Continued from Part 1 and Part 2.
A Nash Motor Home, one of the artifacts “read” in the RASI class. Photo credit: Canada Science and Technology Museum, Nash Motor Car Company, 1983.0258, 2012
On the final day of Reading Artifacts Summer Institute (RASI), each group was required to present its artifact to an audience of other participants, museum staff, and volunteers. Throughout the morning, artifacts that had initially seemed ambiguous and daunting at the start of the week were slowly separated into layers of meaning and their hidden histories were recounted. A small piano was revealed to be a portable ecclesiastical device used in religious sermons; a Gestetner printing press was exposed as a post-war business venture for a Japanese immigrant; a cannon-shaped lens viewer proved to be one of the first novelty cameras; a radiography device turned out to be one of the earliest home service x-ray machines; and a Nash Motor Home was an intact summer retreat, complete with additions such as a wooden arm that came down to signal a turn.
In our presentations, we were challenged to consider various methods suitable for presenting research on artifacts, from traditional slide show presentations to performances. Continue reading
There’s been a lot of discussion lately about the number of academic public history programs, the saturation of the job market, and concern about the training students are receiving (see Robert Weyeneth’s article “A Perfect Storm”). Curtailing the number of public history programs, growing the public history market, and accrediting programs are all big challenges. I’d like to propose a small change: that potential students gain work experience BEFORE they enter an academic program.
Does the culinary school model hold promise for public history education? Photo credit: Bill Way, HPRMan on Flickr
What would happen if public history programs demanded that applicants worked in the public history field before they could apply to an academic program? Culinary schools have long used this model and have required that applicants have kitchen experience before they apply to a program. In fact, there are lots of similarities between culinary arts degree programs and public history programs. Continue reading
Slippery Rock University students selecting images for HistoryPin at the Lawrence County Historical Society. Photo credit: Aaron Cowan.
The digital humanities are rapidly transforming both the discipline of history and the pedagogy of public history. When I taught my first Introduction to Public History course six years ago, my course schedule had two weeks devoted to digital history; today it occupies more than half of the semester.
And yet, just telling students about all the possibilities of digital history and demonstrating some tools on a classroom screen seemed flat and sterile. I wanted more experiential learning and some way to allow undergraduates to understand the potential of digital history and create a presentable public history project, without the technical skills proving an insurmountable barrier.
Some of the garden features which a team of volunteers researched and restored using archival materials at Long Hill in Beverly. Credit: Kate Preissler
- I’ve written before about differences I see between education and engagement as strategies (and goals) for programming at cultural sites. Two features crucial to making programs “engaging” as well as “educational” are:
- The inclusion of activities that encourage visitors to use multiple senses and their full concentration, freeing the mind from other thoughts and distractions; and
- Information or activities that cause some type of positive change in individuals beyond their visit to the site.
At The Trustees of Reservations, the staff members at many of its historic and cultural sites have been implementing a range of projects which allow visitors, volunteers, and community members to become involved in planting, tending, and harvesting gardens of all sorts. In some cases the gardening activities are clearly part of the work of “doing history” while in others the gardening activities make use of the site’s landscape to offer engaging opportunities for participants and benefits for the host community. Continue reading
The brochure that accompanied the mystery stove. (Source: Canada Science and Technology Museums Corporation, No. L11201)
Read Part I of this series here.
On the second day of the Reading Artifacts Summer Institute (RASI), we received the artifact accession files. Although our physical examination of the stove had proven effective, artifacts need some help to speak. Material cultural historians have shown the benefits of (re)connecting objects to their historical contexts by undertaking a process of “thick description,” combining the use of written sources with material ones. We eagerly anticipated what the accession file could tell us about the stove’s origins, manufacture, and targeted audience. Continue reading
EDITOR’S NOTE: This four-part post by Robert Weyeneth, President of the National Council on Public History and director of the public history program at the University of South Carolina, is also printed in the September 2013 NCPH newsletter. To add your comments, go to Part 4 of the post.
To many, it looks like the perfect storm: five disturbing trends coming together to spawn a monster disaster. Here’s the meteorological analysis. (1) There are now too many public history programs in colleges and universities, especially at the graduate level. (2) They are producing record numbers of new MAs, probably too many. (3) These newly minted public historians are not finding good entry-level jobs in the field. (4) Some of the new graduates aren’t finding jobs because they are poorly trained—by new public history programs that are struggling to figure out what they should be doing. (5) Even graduates of long-established programs aren’t getting jobs—because their stodgy curricula haven’t kept up with the realities of the twenty-first-century economy and the digital revolution.
These are observations I hear regularly from colleagues whom I respect. Some conclude that the National Council on Public History should actively discourage the creation of new programs. Let’s look at some of the issues raised by these alarming observations and consider what NCPH might do consistent with its impulse to welcome all aboard the “big ark.” Continue reading
Continued from Part 1
What can NCPH do?
The alarmed observations with which I began single out the rising numbers of both programs and graduates, but it seems to me that the real issue is quality. I believe that NCPH can address the issue of quality control from two different but related angles. Continue reading
Continued from Part 2
Quality Control from Students
Empowering students In its own way, the NCPH Guide to Public History Programs is also a best practices document itself. It is an international listing of graduate, undergraduate, and “related” public history programs that can be searched by geographical location, curricular concentration, and type of degree. It also permits an apple-to-apple comparison of programs. Continue reading
Continued from Part 3
Averting the storm
Let me conclude by reiterating that these personal reflections are offered in the spirit of “NCPH as a big tent,” open and welcoming to all public historians, old hands and new, inside and outside the academy. I have tried to report candidly, if distressingly, on the conversations I am hearing about how public history is making headway or falling short in colleges and universities today, especially at the graduate level. Clearly there is much more to be said. To my way of thinking, the fundamental issue that underpins current concerns is quality, in programs old and new, big and small, mine included. Continue reading
As part of a 350.org demonstration of the effects of climate change, people in Mongolia point out a drought-diminished river. (Photo: 350.org)
Public historians have long engaged with environmental topics and environmental historians to explore the long-term material effects of the decisions, actions, and conceptions of people in the past. As we move toward the 2014 NCPH conference, with its theme of “Sustainable Public History,” this is a good moment to take stock of some of those disciplinary conversations and to think about how to move them forward in a time of accelerating environmental challenges and crises. Continue reading