Director, Smoky Hill Museum
“Working in museums offers a special opportunity to connect with our audience. Using history and artifacts, we can help the public develop a tangible connection with the people and events that shape our collective past and enrich the cultural life of our community."
After completing an undergraduate degree in history at Wichita State University, Dee Harris knew that she wanted to enter the public history track of its M.A. history program. She loved history but didn’t want to teach. The M.A. program had strong teachers and mentors and a curriculum that emphasized historical research. Additionally, through hands-on experiences in a number of different internships, Harris discovered her affinity for the museum field. Her first position after graduate school was as research historian at the Old Cowtown Museum, where she was responsible for researching a seven-acre farm with attention to the people, buildings, and crops from the 1880s. She then became city historian for Wichita.
In 1999 Harris became the director of the Smoky Hill Museum, a city museum for Salina, Kansas, with six full-time employees. She has found administrative work attractive because it offers the opportunity to see the whole picture and to influence how various departments work together to implement changes. While she spends parts of her day on personnel matters, fundraising, and public relations, she also focuses on coordinating the collections, education, and exhibit work of the staff. The part of her graduate history work that she has found most valuable has been the sound grounding in historical research and writing.