“Eyes on the Prize” is the one of first popular culture products I can remember really sparking my interest in the past. “Eyes on the Prize” is a television documentary series, following the African American Civil Rights movement starting from 1954 and ending in 1986. Growing up as an African American, our shared personal and ethnic history and experience in America is engrained in our memory, even for those who were not alive to experience. My parents are big “history buffs” and I remember their VHS collection of the series, and their emphasis on me watching and understanding our “past” even at a young age. Notably, my Grandparents from both sides are featured in the documentaries, making this series even more personal for myself and my interest in the past. Even though the series is now well over a decade old, the footage and message of empowerment still ring true, and I hold a special nostalgia for this television series.
(Originally assigned October 12, 2011)
When our class began I was wondering “why did I sign up for this class?” Over time I realized that Public History was the most interesting history subject I had never learned. I had been surrounded by public history my whole life and just took it for granted that it was there. I had passed wayside signs and visited museums without knowing the amount of work which went into them. I hadn’t realized the countless hours that historians had put in behind the scenes in research to create a space which is both historically accurate and visually appealing. I have more respect of those who create museums because I now understand the constant battle they face in creating a space which appeals to many viewers. Not to mention the political and social hurdles which they must jump through just to get the funding to begin a project. Since I started this class I have learned about many career paths in history which don’t involve teaching. I had always enjoyed history but the thought of being in a classroom everyday teaching was not my cup of tea. I have realized that through public history I can research that cup which was used for tea and place it in various displays depending on what story is being told. Many say public history is “commercialized history” but I believe it is true history. History is not studied, even by historians, exclusively by reading books. Someone had to talk to someone else and those words had to be written into a book for others to read. I believe public history is just the reverse. After the books are written, public historians tell stories to people in ways they can understand them. The field of public history assists in the creation of history which is written and read in books. For me, the understanding that the process of documenting history is so fluid was a wonderful discovery. Now I know that taking this class made history come back to life for me and that is the greatest thing I learned this semester.
I’ll be honest, and admit that when this assignment was originally assigned (October 26, 2011) I did not visit all of the websites. But I recently had the pleasure of revisiting this assignment, and encountered a very interesting website.
“The Object of History” (www.objectofhistory.org) website is in junction with the Curators of the National Museum of American History. Museum Curators of the 21st century now have the technological ability to take their physical exhibits and make them virtual for all the public to access. The purpose of the Object of History website is to highlight iconic “objects” throughout American history. For example, legendary (and fabulous) Lincoln-Keckley is featured and discussed on the site. The Lincoln-Keckley dress was worn by Mary Todd Lincoln, the wife of President Abraham Lincoln, and was designed by a former African American slave Elizabeth Keckley. Although the women were of different races and backgrounds the two developed a close relationship, with Lincoln often referring to Keckley as her “bestfriend” in writings. Ordinarily, garments of this age and weight must be specially transported from museum to museum for the public to view. Now in the 21st century, the public can view this garment as well as other objects virtually on line and get all the perks of a tour from your own home.
“The Object of History” website falls under the “Exhibits, Films, Scholarship, and Essays” section of Rosenzweig and Cohen’s Exploring The History Web site. The Object of History’s use of pictures and videos to translate the physical exhibit to virtual are successful and leave visitors with basic knowledge of each object without having to actually visit. “Through the web, anyone with a computer can visit the full exhibit, although not share the experience of seeing the original painting.” Of course there are drawbacks to not physically visiting the exhibit, but for those who are unable to make it to the museum, the website does a good job in recreating.
Is there any one standard by which to measure all public history projects?
Is there a particular goal that is common among public historians?
How would you measure your own success as a public historian?
What your favorite project that you worked on and why?
When I started attending UMBCs Public History class, I admit, that I didn’t know what to expect. What I thought that I knew about historic preservation, monuments, memorial, museums and the like, was an incomplete picture. My first incorrect assumption was that most of these public history projects were government sponsored and directed. I did not realize that the Marine Corps Memorial, for example, was created from private funds and for specific reasons. I also did not appreciate the enormous amount of flexibility, compromise and communication required to create or change a public history project. Another element of public history that I had not considered was the amount of creativity that is required. For example, when the citizens of Los Angeles wanted to have a physical reminder of orange groves that were replaced by office buildings, orange trees were planted along the sidewalks. Public Historians must be able to think outside of the box. Throughout the semester I have also become more aware of the importance of preserving landscape and landmarks as “storied places” that connect us to the past and each other. These are just some of the ways that my view of history and memory has changed during this class.
As a public historian, I think that is most important to understand the responsibility of presenting history to the masses. Projects must be presented in a way that is authentic, accurate, accessible and timely. Must important, a public historian must balance their research, knowledge and passion with an ability to listen to the public and understand their concerns. If we work with integrity and thoughtfulness, hopefully we can produce a product that is valued. In the end, we can measure our success by the amount of conversation and curiosity prompted by our work.
I would really like to hear why Professor Troyano chose her career path. Understanding her journey may help us as we go along our path. I would really enjoy hearing if there were in obstacles so we can avoid them. I would love to speak more on agency and how it changes over time.
Is it silly that I initially related the word “public history” to the word “public relations”, in the beginning of the semester? Although scholarship, and experience have now provided me with a clearer definition of “public history”, I still feel my initial relation can be useful in better understanding the field.
Public History can be simply defined as history for the public. It gets tricky however, when defining who is “the public”. For Historians, the public can range from adult readers of academic journals, to children gathering around a television for a history cartoon special. The public can be reached in many ways and it is the job of the Historian to present a true and clear representation of history.
Public Historians conduct research like most academics, utilizing archives, primary documents and academic peer revision. Interestingly, an additional job of a Public historian is to collect oral histories and records from the public, these accounts can later be used and added to a collection of histories.
Public Historians are kind of like the PR agents for history. Public Historians maintain relations with the public through television and film, local and national monuments, museums and parks. Public Historians are essential to translating the sometimes complicated facts of history to the public.
For class we should discuss possible summer internships, and how we can use our better understanding of Public History in other fields.
While i did not have a paper due the week October 5th I would have proposed this question for class discussion on Oct 5, 2011. How has the southern sympathies of a sizable amount of the population affect the way public historians interpret civil war history? How has this civil war among public historians changed over time? Is it heading in the right direction?-ko
Public History is collaboratively using all mediums of history, whether by historian, scholarly individuals, park rangers, curators, archivist, researchers etc and presetting meaningful historical, information, uncovering or retelling new stories to the public to preserve history. This can be achieve through many forms, such as, peer reviewed texts, museums, films, websites and other historical presentations. Public History can be scholarly, or non scholarly by individuals sharing a common interest in history. In order for large projects of historical information to be acknowledged, most of the time there is government involvement. For example, there is policy involvement in new buildings such as establishing a new monument or the creation of a historical marker. Not only is legislation involved, but also the obvious aspect of the public involvement or interest. There has to be a demand from the public, in order for public history to be created, therefore feedback is an important aspect in whether or not it will succeed. The public needs to have a sincere and personal interest in history or a connection that evokes empathy in order for a public history to be appreciated. As Michael Kammen said in Mystic Chords of Memory, nostalgia and heritage are both components that history strongly evokes. Since August, at the beginning of the semester there was no clear cut understanding of Public History, and now I realize maybe it was because neither is history. There are always going to be layers in history, due to different perspective, generation and biases. The only way to have public history is try to incorporate an accurate representation of historical information, as well as trying to be as accurate as possible.
For class discussion tomorrow, perhaps we can discuss more about personal interest of public history, as well as what readings were most significant and interesting.
For class tomorrow i would like to hear what people found most interesting about the direction of public history that they didn’t know before we took this class? Also where the field may be heading, any new and innovative forms of presentation?-ko