Lucy Smith’s parents both worked in museums when she was growing up. Now a graduate student in History and Women’s Studies here at Michigan, she explains, “I know for a lot of people museums can be really intimidating, but for me they were very much a safe space.”
Lucy’s after-school job in high school was giving tours at the Gateway Arch in St. Louis. A fierce booster of St. Louis to this day, she relished the opportunity to show off her hometown. The St. Louis Arch, after all, is not only a city-wide tourist attraction, but also a key way the city positions itself within national narratives.
While being a tour guide seemed an innocuous role, Lucy learned a powerful lesson: “I felt I could really shape the narrative. […] and that made me realize the power of that agency, for good and for bad.” Lucy’s job at the Arch was in many ways the beginning of what would become her core reasons for pursuing a PhD—to be able to communicate complex ideas clearly to the public and rethink historical narrative as a way to introduce social justice–minded interventions to established narratives.
As an undergraduate student at Oberlin College, Lucy focused on History and Gender, Sexuality, and Feminist Studies. She also worked at the school’s art museum in various roles. While her job at the Arch had introduced the power of framing historical narrative, Lucy’s experience at Oberlin led to her next major job—at George Washington’s Mount Vernon.
Her time at Mount Vernon exposed her to all the newest research in early American history. Only toward the end of her time there did she realized she was excited to take up research on questions in the Early American field. “I heard some scholars doing really radical stuff with the field. […] and I was like ‘Oh, I can get into this.’” As a current graduate student in the History and Women’s Studies programs, Lucy is using feminist theory and methodologies to ask new questions about early American history.
Her background in museums and her commitment to publicly accessible scholarship made finding a history program that valued public history crucial in her decision-making process. In the end, this was one of the key reasons Lucy picked Michigan.
Looking beyond graduate school, Lucy is primarily interested in pursuing a career outside the academy, though a lot can change over the course of graduate studies! No matter how her postgraduate plans take shape, she remains committed to using her time here to cultivate the ability to communicate cutting-edge historical research across audiences.