AHA Member Spotlight: Zach Klitzman
Zach Klitzman is the senior executive assistant at President Lincoln’s Cottage. He lives in Washington, DC, and has been a member since 2017.
Alma maters: BA (history), University of Pennsylvania, 2010; MA (public history), American University, 2016
Fields of interest: 19th-century America, Civil War, US presidents
Describe your career path. What led you to where you are today? I have always loved history, and it was a no-brainer decision to major in it while an undergrad at Penn. During spring break of my sophomore year, I visited President Lincoln’s Cottage, which had just opened to the public for the first time. I fell in love with the place immediately, met the executive director that afternoon, and got a job as a tour guide that summer. Upon graduation I returned to give tours, before eventually being promoted to full-time. I have been here ever since. While still working full-time at the cottage, I received my master’s degree from American University in public history.
What do you like the most about where you live and work? Washington, DC, is a fantastic place to live. While “Washington” gets a bum rap from politicians of all stripes throughout the country, real-life “DC” is a great vibrant city full of history, culture, and diversity. I am a native Washingtonian, and have always loved the myriad possibilities of this great city. Similarly, President Lincoln’s Cottage is a dynamic house museum where we focus on Lincoln’s ideas, not his furniture. We have won national awards, including a Presidential Medal, often competing against institutions and museums that have been around for much longer than us. We live our mission, ensuring that we treat our staff, visitors, and donors with the integrity and respect that Lincoln demonstrated throughout his life. For example, as the site where Lincoln drafted the Emancipation Proclamation, we never offer unpaid internships or rely on volunteer docents. All our employees are properly compensated for their work.
What projects are you currently working on? Among my more routine administrative tasks—we just finished up our annual financial audit—I am researching the history of Abraham Lincoln as an employer, as well as working on a piece we are hoping to send to active congressmen about Lincoln’s views on various political topics that are still relevant today, such as immigration. (Did you know Lincoln was the first president to sign a bill encouraging immigration?)
What’s the most fascinating thing you’ve ever found at the archives or while doing research? While conducting research for my thesis on 1870s Washington, DC, I learned that as a congressman, James Garfield opposed the construction of a railroad station on 6th Street near the National Mall. He was quite incensed that the House would allow this concession to a private company, writing in his diary that he was disheartened a station would be built there, blocking direct access from the Capitol to the White House. Ironically, nine years later as president he was shot while walking in this train station.
Is there an article, book, movie, blog etc. that you could recommend to fellow AHA members? For those of us in the history profession who love Hamilton the musical—and let’s be honest, it is probably a lot of us—I would definitely suggest Historians on Hamilton. This collection of essays provides thoughtful analysis of the hit musical, which both deepened and challenged my appreciation for the popular musical. It is public history scholarship at its finest: supplying historical context to the public on a topic that genuinely is interesting to many. As for movies, my favorite of all-time is Amadeus. Is it the most historically accurate? Probably not, but it is a great period piece that is also quite entertaining.
What do you value most about the history discipline? By studying the past, we can better understand the present. I know that is cliched, yet I truly believe that. Lincoln is a great example; even today, 150 years after his death, he remains inimitably relatable, relevant, and timely.
Do you have a favorite AHA annual meeting anecdote you would like to share? While I always enjoyed the exhibition halls at other organizations’ conferences, walking into the Exhibit Hall at my first AHA annual meeting was like walking into a school book fair. I loved all the publishers’ booths and scored quite a haul of fantastic books at great prices.
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.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. Attribution must provide author name, article title, Perspectives on History, date of publication, and a link to this page. This license applies only to the article, not to text or images used here by permission.
Please read our commenting and letters policy before submitting.