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What Is Public History Essay

2046 words - 8 pages

Public History is a relatively new field and even though it is not the newest field in history, it is still not fully established. One reason for this is that there is not an exact definition of Public History. It is still in its beginning stages and exists as more of a general idea rather than something easily defined. Most public historians find it easiest to define it by giving examples of jobs that fall into the Public History field. For example, Kelley states, “In its simplest meaning, Public History refers to the employment of historians and the historical method outside of academia: in government, private corporations, the media, historical societies and museums, even in private practice.” Schulz, on the other hand, said that in the early years of this field, Public History “was (mistakenly) too often simply defined by what it was not – i.e., not academic history…” However, that is not a definition. While it is difficult to give this field a solid definition, I believe that it can be defined as an attempt to produce a new type of historian, one that thinks and learns like academic historians, approaches their audience at the audience’s level, and teaches the public while sharing the authority with them. With this definition, a public historian could be virtually anyone, in any field. It implies that public history is not a specific job that you get but instead it is training to think and therefore act in a different way.
In the past, public historians went to college and became an academic historian. Then, at some point in their life, they received on the job training to become a public historian. Some became archivists, interpreters, or even experts in preservation of historical sites . Today, in order to become a public historian, they must go through special training that includes learning to be an academic historian. In addition to that, they receive training specifically on how to address the public and apply history to everyday life .
In Academic History there is a specific type of audience. The audience usually is other Academic peers; however, a teacher has the additional audience of students. Public historians’ audiences, on the hand, are greater in number. They must address community members, employers, the government, business, media, researchers, and finally the general public on an everyday basis. This is a wide variety of people that have different levels of comprehension of the subject that is discussed. When academics listen to a historian, they already know the arguments, they know what the subject is about, and they understand all of the jargon. Their purpose in listening is to get the historian’s analysis of the subject. The audience that a public historian speaks to does not necessarily have that same level of understanding. They often start with either no knowledge whatsoever on the subject, or with a basic understanding of only one side. These people are sometimes interested in an analysis of the subject, but...

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