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We all know the scene in “Raiders of the Lost Ark” where Indiana Jones narrowly escapes a giant rolling boulder, and at one point or another, many of us could see ourselves going on adventures just like his. Christopher McCune, a 2002 MA in history graduate from Arizona State University's School of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies, was no different in wanting to be like Harrison Ford’s iconic character, but he didn’t picture himself running from rocks.
“Growing up, I wanted to be Indiana Jones,” McCune said. “It may sound bizarre, but I've known since I was in kindergarten that I would do something associated with history. My interests have evolved over the years, but there's always been something about the idea of change over time, whether it be ecosystems, the human experience, militaries or civilizations, that endlessly fascinates me.”
His passion drove him through a bachelor’s degree in history from a school in Colorado. Then one day his junior year, he stumbled on a flyer from ASU advertising a public history graduate program.
“I never considered the public history field as a viable option for future opportunities, as it wasn't an academic path that I even knew existed,” McCune said. “The more I researched, the more I knew that this was the direction I needed to take and knew the minute I set foot on the campus that ASU was where I belonged.”
He worked with many great professors during his time as a master’s degree student and developed skills with multiple internships.
“The passion that these individuals brought to their respective fields of study was inspirational and set a high bar of performance as I worked my way through the graduate program,” McCune said. “I also had the opportunity to intern with the Arizona Historical Society, Bureau of Reclamation and the Colorado Historical Society during my time with SHPRS.”
After he graduated from his program, he decided to follow in his grandfather’s footsteps and enlist in the Air Force where he served four years as a systems control technician. Then 10 months after he separated from the Air Force in New Mexico he was hired as the historian for the 58th Special Operations Wing at Kirtland Air Force Base.
“Although having prior military experience was important, my degree was a critical aspect of being hired into the Air Force history program and providing credibility as a professional historian,” McCune said.
He worked with the 58th Special Operations Wing for six and a half years before becoming the historian for the 460th Space Wing at Buckley Air Force Base, and he didn’t stop there.
“Starting in November, I am the historian for the newly activated Special Warfare Training Wing at Lackland Air Force Base, which trains the Air Force's battlefield airmen specialties such as pararescue and tactical air control,” McCune said.
The biggest lesson he has learned during his career as a historian is history cannot be defined as something linear or cyclical.
“The past influences the present and helps shape the future, and more often than not, in the most unpredictable ways,” McCune said. “I love the fact that, every day in this career field, no matter how much you might know, there's always something new to learn.”
Looking back on his time in graduate school, he remembers how his professors and classes directed him toward his success.
“They opened up a diverse range of perspectives and ways of thinking about history, as well as how the public approaches and interacts with it,” McCune said. “I learned how to quickly discern relevant and substantive information and how to ask questions that enabled deeper investigations into the subjects I was writing about.”
Another aspect of his achievements comes from his ability to be flexible. McCune believes all students should keep an open mind when they are looking for work experience.
“That job opening in, say, rural Kentucky may not seem as glamourous as living in a trendy urban area with endless amenities, but it can provide you valuable experience and broaden your perspective in ways you may not have expected,” McCune said. “Both the public and private sector provide multiple opportunities across the country with ways to build your resume and grow that into a career.”
McCune’s career has been a long journey, but when you find something you enjoy doing, the hard work doesn’t seem hard. In fact, many days McCune finds himself having trouble pulling away from the work he’s doing when the day comes to an end.
“I owe so much of the success I've achieved in my career to the history department at ASU and my time in the graduate program there,” McCune said. “I still consider it to be a watershed period in my life, and one that I'll always remember fondly.”