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History's Historian

History's HistorianTuftsgraduate Libby Haight O'Connell's passion for history translatedinto a prominent position as one of its chief marketers and advocates.Medford/Somerville,Mass.

Medford/Somerville, Mass. [04.05.05] As an undergraduate at Tufts, Libby Haight O'Connellmajored in history. Though she didn't anticipate it then, HaightO'Connell's academic interest has propelled her into a top positionwith one of the central conduits of historical television. Asthe senior vice president for corporate outreach and chief historianfor the cable network A&E, the Tufts graduate has built asuccessful career by combining her love of history with her businessprowess.

"Therewas this whole revolution of how history should be taught, thatit could be funky and fun,” she explained to Broadcasting& Cable. “The past was so interesting that, ifpeople knew more about it, they would really enjoy it."

Though hernew position gives her oversight over the entire A&E family– including A&E, The History Channel, Biography Channel,History International, History en Espaņol and MilitaryHistory – Haight O'Connell notes the launch of The HistoryChannel as one of her top accomplishments.

"I'vebeen a part of a team that helped to build The History Channel,and that's something I'll always be proud of," she told Broadcasting& Cable. The channel now boasts 86 million subscribersand three Peabody Awards.

Even HaightO'Connell seems surprised by the channel's success.

"I hadno idea how passionate so many people were about history!"she told the industry magazine. "People discovered they lovedhistory in their 30s and 40s."

Haight O'Connell,on the other hand, loved history from a young age. While at Tufts,she took off a semester to work at the Plimoth Plantation, a real-lifeportrayal of 17th century Pilgrim lifestyle.

After hergraduate studies and a stint working in educational developmentat a N.Y. museum, Haight O'Connell met Whitney Goit, current seniorvice president for A&E, who was developing plans for whatwould become The History Channel. Goit hired the Tufts graduateas a historical adviser.

In 1996, shebecame historian in residence and head of educational initiativesand community marketing for A&E. In that position, HaightO'Connell spearheaded the Biography Project for Schools, a libraryof programming that highlighted key historical figures, and sentevery 8th grade class in the country copies of the programs. Theproject won the Governor's Award from the Academy of TelevisionArts & Sciences.

Haight O'Connell'scommitment to broadening people's exposure to history has alsobeen hailed by her colleagues.

"In aroom of national historical experts, she commands respect andattention," Dan Davids, president of The History ChannelUSA, told Broadcasting & Cable. "When Libbywalks into the Smithsonian, she gets a welcome like when Normwalked into Cheers."

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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