Making a Public Historian: The Contract

The “contract” between an historian and her audience–whether implied or on paper–is the standard to which her output should be held at all times. Mine is that of historical integrity on every level, including acknowledging what I do not know, and the commitment to finding the answers to the best of my ability, using every available resource, and a pledge to never stop learning. I’m an Interdisciplinary Public Historian, and my work encompasses (or soon will) every method of study and educational practice from primary source research and first-person interpretation to museum advocacy, sustainability, and accessibility for all interested parties from audience to institution.

The History Doctor

This year for my course on the Practice of Public History we’ve introduced Master Classes, which have given our students the opportunity to learn directly from some of the best practitioners in the field.  But because I want to make sure that my folks understand that public historians practice their craft in a dizzying variety of contexts, often far away from museums and historic sites, our presenters this term have been documentarians, broadcasters, and authors: Ric Burns, Susan Swain, and Tony Horwitz, so far.  The best Master Classes, of course, are those in which everyone learns, including the instructor, and ours have borne out the truth of that statement, as Ric, Susan, and Tony have augmented our reading, thinking, and discussions in considerable ways.  That’s especially true because this semester we set ourselves the collective task of constructing a more effective vocabulary for talking about and explaining just what public history is…

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