Pitching the tent
This was my entry for Forward Capture. What do you think is the future of public history? Please contribute your ideas to the project.
The future of public history will depend on how we tackle issues of community and diverse publics, on how we make public history a big tent. We need to cultivate an active movement of locally-rooted, digitally-enabled citizen historians.
Even some of our natural partners and allies, in the archives world, for instance, aren’t sure if they’re public historians or what value and meaning they might derive from thinking of themselves and their work as part of public history. The future of public history is empowering lone arrangers, county historians, members of groups neglected by historians, and others to become part of a coherent community of people doing history, people sited in their local communities, but connected through the web to collections, stories, data and other public historians.
Though it’s clearly not necessary, useful or even possible for everyone doing history to identify as a “public historian,” public historians can raise awareness of what it means to do history and expand opportunities for citizen historians to participate in the work of finding meaning through the past. This inclusive, community sensibility also requires us to think through our uneasy relationship with the academy and stop defining ourselves against it. The future of public history is going to be diverse, colorful, tempestuous, challenging. How big can a big tent get?