We had the good fortune of connecting with Sarah FitzGerald and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Sarah, what do you attribute your success to?
Curiosity is the most important factor behind my success. As a public historian, I work in the business of storytelling. Wanting to know the stories of the past and the stories of different cultures and backgrounds is what drives me to share diverse and fascinating history at Rancho Los Cerritos. As a curator, it is my job to listen rather than act like an expert on every topic I share with the public. By collaborating with people in my community to listen and share their stories, I use my curiosity to benefit the general public.
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
I am a historian and museum curator. I am really excited about just recently completing my dissertation to earn my Ph.D. in history. I started out by majoring in history in college at UC San Diego. As an undergrad I really enjoyed learning about the stories of history, and once I got to grad school at CSU San Marcos I learned more about what a professional historian actually does. This includes teaching, writing, researching, working in museums, and creating digital history projects like documentary films and websites. When I started the Ph.D. program at UC Riverside my interest in public history really grew-that means working in museums, historic sites, archives, monuments, etc. My path to becoming a historian was not easy. It took a while before I figured out what I wanted to do, and I was often plagued by doubt and lack of clarity about my goals while I was in school. I overcame these challenges by building relationships with historians and others working in the field to learn more about what a career as a historian could look like and to figure out how I wanted to contribute as a historian. I have been lucky to have several supportive and encouraging mentors along the way, and it makes a huge difference. One major lesson I’ve learned is the importance of collaboration. Collaboration creates an alchemy of skill sets, especially for creative projects. No one is good at everything, so by working with others who have different strengths you’ll end up with a more dynamic and successful product. Also, collaboration is so important when telling people’s history. You have to work with whatever community you are representing in an exhibit or other public history project. A Smithsonian curator once told me that a curator’s job is to listen. This means working with communities and learning from communities to tell their stories.
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
I live in Long Beach and I love it here so much. Here are some of the places you should check out in my city. Rancho Los Cerritos-obviously! Rancho Los Alamitos-our wonderful “cousin” site Museum of Latin American Art, The Long Beach Symphony, Lola’s for delicious Mexican food, Natraj for outstanding Indian food, The Park Pantry for the best pancakes, Beautiful walks at the Colorado Lagoon and El Dorado Park Nature Trail, Hot Java for a great coffee hangout. I recommend the “Dirty Bi Chai” Long Beach Creamery for the best ice cream. A nice long bike ride on the boardwalk path. Gatsby Books for your next great read
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
Jill Watts, who taught me how to be a historian and who has cheered me on every step of the way.
Credit for first headshot photo-Marroquin Photography