Understanding Public History

Public history is a field of historical practice and scholarship that focuses on making history accessible, engaging, and relevant to the general public. It is distinct from academic history, which is often more specialized and geared towards scholarly research and publication. Public history encompasses a wide range of activities and endeavors that aim to bring historical knowledge to a broader audience and engage people with the past. Some key area of public history employment include:

  1. Museums and Exhibits: Public historians work in museums and cultural institutions to create exhibitions, displays, and interpretive materials that present historical information in an engaging and educational way.
  2. Archival work: Archivists ensure that these materials are available for future generations and can be used by historians, researchers, and the general public to study and understand the past.
  3. Historic Preservation: Public historians are involved in efforts to preserve and protect historic sites, buildings, and landmarks. They may work with government agencies, nonprofit organizations, or community groups to advocate for and manage preservation projects.
  4. Oral History: Collecting and recording oral histories from individuals who have lived through significant historical events is another important aspect of public history. These interviews provide valuable firsthand accounts of the past.
  5. Digital History: With the advent of digital technology, public historians use websites, social media, and digital platforms to share historical information and engage the public in historical experiences.
  6. Historic Interpretation: Public historians often serve as interpreters at historic sites, providing guided tours and presentations that help visitors understand the historical context and significance of a place.
  7. Public Policy and Advocacy: Some public historians work to influence public policy related to history and heritage preservation. They may advocate for including historical education in school curricula or for protecting historic sites.
  8. Community Engagement: Public historians work closely with local communities to document and celebrate their history, ensuring that diverse voices and perspectives are included in the historical narrative.

Overall, public history seeks to bridge the gap between academic history and the general public, making history a more accessible and participatory field. It plays a crucial role in preserving cultural heritage, fostering historical understanding, and promoting civic engagement. 

Top of page