Introduction to Public History

Required and Recommended Texts, Manuals, and Supplies: Thomas Cauvin, Public History: A Textbook of Practice, Second Edition (London: Routledge, 2022). [ISBN: 9780367473082]; Faye Sayer, Public History: A Practical Guide, Second Edition (New York, NY: Bloomsbury Academic, 2019). [ISBN: 9781350051324]

Grading Standards:

  • Weekly Readings/Discussions: 30%
  • Review of Public History Venue: 15%
  • Field Trip: 15%
  • Group Public History Portfolio: 40% (broken into segments)
    • Initial Proposal: 7.5%
    • Grant Application: 7.5%
    • Exhibition (digital or physical) Proposal: 7.5%
    • Community Event OR Educational Activity Plan: 7.5%
    • Final Presentation/Submission: 10%

Course Requirements:

Weekly Readings/Discussions: In order to foster intellectual engagement with both the readings and your fellow classmates, you are expected to have prepared at least three discussion questions to share with the classroom. You should also be prepared to offer your own interpretations and insights to the reading as well as respond to questions from the instructor or your fellow classmates. Things that may reduce your readings/discussion grade include—but are NOT limited to—being tardy to class, failure to actively participate and engage with colleagues during discussion, working on assignments not related to the course, and misuse of electronic devices during class. Things that may improve your readings/discussion grade include answering questions when asked, contributing to discussion and group assignments, taking notes, asking questions, completing in-class assignments, etc.

Review of Public History Venue: Each student is expected (on their own time) to visit at least two different local public history venues. These sites can include a museum (art, history, natural history, children’s, etc.), an exhibit at a non-traditional location (like a university, business, organization, or—possibly—online), a monument/memorial, a historic site (historic homes, battlefields, etc.), or an archive. You must have the locations approved by me in advance so that I can ensure they meet the requirements to produce a satisfactory review. You will then write a minimum 800-word paper comparing, contrasting, and critiquing the history presented at each location. What did you learn? Was the presentation historically accurate? Was there anything omitted that is important to understanding historical significance? How well does the presentation engage the public and foster dialogue? Did the presentation evoke an emotional response? If so, how? What would you do differently if you were the curator of the exhibit, monument/memorial, or historic site? Also, make sure to discuss which site presented the most compelling history and why.

Field Trip: We will attend the BMore Historic “Unconference” hosted by Baltimore Heritage at the Baltimore Museum of Industry ( From the organizers: “Bmore Historic is a participant-led “unconference” for people who care about public history, historic preservation and cultural heritage in the Baltimore region. Bmore Historic brings curious and committed people together and asks them to set the agenda. Historians, preservationists, museum professionals, archivists, librarians, humanities scholars, students, volunteer activists, Main Street board members, educators, and anyone interested in exploring the intersections between people, places, and the past in Baltimore and Maryland are welcome.”

Group Public History Portfolio: This is an opportunity for you to engage with several different roles within the field of public history. You will be broken up into groups. Each member of the group is expected to contribute. The project is broken up into four smaller components.

  • Part I: Initial Proposal: During this phase, you will work with your group to conceive of the perfect new museum/historic site/organization/etc. for the local community. You will name your site, identify the appropriate audience, craft a mission statement, determine whether you should file for non-profit status, and propose a fundraising plan.
  • Part II: Grant Application: You will choose one major granting agency that fits your initial proposal and complete the agency’s grant application to the best of your ability. Don’t worry: you will not be expected to submit this to the actual granting agency, just to the instructor as part of the portfolio.
  • Part III: Exhibition Design: Groups will get to determine whether to plan a physical or digital exhibition. During this phase, you will work together to determine a particular part of history relevant to your organization that you want to craft a curated exhibit for. While you will not actually be creating the exhibit itself, your plan should convey who will be involved, costs for construction/hosting, audience & potential controversies, objects/images to use, publicity, and should include sample “labels” or “text.”
  • Part IV: Community Event OR Educational Activity Plan: In this portion of the assignment, your group will get to choose (based on the mission of your organization) whether to propose a community-wide event or a particular educational activity.
    • Option A (Community Event): The event should have a catchy title, a targeted audience, and a purpose. Is your event educational? Is it an opportunity for activism? Is it a fundraiser? These are just a few options. You will need to outline who will be involved, whether the event is free/open to the public or has a ticket/is for members only, and what the overhead costs for the event will be. Do you need to rent space? Do you need to provide food?
    • Option B (Educational Activity): The educational activity should also have a catchy title, a targeted audience, and a purpose. Who are you trying to educate (K-12; General Audience; Ages 50+)? Why? How do you plan to do so (hands-on activity; documentary viewing and discussion; conference)? What are the overhead costs?
  • Part V: Final Presentation: At the end of the term, each group will give a twenty to thirty minute “pitch.” You will need to prepare your pitch as if you were presenting to a diverse audience, which could include local businesses (who might invest), the community, and politicians/civil servants (governor, mayor, police, etc.). Each presentation should include the four key pieces of your Project Portfolio and engage the audience via visuals (graphs, image mock-ups, etc. in the form of a PowerPoint—or similar—presentation). Be prepared to answer questions about your proposal from the audience. Remember that your presentation/writing should be able to engage people from different educational levels, cultural/ethnic backgrounds, socioeconomic backgrounds, etc.