Public History : A Textbook of Practice book cover
1st Edition

Public History
A Textbook of Practice

ISBN 9781315718255
Published May 20, 2016 by Routledge
298 Pages

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Book Description

Public History: A Textbook of Practice is a guide to the many challenges historians face while teaching, learning, and practicing public history. Historians can play a dynamic and essential role in contributing to public understanding of the past, and those who work in historic preservation, in museums and archives, in government agencies, as consultants, as oral historians, or who manage crowdsourcing projects need very specific skills. This book links theory and practice and provides students and practitioners with the tools to do public history in a wide range of settings. The text engages throughout with key issues such as public participation, digital tools and media, and the internationalization of public history.

Part One focuses on public history sources, and offers an overview of the creation, collection, management, and preservation of public history materials (archives, material culture, oral materials, or digital sources). Chapters cover sites and institutions such as archival repositories and museums, historic buildings and structures, and different practices such as collection management, preservation (archives, objects, sounds, moving images, buildings, sites, and landscape), oral history, and genealogy. Part Two deals with the different ways in which public historians can produce historical narratives through different media (including exhibitions, film, writing, and digital tools). The last part explores the challenges and ethical issues that public historians will encounter when working with different communities and institutions. Either in public history methods courses or as a resource for practicing public historians, this book lays the groundwork for making meaningful connections between historical sources and popular audiences.

Table of Contents

Introduction: Historians Public Roles and Practices

The Role of Historian: A Short History

Professional Historians

The Rise of Scientific History in the late 19th and early 20th centuries

Historians in Ivory Towers

Diversity of Public Profiles

Local Historians

Government, Military Historians, and the Concept of Applied History

Historians under Contract

The Emergence of a Public History Movement

Local History, Social Engagement and Activism

The Public History Movement in the United States

Public History: Approaches and Definitions

Defining Public History: A Difficult Task

Historians and Popular Non-Academic Audiences

Public or Applied History? The Uses of the Past

Working "With" Audiences: Public Historians and Shared Authority

History, Memory, and Audiences

Institutionalization and Internationalization of Public History

A Textbook of Practice

Why a Textbook on Public History?

From Practice to Practices

Part I: Collecting, Managing, and Preserving the Past. Public History and Sources

Chapter 1. Collection Management: Archives, Manuscripts and Museums

Archives, Manuscripts, and Museum Collections

Archives and Manuscript Collections

Museum Collections

Introduction to Collection Management

The Selection Process: Planning, Acquisition, and Examination

Recording Collections: Accessioning, Arrangement and Description

Accessioning and Arranging

Description and Metadata

Preserving Collections

Treatment and Conservation

Preservation and Digitization


Challenges in Archival Collection Management

Selection Process in Archival Repositories

Born-Digital Archives: New Specific Items

Arrangement in Archival Repositories

The Specific Management of Museum Collections

Selection Process

Examination of Material Culture

Accessioning Items from a Variety of Donors

What Can Public Historians Bring to Collection Management?

The Design of Historical Collections

Public Historians and the Tensions Between Use (Access) and Storage (Restriction)

Maintain Public Access to the Collection

Collaboration and Public Participation

Chapter 2. Historic Preservation

Preserving the Past: Definitions, Purposes, and Debates

Cultural Resource Management, Historic Preservation, and Public History

Historic Preservation Practices

Actors and History of Historic Preservation: Grassroots and Official Programs


Finding and Describing Historical Resources

Historic Houses

Urban and Industrial Sites

Landscape and Parks: (Re)-source and Preservation

Sites of Death

Public Archaeology

Historic Preservation and Sustainability

Evaluation of Sites and Structures: Preliminary Preservation Research

Designing a Nomination for Historic Preservation


Criteria for Nomination

Exceptions, Exclusions, and Refusals

International Criteria: UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites

Protection and Preservation Technology: Standards, Styles, and Materials

Legal Protection and Economic Assets

Preservation Technology

Historic Districts, Revitalization and Cultural Repair

Creating Historic Districts

Urban Revitalization

Cultural Repair of Post-Industrial Areas

Chapter 3. Collecting and Preserving People’s Stories. Oral History, Family History, and Everyday Life

Oral History Practices

What Does Oral History Bring to Historical Practice?

Starting an Oral History Project

Interviews: a Set of Practices

Transcription and Preservation of Interviews

Family, Community, and Everyday life: Sources for Public Historians

Family History and Genealogy

Community History

Everyday Life

People’s History and Personal Experiences: Assets and Challenges for Public Historians

People’s History as Academic Research: the Case of Family Stories

From Public Participation to the Absence of Historian?

Historical Practice and Personal Experiences: The Question of Subjectivity

Stories and the Celebration of the Past

Go Beyond Personal Experience

Subjectivity from Narrators and Historians

Part II: Making Public History. Media and Practice

Interpretation in Public History

History and Fiction

Copyrights, Protection, and Fundraising


Fundraising and Grant-Application in Public History

Chapter 4. Public History Writing

Academic, Popular, and Public History Writing Styles

Adopting a Public Style: Writing for Large Non-Specialist Audiences

Fiction and Historical Novels

Children Literature, Comics and Graphic Novels

Children’s Books

Comics and Graphic Novels

Digital Public History Writing

Chapter 5. Editing Historical Texts

Introduction to Documentary Editing: Definition, Purposes, and Debates

The Role of Editors

The Birth of Modern Edition

Step-by-step Historical Editing Process






Crowdsourcing and Transcription

Text Encoding

Verification, Annotation, Indexing





Chapter 6. Interpreting and Exhibiting the Past

Sites and Purposes of Interpretation

Public Historians and Interpretation

Sites and Purposes of Interpretation

Collaboration and Public Participation

Project Development and Interpretive Planning

Evaluating Institutions and their Audiences

Sites and Institutions


Design Brief and Interpretive Planning


Visitors and Public Participation

Interpretive Planning at Historic Sites

Exhibiting Design: Space, Objects, and Visitors

Exhibiting Space

Public and Exhibition Design

Interpretive Texts

Curating Public Space: Art and Public History

Chapter 7. Radio and Audio-Visual Production

History on Air: Radio and Sound Archives

Film and Documentary: Introduction to History on Screen

Making History on Screen

Study, Review, Advise the Works of Others

Production of "Good" – and Popular – History on Screen

History on Screen as Public and Participatory History?

Entertainment and Reality (History) Television

Partners, Training, and Tools

Chapter 8. Digital Public History

The Rise of Digital Practices

Digital Humanities

Digital History

Digital Public History and User-Generated Contents

From Digital History to Digital Public History

Crowdsourcing and Digital Public Engagement

Web Design, Programming, and Systems for Digital Public Historians


Web Design

Creating Usable Digital Sources: Database and Text Encoding

Chapter 9. Immersive Environments or Making the Past Alive

Immersive Environment and the Recreation of the Past

Immersion, Living-History, and Re-enactment

Challenges for Living History Sites

Performing the Past in Immersive Environments

Theatre, First-Person Interpretation, and Historical Performance

Tours and Performance

Audiences Participation


(Video) Games and Immersive Environments

Games and Time Travels

Video Games

3D Virtual Reconstruction

History in 3D

Process, Technology, and Tools

PART III: Collaboration and Uses of the Past

Chapter 10. Teaching Public History: Creating and Sustaining University Programs

Creating Public History Programs

How to Create an Appropriate Public History Program?

Teaching Theory and Practice

Chapter 11. Shared Authority. Purposes, Challenges, and Limits

Public History and Shared Authority

Historians and Emotions

Celebrations of the Past: Historians and Pride

Identity and History: Celebration versus Commemoration

Public Historians as Actors of Commemorations: A Quest for Pluralism

The Limits to Shared Authority

The Difficult Past

When Sharing Authority is Impossible

Radical Trust

Chapter 12. Civic Engagement and Social Justice. Historians as Activists

From Civic Engagement to Social Justice

Public History as a Source of Social Empowerment for Under-Represented Groups

Native Populations

Looting and Repatriation


Slavery and Segregation

Women and Gender History

LGBT, Queer, and Sexual Practices

Mainstream History

Public Historians and Everyday Suffering

Criminality, Incarceration, and Prison Memories

Poverty and Exclusion

History for Peace: Human Rights, Apologies, and Reconciliation

Human Rights and Coming to Term with the Past



Chapter 13. Historians as Consultants and Advisors: Clients, Courtroom, and Public Policy

Public Historians under Contract

Entrepreneurship and Corporate Historians

Working Under Contract

Clients and Contracts


Contracts for Historians’ Benefit

Fees and Expenses

Historians in the Legal Process

A Variety of Issues

The Role of Historians as Expert Witnesses

Why Historians? What Sort of History?

Pressure and Ethical Works


Conflicts of Interest

Federal and Government Historians, Public Policy, and Policymaking

Federal and Government Historians



The Role of Historians in Federal and Government Agencies


Public Policy

Public Policy in Need of Historians

History in Policy Making Rather Than History for Policy Makers

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Thomas Cauvin is Assistant Professor of History at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette.


This is the book we have all been waiting for: an engagingly written, single-authored introduction to Public History from an experienced teacher and practitioner. Thomas Cauvin offers readers a comprehensive overview of the field through a series of well-chosen thematic chapters, drawing on examples from across the globe.  

-David Dean, co-editor of History, Memory, Performance

Are you asking yourself what "public history" means? For the first time Thomas Cauvin describes the complex architecture of the field. This excellent textbook anticipates where the field is going internationally. All current debates are dealt with: cultural heritage, people’s history, media, the past exhibited, digital public history, the uses of the past, teaching, civic engagement, and more. The practice of history in public is now illuminated by the author’s capacity to jump from field to theory and back.

-Serge Noiret, President, International Federation for Public History, European University Institute