Public history and the campus anti-racism protests

"Created Equal" dialogue program, Cooperstown Graduate Program (SUNY Oneonta, May 2015. Photo credit: Cooperstown Graduate Program.

“Created Equal” dialogue program, Cooperstown Graduate Program (SUNY Oneonta), May 2015. Photo credit: Cooperstown Graduate Program

As I’ve read obsessively the news of campus protests these past few weeks and shared support for protesters both publicly on social media and privately in email conversations with college administrators, I’ve been challenged to think deeply about my position as both a public historian and a faculty member at a state university. In my career, I’ve spent a lot of time teaching, researching, writing, and facilitating dialogue on issues of race and racism. Several of my courses explore the ways in which museums are (or should be) addressing these issues, past and present. Right now, however, perhaps the most direct way I am engaging with the current protests is in my role as the chair of my college’s President’s Council on Diversity (PCOD). In this advisory capacity, I have offered suggestions and participated in sensitive discussions on how to respond to bias acts and transform our campus into a more inclusive place. Continue reading

“APUSH” re-revised

College Board logo. Image courtesy Wikimedia commons.

College Board logo. Image courtesy Wikimedia commons

In a surprising turn of events, the College Board re-revised the Advanced Placement United States History curriculum framework, releasing its newest version at the end of July. While the move by the Board, which had instituted a public comment period seeking feedback on the framework back in February, is not overly surprising, the reaction among many historians and among the opponents of the original revised framework is. Both historians and critics are largely satisfied. Continue reading

Project Showcase: College Women

college-women-betaWith the support of a one-year Foundations planning grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the seven women’s colleges once known as the “Seven Sisters” recently launched College Women: Documenting the History of Women in Higher Education. College Women brings together digitized letters, diaries, scrapbooks, and photographs of women who attended Barnard, Bryn Mawr, Mount Holyoke, Smith, Vassar, Wellesley, and Radcliffe (now the Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, Harvard University). These materials, documenting women’s campus cultures, have long been preserved in the libraries of the seven schools; College Women makes them available online and searchable together for the first time. Continue reading

Defining success: Seeking clarity or accepting uncertainty?

A 50-foot (15 m) tape measure produced by the Lufkin Rule Co. in Saginaw, Michigan at some point after 1929 (patent 1,713,807).

How should public history graduate programs measure success? Photo credit: Wikipedia Lufkin tape measure

What constitutes success for a public history graduate program?  A strong placement record?  Student mastery of a set of professional skills?  Or perhaps cultivation of our discipline’s habits of mind?

One might say, “It depends”–on whom you ask, when you ask them, and why you want to know.  But does that ambiguity compromise our ability as program directors to represent our programs accurately and effectively to the students we serve and the administrators who oversee us?  In defining success, should we pursue clarity or get comfortable with uncertainty?

Continue reading

Best practices for establishing and developing a public history program

The Library at the University of South Carolina, on a campus that has had a long-time and active public history program. Photo credit: USC

The Curriculum and Training Committee of the National Council on Public History has prepared a draft best practices document, “Best Practices for Establishing and Developing a Public History Program.” This document is intended to supplement the existing best practices documents on MA programs in public history, public history for undergraduate students, and certificate programs in public history. By focusing on resources and support, it seeks to ensure high-quality training at the graduate level. Designed mainly for college and university faculty and administrators, the draft provides guidance on subjects, such as funding, hiring practices, tenure and promotion, curriculum development, and areas of specialization. We invite comments on this document. Please send comments and suggested revisions to daniel.vivian@louisville.edu by July 31. We look forward to hearing your thoughts.  Here is a link to the document.

~ Daniel Vivian is assistant professor of history and director of public history at the University of Louisville in Louisville, Kentucky. He is chair of the Curriculum and Training Committee for the 2015-2016 academic year.

Public history student swaps mobcap for hard hat

Willowbank students squaring and carving stone.  Photo credit: Juliana Glassco

Willowbank students squaring and carving stone. Photo credit: Juliana Glassco

It is often said that everyone should work in the customer service industry at some point in their lives so that they can understand what it’s like to interact with the world from the other side of the cash register. I feel the same way about traditional building trades. Anyone who works with old buildings should spend at least a few days learning about what it takes to be a carpenter, plasterer, mason, or blacksmith. As a student in a course of study in heritage conservation (called historic preservation in the United States) at Willowbank School, a small private college in southern Ontario, that is precisely what I do.

Willowbank’s curriculum blends hands-on experience with design, heritage management, and theory. Professional craftspeople–and architects, historians, planners, conservators, and others–take time away from their jobs to teach a group of students from diverse backgrounds about their profession. Every day is a lesson in humility and patience. At its heart, being a student here is about cultivating respect for the many perspectives, skills, and disciplines that interact with “heritage” in all of its varied forms. In studying these points of intersection, we are unlocking potential for cross-disciplinary creativity, communication, and collaboration. Continue reading

Can public history play? A conference pop-up preview

swirls of light

Photo credit: Rick Harrison

It’s the week of the National Council on Public History Annual Meeting, and you’re getting ready to jet off to the Volunteer State.

You’ve watched the requisite Tennessee-based movies: The Thing Called Love, Inherit the Wind, and The Blind Side.

You’ve got your must-do list all set–a visit to the Grand Ole Opry (wait, since when is that in a suburban shopping center?), a night out at the Blue Bird Café, and a lunch date with your college roommate at The Wild Cow.

Now, like all good public historians, you pull up the program and begin to map out your conference schedule.

  • THATCamp NCPH Boot Camp on Wednesday afternoon? Check.
  • “History on the Cutting Edge” on Saturday and the Nashville Crime Walking Tour Friday? Add those to the list.
  • And speed networking on Thursday morning? You definitely want to make time for that.

But wait. You have a free two hours on Thursday afternoon. How will you ever fill the time? Continue reading