Dan Curtis ~ Professional Personal Historian

What Makes a Personal Historian a Professional?

March 24, 2010 · 4 Comments

I call myself a professional personal historian because I consider what I do and how I do it to be professional. But what does that actually mean? And who really cares?

Those of us who make our living at this business should care. Increasingly, as the recording of personal histories becomes more commonplace, our clients are going to want to know about our credentials and track record.  They’re going to expect  professionalism. And given that our profession is still unregulated, it’s up to each of us to ensure that our work meets professional standards. So what are the criteria for being a professional personal historian? Here’s  my checklist. Would you agree?

  • Abiding by your association’s code of ethics.
  • Actively contributing to the ongoing development of the profession.
  • Having a body of work that demonstrates your skill and ability to deliver a personal history project.
  • Setting fees that are not consistently below the “going” rate. There isn’t an established fee structure but it’s possible to acquire a good sense of what personal historians are charging.
  • Working full time as a personal historian.
  • Seeking opportunities for further professional development.
  • Requiring clients to sign written contracts and agreements for your services.

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4 responses so far ↓

  • Katheryn // March 27, 2010 at 1:56 am | Reply

    I agree with these and would add one more. I think a personal historian should earn at least 85% of their annual income from their craft and NOT from selling “how to” classes, products, or services to new comers to the trade. It’s a noble profession and certainly should never appear as unflattering as a pyramid scheme. Until or unless, a personal historian has a formal accreditation in a relevant field, distinguishing them as a qualified educator, I believe their primary income should be documenting history.

    • Dan Curtis // March 27, 2010 at 2:09 am | Reply

      @Katheryn. Thank you for your comments. I think what you indirectly point to is that there is no clear or agreed on job description for a personal historian. At the moment it’s a large tent. Is that a problem? I don’t know for sure.

  • Beth Morgan // March 31, 2010 at 6:52 pm | Reply

    Dan, I very much enjoyed your article. However, as a member of APH, and as an individual with personal history as only a part of my business, I must take issue with the requirement that a personal historian must do it full-time to be considered a professional. Oral history, my other love, is another part of my business, which I also do not get to practice full-time, whether as a result of my failure to market either personal history or oral history adequately or whether the market simply does not exist. I can assure that when I get a project, either oral or personal history, I give it my utmost to ensure that it is professionally completed, and that my clients are satisfied with their product. Additionally, I also disagree with Katheryn that folks should earn 85 percent of their income from making personal histories and not for teaching classes about personal history. We get the work we get. I, personally, prefer the “large tent” concept.

    • Dan Curtis // March 31, 2010 at 11:00 pm | Reply

      @Beth Morgan. Thanks for your comments, Beth. Of course this is just my definiton. I’m not suggesting anyone need incorporate any of this into their definition of a professional personal historian. My suggestion of full-time work is to clarify the difference I see between a professional and someone who is doing personal histories largely as a hobby or casually. I do see your point. I think though that until there is some form of certification, I would advise people to go with a personal historian who has a track record, is working fully as a personal historian and with whom you have some rapport.

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