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.

Applications are due January 15, 2022.


  • $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 August 2022
  • 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
  • Fellow will be required to follow Smithsonian Institution's health and safety guidelines

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.

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Photo of Museum staff preparing for Community Curation event.
Leah Jones for NMAAHC

Project Details

The fellow supports the ongoing Community Curation program of the Center for the Digitization and Curation of African American History, funded by Robert F. Smith. The Community Curation Program (CCP) is an innovative, digital first initiative bridging the generational digital divide. The program brings the Museum’s digitization services to diverse communities across the country.  The selected fellow will identify research projects and participate in outreach activities relevant to Community Curation programming. 

Expected Outcomes

Each 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:

  • Competency in managing museum projects in the digital present. 
  • At least one public outreach project, developed by the fellow and implemented at one of the CCP sites, virtually, or the residency organization. 
  • At least one publication-ready article based on 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. 

Museum staff visit Chicago institution to assess collections for digitization.
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, virtually, 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 Museum 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 Center while stationed at the Museum. The selected fellow will attend and participate in regular Smith Center 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 the Museum, 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 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 throughout the two years. Travel funding beyond the stated fellowship stipends will be provided by NMAAHC through the Smith Center, including registration and travel to the Association of African American Museums annual conference.

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

Apply online by 11:59 p.m. January 15, 2022

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 (uploaded 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 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 the Museum. 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 program
  • 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 the fellowship be virtual or in-person?

  • Smithsonian will follow current public health and safety guidelines when determining work sites. It is likely the fellow will work in a hybrid setting.

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 March 4 following the application deadline. 

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 January 15. Can my application be processed?

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

What topics are appropriate for project proposals?

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 considered 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 the fellowship start date. If you are on track to graduate from an HBCU before August 2022, you will be 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.

Is there a vaccine requirement?

  • All academic appointees must be fully vaccinated for Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) with a Food and Drug Administration (FDA) authorized COVID-19 vaccine or have an approved Reasonable Accommodation granting an exemption from vaccine requirements. Please see additional information regarding reasonable accommodations here.

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 Center also offers an entry-level summer internship program.

To learn more, please visit our internship page.