Ever wondered what you can do with a history degree? Teacher, lawyer, librarian—all valid options. But how about working as, well, an historian? Yes, such a profession exists…and even outside the hallowed halls of academia!
Kevin Hymel is one such historian who eschewed the teaching route and is now an historian with the Army. He started college as a communications major but found himself reading history books in his free time and wondered what he was doing studying communications. He switched majors, graduating with a B.A. in history. And he didn’t stop there: his curiosity—essential for historians—earned him a master’s in history, writing his thesis on the Philippine-American War of 1899.
Now Mr. Hymel is a bona fide historian, making history accessible to everyone. He brings the rich tales of the past to the people.
Throughout his career Mr. Hymel has worked in a variety of jobs, all of which required his expertise in history. As a guide for Stephen Ambrose tours, Mr. Hymel led tourists over European World War II battlefields. He received plenty of didn’t-think-this-through questions, such as why weren’t battlefield monuments ever hit by bullets? Not that he minds. As long as people remember the once-upon-a-times, he is happy they take an interest.
His work with the Army perfectly aligns his interests in military history with World War II, and currently he’s researching World War I and its dead.
In 2021 the Army will be honoring the 100th anniversary of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, and Mr. Hymel and his fellow Army historians already are planning ceremonies to mark the occasion. “I walked into [researching the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier] thinking everything was tame” and that everyone would approve of it. But he wasn’t expecting it to be a “red-hot issue.”
There was “a lot of pomp and circumstance, a lot of ceremony” surrounding the return of an American body from Europe to the United States. President Harding and former President Wilson attended the dedication ceremony for the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier with editorials criticizing Wilson, who had promised to keep the United States out of World War I. But here was a ceremony for an anonymous soldier, killed in the very war that Wilson promised to avoid. When additional soldiers from subsequent wars were added to the tomb, there was further controversy.
Which brings us to the Newspaper and Current Periodical Reading Room. Mr. Hymel conducts a lot of original research in the Newspaper Reading Room, discovering primary sources for his work with the Army. One of his favorite databases is ProQuest Historical Newspapers, a treasure-trove of full text major dailies. In fact, the databases accessible in the Newspaper and Current Periodical Reading Room enable him to do “something I could not have done without the facilities here. There was no ProQuest [15 years ago]…. Databases have broadened my perspective,” and he can find so much more than if he were working with microfilm only.
You can see the results of Mr. Hymel’s research in his books Patton’s Photographs, Living Treasure: Seasonal Photographs of Arlington National Cemetery and Patton: Legendary Commander. And if you want to talk with him in person, there’s a good chance you’ll see him hard at work here in the reading room!
Thank you to Kevin Hymel.