Over the past 10 weeks I have visited and documented different public history sites around the Capital District- in Albany, Schenectady, and Renneslear. I visited places whose subjects range from the earliest times of the first settlers to Schenectady, to the tragedies of 9-11. I was able to get a wide range of public history experiences.
After visiting these sites I have learned to look at them from a different perspective than I normally would have. I learned to critique and value the different aspects of the exhibits, monuments, and museums based on their subject and their importance to the society around us. I investigated what was highlighted and asked what was left out of the site’s treatment of its subject. I learned how to question the bias of the curator, decide who the target audience was, and contemplate the point of each site... One of the most important things that I have learned from this experience is to inquire about what is missing from an exhibit and what the exhibit is trying to portray to its audience. Take the 9-11 exhibit for example. The curator decided to make it a "memorial" about the people and the tragedy rather than examine the background and the terrorist aspect of it. Perhaps, as discussed earlier, it is just too soon to create a correct historical analysis. At the WWII exhibit, the rushing water creates a feeling of excitement and joy and freedom- it is designed to make citizens feel good about their country. So, now I can easily inquire about what is missing from an exhibit and what the exhibit is trying to portray to its audience.
Public History is an important subject to learn. It teaches people to think more critically and creatively and provides a supplement to the classroom experience. When visiting sites and monuments I suggest that people stop for a moment and think about what the real message is, and if there is something that you would do differently, or if you would shed light on something more vigorously. Historians will continue to take part in the field of Public History as it is a popular learning source in society. After all, many people today learn a lot outside of the classroom and are impacted tremendously by the creativity that history is able to provide with the help of these monuments, exhibits, and historical sites.
I strongly encourage people to visit these places whenever they get a chance; they present interesting aspects of the history of the Capital Region and are is definitely something you would not want to miss.
Til next time...