The Applied History Program at Youngstown State University: Two Decades of Preservation and Education

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Applied history is a growing field that places the traditional, academic study of history into an experience for the general public — one that encourages them to think critically and analytically outside of the regular “classroom” environment. Applied history trains scholars to take historical research and present the findings in a way that the general public, of diverse age groups and backgrounds, can fully comprehend. Graduates in this field comprise various museum professionals, preservationists, archivists, historic document editors, conservationists, and various others.


At Youngstown State University, applied history is offered as a certificate with an M.A. in history program, as well as a certificate and minor for undergraduates. Established in 1997, this certificate program allows students with an already existing background in historical research to specialize in either historic preservation or museum studies. The program features various classes annually in editing, historical administration, historic preservation, local/community history, material culture, museum studies, and oral history. YSU’s applied history program also provides an annual academic stipend for two students in the form of graduate assistant interns at the Youngstown Historical Center of Industry and Labor (YHCIL).


YHCIL, or the Steel Museum, is located at 151 West Wood Street, near YSU’s campus. YSU’s Department of History manages the museum, which is a site of the Ohio History Connection. Its mission is to preserve the history of Youngstown’s iron and steel industry, a vital narrative of the community’s history and identity. The Steel Museum also acts as a “laboratory” for YSU’s applied history students, providing hands-on experiences such as collection management, exhibit design, and archival work. Seminars and workshops such as Curation, American Architectural History, and American Material Culture take place in YHCIL’s classroom spaces. Students in the applied history program can take full advantage of the facility, creating educational programs, providing tours, and developing exhibits. It is rare for a program to have an accessible facility for its students, and a number of students have actively selected YSU’s program for this reason.


The faculty comprising YSU’s applied history program is made up of professionals in the field and is well equipped to prepare and train students within the program. Dr. Donna DeBlasio, the program’s director, has worked for the Ohio Historical Society, the Ohio Historic Preservation Office, and the Cincinnati Museum Center. The educator and curator of the Steel Museum, Dr. Marcelle Wilson, was the director of the Aurora Historical Society and a part-time faculty member in history at YSU. Dr. Martha Pallante, chair of YSU’s history department, and Dr. Thomas Leary, professor of history, former curator at the Buffalo and Erie County Historical Society, and principal in the private cultural resource management firm Industrial Research Associates, complete the faculty as core educators and mentors for the program. In addition to coursework, students engage in a variety of hands-on activities and complete a required internship. Organizations and institutions where students have interned include the Ohio History Connection, Mahoning Valley Historical Society, McKinley Birthplace Memorial, Sutliff Museum, Aurora Historical Society, Spring Hill Historical Home and Underground Railroad Site, the Packard Museum, the Football Hall of Fame, Western Pennsylvania Historical Society, Meadowcroft Site, and the Butler Institute of American Art.


Graduates of the program have gone on to further develop their training at the Ph.D. level in other applied history programs in various institutions, including Middle Tennessee State University. Others have joined the field as exhibit designers, building displays for corporations such as Dominion Energy, or as public historians working at organizations and institutions such as the Ohio Historic Preservation Office, Warren Public Library, The Sutcliff Museum, Maryland State Library, GAI Consultants, Inc., McCormick Taylor Inc., McKinley Birthplace Memorial, West Virginia State Historic Preservation Office, Oklahoma Historic Preservation Office, and the North Canton Heritage Society. A number of program alumni have also served in AmeriCorps, providing their services to local historical groups and providing programs that enrich connections of local historical institutions with their communities via educational outreach or historical preservation.


Youngstown State University’s applied history program is celebrating its 20th year. Through two decades, the program has emphasized the importance of preserving history and enabling the accessibility of historical research and topics to the general public. Training, mentoring, and educating future public historians in the vitality of preserving historical documents, photographs, and architecture are crucial in sustaining the narratives of various communities. That is the mission and the very heart of YSU’s applied history program –providing communities with public historians that will assist them in collecting, interpreting, and preserving the legacy and history of their respective communities.