Academic interest in public history is growing, and an increasing number of history departments are looking for a public historian to train students for public history jobs. But what does it mean to start a public history program? Is it as simple as hiring a PhD with a field in public history and telling them to get going? Is there more to it than that?
Last fall Lara Kelland and Anne Parsons wrote an engaging and well-received post at History@Work: Help wanted: Thoughts on the recent boom in academic public history jobs. Kelland and Parsons noted a recent trend of academic job ads that asked for public history as one of the fields, and the growth of public history programs. In the comments section of their post was born the idea that NCPH should form a working group to develop a set of best practices for colleges and universities that are planning on creating a public history program.
The NCPH Program Committee said, “Make it so!” and so we did. Here is the list for working groups in Ottawa, you will see that “Best Practices for Establishing a Public History Program” is number six.
We would like to invite interested NCPH members and other public historians to use this blog post to initiate a discussion that we will continue in Ottawa. Some preliminary questions:
- What does it take to start a program in public history in terms of people, resources, etc.? Is a single hire enough, or should a cluster of public historians be brought on?
- What curricular changes from a traditional history program are needed?
- Are undergraduate programs in public history a good idea?
- What are some common mistakes for new public history programs to watch out for?
- What do you think is the most pressing problem we should address?
We would also like to offer a preliminary reading list–feel free to add suggestions in the comments:
- Lara Kelland and Anne Parsons, Help wanted: Thoughts on the recent boom in academic public history jobs (including the comments!)
- Cynthia Brandimarte, “Developing a Public History Program”
- NCPH Curriculum and Training Committee Best Practices Guides: Graduate Programs; Undergraduate Programs; Public History Internships; Graduate Certificates related to Public History
- Philip M. Katz, “Public History Employers: What Do They Want?” (American Historical Association report, 2008)
Please join the conversation! What do you think are some of the best practices for establishing a public history program?
~ Larry Cebula is Associate Professor of History at Eastern Washington University and Assistant Digital Archivist of the Washington State Archives.
Read the Working Group participants’ case statements here.