Theory, What is it Good For in Public History? Absolutely Something!

I failed to mention it on the blog earlier this week, but I was in Nashville, Tennessee, from April 15 to April 18 for the National Council on Public History’s annual meeting. I’ll have more to share about the conference in a future post, but it will suffice for now to say that it was a very enjoyable experience. I saw a lot of old friends, made some new ones, and learned a lot in the process.

During the conference I participated in a session with public historians Julie Davis (UNC-Chapel Hill), Lara Kelland, and Catherine Fosl (both University of Louisville) entitled “Theory and Practice: Towards a Praxis of Public History.” (Check out the #PHPraxis hashtag for a collection of tweets from the session). I initially approached this session thinking about some of the ideas I shared in this post about theory and practice in public history, but it soon became apparent that I needed to think beyond that post and re-organize my thoughts to account for new theoretical challenges I’ve faced since leaving the academy for the work force. I did NOT read from a paper when presenting at the conference, but I wanted to write one to help provide focus to my ideas and prepare myself for the session.

I’ve decided to make that paper freely downloadable for readers. If you’d like to have a copy of this paper for yourself, please feel free to download it here. In sharing this paper, I hope readers will find it useful for the select theories I use to inform my own practices as a public historian and for the collection of resources I compiled at the end of the paper. My thanks also go to Andrew Joseph Pegoda and Kelby Dolan, both friends and scholars who reviewed the paper and gave me critical feedback on it. As always, please feel free to leave a comment on this website or contact me via email or Twitter if you have questions, criticisms, or other remarks to share with me about the paper.



5 thoughts on “Theory, What is it Good For in Public History? Absolutely Something!

  1. Thanks for posting this, it was a good read and definitely a good follow-up after participating in the panel via Twitter. One thing I’m really interested is how theories influence our practice as historians without us being aware of them. We’ve been around them so much we take certain aspects of them for granted and forget that our audiences may not have been exposed to certain ideas (see: race, gender as social constructions). Being in Germany has further made me think about how much of what we perceive as “common sense” as historians in the US is culturally influenced.

    1. Thanks for this great comment, Nick. Mary Rizzo made a similar point about theory in this History@Work post:

      “I think we’re all seeing theory as debating the finer points of Foucault but, in reality, a lot of the stuff we take intellectually for granted that comes out of theory would be news to most people, like the idea that race and gender are social constructions… Theory seeps into how we think and, therefore, do public history that isn’t even obvious to us because it’s so ingrained.”

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