Explorations in Public History

Please visit the Explorations in Public History Class website by clicking this link. 

Information about the class structure is available by clicking this link.

My reflections on teaching this class are available by clicking this link.

In the Spring 2012 semester I was responsible for Explorations in Public History (HIST 3110).  My responsibilities were similar to those for HIST 1110 including developing a syllabus, delivering lectures three times weekly, consulting with students, grading all assignments, and all other tasks associated with teaching a college-level course.

Because this class is an upper division elective for those students, particularly history majors, who are interested in Public History there are significant differences as well.  I had to demonstrate proficiency in all concentrations that are offered by the Public History department, including but not limited to: Museum Management, Cultural Resource Management, Archival Management, and Historic Preservation.  Additionally, I will provided opportunities for my students to gain hands-on experience and meet professionals who are currently employed in the Public History field.  Through teaching this course I hoped to incite excitement about the field and encourage students to pursue more information about the field and the possibility of future careers in public history.

Explorations in Public History is a course that basically serves as an introduction to the field of Public History for undergraduate students.  In preparing for the class I knew that the first question most students, and people in general, would have is, what is this public history that you speak of?

The course meets twice a week, so each week I am presenteda different topic related to Public History.  The topics covered in class include: What is public history? Who owns history?  Bias and POV, Audiences, Archaeology, Material Culture, Archives, Historic Preservation, Oral History, Cultural Resource Management, Historic Memory, Museums, Education, Public Programming, Exhibits, History in Unexpected Places, Popular Culture, Environmental Protection, National Parks, Media & Technology, jobs & Opportunities, Professional Development, Issues & Problems.

Some of these topics are combined, many overlap, and all are related in some way to the larger themes of the course and the public history program.   Essentially, each week, the students were assigned readings that relate to the week’s topic.  For instance, the first topic was “What is Public History, and Who, if anyone OWNS the Past?”  Students read the National Council on Public History Website article, What is Public History? (http://ncph.org/cms/what-is-public-history/).  They also looked at James Cuno’s introduction to the book Who Owns Antiquity.

We had in class discussions about the readings, and we also explored other questions in discussions such as: What are some of the definitions of public history?  How do YOU define public history?  What is your favorite part of public history? If you don’t have one yet, what are you most interested in learning about? What do you expect to learn in this class? Who owns the past?  What are some issues involved in believing someone can own the past? Can anyone own the past? What problems might historians, especially public historians have because of the idea that the past can belong to someone?

Additionally, I opened a forum on D2L for students to post responses to specific discussion questions so that they could interact virtually.

The first day of class I was extremely pleased to find that I had a class that would actually talk to me intelligently and with thought-out answers and questions!  The discussions and discourse in class really helped to make this class enjoyable for myself as a teacher, but also for my students who do not have to listen to a lecture from a powerpoint all class-time.  Students have many times expressed to me that they enjoy hearing other opinions and sharing their own and being able to discuss current issues in public history.

Most weeks, in addition to readings and in-class and online discussions, we have a guest speaker and/or a field trip.  I believe that in public history one can not really learn about his or her public and the field by sitting in a classroom listening to an instructor expound on theory and ideas.  In fields that I myself have not had a ton of personal experience in, I have been lucky enough to find willing experts at the university or in the community who are gracious enough to take time out of their days and busy schedules to come speak to my students.  This is something I am very grateful for, and I can’t begin to express the extent of my appreciation to those individuals and institutions.

In addition, my students were required to volunteer DOING public history for an organization in the community, and also to do hands-on individual projects.  The project proposals I got had some really great and innovative ideas, and I can’t wait to see what my students produce.  These things will go into their portfolio, and also give them experience in the field, and something to put on their resumes should they decide to pursue public history.

I recently created a website for the class as a place where student projects can “live” after completion.  Some driving or tour guides, brochures, or informational tools might not otherwise get any exposure, so please visit the class blog at: http://www.explorationsinpublichistory.wordpress.com for more information about the class and photos.  Additionally, students are writing blogs on public history topics.  Again, this is a great opportunity to work on writing for the public, develop thoughts and ideas about aspects of public history, and also create a presence on the web.

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