Soodabeh Malekzadeh, 2017 Public Fellow

History PhD student Soodabeh Malekzadeh worked with the Heritage Museum of Orange County as part of the Humanities Out There Public Fellows Program in 2017.

Through the generosity of the Luce Foundation and the efforts of everyone involved in the Public Fellow Program, I had the opportunity to serve as a Public Fellow at the Heritage Museum of Orange County. The Heritage Museum, under the directorship and guidance of Kevin Cabrera, has proven its dedication to providing underprivileged and underrepresented students and communities with a fun and creative experience of their history in Orange County. This was a fantastic match with my personal and professional commitment to bringing to light the diverse nature of communities throughout history.

For my project, I researched the natural and cultural history of the county. Using the rich on-site and local archives available, I developed a timeline of the critical events of Orange County’s history with an emphasis on the role of multiculturalism in the growth and development of Orange County as a community. The outcome highlighted natural, sociopolitical, and industrial points of Orange County's history by emphasizing its diverse linguistic, ethnic, religious, and cultural background.

I was thrilled to have the chance to use my research skills and linguistic training, in addition to my experience working with textual and oral archives, in developing a comprehensive and meaningful timeline of Orange County’s rich and vibrant history. Moreover, I practiced my training in translating complex historical accounts and data into a narrative that is understandable and appealing not only to visitors of all ages but specifically to K-12 students.

Working at the Heritage Museum of Orange County provided me with hands-on experience in using my Ph.D. education and my training as a historian to do meaningful work that benefits the public community. It also allowed me to observe historians at work, using their expertise to preserve, promote, and advance historical knowledge in a non-academic setting. The lively, professional, and welcoming atmosphere of the Heritage Museum further confirmed my interest in taking history beyond academia and using my degree in bringing the broader community into conversation with their background and heritage.

The Humanities Out There Public Fellows Program gives humanities graduate students the opportunity to intern with local cultural organizations. Public Fellows apply and expand their humanities research, writing and analytical capacities—skills developed in a PhD program—in a non-profit setting. The 2017 Public Fellows were supported by a grant from the Luce Foundation, as well as by donor and School of Humanities funds.