Quick question for class tonight

Hi all, a quick followup question that I think is necessary to lay the groundwork for class tonight.  We setup a working definition for digital history, but what are your definitions for what constitutes public history?  I think that Emma Wilmer, Emeritus editor of PHRC, is pretty much spot on when she wrote

“Public history is history, practically applied. It is based on the understanding that history is not taught solely in the classroom, but is learned in a variety of places, and in a variety of ways. Public historians disseminate historical information to a wide audience through institutions such as archives, historical houses or societies, museums, consulting firms, history libraries, and Web sites. They are providers of primary and secondary source materials, and they often present information to patrons so that the patrons can form their own ideas of history and historical events through exhibits and research. My particular experiences with public history are diverse, and they have helped inform my definition of public history. In providing historical information to visitors, public historians give these visitors a chance to form their own opinions and ideas about history and to create books, essays, dissertations, works of art, and other products that in turn shape other people’s ideas about history. Practical and entertaining, applications of history are what set public history apart from classroom history, and both have their place in the overall process of teaching history.”

Obviously, this is a broad definition that I am sure some of you all might have few quibbles with, so does anyone have any different working definitions?

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2 responses to “Quick question for class tonight

  1. I think I agree with the above. In my experience (having worked in an archive and as a documentary editor), public history boils down to all the history work being done out there other than professors teaching in universities and writing monographs for their peers.

  2. I have equated the position of public historian with the location of the work (archives, historic sites, national parks – locations with the sole purpose of educating the public about the specific data, events, or documents relating to a specific location or theme); the type of interface with the public (with a paid or free audience outside of university or school settings visiting for a short or designated period of time), and charged with interpreting events centered on a specific theme, location, person, or event.
    But considering the potential murkiness of any definition, it might be best to decide if there needs to be a distinction between the types of historians. At the basic level, we all differentiate ourselves by the type of research we conduct or the methods of transmitting this research to others. Am I less of a “public” historian because I bring my history to a collegiate audience rather than to a Saturday afternoon crowd assembled at a local historic site or to a crowd gathered for a history book discussion at the local Busboys and Poets or university hall or History Channel special? In some respects, we all work and interface with the public or serve the public good in terms of being “entrusted keepers” of history (Spichiger and Jacobson).

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