World War I Recruitment Poster American Field Service Réserve Mallet Courtesy of the AFS Archives

If you like working with the “raw materials” of history  in your courses, what kind of career path allows you to keep doing it after you leave Gainesville?  Nicole Milano (BA 2005, MA 2009) answers this question in a post about putting her UF history degree to work in New York City.

How I Became the “Lone Arranger”

by Nicole Milano

I entered the University of Florida in 2001 as an undergraduate student with an undecided major.  I always had a strong interest in history, but partially believed the common misconception that unless I wanted to “teach” or “be a lawyer” there were not many other career paths available with this degree.  Considering myself on the “lawyer” track with my Sociology and Criminology minors, I registered as a History major in my second year.  In my last year of college I took the LSAT, completed my undergraduate thesis on Queen Elizabeth I, and suddenly came to the realization that I did not actually want to be a lawyer.  How could I study modern tax law when I had just used primary resources from sixteenth century England?

After taking time off to work in Italy I came back to UF for a Master’s degree in Early Modern European History.  Learning of the opportunity through a fellow graduate student, I also took a part-time position as a Curatorial Assistant at UF’s Special and Area Studies Collections.  I had been introduced to this repository as an undergraduate student, but did not have the foresight to connect it with my own career ambitions at the time.  In the archives, I processed collections in a wide variety of topics, and transcribed and helped preserve Civil War-era collections in the conservation lab. I felt lucky to work for a fantastic team of archivists, and thoroughly enjoyed learning the skills involved in preserving a collection and making it available for research. Thanks to this work and my experience co-curating an exhibition in St. Augustine through the Museum Studies program open to History majors, I quickly realized that I wanted to share my love of history with a broader audience including, but not exclusively, the traditional academic  community.

This realization led me to apply for an Advanced Certificate in Archives from NYU, a program which gives students a strong theoretical background of the archival profession while also allowing for a variety of practical applications.  During my time at NYU, I completed an internship at the Metropolitan Museum of Art Archives and preserved over 1,500 seventeenth- and eighteenth-century tri-folded documents at the Barbara Goldsmith Paper Conservation Laboratory.  After graduation I received the summer fellowship at the Mudd Manuscript Library in Princeton, NJ, where I co-curated an exhibition on John F. Kennedy, and now work as the only archivist (often referred to as a “Lone Arranger” in the field) at the Archives of the American Field Service and AFS Intercultural Programs.

Nicole Milano and Ward B Chamberlin Jr, an AFS World War II ambulance driver, in front of a reconstructed World War I ambulance in 2012

My experience at UF continues to inform my work as an archivist.  In addition to “introducing” me to the archival profession, UF fostered in me a deep respect for history and the significance of primary resources.  My personal research as a graduate student enables me to better assist researchers using archival collections, both remotely and in person.  I fully understand the difficulties involved in accessing original historical material and work to eliminate this through digitization and other types of remote access, including the creation of the first repository website for the AFS Archives. Additionally, the argumentative writing skills I honed under my extremely well-versed Master’s committee have proven vital when writing successful grant proposals.  The guidance and support of faculty and fellow students at UF helped break down the traditional misconceptions of being a History major, and I am now in a field that enables me to create accessibility to our collective past and help students of all ages use it to better understand the world around them.