If You Don’t Know Where You’re Going, Any Road Will Take You There

I haven’t updated this blog in a while but since I’m avoiding work I might as well be intelligent in my methods of procrastinating. It’s November of my second year of graduate school. I can’t believe how quickly the time has passed, but I suppose that is how it goes when one is a dreading an encroaching deadline every single week. This has been both a challenging yet straightforward semester. I’m only taking two classes although I’m enrolled in 15 credit hours, which I didn’t know was possible in graduate school.

 A lot of my time has been occupied by the National Park Service project I’ve been working on for the Wupatki and Sunset Crater Volcano National Monuments. This is my first experience managing a public history project by myself and not only that, I’m the sole researcher and writer on the project. I’m responsible for synthesizing about 500 million years of geological and cultural history of the Flagstaff region for future park rangers, interpreters and teachers. Though I’ve always thought of myself as a writer in one capacity or another, this is the first time I’ve been paid a substantial amount of money to produce a substantial amount of work. As demanding as graduate school has become it’s easy to think of it as just another deadline, just another paper, but hopefully it’s a lot more than that. I like to imagine a future Wupatki ranger searching for a way to make the American public comprehend the Mongollon Rim or the difference between the Colorado Plateau and the Basin and Range Region of the Arizona landscape. A light bulb will go off in their head, they’ll pull open their top desk drawer and pull out their dog-eared, bookmarked and well-worn copy of….I don’t have a title yet… “The Natural and Cultural History of Wupatki and Sunset Crater Volcano National Monuments by Laura Keller, MA” or just “SECRET SQUIRRELS by Laura Keller, MA.” However, having visited the site and seeing how they put their current administrative resources to use, I’m also glad to know that in five years from now, another public history student at ASU will be paid to recreate the same document I am creating now.

Geological history isn’t exactly my thing (or anyone else’s in this department, for that matter), but it’s encouraging that not only can I understand the history of trilobites which lived 10 million years ago, but I can also find it interesting and I can also interpret it in an interesting manner for someone else. I’m lucky to have this opportunity and working for a national park is always an eye opening experience…not only in terms of the wonderfully eccentric but incredibly kind people who are endowed with the stewardship of the nation’s history, but also because the landscapes are the most unique and important in our nation and worth remembering, understanding and sometimes celebrating. I’m always grateful to be a part of the projects I’ve been involved in. In six to twelve months I’ll be looking for my first full time position in public history and although I have many advantages over my colleagues, it doesn’t cease to be a nauseating thought. Although I’ve heard repeatedly about the superior reputation of my program, I still know of complete incoming classes who regardless of withdrawal or graduation, failed to secure jobs in history. I am lucky in the fact that I am not tied to a specific location, yet I don’t want to be scraping snow off my car in a year from now in order to make it to my administrative assistant job at the Moorhead Historical Society. If I do complete my thesis on Jean Baptiste Charbonneau which is the current plan, that fate is not unlikely.

This month will be the first time I’ll be published in a scholarly journal, even if it is just a review of a travelling museum exhibit. This month the first exhibit I’ve curated by myself will also be published on the Autry National Center’s website, even if it is only online, devoid of original scholarship and a paid advertisement. Next month I will be done with the Wupatki project and will hopefully have a tangible product that I could show to any non-historian or geologist in my life and they would find it interesting and understandable. Next year will be my first appearance on a conference panel and hopefully my first independent presentation as a poster session participant. Though I cannot tell you where I’ll be come May, I know that for right now, I’m very proud of myself and what I’ve accomplished. As this semester comes to a close, my thoughts travel to a wayside near Danner, Oregon, which marks the grave of a 61 year old man the nation fondly remembers as “Little Pomp.” Much like Baptiste, I’m not headed in any particular direction or with any particular destination in mind. As I spend the next six to twelve months uncovering the mystery of his life, perhaps mine will be uncovered as well. 

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