When a mother hears her three-year-old ask, “Mommy, did you know that Teddy Roosevelt kept lots of critters in the White House?”, she likely thinks that her child is trying to angle for a puppy. In my mother’s case, she wandered over and was surprised to find that I was reading Meet Theodore Roosevelt by Ormonde de Kay; the book was one in Random House’s “Story of America” series, aimed for 3rd through 5th graders. Surprised, she asked if someone had read the book to me earlier. When I replied that I was reading it for myself, she went around the house in search of a book she knew I had not seen before. She asked me to try to read some words; I read the first page to her before she turned to my dad and asked him if he already knew that I could read. (He didn’t.)
Funnily enough, my reading tastes have stayed relatively the same as they were in that stage of child development. I still love to discover what made people tick, how events and organizations came together and fell apart, when the extraordinary and the quotidian make an impact—in short, history spurs my imagination. And thus, I find myself in Washington, D.C., enrolled in American University and pursuing a Master’s degree in Public History.
That old living room rug was in West Des Moines, Iowa, where I was raised amidst perennial political campaigns and annual sweet corn harvests. Iowa has an incredibly beautiful state capitol, a low cost of living, and quite literally gave the world sliced bread, so I will always appreciate my home state. I earned my Bachelor’s degree from Butler University—Go Dawgs!—in Indianapolis, Indiana (March Madness fans will remember our consecutive runs to the National Championship Game in 2010 and 2011). Indy is a phenomenal city, once you get over the drivers acting like it’s May three hundred and sixty-five days per year; I genuinely recommend finding any reason to add it to your road trip list.
Learning about new places has always been a love of mine—I’ve visited thirty-eight states and sixteen countries. A few of these were added to the list as a result of two years spent in leadership consulting, which helped me sharpen my skills in audience engagement (ever given a workshop to four hundred and fifty Southern sorority women straight off of a plane?) and helped me to finesse my organizational prowess. Living out of two suitcases and a backpack when you will be in both the stifling heat of Athens, Georgia and your first “snow squall” in Binghamton, New York? It’ll make you a pro at prioritization and compartmentalization.
After the pandemic took me off the road and into virtual mode, I began wondering what was next for me. I love to coordinate, encapsulate, encourage, and educate. I had spent two years helping others gain tools and skills to help them learn and grow as leaders and learners. During my college years I had worked for Butler’s office of Student Disability Services. A student with visual disabilities hoped to take upper-level Spanish courses, but the Modern Languages department lacked the bandwidth to take thousands of pages of textbooks and make versions that were accessible; meanwhile, Student Disability Services lacked a Spanish-speaker on staff. Enter a junior triple-majoring in International Studies, Spanish, and Political Science who was passionate about accessibility, typed fast, and was thrilled to get pocket change for concessions at Butler Basketball games. The result? You get a student who can now hear audio versions of her textbooks and use screen readers para aprender.
Combining all of these passions of mine into studying Public History makes me excited for the future—not just as a professional, but for a future in which visitors enter a museum and find lessons that resonate with them, where students have materials that make the past come alive, and where learning about history outside of school doesn’t make people immediately think about how their dad lets yet another World War II documentary play while he “rests his eyes” on the weekends. I believe new media is the key to giving history a PR makeover. In this course, I’m excited to find the tools and strategies that will help me help others. From podcasts and documentaries, to behind-the-scenes web design and data sets, I’m thrilled to be in this course and can’t wait to share with you some secrets that will help you find your own Meet Theodore Roosevelt—a little tidbit of history so fascinating that you just can’t help but share it with others.
Lauren Pfeil is a graduate student at American University. A native of Des Moines, Iowa and a proud alumna of Butler University, she hopes to push the field of public history towards a more inclusive & accessible landscape.
Reach Lauren on Twitter: @lauren_pfeil
Reach Lauren via email: firstname.lastname@example.org