Every year, my college celebrates Black History Month and Hispanic Heritage Month. These celebrations feature musical performances, student art shows, guest speakers, and panel presentations that touch upon culture, community issues, significant men and women, landmark achievements, and current events. They are high-quality performances that attract large audiences of students, faculty, and members of the public. Yet from my perspective, the college’s scheduled events could focus more on the history of African Americans and Hispanics in the United States. It is imperative to include a discussion of historical themes and issues related to these groups to truly fulfill the mission of these special months. History can be celebratory, yet it can also be difficult, and these months should highlight both narratives. Minimizing discussion of history robs participants of a more profound experience that could challenge previously held assumptions. Continue reading
Recently, Jane Becker initiated a conversation about doing collaborative projects with students and community partners on the public history educators’ listserv. An edited and condensed version of the discussion follows.
Jane Becker: For the past few years, I have developed collaborative projects for my public history graduate students to undertake with community partners. The results have varied widely, and I’ve struggled with incorporating this semester-long “practical” assignment into the course as a whole and balancing the need to provide students with opportunities to put theory into practice with the other “agendas” of the class.
It is difficult, if not impossible, for a class of relatively new public history students over the course of a semester to achieve the kind of work that might be useful to an organization, even if the task is relatively modest. This is one issue driving my effort to consider other models for introducing first year public history graduate students to “practice.” Continue reading
We asked and you shared! One hundred sixty-six respondents participated in the NCPH New Professional and Graduate Student Committee survey, offering their input for creating a consumer’s guide to public history. Now officially titled “Public History Navigator: How to Choose and Thrive in a Graduate Program,” this exciting project will provide one tool to address shared concerns about the “perfect storm”–the phrase National Council for Public History Past President Bob Weyeneth used to describe the public history training and jobs crisis.
What do exhibits about Marie Antoinette’s fashion and Ayatollah Khomeini’s political action, and websites about the invention of the toilet and the dissemination of the Pentagon Papers have in common? They are all student entries in the National History Day competition that I’ve had the opportunity to review as a judge over the past seven years. Within the context of the recent lively conversations about “history relevance,” I argue that judging at History Day offers public historians a unique opportunity to teach students about the power of historical thinking to enrich their lives and to make them more capable citizens of an increasingly complex world. Continue reading
The 2015 Annual Meeting of the National Council on Public History will take place from April 15-18, 2015, in Nashville, Tennessee. The conference theme is “History on the Edge.”
Edges are where exciting things happen. Some are stark boundaries, marking clear beginnings and ends, while others are blurred contact zones. Edges can be places of creativity where diverse people, ideas, and cultures meet and flourish.
They can be sites of uncertainty, risk, and opportunity. Edgy topics and practices call our longstanding assumptions into question. In Nashville, we invite public historians to consider the edges of what we do and who we are. What is on the horizon for public history? What happens on the porous boundaries of public history when we collaborate with other disciplines and new audiences? What can public historians contribute to addressing the cutting edge questions of our societies? Join us to discuss, debate, and question “history on the edge.” Continue reading
During the coming year the National Council on Public History will prepare a Graduate Program Consumer’s Guide. The Consumer’s Guide will serve as a tool for anyone weighing the pros and cons of pursuing a degree or certificate in public history. Robert Weyeneth, president of the NCPH and director of the public history program at the University of South Carolina, outlined the rationale for the Consumer’s Guide last September in a series of posts for History@Work. Collectively titled “A Perfect Storm,” the posts addressed the widely held perception that a “jobs crisis” exists in the field of public history. Weyeneth argued that NCPH can and should commit its organizational resources to ensuring that public history programs offer the highest quality training to the next generation of practitioners, who will undoubtedly face a highly competitive job market.
As a first step toward producing the Consumer’s Guide, the New Professional and Graduate Student Committee of NCPH announced plans earlier this winter for a survey soliciting feedback from History@Work readers. The committee will participate in creating the Consumer’s Guide, and we are eager to hear from current public history students, long-established professionals, and everyone in-between. What kind of information do you think the NCPH should include in the Consumer’s Guide? Please follow this link and answer a few survey questions. Your feedback is indispensable to the process of crafting a Graduate Program Consumer’s Guide that will benefit our field and the next generation of practitioners. We hope that the survey will also stimulate discussions that continue during the upcoming NCPH meeting in Monterey.
~ New Professional and Graduate Student Committee
My public history courses are complicated.
Over the eight years since I took over as Director of Public History at the University of Maryland Baltimore County (UMBC), I have found myself juggling and re-juggling course content, trying to achieve just the right mix of reading, discussion, research, and practice. I worry constantly about how to balance quality control and authority against student creativity and development. This worry manifests in every decision I make about each course: How much description of the assignment should I include? Which readings will be most effective for advancing students’ understanding of both the roots and the practice of core methodologies? How can I break assignments into manageable bites? What is the difference between graduate and undergraduate study in public history? What are the learning goals? What kinds of assignments will be enjoyable and meaningful for students? Continue reading
EDITOR’S NOTE: This post as it originally appeared on March 10 was a draft version, posted in error. The correct version appears below. We apologize to the authors and to our readers for the confusion.
Picture, for a moment, children of all ages loose in your museum; free to grab, change, move, and build with whatever their hands happen to come across. Does the image worry or excite you?
Our instincts as parents and educators, as curators and interpreters, and even just as adults, would be to take some control, to guide the children. But what if we resist that impulse? Is there anything to be gained by allowing our very youngest visitors to take total control of their own experience?
And what could be more radical for a 110 year-old museum than to completely set aside its air of erudition and cede all control of the interpretive narrative, the artistic expression, and the direction of the interactive activities to giggling toddlers and energy-filled elementary school students?
For two years now the Berkshire Museum has done just that with “10 Days of Play,” a February break festival of unstructured exploration, invention, creation and even destruction. First, some background: the Berkshire Museum was built in 1903 when its hometown of Pittsfield was on the rise. Founded by Zenas Crane, the museum was intended to be a serious institution of learning inspired by the Smithsonian and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. It was outfitted with an impressive and varied collection of cultural artifacts, art, and natural history specimens. Over a century later, the Berkshire Museum has been going through a process of reinventing itself in a landscape now full of cultural institutions and in a city that has seen stronger economic times. A gallery devoted to interactive exploration of innovation, an aquarium, and a theater and movie screening area are now mixed in amongst more traditional galleries filled with changing exhibits of fine arts and ancient artifacts, offering a wide range of experiences for people of all ages. The goal is now as much about adding value to the local community as it is about being a cultural destination for tourists.
In September of last year,History@Work published a series of posts by Robert Weyeneth, president of NCPH and Director of the Public History Program at the University of South Carolina. Collectively titled “A Perfect Storm,” the posts addressed what Weyeneth identified as a broadly shared concern among public history professionals (inside and outside academia) that a jobs crisis exists in the field. Weyeneth used the series to consider how NCPH should and could respond organizationally to the storm. This post, from NCPH’s New Professional and Graduate Student Committee, represents one aspect of the organization’s response to the putative jobs crisis.
Before describing our committee’s goals, we would like to briefly summarize Weyeneth’s points. He wrote that the “perfect storm” combines the proliferation of public history programs, especially master’s-level certificate programs, with the accompanying growth in the number of public history MA’s, the dearth of entry-level jobs in the field for these new public historians, the range in quality of training received by some of these graduates, and the mismatch between program curricula and the demands of the contemporary public history job market. Weyeneth argued that quality, not quantity, is the fundamental issue related to public history employment. Certificate programs are not necessarily pumping out too many MA’s, but they may not be equipping their graduates with the skills appropriate for the “twentieth-first-century economy and the digital revolution.”
Weyeneth concluded that NCPH, as the major professional organization for the field, can do much to encourage and facilitate high-quality graduate training for the next generation of public historians. Drawing on the example of the organization’s best-practices documents for undergraduate programs, certificate programs, and internships, Weyeneth proposed that NCPH produce a student consumer’s guide to public history programs. This new guide will empower students to be “more active and critical consumers of education.” It will provide information about various programs and also equip prospective applicants with a set of questions to ask “when they study websites, e-mail program directors, or visit campuses.” The consumer’s guide will enable students to find the program with the right fit and, in turn, identify the career paths they desire.
In the coming weeks, the New Professional and Graduate Student Committee will solicit feedback from readers through a tool like Survey Monkey. We want to capture a range of experiences and perspectives, so we are eager to hear from current public history students, long-established professionals, and everyone in between. Our survey will ask what kind of information you think NCPH should include in the consumer’s guide. Based on your own experience, what knowledge or resources do you think would best enable people to actively shape their own graduate student experience and navigate the field as new professionals? What do you wish someone had told you at the beginning of your public history career? Keep an eye out for our call for feedback in a subsequent post. The practice of public history is inherently collaborative, and we hope you will join with us to shape the future of public history education.
~ New Professional and Graduate Student Committee