The Wages of History
Emotional Labor on Public History's Front Lines
Published by: University of Massachusetts Press
Although many who are drawn to such work initially see it as a privilege—an opportunity to connect with the public in meaningful ways through the medium of history—the realities of the job almost inevitably alter that view. Not only do interpreters make considerable sacrifices, both emotional and financial, in order to pursue their work, but their sense of special status can lead them to avoid confronting troubling conditions on the job, at times fueling tensions in the workplace.
This case study also offers insights—many drawn from the author's seven years of working as an interpreter at Fort Snelling—into the way gendered roles and behaviors from the past play out among the workers, the importance of creative autonomy to historical interpreters, and the ways those on public history's front lines both resist and embrace the site's more difficult and painful histories relating to slavery and American Indian genocide.
"A sophisticated analysis that brings together the politics of gender with the aesthetics of historical performance and the materialist sensibilities of political economy—truly a multifaceted approach that adds something quite new to the critical literature on public history."—Cathy Stanton, author of The Lowell Experiment: Public History in a Postindustrial City
"Tyson advances a new perspective to consider when assessing living history interpretation for appropriateness, effectiveness, and viability. Essential."—Choice
"Straightforward, analytically clear, and quietly passionate . . . The book ends with a plea for recognition of the social worth of the work of museum interpretation."—Indiana Magazine of History
"This book does an excellent job of demonstrating the difficulties inherent in first-person interpretation [especially concerning historically 'accurate' views of gender, class, race, and religion] ensuring it a well-deserved place on public history syllabi."—American Historical Review
"Very readable . . . accessible to those both inside and outside academia. . . . This book would be useful for a labor studies class, particularly in generating discussions of the vast array of jobs that require some level of emotional labor. Each of the chapters can be read on its own, without requiring knowledge from earlier parts of the book to understand later portions."—Labor Studies Journal
"Amy M. Tyson's engaging book examines an overlooked subject in public history: the workers who directly serve audiences, or, those on the 'front lines.' . . . Chapters 4 and 5 are particularly well written and provocative. In chapter 4 Tyson investigates the strong desires of the front-line workers (including herself) to display their understanding of historical authenticity and the supervisors' assertions of their own power to impose restriction son the workers when they acted away from the given script. . . . Tyson is hopeful, I believe, that individuals who supervise and lead the 'emotional proletariat' will gain a more empathetic and respectful relationship with their workers."—Journal of American History
"Tyson has written a book that would make [historical] interpreters proud. It should be an eye opener to anyone who is interested in the real trenches of history, located not in the academy, but in American museums."—Registar of the Kentucky Historical Society
"According to Tyson, this emotionally fraught work culture, in which employees feel simultaneous emotional fulfillment and exhaustion, affects both the efficacy of the site as a living history museum and employees' personal and professional happiness."—Public Archaeology
"As more public history institutions deal with 'difficult' histories, The Wages of History should prove the necessity of preparing workers well while honoring their experience and authority."—American Quarterly