ethics and the Statement of Values at Culture Consultants is worth a read.
  • Don't undervalue yourself: it is hard to determine the right value for your work. Often times we find ourselves undervaluing what we do. Remember, you're running a business. Christopher Clarke's post "All About Money" in his "Mind in the Marketplace" series at the Consultants' Corner is useful when thinking about money.
  • The Australian Council of Professional Historians has a scale of fees and professional "levels" (PDF). These rates may not be directly applicable to your local situation, but might help to serve as guidelines. (Thanks to the Adina Langer for bringing this up at the May 2013 NCPH Consultants' Tweet Chat!)
  • Be aware of your tax (and other legal) responsibilities. You don't necessarily need a business number or to charge HST unless you reach a certain threshold, but be aware that some clients (such as the federal government) require it. See CRA for more details.
  • Get a MERX account (it's free but requires a credit card) and check the listings regularly.
  • Check the Canadian Heritage Information Network's job board regularly, they sometimes have RFPs.
  • The little things are important: build a website, buy a custom domain, design business cards, join twitter and linkedin.
  • Find a niche. Are you skilled or passionate about digital technology? Are you involved in theatre or the arts? Do you love archives, or are museums where you heart lies? Do you have graphic design or public relationships experience? Create a professional identity based on your skills and interests.
  • Get your name on consultants' lists such as Library and Archives Canada, the Archives of Ontario, the NCPH (membership required), etc.
  • Find a local heritage institution whose mandate you support and volunteer. There are many small local museums, archives, and parks across the country with small budgets but a lot of passion that are frequently looking for volunteers. This will help you in two ways: first, you can learn valuable skills through volunteering that you can apply in your working life, and, second, getting your face and name out in the local heritage community certainly won't hurt your job prospects. In Ottawa, the Council of Heritage Organizations in Ottawa has a list of some worthy institutions.
  • Follow the NCPH's History@Work group blog's Consultants' Corner.
  • Follow the NCPH's Consultants' Committee on Twitter.
  • Subscribe to the H-Public mailing list. Also, subscribe to any other lists at H-Net that match your interests. To better manage the influx of emails they may bring, I recommend creating email rules that prefolder these emails so they don't fill up your inbox. Just remember to check the folders regularly!
  • Listen to the Northwest History Network's History Consulting Workshop and Who Hires Consulting Historians? for advice from praticioners at various stages of their career.
  • Various professional organizations have written overviews on history consulting, for example: American Historical Association (2007), the Canadian Historical Association "Becoming a Public Historian" and the Graduate Students' Committee Career page.

Do you have any other resources to add to the list? Leave them in the comment section below!

Last updated: 2013-05-07