A Place for Public History in Your Department
Patrick Moore, University of West Florida and Next Exit History
Rebecca K. Shrum, Indiana University–Purdue University Indianapolis
Why are public history courses and programs popping up in colleges and universities and to what end? Are public history graduate students better prepared than traditional students for finding employment? This panel will examine reasons for embedding public history practice in departments, offer some basic guidelines for doing so, but also will posit deeper questions about the production and overproduction of MAs and PhDs, broadening the employment options of all history students, and ensuring students engaged in public history develop marketable skills. The presenters and audience together will consider whether or not a public history program is viable for every history department.
Public history re-emerged more than three decades ago as a self-defined field, profession, and movement within the historical discipline. In the midst of the great recession and academic job market crunch, public history has appealed to some departments and faculty as a way to be “civically engaged” or to practice “translational scholarship.” Public history programs also offer the prospect of jobs—inside and outside of academia. Last year nearly 20 departments advertised tenure-track jobs requiring a specialty in public history. Meanwhile, the total number of graduate programs in public history now stands at 150 in the U.S. and abroad, having more than doubled from about 60 in the 1990s. More than 80 undergraduate history departments offer public history programs as well. How are these public history BAs, MAs, and PhDs faring compared to their traditional counterparts?
In the end, our panelists will make an argument that more departments ought to think about incorporating public history courses, internships, events, approaches, and faculty, while not necessarily developing a full-fledged public history program. Public history may not be the short-term path out of a job crisis, but it is fundamental to a holistic approach to helping the historical discipline solve many of its current problems.