History of History 671 at UNC-Chapel Hill

Dr. Anne Mitchell Whisnant proposed this course for addition to the permanent curriculum at UNC-Chapel Hill in 2007-08. After that, she developed and taught this course every academic year from 2008-2020.  Information related to the final iteration of the course in the spring of 2020 is below.

History 671, Spring 2020

Spring 2020 Book Selections

  • Lyon, Cherstin M., Nix, Elizabeth M., and Shrum, Rebecca K. Introduction to Public History: Interpreting the Past, Engaging Audiences. American Association for State and Local History. Roman & Littlefield, 2017. https://www.amazon.com/Introduction-Public-History-Interpreting-Association-ebook/dp/B06WD96ND7.
  • Miles, Tiya. Tales from the Haunted South : Dark Tourism and Memories of Slavery from the Civil War Era. The Steven and Janice Brose Lectures in the Civil War Era. Chapel Hill : The University of North Carolina Press, [2015], 2015. https://catalog.lib.unc.edu/catalog/UNCb9022656.
  • Redford, Dorothy Spruill. Somerset Homecoming: Recovering a Lost Heritage. 1st New edition edition. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2000.
  • Roberts,  Blain and Ethan J. Kytle. Denmark Vesey’s Garden : Slavery and Memory in the Cradle of the Confederacy. New York : The New Press, 2018., 2018. https://catalog.lib.unc.edu/catalog/UNCb9160834.
What Is Public History?

This course introduces selected topics in the history, theory, and practice of public history.  There are many definitions of public history, but we’ll think of it broadly encompassing historical work that:

  • Is conducted or encountered in public settings;
  • Is fundamentally engaged with public audiences or communities;
  • Addresses itself explicitly to current public issues or problems; or
  • Mediates between the specialized knowledge of professional historians and the historically-oriented preferences, expectations, and needs of various publics.

To elaborate, public history is a vast and diverse field that can embrace all of the following components:

History in public: the many arenas where historians work and where historians and various public(s) are in dialogue about history, including online; in museums, archives, and libraries; at historic sites, national parks, battlefields, and historic houses; in corporations, historical societies or organizations; and in and with government agencies.

History developed for and with public audiences: historical works directed primarily at public audiences (e.g. historical exhibits mounted in any of the above venues, as well as documentary films, trade or popular historical books, historical dramas or festivals, and historical novels); historical projects co-created with, and responsive to, various publics.

History on the public’s behalf: historical work done for public benefit or at public expense (e.g. to measure or certify compliance with public statutes concerning historic preservation, cultural resources management, or planning; or to undergird policy decisions); done within government agencies by professional historians or contractors; or produced as part of a dialogue about current political, social, or cultural issues (e.g. historically-oriented analysis of current policy debates appearing in the public media).

The public and history: what the public wants and seeks from its encounters with history. Topics engaged here include history and “heritage”; history and “memory”; the relationship of history and tourism; grass-roots historical projects and local history; participatory history through such mechanisms as re-enactments or crowdsourced projects; regional or national controversies over history; and general issues of “shared authority” between professional historians and the public.

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