Growing up, did history class make you smile or make you snooze? Super historian and iggle Crystal Susiana wants you to know that studying and writing about history is way more fun than you might remember! In a field as old as time, Crystal talks with us about what it is like to be a young historian in a modern world.
1. Thank you so much for doing this interview… can you tell me – What’s your job title and where do you work?
Hey there! I am currently working as an administration staff in an English course, but I spend most of my day being a contributor and a freelance historian in a history project called History Inc. and being an active volunteer in Komunitas Jelajah, a history and culture community for K-12 children in my city. I am going to tell you about my side job as an amateur historian and how it can be one of the best things I am doing right now. Heck, I wish I could make this one as my first career!
2. Can you tell us a bit about the where you work for and what makes it awesome?
Well, History Inc. is a joint project between me and some young historians from University of Indonesia (where I earned my bachelor degree). It’s a group of young, fresh, idealist history consultants. We believe that what would be a better idea to contribute to the society with what we have learned for 4 years better than making a history project? In History Inc., we are free to develop our own writings according to our own taste and our specialization. I, for example, specialize in overseas Chinese history so I write about what I am best at. I think that’s what makes it awesome – that there are no barriers and I am free to express and develop myself. I even dared myself to grow in that project, there’s this one time when I wrote something about Civil War and slavery, something I hadn’t done ever. As for my volunteering in Komunitas Jelajah, I go on school field trips with children to several museums in my city and try to be the fun tour guide for them. I really love volunteering in that community because I get in touch with kids and I really love seeing their expressions once they learn something about my country’s history.
3. When did you first realize you wanted to become a professional historian?
I wanted to be a professional historian when I was in my senior year of university. At first I wanted to be a journalist. I didn’t realize that history major was so much more than remembering dates and events. During my 4 years of training, I learn how to analyze events and how to create a concise writing so people can enjoy it. Nevertheless, you cannot enjoy history if you cannot find it entertaining and educating at the same time, right? I also learn that actually this world revolves around a pattern. It’s all about cause and effect. What we are having through right now, someone else has been through it a few years ago. World events and scandals are nothing but repetitive patterns. The funny thing is, people don’t realize that it’s all about repetitive patterns… that we can actually do something to avoid making the same mistake. That is what makes me fall in love with history and how I am really curious to dive deeper into it.
4. What did you go to school for? Did school primarily help you for this job, or did other hobbies, work experience, and personal learning on your own time help more?
I majored in History, and it really helped me in life after graduating because it helps me to analyze things better. I write and understand the world better because I major in it.
5. What’s a typical work day like?
When I put aside my administrative worker glasses and put my historian glasses on, it doesn’t feel like I’m doing work. I’m doing what I love: researching, writing and telling the story to the society. First, I have to decide which topic I am going to focus on. I draw my inspiration from movies I recently watch, books I recently read, or random thoughts which sometimes slip into my head for days, such as “how did Chinese people reach Ellis Island by boat?”. After I get a topic and after I make sure this is what I really want to write, I put on all my researching tools. Google is my best friend. Trust me, if you try hard, you will find several wonderful historical records which you can access for free. Besides Google, I also rely on historical journal databases such as JSTOR and free e-book websites. I only buy history books if I am really interested in that topic. When I do my research, I feel like being a detective because I feel like I can get all the access most people can’t get. Most research can be done in a week (for small articles) or up to three weeks (for larger-scale topics, such as papers). Once I have published my research on History Inc., I feel a certain accomplishment feeling I can only get by writing history articles.
6. Are there a lot of women in your workplace? Do you ever feel like you have to make a special effort to hold your own as a women, or are you treated as a total equal?
No, there aren’t a lot of young women historians. Sure, there are a lot of women History graduates, but not all of them pursue history as their working field. The only women historians I know are the lecturers in my alma mater, who are the coolest people I have ever met. I think there aren’t a lot of women historians in Indonesia because the society still thinks that history is a man’s job field (HIS-tory, get that?) and that history is too serious for young women. I don’t think that way. As for the second question, I don’t have to put some special effort because in the end we’re being treated as an equal. Sure, there a lot of feminist historians out there, but so far I don’t have to put on special effort just because I’m a girl.
7. What’s the most interesting and exciting part of your job? What has been most rewarding part of your job?
The most interesting part of my job is definitely the process of writing the essays. I love the whole history writing process. Writing history makes me feel like I am in the middle of the event itself. The most rewarding part of my job is when people can grasp the meaning of my articles and slowly develop a certain love for history, based on my essays and my articles. I feel successful for educating the society about something they don’t know.
8. What are some of the more unusual perks of your job?
The fact that I can be a historian, that’s unusual… hahaha! Mostly the fact that I get access to several databases and I have the chance to access archives. I consider those as cool perks historians can get. Another cool thing about my job is that I work with microfilms, old newspapers, trying to read old penmanship, and read old printed or scanned documents… something you only see in movies.
9. What would you offer as advice to someone who wanted to get into the same type of job as you?
Read a lot. By reading a lot, you can produce your own writing style, which is very important in being a historian. Also, do not hesitate to specialize in something. Some people want to be an expert in American history, and some people want to be an expert on the history of colonialism. Different strokes for different folks. Just like doctors, historians are much more appreciated if they are specialized in some parts of history because it shows that you really know what you’re talking about.
Another suggestion besides reading a lot is to find out as much information as you can have from other people. Primary sources in history can also be found by interviewing. Do not be afraid to ask as many question to your source regarding to your proposed topic, you might never know what you’re gonna get from them.
Do you have a cool job, or know someone who has a cool job? We would love to interview them! Leave a comment and let us know!