Thursday, April 8, 2010

What is Public History Anyways?

Some people ask, what is public history? Others may have never even heard the term before. Even if you have not heard the term, I am sure that you have witnessed and attended something we would categorize as public history before sometime in your lifetime. Public history can be something as simple as a statue, and as complex as the Natural History Museum in New York City. Anything that is a physical or visual and educational representation of history is considered public history. What is the reason to study public history?
Well... One can say it is simply beneficial to those that are better visual learners. Others may say that it is a better and more comprehensive way to explain a time in history, aka. Slavery with slave cabins, or a mansion owned by an old revolutionary war soldier, or a museum dedicated to a certain ethnicity that settled in a particular area. All of these things help us better understand history and can enrich our learning experiences. Whether you enjoy attending museums, or visiting historic sites, it is important for these places to be considered while teaching about a particular topic in history.

One of the reasons why Public History is so important these days is because historians have started to become involved in the creation of the sites. They have begun to bridge the gap between the academia world, and the general public in order to steer away from bias.

Academics study public history because so many people are learning their history through these forms. It was said that something like 80% of students believe more of what they see in Museums and historical sites than in the classroom. That is an astounding number, and therefore professors and historians felt that they needed to latch on to this medium.

One thing that people have to wonder is what people are actually learning from these places. Are they learning a subject that might reflect bias? Is there more strength put on one class than another? Why is the subject depicted the way it is? And how long has the site been for public use?

In some cases, museums are depicting subjects in a bias and less accurate manner, as well as sometimes a very selective manner. In the 1970's the historians decided to get involved and not let the subjects fate only be in the hands of volunteers and tour guides, rather it have assistance by people who understand the history well.

From thinking about all of these points, we can understand that public history is not only what the product is, but also the practice of how it is presented.

As I visit more of these sites, maybe I will start to see trends and biases...

The purpose of this blog, is to better MY understanding of what public history is as a whole; as well as get an idea of some of the most exciting places around the Capital Region of New York State. Over the course of 7 weeks, I will visit several different sites and museums, and document my visit with photographs and some writing by me. I will also attach links to the individual place's websites for further information!

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