WHAT IS
PUBLIC
HISTORY?
PUBLIC HISTORY: HOW DO WE DEFINE IT?




“the presentation of history to the
non-academic community”
“the popular presentation of the
past to a range of audiences”
“the employment of historians in
history-related work outside
academia”
“the many ways in which historians
recreate and present history to the
public- and sometimes with the
public”
PUBLIC HISTORY: HOW DO WE DEFINE IT?

“Public history is history that is seen, heard, read,
and interpreted by a popular audience. Public
historians expand on the methods of academic
history by emphasizing non-traditional evidence
and presentation formats, reframing questions,
and in the process creating a distinctive historical
practice....Public history is also history that
belongs to the public. By emphasizing the public
context of scholarship, public history trains
historians to transform their research to reach
audiences outside the academy.”
PUBLIC HISTORY

Historic site

The development
of the site for
modern public
visitation; altered
to be a site for
instruction on
history
Exhibits
 Tours
 Historic markers
 Monuments
 Documentaries
 Reenactments

VS.

HISTORY
Historic sites

Important
location of an
actual historical
event, group,
and/or individual
that still exists
Primary sources
 Secondary sources

STRENGTHS
AND
Enables a larger
audience to access
important and
sometimes unknown
history
 Conserves historical
sites/locations
 Increases dialogue on
important historical
issues that still have
relevance
 Creates tourism




DRAWBACKS
Dilutes historical narrative in
order for mass consumption
 Voices from history usually
left out or overemphasized
 Controversies tend not to be
fully addressed
Site reconstruction alters
historical record (buildings
updated)
Certain parts of a site developed
at the expense of developing
entire location can result in
decontextualization (one battle
field versus all)
TYPES OF PUBLIC HISTORY
EXHIBITS

Museums
Permanent
 Traveling

Visitors Centers
 Historic Buildings

Indoors
 Outdoors


Often incorporate
the use of artifacts,
performance, text,
interactive screens,
lectures, etc.
TYPES OF PUBLIC HISTORY
HISTORIC SITES

Homes of
Important Figures


Ex. Betsy Ross
House, Benjamin
Franklin House
Government
Buildings


Benjamin Franklin’s
home in Philadelphia
Ex. Independence
Hall
Battlefields

Ex. Gettysburg
Betsy Ross House,
Philadelphia
TYPES OF PUBLIC HISTORY
TOURS

Audio

Ex. IPod tours
Walking
 Exhibit
 Driving

Bus tours
 Duck boat tours


Virtual

Ex. Online exhibits
http://www.britishmuseum.org/explore/online_tours.aspx
http://www.ushmm.org/museum/exhibit/online/
TYPES OF PUBLIC HISTORY
PERFORMANCES


In-Exhibit
Performances
Reenactments
Reenactment of the Battle of Gettysburg,
Gettysburg, PA
TYPES OF PUBLIC HISTORY
WEBSITES

Museums

University projects

Historic Sites

Student projects

Ex. National History
Day
http://constitutioncenter.org/ncc_home_Lan
ding.aspx
http://www.gwu.edu/~erpapers/
http://www.nps.gov/inde/index.htm
http://www.nhd.org/studentsites.htm
TYPES OF PUBLIC HISTORY
FILMS

Documentaries

Television Shows

Online videos
Constitution Hall Pass
TYPES OF PUBLIC HISTORY
HISTORIC MARKERS
DOS AND DON’T’S OF PUBLIC
HISTORY


DON’T:
 1. Make a public history that only appeals to a small group of
people.
 2. Conduct research without consulting other scholars.
 3. Create a public history that is overly long and drawn-out.
 4. Use unreliable sources.
DO:
 1. Create a public history that appeals to a wide ranging audience.
 2. Work collaboratively with other scholars to create your public
history.
 3. Ensure that information is conveyed quickly and can be consumed
actively.
 4. Maintain high standards of scholarship by using reliable primary
and secondary sources.
QUIZ: PUBLIC HISTORY
OR NOT?

“We divided our story into nine chronological
chapters, or innings, and insisted as much as
possible that the past speak for itself through
contemporaneous photographs, drawings,
paintings, lithographs, newsreels, and chorus
of first-person voices read by distinguished
actors and writers. We dissected the ballet of
baseball with special cameras that ran at 500
frames a second (instead of 24); interviewed
on-camera nearly ninety writers, historians,
fans, players and managers: employed the
services of twenty-one scholars and more than
two dozen patient and talented film editors,
delighted in getting to know one of the most
remarkable men the game or this country has
ever produced, Buck O'Neil; filmed for weeks
with the gentle and generous people at the
archives of the National Baseball Hall of
Fame; and hovered for hours above ancient
diamonds in Iowa, West Texas, South
Carolina, and a particularly beautiful old
park built in a marshy area of Boston called
the Fens.”
YES! This is
public history!
About the Film
Baseball. Ken Burns, 2010
 “An
NO! This is not
public history!
Field of Dreams,
starring Kevin Costner,
1989
Iowa corn
farmer, hearing
voices, interprets
them as a command
to build a baseball
diamond in his
fields; he does, and
the Chicago Black
Sox come.”
Trailer, Field of Dreams
YES! This is
public history!

“From May 29 through September 7, 2009, the National
Constitution Center will host NAPOLÉON, an exhibition
offering visitors a rare opportunity to explore the private life
of the Emperor of France and to see beyond the legend to
gain an understanding of this complex political leader
whose actions reshaped the landscape of Europe and
America. Created from the extraordinary collection of First
Empire authority and author, Pierre-Jean Chalençon,
NAPOLÉON showcases rare, personal belongings of
Napoléon I, as well as some of the most famous depictions of
him by important artists of the time.”

“Jean Valjean, an ex-con, has
transformed himself to become mayor
and the owner of a factory. But when he
is moved to help one of his former
workers, Fantine, Valjean's past is
brought to light, and he is forced to
abandon everything to run from Javert,
the chief of police, dead set on bringing
him to justice. Nine years later, Cosette,
Fantine's child, has been raised by
Valjean and has fallen in love with
Marius, a fighter in the French
revolution (after whom another, named
Eponine, also pines). With Javert on the
hunt and a revolution tearing the city
apart, in the end, everyone is forced to
question what they're willing to
sacrifice in pursuit of love and justice.
No! This is not
public history!
Based on the novel by Victor Hugo.”
SUMMARY QUESTIONS




What is public
history?
Why is public history
important?
Where do we find
public history?
Who creates public
history?
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What is Public History - National Constitution Center