The Robert Frederick Smith Applied Public History Fellowship for HBCU Graduates

The Robert Frederick Smith Applied Public History Fellowship for HBCU Graduates offers a two-year appointment providing advanced training and scholarly support in public history, museum management, outreach programming, and partnership building.

Fellowship applications are now closed for 2020. Please sign up for our e-mail list to be notified when the next round of applications opens.


  • $50,400 per year
  • $10,800 per year for individual health insurance
  • $2,500 per year for research and conference travel

Location & Term

  • Two-year appointment in Washington, DC beginning Summer 2020
  • The first 18 months of the program, the fellow will be in residency at the Museum.
  • The final six months of the program, the fellow will be in residency applying practical skills and research at a local organization focused on African American history and culture. During these six months, the fellow will dedicate at least 85 percent of his/her/their time to the residency organization.
  • Full-time


  • Bachelor’s degree required
  • Applicants must have at least one degree from a Historically Black College or University

This fellowship is best suited for a recent master’s degree recipient with some professional experience, but without an established career in the field of cultural management. An ideal candidate will already be working or desire to work in the cultural sector and have academic training in museum or cultural management and African American history and culture. If a candidate has no prior relevant professional experience, either through internships, fellowships, or employment, it may be too early to be considered competitive. If a candidate has more than two years’ of full-time work experience in museum or cultural management, it is likely they will have moved beyond the reach of the program. A competitive applicant will be prepared to enter the field as a mid-career employee upon completion of the fellowship.

Leah Jones for NMAAHC

Project Details

The fellow will support the ongoing Community Curation and Professional Curation programs of the Robert Frederick Smith Fund for the Digitization and Curation of African American History. The Community Curation Program (CCP) serves to help preserve materials for individuals and families in selected cities and regions. The Professional Curation Program (PCP) partners with other institutions around the country to digitize and make accessible collections about African American history and culture. The selected fellow will identify research projects and participate in outreach activities relevant to Community Curation and Professional Curation programming.

Expected Outcomes

The fellow’s work will focus on the public programming and community outreach aspects of museum and cultural management fields. Key expected outcomes for the two-year term include:

  • At least one public outreach project, developed by the fellow and implemented at one of the CCP sites or the residency organization.
  • At least one publication-ready article based in independent research.
  • A thorough understanding of best practices in the areas of digital curation, community outreach, and partnership building.
  • Strong working relationships with professionals throughout the country working to preserve African American history and culture.
Leah Jones for NMAAHC

The selected fellow will build relationships and implement programming in communities as well as with other institutions. Individual research projects will be identified and led by the fellow’s current research interests within the fields of history, education, public policy, community engagement, or institutional development.

The public outreach project will be developed by the fellow and implemented at one of the Community Curation Program sites or during the six-month residency at the neighboring institution. The project should represent the fellow’s field and be developed in collaboration with the partnering institution and NMAAHC staff. Programming may include children’s programming, historical re-enactments, panel discussions, exhibitions development, or pedagogical implementation. The outreach project will occur before the conclusion of the two-year fellowship.

Through independent research, each fellow will produce a publication-ready article. The article will cover the fellow’s research aspirations and should focus on subject matter aligned with African American history and culture collections housed at museums, archives, historic sites, universities, or libraries.

In addition to the above projects, each fellow is encouraged to design and implement a self-directed project. The individual project may represent a fellow’s research aspirations, pedagogical projects, public history ideas, or other museum management interests. The fellow will be welcome to present this project  at conferences and prepare research for publication, with funding support through the $2,500 annual travel stipend.

In order to provide museum management skill-building opportunities, the fellow will participate in the daily work of the Smith Fund while stationed at NMAAHC. The selected fellow will attend and participate in regular Smith Fund meetings as well as other Museum departmental meetings. 

Learning experiences will include:

  • Facilitating museum and cultural center partnership building
  • Interdepartmental collaboration
  • Attending departmental meetings
  • Contributing to Museum initiatives, including digital projects
  • Independent research


Each fellow will spend 18 months in residency at NMAAHC, and then apply acquired practical skills and research to a local organization focused on African American history and culture through a physical residency for the remaining six months of the fellowship. The relationship with the residency organization can be established and fostered throughout the entire two-year term. This residency will broaden each fellow’s experience and ability to work flexibly with differing levels of resources, while still utilizing Smithsonian resources to support desired independent research and projects. Residency organizations must be located in the DC/Maryland/Virginia region. During the six-month residency, at least 85 percent of the fellow’s time should be dedicated to the residency organization.

Travel Opportunities

Fellows will attend two CCPs and at least two PCP collection visits throughout the two years.  Travel funding beyond the stated fellowship stipends will be provided by NMAAHC through the Smith Fund.

Additional conference attendance and travel is encouraged and supported through the $2,500 per year travel stipend.

Applications are now closed for 2020. Fellowship applicants will be notified of results by January 31, 2020.

Please sign up for our e-mail list to be notified when the next round of applications opens.

Required Application Documents

  • Resume or CV
  • Two reference letters (one academic and one professional)
  • Transcripts
  • Cover letter (maximum 3 pages)
  • Essay reflecting on HBCU experience (maximum 2 pages)
  • Outreach project proposal (maximum 2 pages)
  • You will be asked to identify research topic(s) of interest.

Essential Tips for the Online Application

  • Do not submit your application until all necessary components are uploaded (e.g. transcripts, cover letter, resume). Once submitted, you cannot upload or change anything within the application.
  • An unofficial or official transcript can be uploaded by first scanning the document and saving it as a .pdf or .jpeg. Transcripts mailed separately will not be processed.
  • Make sure that you click the “Send Email” button for each reference. This triggers the system to email your references with instructions for uploading the reference letter. Please advise your references of this in advance.
  • No late or incomplete submissions will be processed. There are no exceptions to the deadline.

Resume or CV (no page limit)

Reference Letters

  • Reference letter #1—Academic
  • Reference letter #2—Professional. For best consideration, this letter should speak to the candidate’s experience or interest in public engagement or programming.

Undergraduate and/or Graduate Transcripts

  • Most recent transcript and
  • Transcript from HBCU if not the most recent.
  • Unofficial transcripts are accepted

Cover Letter (maximum 3 pages)

In addition to offering an introduction of your professional and/or academic career, your cover letter should speak to your commitment to the preservation and study of African American history and culture.  What public history, research, or cultural educational projects, programs, or plans have you created and implemented in your career? Were the projects you implemented geared toward a particular audience?  How did you fund your projects? What were the outcomes of your public history project? What was the overall reception and was your program or project an ongoing endeavor? Were there publications, curriculum, or digital products created as a result of your project? Please name a few successes associated with your program(s) as well as some things you may do differently. 

Supplemental Essays (attached as separate documents, no more than 2 pages each)

Please prepare essays addressing each of the following prompts.

  1. HBCU Experience. Reflecting on your experience attending an HBCU, what were some of the most valuable experiences during your time there? What did attending an HBCU mean to you? You may offer an example of a challenging course or an anecdote recalling a moment of personal transformation. How do you see the public history work you do as a reflection of your time attending an HBCU? 
  2. Outreach Project Proposal. This will be used to determine if your research interests are aligned with CCP and/or PCP objectives, but does not guarantee the topic of the final project. Offer a description and outline of a public history outreach project you would like to create and implement while a fellow at NMAAHC. This outline should include a detailed description of the project’s thematic approach, desired objectives, target audience, duration, and potential research or publication proposal. Future CCP sites are still being determined so applicants do not need to provide specifics on organizational partners or locations.

Selection Criteria

Applicants will primarily be evaluated on the basis of

  • Academic accomplishments
  • Demonstrated interest in pursuing a non-academic career in the cultural sector
  • Commitment to the preservation and study of African American history and culture
  • Relevance of proposed research topic to the Community Curation and Professional Curation programs
  • Quality of writing
  • Enthusiasm for working in public outreach
  • Potential to enter the cultural sector as a mid-career employee upon completion of the fellowship


Will I receive confirmation of the application submittal?

  • Confirmations of processed applications are not sent. Please ensure your application is complete prior to submitting.

When will a decision be made?

  • We aim to make a decision and notify all applicants no later than January 31, 2020.

When will the application period open?

  • Applications are currently scheduled to open through SOLAA on or before September 9, 2019. Sign up to receive updates to be notified as soon as this happens.

Where will my non-NMAAHC residency take place?

  • The residency location has not been determined, but it will be located in the DC/Maryland/Virginia region and will be an organization dedicated to African American history and culture.

My reference didn’t submit the letter by December 15. Can my application be processed?

  • Incomplete applications as of 12:00 a.m. December 16 will not be processed, even if it is due to a reference.

What topics are appropriate for project proposals?

  • Project proposals should be relevant to the Community Curation or Professional Curation programs. Proposals do not need to be limited to past activities of CCP or PCP, but should reflect projects that would further the overall program objectives.

What topics of research are appropriate?

  • Appropriate topics include, but are not limited to, history, education, public policy, community engagement, or institutional development as they relate to African American history and culture.

Is there a GPA requirement?

  • There is no strict cut-off for GPA, but relevant academic performance is taken into account during selection.

Can I still apply if I don’t have a completed degree from an HBCU?

  • Applicants must have a completed degree from an HBCU before Summer 2020. If you are on track to graduate in Spring 2020 from an HBCU, you are eligible to apply.

I have had a previous academic appointment with the Smithsonian. Am I eligible for the fellowship?

  • Yes. Unlike the Robert Frederick Smith Internship Program, applicants who have had prior internships or fellowships with the Smithsonian are eligible to apply for the fellowship.

Have additional questions about the Robert Frederick Smith Applied Public History Fellowship for HBCU Graduates? E-mail or call 202-633-4511.

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The Smith Fund also offers an entry-level summer internship program.

To learn more, please visit our internship page.