Interpreting Slave Life

Slavery: Let's talk about it

Public History…what’s that?

Posted By on April 3, 2011

I absolutely love being a public historian. I get a lot of questions about what public history or what it means and I simply tell them, I make history fun for the folks that tell me they hated the subject in school. I love it when I get to talk about what I do because I don’t look like their stereotypical historian. Clearly I am not a white male wearing a nice tweed jacket with patches on my elbow. I am a 30 year old African American female who looks like she could still be in high school some days. And that messes with people, and I LIKE IT!

What I want people to understand is that history today isn’t the history that they grew up with in school. No longer is history the subject you dread. History is everywhere, it’s living, it’s ever evolving and is constantly being made. To me that’s what public history is, and that’s what it’s about. Now, in no way am I saying that academic history is not interesting…I think it’s incredible, however I am in the minority on that. But public historians take it a step further and take that information that others may find boring and make it something the average person can understand. Sure you can read about life on plantations, but go visit one, and you’ve had a dose of public history. Ever looked at an exhibit in a museum? Public history.

Today I got to talk about what I do on a daily basis at the UNC Charlotte Graduate History Forum. The one thing I loved was being around both public historians and academic historians ( I actually dislike the fact that there is this divide, as we are all historians together, but so be it) and listening to how the public historian takes the scholarly work and “makes it plain”. I think I will always be both academic and public, but what makes me most excited is that I can present the work of those who tirelessly research and write wonderful books (they are NOT boring!) about all types of history. As this field continues to grow, I cannot wait until public history is no longer something I have to explain and instead is something people are beating down doors to be a part of.

So I challenge you dear reader. I challenge you to think differently about various histories and how you would like them presented to you. Think about what would make history that sexy subject you no longer avoid because you dread it will put you to sleep. You start thinking about all the different ways you could share history with the world, and you’ll start thinking like a public historian.


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