If memory is owned and history is interpreted, it is the job of the public historian to interpret and attempt to change memory. A historian takes the vents form the past and tries to spin a narrative from numerous facts. The historian uses his or her role as an interpreter to attempt to shape memory. We use historical facts to shape our memory. Individuals remember what they learn in museums and school, and use that to evaluate the past. The historian, in essence, creates memory.
The site that I looked at was The Object of History site by the National Museum of American History. What I found most intriguing about this site is that it focuses solely on the individual. They know the challenge in engaging someone is that they will quickly move past your page in a heartbeat. The designers of this site attempt to combat this by providing a site that is only about what you want to get out of it.
I think the genre that this site most reminded me of was it’s accessibility to the audience. It is not offering the reader the same exhibit that they would find in a museum. It does not even restrict its records to what is currently in the museum. This website provides access to items that are currently in storage, which no one has access to. It also extends this accessibility to a vast audience that may not be able to visit these museums. If you do not live near a Smithsonian you can still access the information that they have; and ultimately, you are receiving more information then someone who would be traveling there themselves.
I also think that flexibility plays a huge role in this exhibit. They are able to draw in viewers with the ability to switch between what they view. The creation of a museum exhibit also provides the opportunity for viewers to link aspects that may otherwise seem unrelated to each other that the website may not have predicted. There is lots of room to explore a diverse set of objects at the will of the individual.
Originally I saw public history as a concrete thing that was simply created and then left behind. There was a whole interactive side to it that I had left completely unaccounted for. For example, when I often attributed monuments most to public history and my first thought was the monuments in D.C. But I would only see them as still forms that were glanced at and passed by. I have always experienced emotions when at monuments, like the Lincoln memorial. I figured that was just my own individual take on these buildings.
But that is public history. A huge part of it focuses on the individual and what the individual takes away from it. Little did I know, some of the feelings that were invoked in me when seeing these great statues were by design. I never thought the artists intention would have extended beyond their own individual hope for the memorial. I never would have imagined the thought that went into the construction. For example, I was appalled by the amount of depth the Vietnam Memorial had in it’s construction. I also was surprised by the large impact it had, and the controversy it endured. More then that though, I never would have imagined that it would have become such a therapeutic spot for such a conflicted nation. I also wouldn’t have pictured that it could have been such a comforting place for veterans of the war.
My discoveries of the Vietnam Memorial are merely a representation of the discoveries I have uncovered in this course. Public history is not limited by monuments or specific individuals. It is spread across our nation in such vast contexts that relate on scales from communities to a national level. I would define public history as the ability to interpret past events to future generations. There is so much potential that lies with the telling of past events through the creation of public history. This potential and hope for knowledge can be most needed when depicting a past that is hard to deal with, like slavery in the United States. Despite the ugly truth of slavery, we can honor those who faced unbearable hardship in a way that teaches the future and doesn’t bury the pain. Slavery is not the only example of this. The recent past with 9/11, presents an opportunity to create public history that can act as a healing agent to all harmed by this experience.
This potential to create hope and good out of a terrible past, whether recent or more distant, is what I have loved about public history. I am enthralled by the fact that it is an ever changing field that can be changed by the individual person or group. It does not exclude itself to any particular person, or race, or idea, or opinion. Sure, it does help to be a position of power and wealth to create public history. But, that does not have to be the case. Anyone can create public history about what they feel is important. Anyone can leave a message for the future about what is happening now.
For the final class of the semester I would like to have a discussion that draws all the main themes of the readings and assignments together to present a final closing assessment of the course as a whole. To act as a sort of reflection upon what we have done and where we can go to further our study from here.
For the informational interview assignment I had the distinct honor of interviewing James Percoco, formally a history teacher with Fairfax County School Systems. Mr. Percoco was kind enough to spare a portion of his time to speak with Nathalie and me about his long career teaching history and the social sciences. He has retired as of August 2012 but continues to work in the field of public history, a subject he is very passionate about. Just prior to the interview we ran in to one of his former students inside the Starbucks where we were meeting and she seemed to express the same passion that Mr. Percoco did regarding history, showing me that becoming a teacher as a profession can be a highly rewarding experience.
In addition to teaching Mr. Percoco is a published author, specializing in history surrounding the life of Abraham Lincoln. When prompted about this he said that it tied in well to his career as a teacher, specifically that every day a teacher needs to become an expert on the subject at hand, much like how he has become an expert on Lincoln overtime. This advice certainly made the thought of tackling a comprehensive course load spread over the length of a school term seem much more manageable. In addition Mr. Percoco stated that simply becoming an expert is not enough and that having a passion for the subject at hand is a requirement to both excel in the field as well as to prevent burnout of the topic.
Other skills that Mr. Percoco said were important were social skills. He said that it was important to interact with and engage ones students, as spreading passion about history is one of the few ways to ensure that knowledge of history carries on. He shared a number of his techniques in doing this, including sending students on personalized field trips, posting class photos to ensure everyone felt involved in the class, and sharing quotations and motivational sayings related to the subject as a whole. He also stressed that social skills were important in dealing with co-workers and administrators, that the navigation of the red tape imposed by standardized testing and departmental budgets can be tiresome but to remember that every one of your fellow employees are dealing with this as well so maintaining healthy working relationships is a must.
As some of my previous classmates have posted, I think an open discussion about what we have previously discussed in class would be fun. It would be interesting to see how people view public history, since taking this class and how this class has shaped their perception of history as a career.
I think that talking about career exploration interviews is a good way to conclude the class. This way, there will have been a progression throughout the semester from the most abstract notions to the most concrete themes such as jobs in the field of public history.
The Career Path Exploration was not for me the easiest of the assignments we had to fulfill, as I am not a History major and do not plan to have a career directly related to Public History. I had to identify a job I was interested in, which also had to do with Public History. I first tried to get an interview with the Program Director and the Deputy Director of the French House in Washington D.C., but it was fruitless in spite of many emails and phone calls. I then decided to interview Birgit Debeerst, Director for programming at GMU’s Office of International Programs and Services. Her role is to make sure that international students at George Mason are integrated into the American culture and habits. For that purpose, she selects historical sites and museum that are both instructive about American history and interactive and plans visits to these institutions.
Working at the international department of a French grande école such as Sciences Po (the French equivalent for American Universities) would be really interesting, as they are some of the most globalized places in France with a high proportion of foreign students. Birgit Debeerst’s job is also highly related to the topic of the class, as she brings their audience to public history projects, and thus knows much about the public’s expectations.
I was surprised by how international her life is. She was born and raised in the Flemish-speaking part of Belgium, but close enough from France and French-speaking Belgium to also speak French. She then studied Japanese studies in Belgium and Korean studies in London, UK, with special interest for the history of Asian countries. Only then, she settled in the US. I wish to have such an international and multidisciplinary career path, maybe in the French diplomacy or the institutions of the European Union.
Though this interview doesn’t relate directly to a job in the field of public history, I found it personally interesting because it is similar to some jobs I could find in the field of diplomacy. I also think it is interesting about the expectations of a specific public when it comes to public history projects. For instance, the way she selects those projects to visit says much about how they can broaden their audience for example by setting up group tours and special offers for students.
I had the pleasure of interviewing historian James Percoco, who started teaching history atSpringfieldHigh Schoolin 1980. As a teacher Percoco won various awards. Among the many accolades Mr. Percoco has garnered throughout his career, the one that impressed me the most was that he was inducted into the National Teachers Hall of Fame in 2011. Aside from being an accomplished full time teacher he took the time out of his schedule and put pen to paper and wrote three books. Although Percoco retired formally from teaching and the classroom in 2011 he is still active in the history sector. He is currently the director of the non profit organization Friends of the National World War II Memorial (which he asked for our classroom to like their page on facebook!).
As the interviewer it was interesting to get his prospective on teaching we covered an array of subjects ranging from the school curriculum to what qualities make a good teacher. When I asked him what was the key to a good teacher he simply said “Don’t take yourself too seriously, have self deprecating humour” he made it clear that it was important to be able to have something in common with the students and to engage them in the subject matter. Exploring your talents and bringing them forth into the classroom was of the other things he sought as important for teachers to have.
We also discussed what made a possible candidate for a teaching job desirable. He explained that a certification in teaching that said social studies was the most desirable to employers, because it meant that you were able to not only teach history, but also teach government, economics, and geography. This was exciting news to hear because the curriculum at George Mason for an individual who seeks a career as a teacher has to take endorsements in those subject matters.
I think an open discussion would be fun, that remains prevalent to Public History and pursuing it further. It would be cool to see what everyone got most out of the class, or what they enjoyed most. Because, like the past, we have all engaged and will take something different away from the course.
This informational interview was a great way to discover a profession I didn’t give much of a chance, and making the connections that would greatly benefit me in the near future. For my information interview, I contacted several people and decided to work on a topic that previously had not crossed my path. While completing my project on the Reconstructing Washington exhibit, I ended up talking to a former George Mason student who works at Mount Vernon. Originally, working at a house museum was not something that I thought I’d find appealing. The more I talked to him, the more I started to get interested and wanted to get more detail on working in a house museum and the opportunities there. I ended up exchanging contact information with him, to do a more in depth interview.
Upon finishing my tour of the mansion, I ran into the same tour guide I had seen when first starting the tour. Even though I had no interest in ever working at a house museum, I was trying to keep all the topics we had covered in public history in mind. On a whim, I asked Nick what it was like to work at the mansion and how long he had been doing it. He had been working there for two years. I continued to question him about various aspects of his job, but the thing I most wanted to know was if he enjoyed it. Did he enjoy waking up every morning knowing that he was going to repeat the same couple lines to hundreds of people? He smiled and remarked that it was indeed a customer service industry and that there were aspects of the job he enjoyed and equally found frustrating. He did like his job though, and he got some hands on experience with the construction of Mount Vernon, the experience visitors would have while there, and he had an impact in how the history was displayed.
My next question, which also revolved around personal interest, was what kind of background you had to have to work at Mount Vernon. Nick happened to have gotten his undergrad in public history, but did everyone there have a history background? The answer was no. Opportunities range from different levels of commitment and also require different backgrounds. Pretty much anyone can decide that they would like to get involved and become a part of Mount Vernon. This was particularly astounding to me, and I absolutely loved it. Especially, as a college student that is extremely undecided in what I will every actually do when I grow up. This then led to me grilling Nick about any internships and how he first started working here. There are internships covering many different fields at Mount Vernon that have a range of hands on experiences.
Although I spoke to someone at Mount Vernon, I have looked into many other house museums as well. I restricted my search only by those in northern Virginia, because that is the area that I personally would like to stay in after college.
For my interview, I spoke with my mother, who is responsible for some, if not all, of my love of history.
Over the past year, she has watched numerous television programs that are either about history, or based in a different time period (normally at my urging). She has done a great deal of research of our genealogy for work (she is a writer), and enjoys to read historical fiction.
Mostly, she trusts academic sources for historic knowledge. With individuals writing books about historical figures that claim to be academic, such as Bill O’Reilly, she is skeptical of some sources. She normally trusts the content of museum exhibits, but does not always agree with the narrative. Most of the documentaries that she looks at she trusts the veracity of.
Holidays are not normally something that causes a type of historical interaction. However, some family traditions stand true even though holidays aren’t always celebrated. To her, personal experiences with the past are most powerful. Family histories play an important part, as well as the histories of people with similar ethnic backgrounds.
I don’t really have a specific request for what to discuss on our last meeting tomorrow. I suppose we could talk a bit about what we learned from our career exploration interviews, but other than that, I have no questions about anything.
For my public history review project, Matthew and I chose to review the American stories exhibit at the National Museum of American History. The exhibit attempts to tell the story of America from different ethnic and socioeconomic perspectives. The exhibit does this with different artifacts from American History that describe the different perspectives of events that individuals went through throughout American History. It is able to do this with minimal controversy and tells the complete story, which was discussed in detail in my presentation and essay.
I decided to look at Mount Vernon for my public history project for a multitude of reasons, the first being that I did not have a tremendous amount of prior knowledge on the subject. It has also been a really long time since I have been there, and I thought it would be academically refreshing to go back knowing all that I now know about public history.
I was delighted to work with Mary Kelly on this project. We have already worked together on projects last year and at the beginning of this semester and we compliment each other well. The most important thing to me however, is that we are both extremely dedicated and passionate individuals which makes working on projects together a lot of fun. There is never any worry about someone doing more work then the other person and we are both very supportive towards one another.