Public History

A Flag, a Dinner Bell, and a Hand-Dug Well: Using Artifacts to Make Meaningful Connections to the Past

By Michelle M. Martin

When I began my directorship of the Little House on the Prairie Museum south of Independence, Kansas, the promise and challenges the museum faced swirled in my mind. For any small historic house museum, problems tend to outweigh the possibilities. Founded in 1977, the Little House on the Prairie Museum preserves the Kansas homesite where Charles Ingalls and his family lived from 1869–71. The museum features a replica of the one-room cabin the family lived in while in Kansas along with a 19th-century one-room schoolhouse and post office moved to the site to ensure their preservation.

Monumental Effort: Historians and the Creation of the National Monument to Reconstruction

One of President Obama’s last act while in office was to designate a national monument to Reconstruction in Beaufort, South Carolina. The AHA supported this important expansion of the National Park Service system with a letter to the US Secretary of the Interior on November 16, 2016. AHA Today spoke to historians Greg Downs and Kate Masur, whose advocacy was crucial to this effort, about the significance of the designation, the backstory of the monument’s creation, and next steps.

Mapping Indigenous LA: Uncovering Native Geographies through Digital Storytelling

Indigenous history is everywhere, and yet too often overlooked or ignored. In Los Angeles, a coalition of academics, archaeologists, activists, and members of local indigenous communities, is working to create a digital storymapping project that “aims to uncover and highlight the multiple layers of indigenous Los Angeles.” Mapping Indigenous LA is exemplary in its privileging of indigenous knowledge and protocol, as well as in its attention to documenting the presence of Southern California’s original inhabitants as well as diasporic indigenous communities. AHA Today spoke to professor Mishuana Goeman, co-principal investigator of the project, for more on this effort.

Who’s Afraid of Being a Generalist? On Being a Historian outside the Academy

By Rachel Feinmark

After two years of endless academic job applications, Skype interviews, and harrowing job talks, I was exhausted from reinventing myself on a daily basis. For all the effort, I was starting to suspect that I might not even want any of the jobs I was working so hard to get. When I finally gave myself permission to apply for the public history positions I’d secretly been coveting, I felt a sense of relief. But as I revised my teaching statement for a museum studies role, I came to realize that I was less interested in refining my class on the history of display than I was in creating the display myself.

What I Learned from Visiting a Historical Site: An Undergraduate’s Experience at Gettysburg

A recent report from Humanities Indicators, a project of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences, showed that less than a quarter of Americans aged 18 years or older visited a historical park or monument in 2012—a 13 percentage point drop from 1982. As a student from Brigham Young University (BYU) in Utah, I traveled to Washington, DC, in January to intern with the American Historical Association for the spring semester. Having taken advantage of opportunities to explore the city’s many historic sites and museums, the report made me wonder about the nation’s declining interest in visiting historical sites.

Banjos in Baltimore: Using Music to Tell History

In the October 2015 issue of Perspectives on History, I wrote on historically informed performance of medieval, Renaissance, and baroque music. Musicians at the Folger and Newberry Consorts spoke to me about how history informed their music, and in turn how music could help transport listeners to a different time.

At the National Council on Public History annual meeting in Baltimore last month, I once again found myself at the intersection of music and history at a workshop called “Banjos in the Museum: Music as Public History.” Organized by the Stevenson University public history program, this workshop featured archivist and musicologist Greg Adams and instrumentalists Ken and Brad Kolodner.

Delivering History through a Smartphone App: An Interview with Clio’s David Trowbridge

AHA member David Trowbridge, associate professor of history at Marshall University, was recently awarded the Whiting Public Engagement Fellowship. Granted by the Whiting Foundation, the fellowship funds a six-month leave for a recently tenured professor in the humanities to work on a “public-facing project.” Trowbridge plans to use the fellowship to work on Clio, a web and mobile app that identifies a user’s geolocation to deliver historical information about the surrounding area through text, images, and video. AHA Today caught up with Trowbridge recently and spoke to him about Clio and his future plans for the app.

Crowdsourcing Historical and Archival Information with NARA’s History Hub

By Naomi Lieberman

How can I get information about my father’s service in World War II? Where can I find records about my grandfather’s work for the Civilian Conservation Corps? Is there a list of official postmasters for local offices somewhere? These are all examples of questions recently asked and answered on the National Archives and Records Administration’s History Hub.