AHA Member Spotlight: Scott Miltenberger
Scott Miltenberger is a partner and consulting historian with JRP Historical Consulting, LLC. He lives in Davis, California, and has been a member since 1999.
Alma maters: AB, Colgate University, 1999; MA, University of California, Davis, 2001; PhD, University of California, Davis, 2006
Fields of interest: environmental, cultural, urban, American West, public
Describe your career path. What led you to where you are today? At Colgate, I became interested in American urban, public, and cultural history through classes taught by Graham Hodges and Karen Halttunen. When I decided on graduate school, I came to UC Davis to work with Karen and found a robust department. Louis Warren in particular introduced me to American western and environmental history, and I was able to bring nearly all of my interests together in a dissertation that examined the relationships between humans and domesticated animals in 19th-century New York.
I enjoyed graduate school, but after I completed my PhD I was eager to explore a professional life outside the academy. Thankfully, I was able to find a satisfying intellectual home with JRP, one of the first historical consulting firms in the nation, founded by former UC Davis history professor W. Turrentine Jackson and two of his graduate students, Rand Herbert and Stephen Wee. I have been with the firm for more than 12 years now, becoming a partner in 2017. Now, I work principally on natural resources issues—researching historical western water rights, public rights of way, and potentially responsible parties in “toxic tort” disputes—but also contribute to historical studies of the built environment, evaluating structures for historical significance.
What do you like the most about where you live and work? I enjoy the small, “college town” feel of Davis. My dad was in the military and my family moved around a lot when I was a child, so I like living in a community that aims to be sustainable, where my daughter can grow up with her friends, and where my family can take advantage of what UC Davis has to offer. At JRP, we work largely in teams and I value the collaboration that fosters.
What projects are you currently working on? I am currently engaged with several investigations of historical water right claims in California’s Central Valley and in the American Southwest. I recently completed a peer review of a National Register nomination of a segment of irrigation canal in central Oregon.
Have your interests evolved since graduation? If so, how? Since completing my PhD and joining JRP, my interests have evolved considerably. I have become much more interested in the intersection of law and history, for instance, and more appreciative of how history manifests in places and structures.
What’s the most fascinating thing you’ve ever found at the archives or while doing research? Much of my research over the years has led me to the examination of engineering reports and data, in some instances dating back more than 150 years. I continue to be fascinated—even astounded—at the quality of that work. We tend to associate engineering with the latest technological advances, but some of the most impressive engineered structures in the United States were achieved through ways and means that we would find primitive.
Is there an article, book, movie, blog etc. that you could recommend to fellow AHA members? I recommend the History@Work blog maintained by the Consultants Committee of the National Council for Public History. (Full disclosure: I am a member of the committee.) It discusses the varied types of work being done in the discipline outside the academy. I also encourage members to follow #twitterstorians for some excellent short-form historical commentary on current events.
What do you value most about the history discipline? I value most the perspective that the study of the past provides, and the critical research, analytical, and writing skills one develops as a historian.
Why is membership in the AHA important to you? Membership in the AHA affords me an opportunity to grow as a historian and even as a citizen by fostering my engagement with other scholars on a host of pressing social issues.
Do you have a favorite AHA annual meeting anecdote you would like to share? I have enjoyed all the annual meetings that I have attended, but my favorite is probably my first back in 2005. I went to see what the conference was all about, and had a great time discussing historiography with some fellow graduate students over beers.
AHA members are involved in all fields of history, with wide-ranging specializations, interests, and areas of employment. To recognize our talented and eclectic membership, Perspectives Daily features a regular AHA Member Spotlight series.
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