Readings in Public History (Fall 2019)

Approach and Goals

During the semester we will investigate both the history of the public history movement and the theories and methods that public historians have brought to their work. Public history constitutes a distinct field of study and we will approach it as such, but at the same time, we will keep in mind all the ways that race, socio-economic class, gender, region, family, and politics work to shape the production and discourse around history. Given these goals, I suggest that we begin our conversations with attention to the following questions:


  • How do the key actors in these texts (historians, people of the past, and publics/participants/audiences) go about the work of representing their subject and its significance to themselves and others? How do they see their world and their place in it?
  • How are power and authority negotiated in these contexts?
  • Do the historical actors more or less align themselves with a version of social roles that is based on claims of equality or difference? How does this impact their experience?


  • What is the methodological approach of the author? What are his/her assumptions about the work of doing history?
  • What is the scope of the research? What materials/elements have been excluded?
  • What is the significance of the work in the larger field of public history?
  • How does this work change our understanding of both the practice of public history and the larger work of historians more generally?
  • How does is this work in conversation with other texts in the field?

Written Work

  • Please write a substantive blog post for each meeting that addresses the questions listed above. (If you don’t have a blog, you can sign up for a Humanities Commons account and create one there.)
  • For the end of the semester, please write a reflective essay (2,000 words) that applies the readings to your proposed MA thesis work.


Week 1 (September 3):

  • Kelley, Robert. “Public History: Its Origins, Nature, and Prospects.” The Public Historian 1, no. 1 (October 1, 1978): 16–28. doi:10.2307/3377666.
  • Grele, Ronald J. “Whose Public? Whose History? What Is the Goal of a Public Historian?” The Public Historian 3, no. 1 (Winter 1981): 40–48.
  • Cole, Charles C., Jr. “Public History: What Difference Has It Made?” The Public Historian 16, no. 4 (October 1, 1994): 9–35. doi:10.2307/3378008.
  • Conard, Rebecca. “Public History As Reflective Practice: An Introduction.” The Public Historian 28, no. 1 (February 1, 2006): 9–13. doi:10.1525/tph.2006.28.issue-1.
  • Corbett, Katharine T., and Howard S. (Dick) Miller. “A Shared Inquiry into Shared Inquiry.” The Public Historian 28, no. 1 (February 1, 2006): 15–38. doi:10.1525/tph.2006.28.issue-1.

Week 2 (September 10):

  • Meringolo, Denise D. Museums, Monuments, and National Parks: Toward a New Genealogy of Public History (2012).
  • Lewis, Catherine. The Changing Face of Public History: The Chicago Historical Society and the Transformation of an American Museum (2005).

Week 3 (September 24):

  • Savage, Kirk. Standing Soldiers, Kneeling Slaves: Race, War, and Monument in Nineteenth Century America (1997).
  • Cox, Karen. Dixie’s Daughters: The United Daughters of the Confederacy and the Preservation of Confederate Culture (2003).

Week 4 (October 1):

  • West, Patricia. Domesticating History: The Political Origins of America’s House Museums (1999).
  • Burns, Andrea. From Storefront to Monument: Tracing the Public History of the Black Museum Movement (2013).

Week 5 (October 15):

  • Swigger, Jessie. History Is Bunk: Assembling the Past at Henry Ford’s Greenfield Village (2014).
  • Linenthal, Edward. Preserving Memory: The Struggle to Create America’s Holocaust Museum (1995).

Week 6 (October 22):

  • Lonetree, Amy. Decolonizing Museums: Representing Native America in National and Tribal Museums (2012).
  • Kelman, Ari. A Misplaced Massacre: Struggling over the Memory of Sand Creek (2013).

Week 7 (October 29):

Week 8 (November 5):

  • Kelland, Lara. Clio’s Foot Soldiers: Twentieth-Century U.S. Social Movements and Collective Memory (2018).
  • Savage, Kirk. Monument Wars: Washington, DC, the National Mall, and the Transformation of Memorial Landscape (2009).
  • Histories of the National Mall:

Week 9 (November 12):

  • Linenthal, Edward T. The Unfinished Bombing: Oklahoma City in American Memory (2003).
  • Sturken, Marita. Tourists of History: Memory, Kitsch, and Consumerism from Oklahoma City to Ground Zero (2007).

Week 10 (November 19):

  • Hurley, Andrew. Beyond Preservation: Using Public History to Revitalize Inner Cities (2010).
  • Stanton, Cathy. The Lowell Experiment: Public History in a Postindustrial City (2006)