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While getting his bachelor’s degree in journalism at James Madison University, Matt Wasniewski thought he was going to be a sports writer. After he went back to JMU for a master’s degree in history, he thought he was going to be a history professor.
He was wrong on both counts.
But he was wrong in the best way possible. Wasniewski was recently named the new historian for the House of Representatives after eight years of working for the Clerk of the House’s Office of History and Preservation.
Wasniewski’s appointment by Speaker Nancy Pelosi comes with the unanimous recommendation of a nonpartisan selection committee of historians as well as support from both sides of the aisle. While he was appointed by the California Democrat, House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) expressed his approval in a statement last week.
Wasniewski, 41, first applied for the job in June, soon after then-House Historian Robert Remini announced he planned to retire at the end of August. After months of interviews, Wasniewski got the call from Pelosi’s chief of staff last week telling him the good news.
Since then, the change has been swift. He has been in meetings, looked at budgets and moved his office from one room in the Cannon House Office Building to another. There hasn’t been much time to discuss the details, but that will come.
Wasniewski thinks one of the best attributes that he brings to the position is his experience as a public historian, rather than an academic one. He has always cared about the anecdotes that better show the personality of the institution. Research and publication are just parts of the equation to him, not the key elements of what makes a historian.
“I want to make us as current and sharp and useful as we can be, not only to the Members and staffers, but to the public as well,” Wasniewski said.
For now, he just has a vision. He wants the Office of the Historian and the Clerk’s Office of History and Preservation to become more integrated. He wants to start more community outreach with places such as the U.S. Capitol Historical Society, where he worked after he got his doctorate from the University of Maryland. He wants to work closely with the Senate Historical Office.
Wasniewski took a rather nontraditional route to become House historian. His former professor, Skip Hyser, for instance, said he never would have thought Wasniewski was going to become a historian.