The Myth of the Unemployable History Major Must Be Destroyed

One Thing after Another has a son in high school, so this blog knows a number of parents who have completed the college application grind. Among these are “K” (we feel obliged to protect her anonymity), whose son was considering Saint Anselm College. At one point, she told One Thing after Another that her son liked history, but since “he wanted to make sure he had a job after he graduated,” he was going to major in politics. In the end, K’s son went to another school so, in a sense, his choice of major did not matter.

K’s reasoning, however, does matter to this blog. For years, One Thing after Another has heard this line of argument over and over again. A history major is an unaffordable luxury, so the argument goes, because one cannot merely go to college to study one’s interests. The cost is so great that students must major in something that will guarantee them a job. Since the only kinds of jobs supposedly open to history majors are teaching and positions related to history (e.g. museum staff), students often look to other majors that give them better opportunities.

This blog understands why parents feel this way. One Thing after Another remembers the anxious expression on K’s careworn face as she explained the decisions that she and her son had to make. The stakes are high. College is so expensive that parents cannot avoid thinking in terms of return on investment. At Saint Anselm College, tuition for 2017-2018 will be $38,960, room and board will reach $14,146, and mandatory fees will come in at $1,030. Obviously, not everyone will pay this kind of money. The discount rate at our school is around 49% (much to the dismay of our CFO), which means that the average student will pay just over half of the $38,960 in tuition (somewhere around $19,960) for a total bill of about $35,136. Spending that kind of money over four years, one could buy about six 2017 Honda CRVs or pay for almost 60% of the median home price in Goffstown ($247,000 for the period between January and April). Finding this kind of cash is an enormous burden for middle-class families—let alone poor ones. It’s no wonder that students rush to major in disciplines where the connection between the field of study and a remunerative job seems obvious. It seems fairly easy to understand, then, why students are somewhat more hesitant to take the plunge in a major where connecting the dots between academic work and employment appears somewhat more difficult.

But the dots are there, and they can be connected if only people show a little patience.

History classes stress the analysis of various media—usually texts but also sources like film, music, painting, and so on. History majors ask and answer questions such as, “Who produced this source?” “Why did she produce it?” and “Under what circumstances was this source produced?” Ours is a reading-intensive discipline because reading is the only way to become practiced at this sort of thing. Doing this kind of work requires the development of analytical skills that lead students to sharpen their judgment. They come to understand what is likely or what is true. At the same time, they are required to synthesize a great deal of material to form a comprehensive picture of how people, places, and things have worked in the past—and how they may work in the future. They are then prepared to answer questions such as, “Why did this happen?” and “How did it occur?” What’s more, students in History are compelled by the nature of the discipline to articulate their thoughts in a systematic and compelling manner, both through discussion and on paper. In addition to being a reading-intensive discipline, we are also a writing-intensive one. Finally, the study of history leaves students with an enormous amount of cultural capital. Among other things, they encounter great literature, music, painting, movies, and rhetoric.  At the same time, they also learn about important events and noteworthy civilizations that we should all know something about—such as Han China, the French Revolution, the Zulu Kingdom, the Progressive Era in America, and World War II. Students educated in this fashion thus add to their stock of experience which helps them confront the challenges of the present.

To summarize, the course of study that History majors undergo provides them with high-level analytical skills, a capacity to synthesize large chunks of information, and an ability to present logical arguments in a persuasive fashion. Not only that, but their training offers them knowledge that helps them navigate and understand the world. These are the kind of attributes employers are looking for even in an age where STEM seems to be king (see here, here, here, here, here, and here—you get the idea).

We know these things to be true because we see what happens to our own majors after they graduate from Saint Anselm College. Our department recently surveyed alums who graduated between 2012 and 2015 with a degree in History. We determined that out of the three-quarters who responded to the survey, 100% were employed or attending graduate school. We also found they attained success in a wide variety of fields, most of which have nothing to do with history. For sure, we always have a number of students who double-major in history and secondary education. We are proud of these students, many of whom are high achievers; in 2014 and 2015, the winner of the Chancellor’s Award for the highest GPA in the graduating class was a history major who went on to teach. And yes, we also have a small number of graduates who go on to work in history-related fields (see here and here). But around 75% of our graduates are scattered among a wide range of other jobs.

Recently, One Thing after Another engaged in the exercise of naming all the positions held by History alumni whom the blog personally knows. This list is obviously not scientific; other members of the History Department know different alums who hold even more positions. Yet what follows ought to give the reader a sense of the wild diversity of jobs open to those who major in History. One Thing after Another knows many history majors who have gone on to law school and have since hung out their shingle as attorneys. Many of our alumni also work for the FBI, the CIA, and the DHS. Others have found employment as police officers and state troopers. We have a number of alumni who currently serve as commissioned officers in the armed forces. Many have gone into politics, serving as lobbyists, political consultants, legislative aids, and town administrators. Others have been on the staffs of governors and mayors. Large numbers work in sales for a variety of industries. We have managers at investment firms and folks who work on Wall Street. Other history majors this blog knows are in the health insurance business, serve as economic consultants, hold positions in import-export businesses, have become construction executives, and work in public relations. They have also become dentists, software engineers, filmmakers, nurses, social workers, journalists, translators, college coaches, and executive recruiters. Some work in the hospitality industry as the managers of resorts, hotels, and convention centers. Others are to be found on college campuses as administrators, financial aid officers, reference librarians, and so on. And then there are the archivists, curators, and museum staffers. Remember, this list (which was compiled in a somewhat off-hand manner) is not exhaustive. It only consists of alumni whom One Thing after Another knows personally. There are many other history alums out there doing even more things.

This blog must close with a reference to Cato the elder (portrayed above). In the years before the Third Punic War (149 BC-146 BC), this prominent soldier, politician, and historian, was convinced that Carthage still presented the greatest threat to Roman power in the Mediterranean. His obsession with Carthage is captured in the story that he concluded every speech in the Senate, no matter what the topic, with “Ceterum autem censeo Carthaginem esse delendam”—which means in English, “Furthermore, I consider that Carthage must be destroyed.” This phrase has often been shortened to “Carthago delenda est” or “Carthage must be destroyed.” From this point forward, in defense of history, One Thing after Another must be as implacable as Cato the Elder, and thus, this blog will conclude every post with, “The myth of the unemployable History major must be destroyed.”


Elliott-Traficante at the New Hampshire State Senate

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While reading the Fall 2016 issue of Portraits Magazine, One Thing after Another learned that Joshua Elliott-Traficante ’09, who majored in history at Saint Anselm College, had been appointed Policy Director for the New Hampshire State Senate. This blog is always in search of excuses to contact alums, so it decided to look Elliott-Traficante up and ask him about his job.

Q: What does the Policy Director for the NH State Senate do?

A: The Policy Director does a little of everything, but above all he or she advises the Republican senators on all aspects of public policy. This usually starts when the Senators are getting ready to file bills for the next session which is where we are now. I’ll help take an idea, and working with our drafting attorneys, turn it into a bill. Most of the time, if it is a straightforward bill, the Senator will do it on his or her own, but if it is something complex, that is when I will step in and help out. In addition, I help the Senate leadership in creating and communicating the agenda for the session. As the session starts, I keep track of all the bills going through the chamber, from introduction to committee hearings, all the way until they get voted on on the floor. It’s a bit like being an air traffic controller: I need to know where everything is, what it is, and where it is going next, as well as fixing things before they become problems.

Q: What do you enjoy most about this position?

A: No two days are ever the same, and I’m never bored. One day you are working on drafting a piece of important legislation, the next you are doing in-depth research on a random policy issue, so you can get a Senator up to speed. Like college, most people “in the real world” are procrastinators; sometimes we will only find out about an issue with a bill hours before it is supposed to be voted on, so it makes for a fasted-paced environment. There are some session days I managed to rack up 10,000 steps on my fitbit without even leaving the building. There is a sobering sense of responsibility that comes with the job, since your ideas and opinions can influence legislation that impacts the whole state.

Q: What career path did you take that eventually culminated in your landing this job?

A: Like most people’s career paths, mine hasn’t been much of a straight line. I originally was thinking of going into academia and applied to a mix of MA and PhD programs in European History and somehow managed to get into a Master’s program at the University of Chicago. Unlike the “Got Monk?” or “Where Blue Runs Deep” t-shirts you’ll find at St. A’s, UChicago has a decidedly less upbeat “Where Fun Goes to Die” on theirs. After finishing there, I did a summer language program in Germany. I was still thinking of applying for PhD programs that Fall, but needed to find a job in the meantime. A guy I had done some political work with while in college had a friend who ran a think-tank up in Concord and was looking to hire someone for at least a year, maybe more. With a research- and writing-heavy background, I was a great candidate and got the job. I dove into the public policy and left the academic track behind. For me, working in policy was the perfect mix of academic research with politics. With the exception of a brief leave in 2014 to work on a gubernatorial campaign as a policy advisor, I was there until Fall 2015. I had been poking around looking for my next move and this position opened up. An old colleague from the think tank was moving on from this job and recommended me for it.

Q: How did your undergraduate experience, particularly your major in History, help prepare you for this career?

A: Three things stick out in particular: it made me a better writer, it taught me how to do research, and it taught me how to be a critical thinker. These skills aren’t just important for my job, they are in high demand by employers everywhere.

As a senior about to head off to grad school, Professor Perrone suggested that I practice editing by going back over some of the papers I had written while at St. A’s to practice editing. I was absolutely horrified at what my writing was like as a Freshman and wondered how I hadn’t gotten terrible grades on these papers. As I worked my way through, I noticed that (thankfully), the quality got better and better. Being able to do research on what other states are doing on an issue, for example, is something I do every day. How different databases work can be completely different, but those basic skills on how to do research are universal. Critical thinking seems to be a lost art these days, but it is invaluable in trying to think through a policy problem. Like research, it doesn’t matter what the topic or the issue is—those skills can be applied to nearly any field. When thinking through a problem, you can’t possibly know everything. It helps to remember the first word of the Rule of St. Benedict: Listen.

Q: What’s the best part about living in Manchester, NH?

A: As a student, I really didn’t venture that much into Manchester, but it is worth making a little time to go explore beyond Target, Walmart, and Market Basket. On the history side, the Currier Art Museum is a hidden gem and a great place to spend an afternoon. Despite being nowhere near the size of the Museum of Fine Art or the Isabella Stuart Gardner Museum in Boston, it has an impressive collection and manages to attract terrific visiting exhibits. There are plenty of great restaurants downtown that weren’t there when I was a student that won’t break the bank (or Mom and Dad’s bank when they come to visit.) It’s a cliché, but Manchester is close to everywhere else. An hour to the coast, an hour to the lakes and mountains, and an hour to Boston. If you are a skier (and winter is around the corner), there are also a lot of great mountains close by. Everything is close enough you can go and do something fun without needing to take an entire day to do it.

Kane Lands Job with Brown Brothers Harriman


Lili Kane ’16 (Lynn, MA) had scarcely graduated last May before she obtained a real plum of a job (involving history no less!) with Brown Brothers Harriman in Boston, MA. One Thing after Another contacted Kane to ask her about her experiences at Saint. Anselm College and her new position.

On November 1, at 7 PM, Kane will appear with other alums at the Living Learning Commons (new dorm) to discuss career opportunities for History majors. Appearing with her will be:

  • Lisa Palone ’95, Editorial Research Manager, WGBH (where she is the content manager for the Emmy-winning public affairs program, Frontline)
  • Dan Puopolo ’98, Managing Director, NextShares Solutions LLC
  • Stephen Shorey ’11, Staff Attorney, Office of the Secretary of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, Public Records Division

Q: What brought you to Saint Anselm College, and why did you major in History?

A: I came to Saint Anselm College not only because of the fantastic food and gorgeous campus, but also because of the sense of opportunity. I knew I wanted to attend a college that was academically challenging and offered small class sizes so I could easily engage in class conversations and get to know my professors personally. I also valued how invested the school was in setting up volunteer opportunities around Manchester. Saint Anselm College immediately created a sense of community for me, and I never for a second regretted my choice.

When I started my freshman year, I had yet to declare a major, but I knew I was interested in history. I’ve always loved to read, so I decided to take a couple of history courses. The introductory course I took with Professor Masur (History 100: Introduction to the Study of History) was challenging, intriguing, and super fun. At the time (and even at graduation) I had no idea what I was going to be doing with a history degree, but that didn’t matter because I knew I was receiving a strong education and that was all the confidence I needed.

Q: Back in July, you landed a job as an Enterprise Services Senior Specialist at Brown Brothers Harriman in Boston, MA. Tell us a little bit about the firm and what you do there.

A: Established in 1818, Brown Brothers Harriman is the largest private bank in North America and by far the oldest. A linen merchant by the name of Alexander Brown emigrated from Ireland to Baltimore where he created a private, family-owned merchant bank with his four sons. Strategic investments and innovative business decisions have transformed Brown Brothers Harriman from leaders in merchant banking and transatlantic trade to an integrated worldwide financial services firm. My role as an Enterprise Services Senior Specialist has given me a unique perspective on the firm. I work in General Administration where I help the team with any administrative support, but my main focus is on managing the firm’s historical archives and research.

With the firm’s bicentennial (in 2018) quickly approaching, my knowledge of the firm’s past will prove helpful to any department looking for historical information. Also, since Brown Brothers Harriman is very proud of its history and longevity, it is publishing a book that will tell the story of their last 200 years—and I will be assisting the author in his research!

Q: In what ways do you think your history background might have helped you obtain the job and prepare you to undertake the tasks associated with your position?

A: If it had not been for my history background, I am certain I would not have this role at Brown Brothers Harriman. I had applied for an entry-level operations position, and a woman from HR contacted me about this role because my major at Saint Anselm caught her eye. Brown Brothers Harriman was looking for someone who could do research, enjoyed history, and was able to multitask while doing additional administrative work. When I went for the interview, I told my future boss that this role had my name written all over it. I still have a lot of researching ahead of me, but with the skills I learned at Saint Anselm—how to actively read, critically think, and look at the bigger picture—I have no doubt that I will succeed in this role.

Q: While you were at Saint Anselm College, you also minored in Communication and got an internship with the Office of College Communications and Marketing (CCM). What were the tasks associated with this internship? What did you learn that helped you at Brown Brothers Harriman?

A: My internship with the Office of Communications and Marketing really helped me develop my writing skills. In my history classes, I was always a decent writer, but I frequently struggled with getting all my thoughts effectively on paper. As an intern at CCM, my daily tasks were to draft news stories for the college website. I never realized how challenging journalistic writing was. My experience as an intern at CCM strengthened my ability to write in a simpler manner, which is valuable in my role at Brown Brothers Harriman since what I write there tends to be shorter (e.g. informative news blurbs) than, say, a history research paper.

I truly cannot emphasize enough how important internships are. I felt so confident in myself when this job began because I knew I had the education and a significant amount of experience that could all be tied into this role.

Q: You’re from Lynn, MA. What’s the best thing about your hometown besides Marshmallow Fluff?

A: Well, fluff is pretty awesome, BUT what I think the best thing about Lynn is that we’re called the City of Firsts. Lynn had the first baseball game under artificial light, the first iron works, first fire engine, and a bunch of other stuff. But I bet you’ll never guess that Lynn had the FIRST roast beef sandwich. Marshmallow Fluff and roast beef—Lynn, Lynn, the city of sin likes classy food.

From Professor and Student to Professional Colleagues:  Malachy McCarthy, OSB and Nancy McGovern ’82

McCarthy and and McGovern

In the Fall of 1980, the Saint Anselm College History Department offered its first course in a practical approach to applying history. Applied History, designed by Professor Frank Mason and Malachy McCarthy, OSB attracted eight students: Julie Carmelo, Mike Duffy, Carol Flanagan, Barbara Flynn, Ellen Lynch, Nancy McGovern, Mary Quinn, and Lori Skeates.

In this course, Malachy McCarthy taught the principles of archival theory while Frank Mason dealt with oral history. During the second semester, many of the students took advantage of an internship opportunity with a local history organization.

Thirty-five years later, Nancy McGovern continues her work in archives as the manager in charge of digital preservation at MIT Libraries in Cambridge. She came back to Saint Anselm College in 2013 to share her expertise with students in Public History, the updated version of the course she took in 1980. Malachy McCarthy is now the Province Archivist for the Claretian Missionaries USA-Canada Province in Chicago. He still teaches archival principles and practice, educating future Catholic religious archivists.

In August 2016, at the annual convention of the Society of American Archivists in Atlanta, Nancy McGovern accepted the mantle of President of the Society and will lead SAA over the next year. Teacher and student were reunited as professional colleagues at the conference after 35 years.

Faculty often wonder what becomes of each student we have had in class. We know that many go on to very successful careers and lives.  Some make it to the top of their profession, like Nancy. If you haven’t taken a moment to let your former professors know what you are currently up to, please do.  We would love to know.

Muzzy: From American Studies to New Hampshire Law

Katie Muzzy

Many people don’t realize that the relatively new American Studies major is housed within the History Department. Katie Muzzy ’15 was one of the first American Studies majors to graduate from Saint Anselm College. Aside from her major, Katie also minored in Gender Studies as well as Sociology and was a Presidential Scholar. She is now enrolled at UNH Law School as a Warren Rudman Fellow. One Thing after Another asked Katie about her experiences at both Saint Anselm College and law school.

Q: You are from Henniker, NH, just down the road from Saint Anselm College. Why did you choose St. A’s?

A: I chose St. A’s for the New Hampshire Institute of Politics. None of the other colleges I looked at had anything close to the NHIOP’s hands-on opportunities for students to get involved in politics.

Q: When you entered St. A’s, American Studies was a new major to the college. What made you choose that as your major?

A: I actually applied to St. A’s as a politics major. About a month before freshman year, I went on the first ever Passages trip. We traveled to Gettysburg, and it was amazing. Fr. William went to Philadelphia with us, and he helped me realize that I wanted to study history. Right away, when I got home from Passages, I did research into the different majors at St. A’s. I had no idea that American Studies was a new major, but I was interested in the flexibility and variety of courses. I changed my major on the first day of freshman orientation.

Q: You had several internships while you were a student at St. A’s. Tell me about those. Did you have a favorite? How did your coursework prepare you for the internships?

A: I had quite a few different internships while I was at St. A’s.

My freshman year, I spent a week interning for ABC during the presidential primary debate. I was lucky enough to be the stand-in for Diane Sawyer while the crew set up the stage and lights for the debate. For several days, the student stand-ins held mock debates in front of several producers for ABC.

The summer before my junior year, I interned for New Hampshire Public Radio’s The Exchange. I met Laura Knoy, the show’s host, and Keith Shields, the show’s producer, during a congressional debate while I was working as a student ambassador down at NHIOP. As an intern, I did research, learned about production, and screened calls during the show.

The summer before my senior year, I interned at the New Hampshire YWCA’s domestic violence and sexual assault crisis center. The opportunity stemmed from a sociology class I took called Family Violence, for which I started volunteering on the YWCA’s crisis line. I completed thirty hours of training on domestic violence and sexual assault advocacy. I found my work on the crisis line so rewarding that I decided to interview for a summer internship in the office. As a crisis center intern, I assisted clients over the phone, in the office, at the courthouse, at the police station, and in the hospital.

During the spring semester of my senior year, I interned for the Public Policy Team of the New Hampshire Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence. This was the internship that all of my other internships and classes prepared me for. Specifically, I wrote my senior thesis about the first federal legislation that provided funding for domestic violence shelters. My research fueled an interest in the public policy aspect of domestic violence and sexual assault. As the legislative intern, I spent the semester in the State House attending hearings, researching legislation, and even testifying in front of the House and Senate finance committees about the importance of domestic violence legislation.

I loved all of my internships but my favorite one was with the Coalition. It helped reaffirm my life path and led me to where I am today.

Q: You are now in your first year of law school at UNH. Why did you choose to attend law school? You (unless I am mistaken) were named a Warren Rudman Fellow at UNH Law; that’s a very prestigious award. Tell us about that.

A: I have wanted to go to law school since I visited the Massachusetts State House on a field trip in eleventh grade. During college, I refined my passions and realized in what area of the law I want to practice. My initial instinct, perhaps encouraged by my American Studies major, was to go to law school far away from New Hampshire, in a totally new region of the country. During my internship with the Coalition, I realized how much I love Concord and the New Hampshire State House. When I finally visited the UNH School of Law, which is located within walking distance of the State House, I loved it right away.

As part of my application to UNH, I applied for the Warren B. Rudman fellowship, which is awarded to two incoming 1L students with a demonstrated interest in pursuing public interest law after graduating law school. I did not think I had a chance of obtaining this recognition, but several months later I got called for an interview. On the day of my interview, I was driving straight from the law school to go to a round table on human trafficking with Senator Jeanne Shaheen for my internship. I will never forget that day because it’s the day I knew that I would be staying in New Hampshire for the long haul.

I’m in law school because I want to help survivors of domestic and sexual violence. I do not yet know exactly what type of law career I will have, but I am excited to take advantage of every opportunity I can while I’m at UNH Law.

Q: How do you think your St. A’s education prepared you for law school?

A: The most influential part of my St. A’s education was my experience on the debate team. My coach, Dave Trumble, taught me everything I know about being confident and competent, being a good researcher and writer, and being a poised and eloquent speaker. Ironically, I never even considered joining the debate team until I heard about it during the pre-law information session of my freshman orientation. I genuinely do not think I would have made it through college without the support of Dave and my teammates.

Q: Are you enjoying law school?

A: I really am! I try to think of school as a job. I’m either in class or doing homework at least from 9-5 every weekday, plus a solid weekend day of studying. It is completely different from college but it’s a very exciting time of my life.

Q: I’m sure law school is hard work, but surely you have to relax sometime. What do you do for fun?

A: I just got a kitten! Also I am newly engaged. Additionally, I try to do yoga as often as I can, and I am learning how to cook now that I live in my first apartment.

Munro Takes Stock of the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art

Jeremy Munro Image

History major Jeremy Munro ’13 was recently appointed Collections Information Specialist at the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art. One Thing after Another asked Jeremy about his museum work and what his experiences were like at Saint Anselm College.

Q: One Thing after Another recalls that you were originally from Derry, NH. Why did you decide to go to Saint Anselm College when it was practically in your backyard?

A: I was a pretty shy person in high school and knew I wanted to stay in New England. When touring colleges, we started at UNH, and I didn’t even get out of the car because there were so many people around. Saint Anselm College seemed like the perfect fit in terms of receiving a quality education while also attending a smaller school. It worked out well. I don’t think I would have wound up in the profession I’m in if it weren’t for Saint Anselm College.

Q: Why did you choose to major in History?

A: I’ve had a lifelong fascination with history. As a kid I would play medieval fantasy games and read fantasy novels. When I was looking at colleges, I had originally planned on majoring in computer science, but I took programming classes in high school and found them way less interesting than my history classes. The irony is my job now is computer science with a large history and art component. When I started as a history major, I thought I’d major in European history, but I took a survey class that referred a fair bit to Africa and fell in love with African history.

Q: What is your job title at the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, and what are your responsibilities? Which of your tasks do you enjoy the most?

A: I am a Collections Information Specialist in the Collections Management department. Simply put, we manage the art collection. We are responsible for art acquisitions, managing art storage areas, tracking artwork locations, collection photography, copyright and reproductions of the collection for scholarly books and exhibition catalogues, outgoing and incoming loans of artworks, contracting conservators to condition report and treat artworks, couriering artworks to other institutions, and generally making sure the artworks are safe and stable. I manage our artwork database and support our team of four full-time registrars as well as an art handler team in their duties. I spend most of my time updating the database or working on new data entry and export solutions, but I also assist with the management of external reproductions of collection works for scholars and publishers, managing artwork location updates, and helping with photography of the collection. I enjoy creating new data entry solutions and thinking about data abstractly. You have to create solutions which more than likely will outlive you, and that is a really empowering thought. I like to think a hundred years from now my name will still be on the database and in our object files somewhere.

Q: How did you obtain this position? Were there any experiences in college that helped you land this job or prepared you for its responsibilities?

I started work at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in August 2013 which was also the year I graduated Saint Anselm College. I started as a full-time gallery attendant. I was one of those people who tells you not to touch the artwork. I did that for six months when a job posted internally came open in Collections Management. I interviewed and have been in that department since March 2014. At Saint Anselm College, I worked at the Chapel Art Center for three years, and during my senior year I also was an intern there. My experience at the Chapel Art Center made all the difference. Having practical, wide-ranging art experience was extremely valuable. I don’t have a formal tech background, but I’ve taught myself programming at a basic level, and that background really helped. Finally, in a broad way I think studying history helps you think critically and thoroughly which is invaluable for most professions.

Q: What’s your favorite piece of art in the museum?

A: This is the toughest of questions. I was just looking through our online collections and Mark Rothko’s No. 210/No. 211 (Orange) holds a special place for me. When I worked in museum security, I used stand in the gallery that the work is in, and I’d stare at it a lot. Rothko’s works are like a Russian novel; you can spend a lifetime looking at one and always find something different. I don’t think Rothko really liked people analyzing his paintings since he was all about people just participating in the experience of them, but this painting makes me feel content. The ready-made assumption is that he’s modeling the feelings of a sunset, but I think it’s much more than that. It’s about sitting on a cliff watching the sunset on the West Coast. The world is simultaneously in front and behind you physically and not. You’re both confronting your mortality and not. In that moment, you look over your life, and both the past and the future seem just fine.


Mark Rothko
No. 210/No. 211 (Orange), 1960
Oil on canvas
69 x 63 in. (175.3 x 160 cm)
Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Bentonville, Arkansas. Photography by Edward C. Robison III.

Michael McCue on Town Administration, Master’s Degrees, and Gingko Biloba Saplings

Michael McCue
Photo from

Avid Portraits readers may have noticed an entry in the Alumni News section about former history major Michael McCue ‘89.  The story piqued our interest, so One Thing After Another contacted Michael to learn more.

Q:  You are currently the Town Administrator in Rochester, Massachusetts. What does a Town Administrator do?

A: As the former Town Administrator in Avon and the current Town Administrator in Rochester, I supervise all aspects of the daily functioning of the community. This includes overseeing weekly expenditures and payroll, handling citizens’ concerns, and interacting with department heads as well as local, state and federal officials. No day is the same.

Q:  Recently, you arranged to have gingko biloba saplings planted in Avon through a United Nations Program.  The saplings were cuttings from a tree that survived the bombing of Hiroshima, Japan in 1945.  What made you want to bring those saplings to Avon?  What do they mean to you or the town?

A: I started an Arbor Day observation in the Town of Avon about four years ago to help the Town achieve designation as an Arbor Day Foundation “Tree City USA.” This included a partnership with National Grid to donate and plant trees in public spaces each spring. I was looking for 2014’s trees when I came across the ginkgo and learned of its hardiness for street-scapes. It was then I learned that there were 170 trees that had survived the Hiroshima bombing (which killed over 100,000 people) and that a UN-supported foundation existed that spreads the gingko saplings worldwide.  I reached out to them, struck up a friendship, and received 12 saplings this spring.  They come from a 250-year-old tree that was 1500 yards from the blast.

Those interested in reading more about Green Legacy and “A-bombed” trees can check out

Q:  Clearly trees matter to you!

A: I am an avid gardener and tree advocate (but not a “tree-hugger”). I ensured in a recent demolition of a building in Avon that a 40+ year-old apple tree on the grounds was spared.

Q:  What would you say to history majors thinking about careers–do you recommend your path of an MA in Public Administration?

A: I would strongly recommend seeking a graduate degree in Public Administration (or any advanced degree) as soon as one decides on that course. I went back to school almost ten years after graduating from St. A’s and feel that had I done so sooner, I would have been much better off. But then again, maybe I wasn’t ready to return to school. If one were to undertake the commitment to a graduate degree one must be ready to put in the effort (such courses are much more expensive) and perhaps I wasn’t at the right point for that.  I would stress that in choosing a program a student find one that focuses on practical applications of what is learned and features instructors who have worked in the field.

Q:  What do you like to do when you aren’t working?  Is a Town Administrator ever able to just watch his kid play baseball or enjoy a local restaurant,or do you always have to be ready to answer work related questions when you are in town?

A: Actually, I was writing freelance history articles for American and Canadian history magazines like Military History and American History, as well as several newspapers in both countries. I also took several years, prior to the online sites, to research my family tree back to the Mayflower and beyond. However, the role of Town Administrator is quite demanding, requiring a few night meetings each week.   That said, I always found the time to attend my son’s baseball games and cub scout meetings (he doesn’t do either any more) and currently my daughter’s soccer games.

I do not live in the town in which I work. It is not a requirement, though there are a few towns that do (including Mansfield, the town in which I currently live). I am not a big fan of residency requirements, for the reasons to which you allude above.