By TYLER ELLYSON
KEARNEY – The newest faculty member in the University of Nebraska at Kearney’s Department of History needs no introduction.
Will Stoutamire, who served as director of UNK’s G.W. Frank Museum of History and Culture from September 2014 to July 2019, is back on campus as an assistant history professor. The 32-year-old is teaching a historic preservation course this summer and he’ll begin his tenure-track position in the fall.
“I’m excited to be back and looking forward to hitting the ground running,” said Stoutamire, who spent the past year as an assistant history professor and co-director of the Center for Public History at the University of West Georgia.
A native of Tallahassee, Florida, Stoutamire made quite an impression during his first go-around at UNK.
He transformed the Frank House into the G.W. Frank Museum of History and Culture through a rebranding initiative that gave the museum a new name, mission and vision.
Completed in 2018, this “reinvention” included expanded hours, new programming, exhibits and technology and a restoration of the 130-year-old building’s interior to reflect different eras in Kearney’s history. The first floor showcases the building as the home of George Sr. and Phoebe Frank in the early 1890s and the second and third floors represent the property’s 60-year history as part of the Nebraska State Hospital for Tuberculosis. A collection of decorative arts dating from roughly 1740 to the early 1900s was also displayed.
Stoutamire received the University of Nebraska Board of Regents KUDOS award – the university’s top staff honor – and National Council on Public History New Professional Award for his work on this project.
In his new role, Stoutamire will lead UNK’s public history programs, which include a public history minor at the undergraduate level and a public history emphasis as part of the Master of Arts in history program.
“Dr. Stoutamire is a national leader in the field of public history and is influential in organizations such as the National Council on Public History and the American Association for State and Local History. He has both academic training in the theoretical side of public history and extensive experience in a variety of areas, including historic preservation, heritage tourism and museum administration,” said Jeff Wells, chair of UNK’s Department of History. “Our students and faculty are fortunate to have him in the department.”
Stoutamire, who was a graduate lecturer in the history department from 2015 to 2019, takes the reins at a time when student interest in public history is on the rise.
“A lot of students are drawn to public history because they see the importance and value in moving history beyond academia by reaching out and engaging with the communities in which we live,” he said.
In public history, students are trained to be researchers, and they also learn how to communicate with the public and use their skills and knowledge outside an academic setting.
“We see the need for public historians time and again,” Stoutamire said. “These professionals are uniquely trained to engage in really important conversations with public audiences about our history, what it means for our present and how we live with those legacies today. We need people who are qualified to facilitate those conversations.”
UNK’s undergraduate program prepares students to work in a variety of public history professions and settings, such as museums, historic sites and battlefields, national and state parks, historic preservation, consulting and other areas.
“Undergraduate students – and their parents – appreciate that public history offers another career option for students who love sharing their passion for history,” Wells said. “Most of our department’s students plan to teach at the secondary level or go on to graduate or professional school, but there are also a lot of exciting options for careers in public history.”
UNK’s graduate program, which is offered entirely online, provides an opportunity for professionals already working in the field to further their education and advance in their careers. The program attracts students from across Nebraska and beyond.
“I want to continue to grow those networks and bring those diverse perspectives from across the country to our program. I think that serves our students and our program well,” said Stoutamire, who holds a bachelor’s degree in history from Florida State University and a doctorate in history with a public history emphasis from Arizona State University.
Stoutamire also plans to expand UNK’s partnerships throughout the state and University of Nebraska system to provide undergraduate students with more hands-on, experiential learning and networking opportunities.
Of course, there will be collaborations with the Frank Museum, as well, and he hopes to resurrect “Pedaling the Past,” a program Stoutamire and UNK associate history professor David Vail launched in 2018 that took bicyclists on a historical tour of Kearney landmarks.
“I’m looking forward to getting back into the stories that are still yet to be told in this community,” Stoutamire said.