Carnegie Mellon University

President and CEO of the Heinz History Center Andy Masich

May 01, 2018

A Hands-on History Lesson From Andy Masich

By Stefanie Johndrow

When students sign up for classes at Carnegie Mellon University, they can always expect one thing: They’ll be taught by the best. Students taking “Public History: Learning Outside the Classroom” know this for sure.

The course took students off campus and into Pittsburgh’s Senator John Heinz History Center—a Smithsonian affiliate and Pennsylvania’s largest history museum. Their instructor was one of the people who knows the city’s history the best: Andrew E. (Andy) Masich (DC’14), the museum’s president and CEO.

"The History Department has truly been delighted to offer ‘Public History’ this semester to our students,” said Donna Harsch, professor of history and head of the department. “The course provides a variety of unique opportunities to learn history outside the classroom, and it builds creatively on the department’s long tradition of pioneering new approaches to researching, packaging, and disseminating the ever-changing history curriculum.”

She added, “We’re fortunate indeed to collaborate with an innovative teacher and scholar like Andy Masich to make this pedagogical adventure available to Carnegie Mellon students.”

students at the museum

Getting a firsthand look at Pittsburgh’s past has been impactful for Hadrian DeMaioribus, a sophomore majoring in social and political history.

“It's an amazing opportunity to explore beyond campus into the world of public history,” DeMaioribus said. “The challenges and theory behind public applications of history absolutely adds a richness to my academic courses.”

A historian and scholar, Masich received his Ph.D. in history from CMU. That’s how he came up with the idea for the course.

“While talking to students in the History Department at CMU, I was asked about my work at the Heinz History Center,” Masich said. “They wanted to know how academic historians differ from public historians and then were surprised to learn that we can explore history in many ways. I determined to teach a course that would reveal how people learn history and that there are meaningful history careers beyond the classroom.”

Throughout the course, students have taken behind-the-scenes tours of Pittsburgh museums, field trips to public places and explored archaeology, exhibitions, food traditions, monuments, films, oral history, living history demonstrations, publications and social media. 

students at the fort pitt museum

“My favorite part of the course has been diving into Pittsburgh's history from so many different perspectives with so many different professionals,” said Rebecca Kern, a senior majoring in information systems. “I've loved going off campus into the city and learning through experiences. Even though I'm from Pittsburgh, I've still learned so much that I didn't know and have gotten to explore places that I've never been.”

A senior Ethics, History and Public Policy major, Maggie Edwards has a greater appreciation for all that goes into maintaining museums. 

“One thing I have taken away from this course is the value that museums bring to their visitors,” Edwards said. “This isn't a new revelation, but seeing the love that the people who work at museums have for their field makes me realize the importance of experiencing history to the surrounding community.”

The class visited the Fort Pitt Museum where they learned how Fort Pitt has shaped the course of American and world history. At the museum, students got to experience proper procedures for firing a cannon and hand-washing clothes. 

students learning at the museum

“As I wrap up my undergraduate career, this experience was the pinnacle of an incredible four-year journey,” said Grace Dzina, a senior history major. “I leave the course each week inspired and eager to walk the streets of the city, eyes peeled for symbols denoting stories of the past. There is a richness to the built landscape that I simply didn’t comprehend the depth of before and I am all the more curious to engage and learn about the origins of what has endured into the present.”

Once a student and now an instructor, Masich is drawn to the ambition of the CMU community.

“There is an energy and excitement at CMU that's driven by smart people, from all over the world, engaged in different disciplines and cutting edge research,” Masich said. “The chances for cross fertilization of ideas is tremendous—and that's exactly what Andrew Carnegie hoped for when he got the ball rolling over 100 years ago.” 

He added, “If you want to make a difference, Pittsburgh is the place to be.”