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House History Is His Next Lesson

Scott J. Ferrell/CQ Roll Call
House Historian Matt Wasniewski stands in the rotunda of the Cannon House Office Building. Wasniewski replaces Robert Remini, who retired earlier in the year.

Wasniewski was in Hyser’s history methods class at JMU in Harrisonburg, Va., in the early 1990s. A journalism student from Alexandria, Va., Wasniewski had already finished his major coursework but needed to fulfill some credit requirements. At the same time, he was a gifted writer who had a passion for sports.

Wasniewski, who was then sports editor of the student newspaper, went on to work for the Fauquier Citizen, a small weekly newspaper in Warrenton, Va., for a year and a half. It was fun for a while, but it wasn’t as fulfilling as he had hoped.

When he sat down with Hyser to discuss coming back to JMU for a master’s degree in history, Hyser was skeptical.

“We need good sports writers in this world,” Hyser told him. Hyser thought Wasniewski’s understanding of historical context would make him a great sports reporter.

But Wasniewski’s mind was made up. He returned to JMU and then went on to join the doctoral program at the University of Maryland.

Looking back, Hyser said Wasniewski has always had the qualities that would make for a good historian: He was thoughtful, conscientious and considerate of others.

“If you can’t articulate your ideas very well or you can’t get along with people, then you won’t be efficient in your job,” Hyser said. “Luckily, that’s not a problem for Matt.”

After working on a dissertation about Cold War-era journalist Walter Lippmann at UMD, Wasniewski ended up as associate historian for the U.S. Capitol Historical Society. It wasn’t the academic job he had expected to find after graduation, but he had just gotten engaged and needed to find a way to pay the bills.

At the historical society, he got to know Capitol Hill. He exercised his journalistic knowledge by working on press outreach and continuing to do historical research for the organization.

Donald Kennon, the organization’s vice president for scholarship and education, said Wasniewski’s work ethic hasn’t changed much over the years. Since his appointment, Wasniewski has already reached out to Kennon to discuss what sort of community outreach programs the two places can work on together.

Wasniewski left the historical society in 2002 to join the newly created Office of History and Preservation as a publications specialist. While there, he worked on various projects, from researching women in Congress to developing the House’s oral history program. He has also worked closely with the Senate side, something that he plans to continue to do in his new role.

“We’re delighted that Matt was given the position,” Senate Historian Don Ritchie said. “We have a great working relationship.”

No, this isn’t what Wasniewski planned on doing when he was in college. But he couldn’t be more thrilled.

“I never imagined I would be a historian,” he said. “But I’m honored, thrilled and humbled to do this job.”

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