Careers for Students of History: Profiles-Christopher S. Clarke
“I love what I do because it offers intriguing challenges and lots of variety. Exhibition development requires disciplined historical inquiry, but it also involves understanding how public audiences think, and how best to communicate with them. Working with museum staff members is very similar to teaching—it gives me the opportunity to share what I've learned as a historian."
Christopher Clarke studied history as an undergraduate at Amherst College, and then went on to earn an M.A. and Ph.D. at the University of Rochester. While completing his dissertation he worked as a historical consultant on projects for New York state, and taught for a year at Vassar College. When he received his degree he entered the museum field, becoming first the director of the Ontario County Historical Society in Canandaigua, New York, and then historian and senior historian at the Strong Museum in Rochester, New York. At the Strong Museum, which has fine collections from the American Victorian period, he helped to plan, research, and carry out a number of exhibitions, including Neither Rich Nor Poor: Searching for the American Middle Class; Between Two Worlds: African-American Culture and American Identity; and Unearthing the Secret Life of Stuff: Americans and the Environment. These projects also led to scholarly articles on interpreting history through museum exhibits and material culture.
All of these experiences prepared him to become a self-employed consulting historian who has been employed by historical societies, museums, National Park Service sites, and others to help plan, research, design, and implement new or renovated exhibits. His work as a consultant has included creating a new permanent exhibition for the interpretive center for Fort Necessity National Battlefield in Pennsylvania, writing label texts for new permanent exhibits for the West Virginia State Museum, and performing a feasibility study for a Frederick Douglass Education Center for the Landmark Society of Western New York.