Anne Melton graduated from UW in 2006 with a BA in History and a minor in Public Health and Community Medicine. She returned to UW a few years later to earn her MA in Museology in 2012, and is currently the Membership Manager at the Museum of Flight in Seattle. We caught up with her to ask her a bit about her career path and the role History has played in her life.
What was it that initially sparked your interest in History? Was there a particular class or professor that really stood out to you?
I've always been interested in history, but as a freshman, I started on the path to be an International Studies major. I found that what I enjoyed most about those classes was learning the historical context of the topics we were studying. I loved many of my classes, but some of the highlights were the European Witch Trials with Mary O'Neil, African American History 1865-present with Quintard Taylor, and the History of Christianity with James Felak. I also studied abroad in Belfast where I took George Behlmer's Modern Irish History course, which gave me a deep understanding of the centuries-old conflict between Republicans and Loyalists in Northern Ireland. Speaking with and learning from people who had lived through the Troubles and staying in a (likely haunted) cottage in the Northern Ireland countryside are experiences I will never forget.
Could you tell about your career path? Were you always interested in working in museums?
I'd enjoyed and appreciated museums but never thought of them much as a career path. I had my "a ha!" moment while on a trip to Dallas when I visited the Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza, which chronicles the legacy of John F. Kennedy in the former Texas School Book Depository building. I was completely immersed in the experience and I thought, "This is it! This is what I want to do!"
Like many people, my career path was not a straight line from point A to point B. At UW I was very active in the student group Vox: Voices for Planned Parenthood which led me directly to my first real-world job as a field organizer for Planned Parenthood in Eastern Washington and North Idaho. I then worked in nonprofit for a few years before deciding that I wanted a museum career. In 2010, I came back to the UW for the Museology Graduate Program. At that time, Museology had partnered with the Northwest African American Museum (NAAM) to have a student intern in the curatorial department. I applied and got the gig, and ended up staying at NAAM for almost five years, serving and learning in a variety of roles.
Could you tell us about your current position at the Museum of Flight?
My job is to manage the membership program at The Museum of Flight and spearhead strategies for consistent program improvement and development. Members contribute annual dues, and in return they receive tangible benefits like unlimited museum admission and access to special programming. These annual dues directly support the exhibits, education programs, collection, and the museum's vision to be the foremost educational air and space museum in the world.
In what ways has your education in History informed your career path? What do you see as the value of a history education, based on your experiences?
My background as a historian serves me every day! Having a passion for history makes my job worthwhile, as I get the satisfaction that I am contributing to the financial sustainability of the museum so that others can come to learn, explore, connect with others, and share in all the experiences the museum has to offer.
In terms of the skills I developed as a history major, I am able to take in large amounts of information from a variety of sources and synthesize that information into a digestible format. I find that my nature as a researcher and the quest to understand the background of a problem or topic helps me to make good and well thought out decisions. As all history majors do, knowing how to write well and persuasively is invaluable and used often.
When it came time to research and write my thesis in graduate school, I was not daunted by the task thanks to all the preparation I had as an undergraduate. An annotated version of my thesis was later published in an academic journal, and I credit my earlier experiences as a history major for making that a successful endeavor.
Of course, writing, researching, and making clear and concise arguments are standard of the skills set of a history major. Understanding the relationship between cause and effect is a bi-product of this path, and we can easily synthesize information into the context of the world around us. I think that we often don't realize what a valuable skill this is because it becomes second nature. We are students of the world and generalists who can launch into any topic. After the recent presidential election, I found myself looking at current events from the perspective of a historian, which helped me think through and grasp what was happening.
Do you have any advice for students interested in pursuing a career in museums?
- Volunteer to be sure it's right for you. Museums have an allure to them, but you should do your homework and know what you're getting into. Talk with museum staff to learn about the many paths you can take for a museum career.
- Expect that you're going to have to climb the ladder. A degree is one thing, but professional experience is another. Getting your foot in the door is huge, even if it is an entry level position! That said, be open to opportunities even if they aren't your dream job, or even close to your dream job. Ask yourself, "can I learn from it, and can it get me to where I want to be while making a difference for this institution?"
- Consider further education. It may be right for you, it may not. It's also a big investment of time and resources. Forging your own path has the potential to be more difficult because you may have to work harder at jump starting your career, but it is definitely possible.
- Museum jobs are competitive. If you are willing to relocate, you'll have more opportunities to choose from.
- Find a mentor! This has made all the difference for me.