COURSES: HIST 696: Introduction of Public History

My second course with Dr. Lanier is Intro to Public History.  The course has a similar structure to Material Culture from last semester with the some of the same content, but there is one major difference.  Since there are so many of us in the Public History gradate program, the undergrads have been separated from the grad students.  This is great because there are only nine students in the class and we are all grad students.  And since we know each other, it makes the class much more fun!

There is a good amount of reading for the course, however.  Each week, one of us has to present on a book we have read.  I do not present my book until March, but it is a great exercise. This guarantees that we are exposed to more books than just those assigned for the class.  Speaking of the assigned books, there is quite a list of them including:

On Doing Local HistoryNew History in an Old MuseumThe Unfinished Bombing: Oklahoma City in American MemoryDomesticating History: The Political Origins of America’s House MuseumsPublic History: Essays from the Field, and Mickey Mouse History and Other Essays on American Memory

JMU Students working in the Field

There is a fair bit of writing involved as well.  We have to write three short papers (5 pages each) throughout the semester.  The first paper is related to the use of Sanborn Maps.  Sanborn maps will be the subject of a separate blog post, but they are, in essence, fire insurance maps.  These maps are extremely detailed and map ever structure in town and color code them based on their building material, roof type, etc.  These maps are very important for a public historian.  The second paper is an Oral History paper in which we have to interview someone and write about their experiences.  I do have some experience with oral interviews, so this should not be too difficult.  The third short paper is an Exhibit Review.  I did this last semester for Material Culture, but it is essentially a review of a museum exhibit where I will explore the exhibit’s layout, content, and purpose.

Like Material Culture, we also have a final paper which must be approximately 15 pages and can be  a in depth look at a particular subfield of Public History or one of many projects.

We meet twice a week and discuss various subfields of Public History including: local/regional history, oral history, historic preservation, documentary editing and publishing, living history museums, historical interpretation, museums, visual culture, archaeology, archives, and memory.  In addition to discussing these subfields we will have various guest speakers ranging from publishers to archaeologists.  Dr. Lanier has also given us a few possibilities for field trips once the weather is nicer.

As a Public History, this class is making me more excited about my subject.  In fact, looking ahead for the next several weeks, this course could very well be my favorite of the semester, although, it will have a tough time beating Historic Preservation.  Public History is a very diverse field and there are many opportunities for historians within it.

Next week, I will look at HIST 673 Historic Writing Seminar!  Until then…

-Eric

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