Response Paper: Public History

One of the burgeoning fields in our discipline is called public history. It aims to straddle the divide between academic history and various “publics.” Before Easter you’re going to explore how public history is applied: first, through your visit to the Minnesota History Center or another public history site; second, by hearing from History Center exhibit designer Randal Dietrich when he joins our class on M 4/10. Then by noon on W 4/12, write a response paper offering your take on this field.


1. Start by reading a couple of definitions of public history, courtesy of the National Council on Public History. How is it different from academic history? Where did it come from? (In other words, what’s the history of public history?)

2. Then visit the History Center or another public history site with this definition in mind. As you tour, think about how the exhibits were designed: to what end? with what audience in mind? How do they reflect academic scholarship, but presented in a very different way than a monograph or journal article?

3. Then bring your questions to class on Monday, when you’ll get the chance to go inside the design process with Randal.


By noon on Wednesday, upload to Moodle a 300-400 word response paper in which you draw on this preparation in order to answer the following questions:

What are the most important opportunities and challenges facing public historians? How well did the site you visited overcome such challenges or realize the potential of such opportunities?

Provide specific supporting examples, from your site visit and from Randal’s presentation.

Note: unlike other response papers, this assignment will be worth 15 points. Ten will reflect the typical categories for response papers; to earn the remaining five, you need to demonstrate that you did indeed visit a public history site this week (either by accompanying me to the MN History Center, or by providing me with documentation of your visit to an alternative site). It is not sufficient to reflect on a site you visited months or years ago; I want you to enter one of these spaces with these questions in mind and look at them with fresh eyes.


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