To borrow Shakespeare’s phrase, some public history work is born political, some becomes political, and some has politics thrust upon it. Whether we intentionally locate ourselves in controversial settings, have something blow up in our faces, or encounter less spectacular kinds of resistance or misunderstanding, we’re always on the edge of the political, even when we don’t set out to be.
This fundamental tension within the field will be the subject of a structured conversation at the National Council on Public History Annual Meeting next month, in a session called “Hardball History: Public Historians on the Edge of Politics, Advocacy, and Activism.” Between now and then, the participating panelists will kick things off with a series of blog posts that we hope will lead to some pre-conference discussion and help shape our session in Nashville. Continue reading
History and Reconstruction project storyteller Denise Valentine (center), psychologist Dr. Thomas Gordon (right), members of the cohort, and friends. Photo credit: Courtesy of Phillip Seitz
How can public historians and their audiences come to terms with the traumatic and ongoing legacies of racism and slavery in the United States? This is the question motivating a project I’m currently working on in Philadelphia with a group of ex-offenders, ages 21 to 72. The project is a collaboration with Reconstruction Inc., a grass-roots group (William Goldsby, chair) that supports returning citizens as well as youth at risk and lifetime prisoners. Continue reading
2014 saw huge steps forward in representations of LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, and Questioning) lives in public history on both sides of the Atlantic. Projects have been launched in both the United States and the United Kingdom that aim to reveal national histories of LGBTQ lives, highlighting the ways that international conversations about approaches to public history are developing and impacting positively on the practice of public history.
Monumento en memoria de los gais, lesbianas y personas transexuales represaliadas, Barcelona, ES. Inscription reads: “In memory of the gays, lesbians and transsexual persons who have suffered repression throughout history, Barcelona 2011.” Photo credit: Claire Hayward
In May 2014, the US National Park Service (NPS) announced it would be launching an LGBTQ Heritage Initiative. The aim of this unprecedented project is to reveal the untold LGBTQ histories of landmarks and historic sites across the US, and the results of the project so far can be seen in this Google Map of Places with LGBTQ Heritage. At the roundtable to launch the event, the academics and public historians involved pointed out that this project was so important because LGBTQ history is America’s history. The roundtable discussants stated that the contributions of LGBTQ people to society have been ignored for too long, and their experiences must be placed in a wider discourse to ensure that their history is no longer marginalised. As such, while the results of this initiative are yet to be seen, its significance to LGBTQ history, as well public history in general, is already clear. Continue reading
Editors’ Note: In 2016, the National Park Service will mark the 100th anniversary of its founding, and the National Historic Preservation Act will have been in effect for 50 years. These two landmark moments come just two years after the National Museum of American History quietly marked its own 50th anniversary in 2014. A Working Group at the National Council on Public History 2015 Annual Meeting in Nashville will serve as a collaborative forum for planning a scholarly symposium to mark these important events. The symposium will take place in March 2016 during the NCPH Annual Meeting in Baltimore. This post is directed to participants in the working group, but all blog readers are invited to comment.
Photo credit: Library of Congress, WPA Poster Collection
In just a few months we’ll be in Nashville, working together to plan the 2016 symposium to address how NCPH should commemorate the past and help shape the future of federal preservation policy. Thank you for your contributions to get us started identifying key themes and issues for the 2016 symposium. This blog post is the second of our three posts to stimulate the discussions that will guide our work in Nashville (Part I can be found here). Continue reading
Just as science has Science Communicators, I’ve proposed that history needs History Communicators. The idea of History Communicators, and how public historians may fill these roles, will be discussed in a panel at the National Council on Public History annual meeting in Nashville.
History Communicators, like Science Communicators, will advocate for policy decisions informed by historical research; step beyond the walls of universities and institutions and participate in public debates; author opinion pieces; engage in conversation with policymakers and the public; and work diligently to communicate history in a populist tone that has mass appeal across print, video, and audio. Most important, History Communicators will stand up for history against simplification, misinformation, or attack and explain basic historical concepts that we in the profession take for granted. Continue reading
Frank and Audrey Peterman were among the speakers at the “More Voices” event in Boston. Photo credit: National Park Service
As a graduate student of public history who specializes in early America, I spend a lot of time thinking about borders and peripheries, not just the temporal and spatial borders of British North America, but the figurative borders within which the “traditional” American experience is circumscribed. In my adopted state of Massachusetts, I’ve encountered many public humanities practitioners who are trying to push boundaries and engage new disciplines and new audiences, particularly through capturing a wider range of voices and stories at their sites. Continue reading
Note from the author: I wrote this piece before the conclusion of the investigative journalism podcast Serial dropped on December 18, 2014. I’m leaving it as is, without addressing the ending because it does not change the questions that were raised during its run, nor does it negate the ways we can discuss Serial in relation to public history. I’d hate to spoil it for those who have not yet listened. I’d be happy to discuss some of the new questions the ending does raise in the comment area.
Photo credit: Kate Preissler.
On October 3, 2014, journalist Sarah Koenig premiered Serial, a podcast featuring her investigation of the 1999 murder of Hae Min Lee. Almost immediately dubbed the first podcast mega-hit, the series has sparked a nationwide conversation about topics intimately familiar to public historians.
Serial is the number one podcast in the United States with an average of 1.26 million downloads per episode. It is notable not just for the following it gained so quickly but for the very visible and thoughtful discussions it has inspired. There are weekly recaps and reviews, Reddit streams, articles everywhere from the Wall Street Journal to Salon and the New Yorker, numerous blog posts from individuals, and even another podcast to reflect on weekly episodes of Serial. Continue reading
Three cohorts of student interns at Eleanor S. Brockenbrough Archives. Pictured are Teresa Roane, Library Director; Sgt. Major Abdur Alimi-Hayes, Eric Richardson, Donna Nelson, Torren Gatson, Ronnica Williams, Ed (independent researcher), and Andrew Winters. Photo credit: Rhonda Jones
This is the final post in a series on issues of diversity in the public history field. You can find the previous posts in the series here.
As public historians, we have many responsibilities, but, as a baseline, we are charged with making history relevant, meaningful, and accessible to amateur historians, students, families, and scholars alike. To do this effectively, it is necessary to consider the “who” behind the “what.”
As this series demonstrates, if our institutions are to remain relevant to a public with evolving needs, we must include individuals within our ranks that have a multiplicity of backgrounds. It is critical that these individuals are in turn capable of interpreting multiple narratives, engaging with all parts of society, including those who have been marginalized, and expressing history in innovative ways. Consider the Minnesota Historical Society’s American Indian Museum Fellows program. Continue reading
Protestors demonstrating down West Florissant Ave., Ferguson, Missouri, August 15, 2014. Photo credit: Loavesofbread, Wikimedia Commons
How should public historians address Officer Darren Wilson’s killing of Michael Brown, the grand jury’s decision, and protests in Ferguson and across the country? This is a vital question many of us are discussing on Twitter, Facebook, and in person. The discussion has broadened recently to include the grand jury decision not to indict Officer Daniel Pantaleo in the July chokehold death of Eric Garner, and the Justice Department’s citation of the Cleveland Police Department for civil rights abuses. What are the best approaches to creating public programs and exhibitions at museums and historic sites or leading classroom discussions? Continue reading
Earlier this year the Indian American Heritage Project at the Smithsonian launched its inaugural exhibition Beyond Bollywood. Housed in a gallery at the National Museum of Natural History through March 2015, the exhibition “explores the heritage, daily experience and numerous, diverse contributions that Indian immigrants and Indian Americans have made to shaping the United States.” For the last year I’ve been involved peripherally with the exhibition, as a contributor to the Beyond Bollywood blog.
There are a lot of things that this exhibition has going for it. It’s located in a high traffic museum, and it embeds the experiences of Indian immigrants and Indian Americans in a context filled with music, photographs, and art. The exhibition has spurred pride, excitement, and interest. However, it has also spun out into a broader discussion about representation and identity. Continue reading