UNK launching new public history master’s program to meet growing demand – and it’s available entirely online

UNK Communications

KEARNEY – The University of Nebraska at Kearney is offering a new master’s degree program in public history – available entirely online.

Launching this fall, the program provides advanced education and training for current and future professionals with a passion for history and a desire to share that knowledge with others. With a Master of Arts in public history, graduates are prepared for careers in museums, historic sites and battlefields, archives, digital media, state and national parks, historic preservation, cultural tourism and many other fields.

“What we’re training students to do in a public history program is not to write more papers and deliver more lectures in a classroom. We’re training them to share stories about the past that are meaningful to the public and to work with diverse audiences. The focus of this program is on interpretation, community engagement and working with different groups of people to protect and preserve the past,” said assistant history professor Will Stoutamire, a national leader in the field of public history and director of UNK’s new master’s program.

In the 36-credit hour graduate program, students will gain the expertise and research experience needed to be an effective historian while also developing the interpretive and communication skills that allow them to enrich the public’s understanding of important events, locations and people.

“The introduction of a full master’s program means there will be more faculty contributing to public history; there will be more course offerings in public history; and the core curriculum will be structured differently to be more focused on the skills that public historians need,” Stoutamire said. “Students will also benefit from being housed within a history department that already has a robust online Master of Arts program.”


The UNK Department of History began offering one of the first online Master of Arts in history programs in the country in 2010. Since then, more than 400 students have graduated from the program.

“The UNK history program is one of the most academically rigorous online programs in the nation. The department utilizes full-time and well-trained faculty to teach the program and mentor students. This is not the case with many of our competitors, who rely on adjunct faculty to teach in the online environment,” said Mark Ellis, dean of Graduate Studies.

Mark Ellis
Mark Ellis

UNK also offers an online option for its Bachelor of Arts degree in history, along with a public history minor for undergraduate students. In 2018, a public history emphasis was added to the online master’s program.

“There was such high demand for public history within that program that it became clear that public history needed to be its own degree track and program,” Stoutamire said.

The new master’s degree program in public history was approved by Nebraska’s Coordinating Commission for Postsecondary Education in January.

“The Office of Graduate Studies is thrilled to collaborate with the history department to launch and grow this new program,” Ellis said. “I am confident that it will become one of the premier UNK graduate programs.”

Stoutamire sees the same potential.

Will Stoutamire
Will Stoutamire

“History is a hot topic of conversation today and public historians are uniquely trained to engage in those conversations with the public,” he said. “Students are really interested in learning how to have those discussions effectively.”

The UNK program will help meet a growing demand for public historians across the country by providing high-quality training that’s both accessible and affordable. It’s expected to attract students from across Nebraska and beyond, giving people interested in public history an opportunity to further their education and allowing professionals already working in the field to advance in their careers.

“Every time I’ve had conversations with people in this discipline about offering a robust online public history program at the master’s level, they’ve been really excited. It’s one of those identifiable needs among my colleagues across the country,” 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.

Prior to becoming a full-time faculty member, Stoutamire served as director of UNK’s G.W. Frank Museum of History and Culture, where he led a rebranding initiative that gave the on-campus museum a new name, mission and vision. This “reinvention” included expanded hours, new programming, exhibits and technology and a restoration of the more than 130-year-old building’s interior to reflect different eras in Kearney’s history.

Students in the public history program have the opportunity to work on projects like this while collaborating with faculty and campus and community partners such as the G.W. Frank Museum, Museum of Nebraska Arts, Buffalo County Historical Society and Nebraska Game and Parks Commission.

“One of the things that I really value about this department – and one of the reasons why it makes sense for us to have a master’s program in public history – is that we have developed a culture over the past decade or more that really values public scholarship and community engagement,” Stoutamire said.


The public history master’s program includes 15 credit hours of required core courses and two tracks – thesis and capstone project.

Students who choose the thesis track complete a traditional paper focused on public history, along with 12 credit hours of electives in their area of interest. In the capstone project track, students complete 15 credit hours of electives. All students can take courses at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln or University of Nebraska at Omaha that complement their interests.

Students are also required to complete an internship – it’s one of the core courses – but there are alternative options for people already employed in the field.

For more information on the program, contact Stoutamire at 308-865-8263 or stoutamirewf@unk.edu.