Welcome to our new weekly segment called, “How I Do History”!
As history lovers we all have a passion for the past, but not everyone has a degree in history. It got us thinking – wouldn’t it be fun to learn what people actually did with their history degree?
Today, I’d like to introduce to you, Amanda Thompson.
Throughout my career journey as a Historian for non-profit museums, the National Park Service and now owning my own consulting agency, I have “done History” in many ways. In this current job climate it is so important to be able to rely on the many skills that I learned through my B.A in History, however, I feel as if this degree has benefitted me in conjunction with my degree in Communications and Museum Studies.
I was lucky enough to know exactly what I wanted to be when I grew up—a Historian at Pearl Harbor. I attended California State University, Long Beach and geared my degree toward that future. I specialized in Oral Histories and found that my passion for history was really a passion for people.
Throughout my career, I have learned that a historian’s job can be widely interpreted depending on where and for whom you work. When I was hired as the Staff Historian at the Pearl Harbor National Memorial in 2010, I not only did the obvious duties of exhibit design, museum management, oral history collection and training interpretive staff, I was also appointed Public Affairs Officer, and coordinator for the annual commemorative events surrounding December 7. My degrees in History and Communications taught me how to gain the historical knowledge surrounding the attack on the island, but also how to effectively teach the visiting public, media and active duty military about the importance of the site.
The study of Pearl Harbor and the Pacific War often falls on military historians to relay details of battle strategy, weapons, and tactics used by both sides. As I gained confidence as a Historian, I began implementing more social and cultural history into the site and into the training I coordinated. I relied heavily on the over 800 oral histories in the museum’s collection to use first hand accounts of the battles in the Pacific. I find being able to look into someone’s eyes as they recall their life, even through a screen, tells the story much more eloquently and creates more of a human connection.
As a Historian for the National Park Service at such a well-known military base, I also “did” history by working closely with the active duty military on the island. Oahu is unique in that it hosts all five branches of the military and the history and traditions of those branches are echoed still throughout the island. Base commanders rely heavily on the National Park Service to teach and relay the importance of the military to not only the service members stationed there, but to the locals as well. As a military spouse, this was one of my favorite parts of the job and greatest honors of my life.
As with most military families, we moved away from the island in 2015 and I was faced with reexamining how both my education and experience could translate into another job opportunity this time in San Diego, California. I worked for the USS Midway Museum as an event manager, and for the Armed Services YMCA as a program coordinator for wounded veterans. Each position required me to call on what I had learned in my previous job and allowed me the opportunity to teach people the importance of preserving history especially for those of the Greatest Generation.
In 2018, I felt confident enough in my abilities to begin consulting for an organization that I had worked closely with in the past and had a connection to my Pearl Harbor dream job. Pacific Historic Parks, the cooperating association to the Pearl Harbor National Memorial, contracted me to manage and grow their oral history collection. I travelled around the United States interviewing Pearl Harbor Survivors and Pacific War veterans and added their stories to the vast collection. I also organized, digitized and created a digital portal to provide public access to the interviews, some of which had never been seen by the families. As the oral history collection became easier to maintain, I was also asked to become a regular contributor to their quarterly journal, consult on digital engagement for donors and create digital and social media content for the organization.
Since Covid-19 shut down many museums and organizations, my business did take a hit as did many others. However in June 2020, I used the opportunity to officially launch Thompson Consulting and since then have gained several clients. I focus on exhibit design, oral history collection management, interpretive program development and storytelling, both in film and television. Currently, I am working with a military organization on an exhibit design for a temporary space in a major museum as well as working as a research and oral history consultant on a documentary film on the Philippines Campaign during WWII. The pandemic has allowed me to once again, reexamine my education and experience and seek consulting opportunities that I can be passionate about. I draw upon my research and writing skills the most within my current position and rely heavily on what I learned in the Museum Studies field. I am constantly examining exhibits, keeping up with the latest oral history trends and connecting with others in the museum and history field to ensure that I am continuing to preserve history in the most efficient, engaging and unique ways.
For anyone looking to get into the History field, I highly encourage a double major or minoring in a field like Communications. It has been so beneficial for me to be able to communicate effectively what I am writing about in journals and essays. The greatest advice I learned early on in my career was to be able to pivot and network within this field so that opportunities are never far away.
Building my resume and gaining education and experience along the way has provided me the opportunity and confidence to become an entrepreneur in the history field. Doing history has looked like many things for me, but it all comes down to preserving the stories of people and sharing those stories with the world. Now, as the owner of Thompson Consulting, I am able to focus on this passion and use my skills to promote the importance of those who served our country.