Last year, Arnita Jones and I met at possibly the finest scone cafe in the world (or at least Canada) to discuss the first public history roundtable to be held at an International Congress of the Historical Sciences. The organisers’ preferred title was, unsurprisingly, ‘What is public history?’. By changing a couple of letters, we arrived at a question we hope will be productive, and perhaps a little provocative: ‘why is public history?‘ (it has since been ‘corrected’ on the programme, but the plan remains the same).
We want to be able to consider the role of context: what are the influences that have shaped public history fields in different places? We also want to put comparison in the foreground. There will, inevitably, be many different perspectives that emerge, but we imagine we will identify far more things in common – and we hope, these affinities can help start new, international conversations about public history.
We want to hear from historians/public historians all over the world as we prepare our discussion paper, so the comments we make represent the perspectives of those working in different contexts, rather than just reflecting our views looking in. Please help if you can!
In what forms has ‘public history’ emerged in your country, and what’s the story?
Why do you think it has taken those forms?
What are the major issues for public history where you are, now and in the coming years?
Please add your comments to this post. A few bullets, a paragraph, or even just a couple of links or references would be great (and we’ll acknowledge all contributors). It would be great to have these comments publicly available, but please contact either of us directly if you prefer not to.
NB We’re understanding public history in the broadest possible terms. Former World History Association president, Alfred J. Andrea’s definition is our starting point: the application of ‘historical skills and perspectives in the services of a largely non-academic clientele,’ and of ‘the dimension of historical time in helping to meet the practical and intellectual needs of society at large’. His range of examples of public history take in public policy analysis, the understanding of cultural heritage, and helping a corporation ‘plan its future through an understanding of its past’.
Andrea, ‘On public history’, Historian 53 (1991) p. 381.