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History Alumni Spotlight: Erik Bauer '12G

From Salem State's history department to archivist at the Peabody Institute Library

What was your hometown, major, minor(s), concentration and year of graduation?

I am originally from the Chicagoland area. I completed an MA in history in 2012, and focused in public history.

What is your current title and role?  What are you responsible for day-to-day?

I am currently the archivist at the Peabody Institute Library in Peabody, Massachusetts and I’ve been in this position for almost seven years. In my current role, I process collections and prepare them for use by the public. This includes removing staples and paperclips, cataloging materials into the database, and writing finding aids. I also curate exhibits, both physical and online, by using materials from the archive to highlight a topic or theme about Peabody’s past.

I also work with the public by assisting people with their research and I love helping people find what they are looking for, especially around genealogical research. In addition, I’m in my sixth year as the contract archivist at the Haverhill Public Library. I process collections, catalog them and make them available for the public to use. I also work with the library staff to make recommendations on how to best preserve the various collections.

What encouraged you to pursue this career?

Before starting at Salem State, I lived in Los Angeles and had completed an MA in humanities from Mount St. Mary’s University, Los Angeles. I had an interest in museums and had an internship at the Craft and Folk Art Museum (now Craft Contemporary). It was during my internship that I became focused on the field of public history.

During my second semester at Salem State, I had an internship at the Nahant Historical Society that involved some archival work. This piqued my interest in archives and the desire to learn more about them. From there, I took advantage of as many opportunities as I could to learn more about the profession. This included taking the American Material Culture and Historical Archaeology course with Dr. Baker, who later served as my capstone advisor.

What skills did you learn as a history student and how did your time at Salem State prepare you for life after graduation?

The greatest skill I learned was how to professionalize my writing. I had used Chicago Style prior to Salem State, yet I really started to understand what was required to write historical papers. This is helpful in my current work because I conduct research using the collections in Peabody.

Was there a particular faculty member or class that had a lasting impact on you?

The two professors who had a lasting impact on me were Dr. Andrew Darien and Dr. Emerson Baker. I was Dr. Darien’s research assistant during my last year in graduate school and I learned a great deal about what it means to be a professor and the practical application of being a public historian. While I was his research assistant, I worked with him on conducting oral histories and the transcription work for Temple Sinai in Brookline.

That experience really helped me to understand an oral history project from the beginning to the end result. Dr. Baker, who was my capstone advisor and with whom I took several public history courses, provided great insights about what it means to be a working public historian. His stories from when he was a museum director prepared me for what it might be like dealing with boards and trustees, among other challenges.

What is the most exciting professional opportunity you have had since graduating?

There are two exciting professional opportunities that I have had. The first was serving as co-chair of the Constitutes Task Force for the New England Archivists (NEA). The NEA Constituencies Task Force was created to “identify and gather contact information on all relevant constituency groups in the region with a primary focus on groups outside of the college and university setting, such as historical societies and public libraries, in order to define their needs and provide a space for them to share ideas and learn from each other, etc.”

It was a great experience working with other archivists around New England and developing ways for NEA to conduct outreach to non-academic institutions. The report was well received and some of the recommendations that my co-chair and I suggested have been incorporated into the New England Archivists' long-range planning.

The other exciting professional opportunity I had was to present at the Society of American Archivists (SAA) Annual Meeting in Portland, Oregon in 2017.  SAA is highly selective and presenting at the conference with others who work at institutions across the country was an honor. The session was on using social media as a way of doing outreach; my specific section was how archives can use Tumblr to promote archival collections.

What advice would you provide to an incoming history student at Salem State? 

Take advantage of all opportunities that come your way, whether it is an internship or hearing a speaker on campus. Also, think about how classes can relate to each other. For example, with archaeology, you have to know and understand American material culture and have an understanding of local and national history. This knowledge helps to better understand the provenance of an object and how it should be preserved.

Also, think about how your research and writing skills can be translated to other classes and to your work. When I completed my undergraduate degree, I worked as an Inventory Control Specialists for an Apple Store. The research skills that I learned as a student in history helped me to resolve retail inventory issues. Being able to quickly resolve variances, solve problems, and look back on transaction history allowed me to become a leader in my region. This opened up new opportunities for me, including being the lead ICS for a new Apple Store opening.

Learn more about the history department at Salem State University.

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