Annapolis, Maryland, designated a National Treasure by the National Trust for Historic Preservation, is regularly flooded by high tides in the Chesapeake Bay. Photo credit: Amy E. McGovern
Public historians are communicators. We tweet, blog, analyze, interpret, and document events for a variety of different publics. We make connections, linking widespread evidence into a single narrative.
It is that skill set that we are looking for at “Energy Efficiency + Climate Change: A Conversation with the National Trust for Historic Preservation” on Thursday from 8:30-10 a.m. at the 2014 National Council on Public History Conference. While the session will provide an overview of the National Trust’s work in Sustainability (through the Trust’s National Treasures and the Preservation Green Lab) the bulk of our time will be devoted to working with the audience on a brainstorming exercise. Continue reading →
Participation via social media was extra fun with the “album wall” during the music-themed aMUSE in August 2013. Photo credit: St. Catharines Museum
Like many community museums, we’ve had a difficult time encouraging and maintaining a young adult audience. We know that members of generation Y love information, history, museums, and artifacts. We also know that members of generation Y sometimes like to focus more on presentation style, technology, and media than on content. We know that they love an immersive, cultured experience. We also know that they love free stuff. So why has it been such a struggle to get this demographic through the front doors of the museum? Continue reading →
Unlike corporations that use historical images as a marketing strategy, museums, archives, libraries, and national historic sites are caretakers of history whose goal is not to distract from serious investigation but rather to promote it. We want people to understand context, to ask questions, and to dig deeper into sources. We appreciate the beauty of old objects and know that history can be fun. But ultimately we recognize that history has the power to motivate people to act in ways that have legitimate consequences in the world and on how human beings treat one another. So when a million people accept a feed such as @HistoryinPics at face-value, are we, perhaps, disappointed that an active and engaged citizenry has not stood up to challenge the whimsical imagery placed in front of them and asked “Can that really be so?” The practical consequence of people believing that John Lennon once played guitar with Che Guevara is probably little (this was one of the doctored images in the @HistoryinPics feed). The more urgent point is remembering that images can be doctored, human emotions can be manipulated, and we should always question what we see no matter how slick its presentation.
This strikes at the heart of the question about the public good and at the use of the word “History.” Had this account been called @ThePastinPictures, the outcry may have been more muted. The usage of the word “History” makes a difference. Continue reading →
Screen shot: History in Pictures https://twitter.com/HistoryInPics
Suppose you’d never heard of @HistoryinPics, and I told you that a new social media account had grown to more than a million followers by featuring a different historical image in its feed every couple of hours.
As a public historian, you might be intrigued. “Really?” you might ask. That sounds pretty cool.
In fact, how @HistoryinPics and its copycat accounts have grown has ruffled our collective feathers. From a cautionary article in The Atlantic about copyright to scathing attacks inSlate and on Sarah Werner’s Wynden de Worde blog about improper citation, inaccuracy (or downright untruth, in some cases), lack of context, and no links to actual historical research, the prevailing reaction has been negative.
Which led me to wonder: what’s at stake here? And can we have a conversation around this phenomenon that results in useful takeaways for public historians? Continue reading →
Typesetter, John A. Prior Health Services Library mosaic mural, Columbus, Ohio. Photo credit: Ehschnell at en.wikipedia.
For quite a number of years now, I’ve been one of the people involved in gathering and disseminating news about the public history field through the various channels of the National Council on Public History: the H-Public listserv, the News Feed here in the Public History Commons, and the regular emailed updates that go out to NCPH members. More or less once a week, I cull through other listservs, submitted announcements, and odds and ends that come to us through various professional and social networks and try to reduce the pile to a more or less digestible-sized list of professional opportunities for public historians. Sometimes this feels like a purely clerical task (there’s a lot of cutting and pasting involved!) but every once in a while I realize what a valuable and broad perspective it’s given me on our ever-evolving field. In return for those hours of cutting and pasting, I get an ongoing education about what people are doing “out there” and how a very wide range of practitioners are putting history to work in the world. Here’s how things look to me at the moment. Continue reading →
I am generally not a fan of sound-bite history. In this age of information overload and attention deficits, however, I suppose we must consider ways of packaging history in short, audio-visual formats in order to reach a larger public audience. Richard Heinberg’s Post Carbon Institute video, “The Ultimate Roller Coast Ride,” is a worthy effort in this regard. A creatively animated survey of “300 Years of Fossil-Fueled Growth in Five Minutes,” the video opens and closes with the distinctive bass line from the late Lou Reed’s “Walk on the Wild Side.” The disturbing environmental message of another Reed song, “The Last Great American Whale,” might have better served the purposes of this production, which is to frighten us about the grim future we face barring radical changes to our energy lifestyle. Continue reading →
In this election cycle, like just about every previous election cycle of recent memory, the role of higher education in improving society has been raised and debated. The past sixty years have seen unprecedented growth in the higher education sector, with a proliferation of for-profit and distance-learning options supplementing established research universities, liberal arts colleges, and community college programs. (For a more comprehensive, but not exhaustive, look at the history of higher education, see John Thelin’s A History of American Higher Education).
This growth, coupled with an ever-increasing pool of student applicants, has created a situation in which institutions of higher learning must distinguish themselves from each other in order to attract qualified students, and “alma maters” must compete with other deserving charities for the discretionary spending of alumni in order to maintain and improve programs to sustain this high level of competition. The result is the advent of a highly sophisticated marketing program! But what can a particular institution of higher learning market beyond widely available and sometimes stultifying statistics? The answer is something very familiar to public historians and historic preservationists: heritage. Continue reading →
~ Annie Cullen and Rachel Boyle, graduate students in Public History at Loyola University Chicago, are the creators of Public History Ryan Gosling, a blog that pairs the popular “Hey Girl” meme with public history theory. The project has reached over 60,000 people and stimulated meaningful conversation in various corners of the Internet. In this post, Annie and Rachel discuss how the overwhelming success of Public History Ryan Gosling reveals the strengths and weaknesses of popular culture as a tool for public historians.
Annie: In the postmodern age, our lives are constantly populated by popular culture—music, media, television, you name it. I think Public History Ryan Gosling (PHRG) was so popular in part because we as public historians merged academic dialogue with popular culture. Ultimately, it allowed us to reach a wider audience.
Rachel: I agree that popular culture pervades daily life and serves as a powerful opportunity for public historians to access broader audiences. Yet I find myself questioning the degree to which the plebian nature of popular culture undermines the professional credibility of a public historian. Continue reading →
In Part I, I talked about balancing your consulting work with your own research work. Setting aside the fact that pursuing your own research in addition to your consulting work may throw the rest of your life out of kilter, you will have to assign a rather high priority to your own research—after your clients’ needs, of course—if you want it to come to fruition in the form of publications. So it helps if the research you do for clients neatly dovetails with your own interests, as was the case for me with the book project I discussed in Part I.
As an independent consultant, you are free to pursue work in your area of interest. (And the more broadly you define your area of interest, the greater the chances that you’ll work in your area of interest: I fit a lot under the headings of “20th Century business and urban history.”) Operating on the theory that beggars can’t be choosers, you should never turn down work, however, and so, if a client engages you in what is, for you, a new topic, consider leveraging it as a new direction of research for you. Continue reading →