History @ Work

History@Work is a multi-authored, multi-interest blog for all those with an interest in the practice and study of history in public. Learn More→

The AHA on the path to public history

The past of public history can be traced along many different paths, but at least one runs though the American Historical Association. My interest in this question was first shaped at a lunch for the National Council on Public History at the AHA’s 1997 meeting. Much of the discussion circulated around two key issues–a catalog of personal slights by academics and an argument that the AHA was established for academics and making a false claim of authority over the entire history discipline.

AHA Membership in History-related Positions, 1884-1940. Image credit: Robert Townsend

AHA Membership in History-related Positions, 1884-1940. Image credit: Robert Townsend

In probing how and why there seemed to be this deep gulf between academics and public historians, the causes seemed to recede ever further in the past. Looking back at the papers of the early AHA, for instance, there were quite a few people circulating around in the leadership who looked rather like public historians: Reuben Gold Thwaites, the head of the Wisconsin Historical Society; Solon Buck, of the Minnesota Historical Society and later the National Archives; and Waldo Gifford Leland, secretary of the AHA and an early leader in the development of archival standards. Even some of the more traditional academics, such as J. Franklin Jameson at Chicago and Lucy Salmon at Vassar, were actively promoting documentary editing, historical societies, and other activities now widely recognized as public history. Continue reading

Above ground, below ground, on the ground: CRM in practice

Editor’s note: This post continues a series commemorating the anniversary of the National Historic Preservation Act by examining a past article published in The Public Historian, describing its significance, and relating it to contemporary conversations in historic preservation.

Locations speak to multiple generations, cultures, and time periods. “Appreciating the complexity of the historic period,” according to Ted Karamanski in “Logging, History, and the National Forests: A Case Study of Cultural Resource Management” (The Public Historian, 1985), is at the forefront of cultural resource management (CRM), no matter when or where you practice (30). But knowing which sources can reveal the layers of multiple historic contexts can be challenging, both in the field and in the library.

Michael Faulkner, Natalie Perrin, Brad Bowden and Chris Knutson of HRA Portland collaborate on an archaeological find. Perrin, as the architectural historian, was able to aid the archaeologists in understanding the history of the historic property, while the archaeologists utilized their knowledge of dating techniques of historic artifacts. Together, the team was able to pinpoint the date range of the find and trace it to an original homestead.

Michael Faulkner, Natalie Perrin, Brad Bowden, and Chris Knutson of HRA Portland collaborate on an archaeological find. Together, the team was able to pinpoint the date range of the find and trace it to an original homestead.  Photo credit:  Natalie Perrin

The layering of generations was at the crux of the challenges that Karamanski outlined in 1985 and that I face in my own career today. Although I’m formally trained in historic preservation and architectural history, over the past six years at Historical Research Associates, my duties have morphed to include managing archaeological investigations. I’ve learned the “archy speak” fluently enough to navigate the appropriate laws, and I am on a first name basis with a few state archaeologists. The adventure, however, has also brought me to the same conclusion Karamanski arrived at in his article: “both archaeologists and historians are necessary, and their work must be integrated” (39). In many ways, not much seems to have changed in the regulatory environment, though the definition of “cultural resource” seems to be expanding every day. Continue reading

“APUSH” in the right direction

Photo credit: Evan Graff, Flickr.

Photo credit: Evan Graff, Flickr.

As public historians, we like to think we know something about narrative. We know that human beings construct meaning through stories, and that history is the art of constructing compelling stories from the traces of the past. Psychologists have demonstrated the emotional and inspirational power of “hero’s journey” narratives in which protagonists overcome great odds through self-sacrifice and determination, and return from the journey with wisdom and gifts to improve the world. Such narratives emphasize the hero’s “exceptional” qualities, the ability to triumph over adversity and to serve as a guiding light to others.

Thus, it should come as no surprise that opponents of recent changes to the AP US History (APUSH) framework are so concerned about narrative emphasis. In August 2014, the Republican National Committee adopted a resolution condemning a framework released by the College Board in 2012. The resolution claims that the framework “reflects a radically revisionist view of American history that emphasizes (Italics mine) negative aspects of our nation’s history while omitting or minimizing positive aspects.” The resolution calls on Congress to “investigate the matter” and withhold any funding to the College Board until a suitable framework is produced. Continue reading

The value of history (Part 2)

Editor’s note: During the fall of 2013, the NCPH Consultants Committee distributed a survey to the NCPH consultants community in order to learn more about the community’s members and how best to serve them.  This piece is part of a series examining the results of that survey. 

Last year on this blog, I engaged in an ongoing discussion about how public history consultants determine the value of our work. I proposed that we would benefit from establishing fee standards across the discipline, ideally creating space in the market for consultants to make a living while improving the value of historical work in public spaces. This post came in response to a working group at the 2012 NCPH (National Council on Public History) annual meeting in which independent consultants discussed the need to communicate fee trends while the firms voiced their desire to keep their fees confidential. We all left with a general concept of how to help those who want to band together but not a clear understanding of how to accomplish that goal.

Chart showing public history consultants' fee scale varying by years of experience. Credit: Kathy Shinnick

Chart showing public history consultants’ fee scale varying by years of experience. Credit: Kathy Shinnick

As a step towards this end, the NCPH Consultants Committee conducted a survey, which, in part, asked consultants to anonymously divulge information about their fees. The survey was intended to determine trends by cross-referencing the fee scale with categories such as education level, region, and years of experience. For example, we should be able to assess the going rate for consultants in the Southeast who have a PhD and ten years of experience. Due to a somewhat small sample size of 148 consultants, the results leave a few unanswered questions. However, they also reveal a lot that can guide us to the next step. Continue reading

Top Gun “Introduction to Public History” for general education?

By Kucingbiru13 [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

A ‘top gun’ introduction to public history course for general education might be simpler than you’d think.

In 2006, when I arrived as “the public history hire” at DePaul University, in Chicago, my charge was to create an undergraduate public history concentration for history majors. At the time, the only public history course actively being taught was “Introduction to Public History,” a lower division course that served the university’s general education requirements. I decided that this course should stay on the books and that it would be one of two required courses (along with the internship) for would-be public history concentrators.

Looking back, I’m pretty sure my decision to keep this course on the books was a result of my being a bit overwhelmed. Not being native to Chicago and as a new tenure-line Assistant Professor with this public history charge, much of my time was absorbed with the business of forging new community connections while also designing (and getting approval for) an entirely new repertoire of public history courses. What? The “Introduction to Public History” has already been approved? Great! More time to develop internship prospects!

Within a few quarters, I resurrected the public history internship and developed a bevy of other courses: “Doing Local and Community History;” “Oral History Project;” “Women, Gender, and Public History;” “Living History and Historical Interpretation: American Historical Memory” (among others)–all courses for history majors and minors. Evaluations tended to be strong, but the “Introduction to Public History” course? I just couldn’t seem to ever get it quite right. Continue reading

Twenty questions for consultants

By Berdea (Own work), via Wikimedia Commons.

Photo credit: Berdea, Wikimedia Commons

Providing assistance to individuals considering careers in consulting remains an ongoing task of the National Council on Public History (NCPH) Consultants Committee. In October 2012 and September 2014, forums held on Versatile PhD opened up discussions that generated valuable data that Consultants Committee members are using in devising initiatives to achieve this end. Both forums were populated with practitioners who represented a number of disciplines, including history. In particular, the forums gave graduate students, postgraduates, and other interested parties in the humanities and the social sciences the opportunity to ask practicing professionals about the business of consulting. The questions posed–the most germane of which are compiled here, in distilled form–can serve to guide the committee in its efforts to address the concerns and meet the needs of those who are considering a career in consulting. Indeed, this is an opportunity to be seized.

Continue reading

Reflections on the founding of NCPH

In recent months the NCPH Council of Past Presidents has discussed ways to honor some of the individuals who founded the National Council on Public History in 1980. As a result, at the 2015 NCPH Annual Meeting in Nashville, G. Wesley Johnson and Robert Pomeroy will receive the inaugural NCPH Founders Award, and they and others of the first NCPH generation will be invited to participate in an oral history project to be organized by the Council of Past Presidents. In this post, two past presidents, Ted Karamanski (Loyola University Chicago), and Rebecca Conard (Middle Tennessee State University) offer their personal reflections on the contributions of Johnson and Pomeroy to the organization and the field. For a brief history of NCPH’s early years, see Barb Howe’s “Reflections on an Idea: NCPH’s First Decade,” The Public Historian, Vol. 11, No. 3 (Summer 1989). Continue reading

Remembering Jann Warren-Findley

Jannelle Warren-Findley

Jannelle Warren-Findley will be posthumously awarded the Robert Kelley Award at the NCPH annual meeting in Nashville. Photo credit: Arizona State University

Dr. Jannelle Warren-Findley died at her home in Phoenix, Arizona, last week. Recently retired from Arizona State University, where she taught in and directed the public history program, she was a past President of the National Council on Public History (1997-98), an important voice in a number of areas of public history thought and practice (including women’s history and efforts to internationalize the field), and a dear friend and mentor to many. At the 2015 NCPH conference in Nashville, she will be honored posthumously with the Robert Kelley Award for distinguished service to the field. Some of her friends and colleagues offer their memories of Jann here. We welcome additional contributions and recollections via the comments at the end of this page.