David Turk wants history majors to know they really can find jobs in their chosen field. In fact, because of George Mason University’s proximity to Washington, D.C., opportunities abound.
“Then again,” Turk said with a laugh, “I’m a one-man office here.”
“Here” is the Crystal City, Va., headquarters of the U.S. Marshals Service, the nation’s oldest federal law enforcement agency, where Turk has been the official historian since 2001. Archiving, collecting and documenting the history of a 5,000-agent agency founded in 1789 by George Washington—he appointed the first 13 marshals two days after the enactment of the Judiciary Act—is one of those positions history scholars crave. And Turk says there are others.
“A lot of people don’t realize this area is very big for historians,” he said. “There are a lot of government historians, a lot of military historians, a lot of State Department historians.”
After graduating from Longwood College (now University), Turk joined the Marshals in 1990 and has served on both administrative and operational divisions; from 1991-95 he was assistant historian, taking post-graduate classes at George Mason as his schedule allowed.
“It was very convenient for me, and the history professors were top-notch,” he said. “I still have fond memories of them.”
He earned his master’s degree in history in 1997. The degree, Turk said, “was basically my credential to become a historian.” So Turk was ready when the previous historian, the Marshals’ first, left to take another position in 2000.
“Mason got me over the top,” he said. “It was a fantastic experience.”
Although he graduated 19 years ago, Turk maintains strong ties to Mason. He’s former president of the history alumni organization (2005-06) and he still, on occasion, drops into Fenwick Library to peruse the history resources.
“I’m very comfortable there,” he said.
And the historian has deeper history with Mason: His mother, Ann, BSN Nursing ’82, is a Mason graduate as well.
Turk’s new book, “Forging the Star: The Official Modern History of the United States Marshals Service” will be published July 5 by University of North Texas Press. Meanwhile, Turk is busy working on a public-private partnership to open a bricks-and-mortar Marshals museum at Fort Smith, Ark. That’s where “U.S. District Judge Isaac ‘Hanging Judge’ Parker had the largest concentration of deputy U.S. marshals in agency history,” Turk said. “At the time, it encompassed not only Western Arkansas, but what is now the current state of Oklahoma.”
The museum, designed to be an iconic structure on the Arkansas River, will contain 226 years of history.
“We have 30 crates worth of artifacts,” he said. “Firearms, seized jewelry, counterfeit furniture, all kinds of things. It’s amazing what we end up getting.”