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.

Burkart Back from Study Abroad in Italy

Jonathan Burkart

Last semester three history majors spent time abroad. One went to Germany and another explored Britain. History major Jonathan Burkart ’18 (Brooklyn, CT) went to Orvieto, Italy. One Thing after Another was curious about how his background in history influenced his encounter with the ancient Etruscans, the Romans, the medieval city-state, and modern Italy. We asked Jonathan about his experiences abroad as well as his thoughts about internships and careers.

Q: How did you come to be a history major? What inspired or influenced that choice?

A: History has always been my favorite subject. Since elementary school, I would soak up every piece of history in literature, my classes, and when visiting museums or parks with my family. I am lucky enough to have had a long list of exceptional teachers who helped increase my interest through fascinating classes and a genuine commitment to their students. My passion for history never abated, so it was a natural choice to major in it.

Q: You spent all of last spring semester in Orvieto, Italy as part of a Saint Anselm College study abroad program. What were your classes and experiences like?

A: It’s hard to summarize three extraordinary months in a few sentences. . . . I loved every minute of my study abroad experience. Perhaps the most incredible feature was our Chiavi class. In Chiavi (which translates to “keys”), we read about different parts of Italy’s history, such as Lorenzo Ghiberti’s Gates of Paradise, and then we would take a trip to Florence to see and “unlock” the history and culture. Orvieto and Italy are so rich in history, from ancient times to recent events, that practically every street showcases beautiful, culturally important elements that, when pieced together over a semester, create a breathtaking tapestry that speaks of history more eloquently than any single class could ever hope to. Our education came from talking with locals and from experiencing history first-hand.

Q: Did you find your background in European history affected how you experienced the semester abroad?

A: Before I studied in Orvieto, I took a Modern European course and a War and Revolution class, and both prepared me for Italian history very well. I have studied European history throughout my college and high school careers, but it was incredible to see my textbook pages come to life when walking through the Roman Forum and the Colosseum. My history classes affected my study abroad experience in that they enhanced my appreciation of every trip we made. Simply being in Italy is phenomenal, but comprehending the depth of walking on 2000-year-old cobblestones made the trip indescribably amazing.

Q: What are you looking forward to during this school year?

A: Catching up with friends that I haven’t seen since fall semester of last year and resuming classes probably top the chart of things I’m looking forward to this year, but Davison food is in a close third place.

Q: You often attend Admissions Open Houses as a history major, which we really appreciate. What do you say to high school students who are thinking about a history major but aren’t sure yet?

A: When I attend the Admissions Open Houses, the first question I get from prospective students is always, “But what if I don’t want to teach?” I think one of the biggest misconceptions surrounding history majors is that you can only become a teacher after college. While that is definitely an excellent option, there are more applications for a history major than you might think. While looking for an internship next semester, I discovered that the FBI is looking for history majors. The critical skills of researching and being able to present your information in a cogent, comprehensive manner is important for a large number of jobs, which is why I recommend taking history classes to anyone unsure of what he or she may want to do for a living. You never know, you just might discover a hidden passion while you’re at it.

The Economist’s College Rankings: The Price of Everything and the Value of Nothing

Monopoly Man

What The Economist Says

US News & World Report, Forbes, Princeton Review, and other organizations rank colleges annually. Now The Economist has tried its hand at producing a new hierarchy of schools based on a different set of criteria.

(This blog post also relies on the hard copy of the article that appeared in the October 31-November 6 2015 issue of The Economist.)

The Economist was intrigued by the claims made in an article published by the Quarterly Journal of Economics which seemed to question the degree to which colleges enhanced workers’ earning power. As The Economist puts it, the article suggested that graduates from Harvard University earned high salaries not because the school enhanced their skills but because it admitted very bright people to start with. Using data provided by the Department of Education’s “college scorecard” website, The Economist attempted to determine just how much a college elevates its graduates’ salaries. To use The Economist’s own words:

The government generated the numbers by matching individuals’ student-loan applications to their subsequent tax returns, making it possible to compare pupils’ qualifications and demographic characteristics when they entered college with their salaries ten years later. That information offers the potential to disentangle student merit from university contributions, and thus to determine which colleges deliver the greatest return and why.

The Economist then asserts that its “first-ever college rankings are based on a simple, if debatable, premise: the economic value of a university is equal to the gap between how much money its graduates earn, and how much they might have made had they studied elsewhere.” Figuring out how much graduates actually earned ten years out of school is the easy part. It is somewhat harder to determine how much they could have made if they had gone to a different school. The Economist, however, plucky as it is, used multiple regression analysis to determine that figure for 1,308 schools.

In determining the value added by a school, The Economist had to account for a number of variables that had some bearing on graduates’ salaries:

  • average SAT scores, sex ratio, and racial makeup of the school
  • the size of the college, whether it was a public or private institution, and its religious affiliation
  • the wealth of the state in which it was located as well as the wage rates of the town where the college is
  • the number of students who use Pell grants
  • whether the college has a ranked business school or is a liberal arts college

The Economist even developed a “Marx and Marley Index” that measured the extent to which schools had students who were disinclined to pursue lucrative careers in, say, business.

After filtering out these factors, The Economist determined how much of a return in earning power each school generated for its graduates. As The Economist points out, the bar is set very high for schools like Caltech (California Institute of Technology) because it is very selective (it admits the cream of the cream), it is close to a prosperous city (Los Angeles), and teaches subjects that often lead to high-paying jobs (science and engineering). In other words, the kind of student who attends Caltech should be expected to do very well whether he or she goes to Caltech or not. (And according to The Economist’s model, Caltech actually does not enhance its graduates’ earning power—median earnings ten years out are actually around $8,000 less than expected earnings).

The list yields some not-so-big surprises. MIT and Harvard, perpetual winners in other rankings, are close to the top. What is intriguing about the list is that a number of lesser-known schools do quite well. If one includes vocational colleges, pharmacy schools score highly (e.g. MCPHS University in Boston—which has placed this fact prominently on the home page of its web site). They are not particularly selective, but they practically ensure six-figure salaries for their graduates less than ten years out of school. The maritime colleges (e.g. Massachusetts Maritime Academy), which train engineers for careers in shipping, also lead to lucrative careers. In fact, graduates of SUNY Maritime in New York have higher salaries than the poor slobs at Caltech.

If we exclude these vocational schools, though, the picture becomes somewhat more speckled. Yes, schools that admit students with high SAT scores tend to have graduates who possess greater earning power. And, yes, schools that focus on engineering and business also seem to do well in the rankings. Having said that, graduates from schools that stress the humanities still go on to remunerative careers. The Economist suggests that if students from traditional liberal arts colleges do not fare particularly well according to this ranking, that’s because they are not focused on making money. David Oxtoby, Pomona College’s president, claims his school’s graduates are more interested in “changing the world, affecting people’s lives, and having a fulfilling career” than “on being compensated for their work.” (As you can guess, Pomona did not fare well in the rankings.)

Where Saint Anselm College Fits

Saint Anselm College ranked 171 out of 1,308 colleges or in the 86th percentile. To put this performance in perspective, here are how some other New England colleges performed:

36 College of the Holy Cross 97%
72 Providence College 94%
129 Colby College 90%
171 Saint Anselm College 86%
258 Stonehill College 79%
281 Middlebury College 78%
403 Bowdoin College 68%
421 Assumption College 67%
736 Saint Michael’s College 42%
997 Merrimack College 21%

In other words, Saint Anselm College does a better job of providing its graduates with earning power than a number of peer institutions. How or why this happens is unclear.

What Does It All Mean?

There is something to be said for measuring schools in this manner. The Economist points out that its rankings indicate a number of public schools have done an outstanding job of catapulting poor students into the middle class. Saint Anselm College can take some pride in the fact that it is better at performing this service than 86% of America’s colleges.

But earning power is not the only or even the most important means of measuring a college’s performance. The Economist is up front that its ranking does not measure anything but the degree to which a college enhances its graduates’ earning power. And earning power is not the be-all and end-all of college education.

Society needs engineers and businessmen, and such people rightfully earn big money. But society also needs nurses and schoolteachers, and these professions don’t earn huge salaries. Even more important, though, society needs people who can see its problems in the round. There is an idea circulating in Silicon Valley that the engineers and businessmen who are pushing the frontiers of the Information Age have the power to resolve many of our difficulties because they possess tools that nobody has ever had access to before. But a narrow training in engineering or business does not necessarily make one fit to use those tools—no matter how powerful they are—any better than anyone else. A broad understanding, but one that is also capable of training itself to study a variety of problems in depth, is what is wanted.

One Thing after Another is here reminded that it once had a colleague at another institution who used to claim that a liberal arts education enabled students to “learn how to learn.” Her argument was that the broad education students received at a liberal arts college did not provide them with all the knowledge they needed to tackle any problem. Rather, it allowed them to understand how to go about mastering different fields on their own. It is this skill that we need now more than anything else, and it is not cultivated by the intense study of one area. This skill, however, does not always lead to great earning power. In this context, David Oxtoby’s observations might be self-serving (Pomona finished 1241 and in the 2nd percentile) and a little overdrawn, but he has a point. “Changing the world, [and] affecting people’s lives”—both of which are important jobs—are not necessarily remunerative.

NOTE: In the interest of full disclosure, One Thing after Another must admit that it a) subscribes to The Economist and b) obtained a BA from Pomona College. 

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.