GEA at KHS is More Than an Editorial Assistant

Before I joined the Kentucky Historical Society staff, I came to KHS as a graduate editorial assistant with our journal, The Register of the Kentucky Historical Society. My primary responsibilities were typical of such a post: to solicit and edit book reviews as well as providing some substantive query and copy editing work on manuscripts under consideration for publication.

However, my experiences did not stop there. Because of the scope of KHS’s work, GEAs have the opportunity to be involved in much broader activity.

GEAs bring different interests and knowledge to the post and that allows them to shape their individual experiences. Patrick Lewis, the first GEA, is an expert in Kentucky’s Civil War history. Besides his work on The Register, he was part of the exhibit development team for the HistoryMobile exhibit, “Torn Within and Threatened Without: Kentucky in the Civil War Era,” an AASLH-award-winning exhibit that transformed Civil War Kentucky into an immersive choose-your-own adventure graphic novel. In his second year as GEA, he helped with early grant writing for the Civil War Governors of Kentucky (CWGK), a startup digital humanities project, which he now directs.

I was the first 20th century specialist and had the fortune of working on The Register as the journal solicited and edited submissions for a special issue on Kentucky’s 20th century history. I even had an article included in it. KHS also asked me to research and write 60 history vignettes on civil rights in Kentucky. Graduate students research and write all of the time, but this task differed because the audience was the Kentucky General Assembly.

Each year, KHS provides the Legislative Research Commission with short daily history tidbits to display on the computer screen at every desk each day legislators are in session. For this collection, titled “From the Civil War to Civil Rights,” I started in the 19th century and included such topics as vigilante violence, Western Kentucky’s night riders, and resistance to desegregation in the 1960s. The LRC team questioned some of the language I used and called KHS Executive Director Kent Whitworth and me to its offices at the Capitol to discuss those concerns.

Although terrified, I had a long and engaging conversation with the LRC team that day and learned how to be a public advocate and a public historian. Walking the LRC team through my research, negotiating on word choices and compromising on subjects to include provided professional growth lessons that GEAs at academic institutions and university presses are not likely to have.

Each GEA has the opportunity, if he or she wants, to contribute to a project outside of The Register. Andrew Patrick took to outreach work, leading Kentucky @ 225 Listening Tour stops, and he helped the CWGK team with promotional material. Dana Caldemeyer and Robert Murray helped write exhibit labels and assisted on-site researchers in our Martin F. Schmidt Research Library.

Combining traditional editorial work within a dynamic public history institution like KHS allows GEAs to see a fuller picture of the possibilities of their degrees. The GEA program also helps KHS by bringing talented, young historians into the building and allowing their knowledge to help us tell better histories.

The GEA at KHS is more than an editor and much more than an assistant. It is a model for a public-academic history partnership, and all five graduates are better historians for having held the post.

(Editor’s Note: Participants in the KHS GEA program come from the University of Kentucky. Read more from Amanda Higgins and Patrick Lewis about this topic in the article “Investing in the Ecosystem,” starting on page 7 of the Emerging Professionals takeover of American Association of State and Local History’s History News.)

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