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Public History Careers: Dr. David Snyder


Posted on November 5, 2015 by Dr. Jack Schmidt.

Jack Schmidt is Professor of Music and Chair of the Liberal Arts Department at Delaware Valley University where he conducts the Jazz Band and the Symphonic Band. 

In my last post, I introduced readers to Delaware Valley University’s new major in history, policy and society. One of the questions I receive frequently when talking with students about this major is, “What kind of job can I expect to find following graduation?”

One of the strengths of the public history profession is the breadth of opportunities available to graduates. Whether you are passionate about Civil War reenactments or sports history, the public history profession can turn your passion into a viable career.

To give you an idea about the types of opportunities available to public historians, I asked our talented history faculty to talk about their own public history experience. I thought their professional experience might provide an example of the range of work you might do as a public historian.

Dr. David Snyder has been at DelVal for more than 10 years. Prior to receiving his doctorate from Texas A&M, he worked for History Associates, Inc. (HAI) in Rockville, Maryland. While he worked as a researcher for some traditional projects, such as the history of a major trucking firm, his primary responsibility was archival research for litigation.

Courtesy: Allure West Studios Dr. David Snyder

Most of the cases he researched involved environmental contamination at industrial sites. With the creation of the EPA Superfund in 1980, law firms hit a gold mine. The Superfund legislation (CERCLA) created four classes of potentially responsible parties who could be liable for the costs associated with cleanup and remediation. (The Superfund established a federal fund to pay for cleanup, a fund that would be reimbursed by whichever party ended up being liable for the contamination.)

The four classes were: the current owners or operators, previous owners/operators at the site, anyone who transported waste at the site, and anybody who arranged for disposal of the waste at the site. Needless to say, there were a lot of legal cases as current owners and former owners (and everybody else) sued and countersued.

That’s where HAI came in. Most of these sites were at one point old World War II industrial sites, often owned by the government, manufacturing war materials on government contracts. Researchers from HAI were tasked with combing through the federal archives to see what instructions had been communicated to plant operators so that blame for the toxic waste could be attached and the Superfund compensated by the responsible party. Dr. Snyder spent a year as a contractor for large law firms digging through archives using the valuable history research skills.

This is just one example of the type of work you might do as a public historian. While many may associate public history with work at museums and historic sites, corporate history and research is yet another way that you can put your public history education to work for you.

Over the next few weeks I’ll introduce you to the work of some of our other talented history faculty and their work as public historians. 

Interested students can learn more about the new history, policy and society major at DelVal when you schedule a campus visit.