Everything You Wanted to Know about Community Engagement (But Were Afraid To Ask)

AHA Session 281
Sunday, January 6, 2019: 11:00 AM-12:30 PM
Continental C (Hilton Chicago, Lobby Level)
Paul Ortiz, University of Florida
Farina King, Northeastern State University
Robert Taber, Fayetteville State University
Natasha Varner, Densho
Paul Ortiz, University of Florida

Session Abstract

Over the past two years, historians at elite institutions have played a more prominent role in the national US media, but this is just one way historians engage with the community at large even outside our professional duties. This roundtable brings together early career historians to discuss their experiences, the obstacles they've confronted, and provide tips, resources, and conceptual frameworks for working with the public / publics.

One obstacle historians confront when attempting to provide larger and varied publics with knowledge about underrepresented peoples is having institutional gatekeepers challenge them with politicized terms such as "activist" and standards centered on questions of “objectivity.” King will discuss several key examples of her work to bridge Indigenous communities and academia, including providing fora for representatives for the Standing Rock Sioux and Native voices impacted by the decision to shrink Bears Ears National Monument. In these efforts of community outreach as a scholar, King has found that what some academics might identify as “activism” is her people’s means to life and survival.

Taber’s comments draw on his experience working with various organizations in Fayetteville, North Carolina, home of the world’s most populous military base and that state’s oldest public Historically Black University. It will include guidance on different groups historians might find around them or desire to start, including unorganized direct action teams, 501(c)3 and 501(c)4 nonprofits, faith-based groups, and political campaigns and party entities. Finally, Taber will discuss how being an engaged resident has informed his own scholarship and other professional activities.

Varner will draw on her work for Densho, a Seattle-area nonprofit and Public Radio International to provide tips for writing history for general audiences, information about how to identify and approach appropriate media outlets, and insights into how to craft effective pitches. While this kind of writing doesn’t “count” in an academic sense, this presentation will also explore the value and unexpected benefits of writing for general audiences.

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