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Robert Scherer ’00
When you arrived at Lake Forest College, did you know you wanted to major in history?
I did arrive at Lake Forest College planning to major in History. I was planning a second major in Economics but ultimately double majored in History and Art History. In both cases, I came to the College with preexisting interests and passion for historical studies and engagement with humanities, most notably visual culture.
What was your area of focus in history?
The courses I took with Carol Gayle and Pericles Georges were particularly memorable. The subjects varied – World War II literature, Greek and Roman history, the history of warfare and Russian/Soviet history – but each course was enlivened by the professors’ ability to draw contemporary comparisons to the subject matter, considering primary historical material in the context of current affairs. My senior seminar in Cold War studies had a similarly profound impact, revealing the value of using historical subject matter to better understand contemporary culture and politics.
Was there a particular piece of work that you remember as especially rewarding or challenging?
I wrote a senior thesis as part of my Art History degree, tracing the development of the Nazis’ program to loot European cultural heritage and eliminate what they deemed to be degenerate art. As part of my History senior seminar, I wrote about Paul Robeson. Both experiences were rewarding although quite different. My exploration of the foundations and execution of the Nazis’ cultural policies relied heavily on secondary sources. Conversely, learning about Paul Robeson and the anti-Commuist era in which he operated required extensive investigation of primary source material – Robeson’s personal writings, UAC trial records, FBI surveillance files, etc.
How did your history major prepare you for advanced studies?
Shortly after graduating, I worked at the Lake County Discovery Museum. It was a rewarding entry level experience, providing insight into museum operations, curating, exhibition installation and the preservation of archival material. I moved into arts administration following an internship at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, which I completed while earning my aster’s Degree in Art History at the University of Illinois-Chicago. I transitioned into a fundraising path at MCA Chicago, which I continue to pursue at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, following similar work at the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles and the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego.
Many of our students worry that traditional liberal arts majors (particularly in the humanities) will not translate to job skills. Share your advice.
The best advice I can offer is to be open as you consider entry points into cultural administration or non-profit work. I didn’t set out to pursue a career in arts fundraising, but I find the work rewarding and absolutely integral to the various institutions I’ve worked at. My MCA internship with the administration department allowed me to survey all areas of museum operations, helping me to better understand that there are many ways to impact a cultural organization beyond programming. At the time, the notion of working in administration was less than exciting. Looking back twelve years later, I can’t think of a better entry point to my continuing career in arts administration.
How do the skills and knowledge you acquired in your history major inform your day-to-day work?
I’ve been fortunate to pursue a rather narrow but successful career path in the arts, but several of my Lake Forest College classmates have found great success beyond direct interaction with the humanities in their professional careers. The general skills you obtain by working with the humanities can be applied to a wide range of more specific pursuits later in life, most notably strong writing skills. As someone who routinely reviews applications, I can’t stress enough how valuable writing skills are. I’ve not had occasion to write about Nazi cultural policies or Paul Robeson in my professional career, but the skills I developed while translating those research projects into theses have great relevance to my career.