Public History in North America and the UK: Comparative Perspectives on Theory and Practice

Venue: Beveridge Hall

Location: London, United Kingdom

Event Date/Time: Oct 22, 2010 End Date/Time: Oct 24, 2010
Abstract Submission Date: Nov 15, 2009
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This event follows a series of Public History conferences (co)-hosted by the IHR since 2006, most recently the international public history conference at Liverpool in 2008.

Since the term ‘public history’ was coined in the United States in the 1970s, it has been without clear, consistent, or formal definition in North America. Likewise, in the United Kingdom the multiplicity of voices and approaches has so far precluded consistent definitions. Until relatively recently, ‘public history’ has been particularly associated with ‘people’s history’ or ‘history from below’ in the 1970s tradition of Raphael Samuel and the History Workshop. Yet public history practices more widely have been ubiquitous for decades, conceptualized as ‘heritage’, museum studies, or public engagement with history.

Increasingly, public history is now becoming one of the frameworks within which British concerns with cultural identity and heritage, resource management, institutional memory, civic engagement, and entertainment are being conceptualized. As a field—consolidated over three decades in the U.S. and Canada—Public History is in the process of organization in the U.K., witness the History & Policy initiative, the launch of IPUP York, MA programmes, and various websites, and the attention given to Public History by professional organizations. Yet, differences also are evident: for instance, in the U.S. and Canada, a wide variety of federal agencies and federal laws drive a sizable portion of public history practice, whereas the U.K. displays a comparative paucity of public history in the areas of policy formation and implementation.
Call for panels and papers
We invite strong case studies that critically examine the practice of public history in a variety of settings, e.g. museums, archives, parks, and protected areas and heritage sites, government agencies, not-for-profit organizations, and private firms, and for a variety of purposes, including policy creation, institutional memory, resource preservation and management, civic engagement, cultural identity.
Case studies should examine the theoretical frameworks that inform inquiry and analysis; methodologies employed; and the relative roles that historian, audience (or end user), collaborators, partners, or governing bodies play in shaping the processes of inquiry and interpretation. To encourage comparably high degrees of introspection and reflectiveness, all authors will be asked to address the overarching question, ‘for what purpose is history being engaged or applied?’


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