Graduate Course: The Public Life of History

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This graduate level course introduces the history, theory, and practice of public history. It examines the ideas and questions that shape and are shaped by public engagements with the past and the practical concerns that confront public historians and citizens as they explore, examine, interpret and utilize the past. There are no prerequisites.

The course meets weekly 7:00-9:30pm at Salem State University from 9/10 through 12/10 and is a requirement in the graduate certificate in Public History.

Credits: 3.00

Contact Dr. Margo Shea for more information: mshea@salemstate.edu

Full description:

This course introduces the history, theory, and practice of public history. It examines the ideas and questions that shape and are shaped by public engagements with the past. It explores the practical concerns that confront public historians and citizens as they explore, examine, interpret and utilize the past. Since public history is history in public, the course explores the many arenas where historians work and where historians and the public are in dialogue about history, including online; in museums, archives, and libraries; at historic sites, national parks, battlefields, and historic houses and in historical societies or organizations. Our studies will examine both U.S. and global settings. Public history is also history for public audiences or for the public’s behalf. To this end the course will study historical works aimed primarily at public audiences, ranging from documentary films to history festivals to heritage tourism. Finally, public history is concerned with the relationships between the public and history. We will explore public investments in the historical past through analysis of various popular engagements with the past, including controversies in memorialization, the relationship between history and memory, the complexities of heritage and identity in multicultural societies and the challenges of engaging with the aftermath of violence through public displays, memorials and sites of conscience.

Throughout the course, you will gain experience using the tools of historical practice in public. Through a combination of readings, discussions, experiential learning/community engagement activities and assignments, you will become better aware of the questions raised and the processes involved in public history practice. The best practitioners of public history do not simply “present” the past to their audiences. Rather, they engage a variety of stakeholders in the process of historical inquiry, inviting them to participate in both shaping questions and arriving at their own interpretations.