I'm kind of thinking aloud here, and as an academic I'm hesitant to put baby ideas into print, even virtually, but I'd like to hear your thoughts.
In a month I set off on the tenure track in history, with a trifold focus on U.S., gender, and (especially) public history.
Whereas public historians traditionally have done history for the public--e.g. in museum exhibits or in documentary films--there's a small but growing group of public historians who want to foster and study history done by the public, by passionate amateurs and average folks instead of created for them. I'm one of those historians, and as I transition to life on the tenure track (I'll have 4-5 years to prove I deserve to be employed for the next 30-35 years), I'm searching for a project or two in which I can make significant progress in 3-4 years.
I'm hoping you can help me by telling me a bit about how you use history in your life, either everyday or on special occasions. I want to find a project that not only interests me, but that really gets people excited about engaging with the history of their family, neighborhood, house, community, hobby, or whatever else they're passionate about.
Just FYI, clusters of things that have piqued my interest thus far, in no particular order:
The use of mobile devices to experience additional "layers" of a place
- augmented reality
- GPS-enabled smartphones that provide text or video about a place
- smartphone apps that let people contribute their own stories about a place while they're in it
- Davis Wiki does this in cataloging the present and past of an entire city, with no aspirations to objectivity
- The public's use of virtual spaces like the Smithsonian Commons or the Powerhouse Museum's collections database--creating new taxonomies and folksonomies, repurposing historic material in creative ways
Conservatives' uses and abuses of history and historiography
- The Texas school board's revision of the history and social studies curriculum to deemphasize the contributions of people of color and to lionize some very bigoted people.
- The Arizona law that implicitly forbids the teaching of many kinds of ethnic studies.
- Glenn Beck and the Tea Partiers' reinscription of white male privilege in the American historical narrative
The thousands of ways people use history in everyday life, sometimes without realizing they're doing history
- Connecting to their past through personally or communally resonant objects
- Historical reenactment
- Video games, simulations, or alternate reality games inspired by historical places or events
- Communities of genealogists
- Memorials, formal and informal
- Oral histories gathered by amateurs
- Scrapbooking and photo albums
I'm really curious about what happens if a historian (me!) approaches conservatives' uses of history almost at face value, with a good deal of curiosity rather than immediate criticism (academics' typical first response). I'll be living in one of the country's most conservative states, and I'm wondering if there are ways I might engage with some of the more conservative groups in constructing historical projects and programs that
a) are meaningful to them
b) depend on their participation
c) are packed with opportunities for people to learn to do history in more rigorous ways, rather than stick to simplistic K-12 textbook views (or Fox News' views) of history
d) get participants to think critically and creatively about people, places, and events, in light of existing evidence or evidence they've gathered (e.g. through oral histories)
e) prod people on the ends of the political spectrum to engage with one another's stories and in important conversations about community, through historical research and production
Regardless of your political persuasion, if you had access to an eager, energetic, and open-minded historian who wanted to work with you and your friends/neighbors/affinity community on a meaningful project, what might that project or program look like, and why?
Thanks so much. I can't wait to see what my brilliant and creative readers share.