Of Interest to Public Historians

Debbie Ann Doyle, December 2005

It has been a year since the Task Force on Public History (TFPH) submitted its final report to the AHA Council. As the AHA's public history coordinator, I would like to invite public historians and their academic colleagues to take advantage of the opportunity to continue the momentum created by the task force. This article highlights sessions and events that will be of most interest to public historians and to graduate students wishing to learn more about job opportunities in the field. (Numbers in parentheses indicate AHA session numbers or, if preceded by "p.," page numbers in the annual meeting program.)

A Public History Open Forum to be held on Saturday, January 7 at 12:30 p.m. (p. 156) will help set priorities for the future of public history in the Association. The forum will be hosted by two members of the AHA's Professional Division, which now bears primary responsibility for public history within the AHA. Spencer Crew (National Underground Railroad Freedom Center) and Art Gomez (National Park Service) will lead a discussion on mainstreaming public history within the AHA. The division wants your input to help set priorities for implementing the numerous recommendations in the TFPH report. Those attending the session are encouraged to review the key recommendations of the TFPH and additional discussion documents that will be posted online; copies will also be distributed at the door.
On Saturday evening, public historians (and anyone else with an interest in the field) are invited to a reception co-hosted by the Professional Division, the National Museum of American History, and the National Council on Public History. Join us for informal conversation will colleagues. Following the reception, attendees are invited to head over to the National Constitution Center for a gala event and tour of the exhibits, including "Benjamin Franklin: In Search of a Better World." See the inside back cover of this supplement for details.

For the first time, the AHA will use its annual meeting to encourage professional dialogue between academic historians and the staff of museums and historic sites in the meeting city. Ten AHA members will be selected in advance to participate in an experimental session entitled "Exchange of Views: Doing American History at Historic Sites" (23). Those selected will be matched with 10 Philadelphia-area sites whose staff will submit a set of questions about interpretive concerns they would like to discuss with their "consultants" for the day. The participants and the site staff will attend a brief orientation at the meeting hotel before touring the sites; the consultants will then submit written reports to the site staff. The session will be funded by a grant from the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission (PHMC) and matching funds from the Heritage Philadelphia program funded by the Pew Charitable Trusts and administered by the Independence Visitor Center. The PHMC grant also provides professional development opportunities for local public historians through 10 registration subventions for Pennsylvania public historians who would not otherwise be able to attend the annual meeting. In addition, PHMC funding will underwrite several of the excellent tours of local historic sites organized by the Local Arrangements Committee. The grant will help strengthen the relationship between the annual meeting and the public history community in the meeting city, one of the suggestions of the Task Force on Public History.

Public historians interested in mentoring future colleagues are invited to volunteer to lead a discussion at the PD-sponsored session on "Interviewing in the Job Market in the Twenty-First Century," co-sponsored by the AHA Committee for Graduate Students and the Coordinating Council for Women in History (21). The PD has re-designed the session in recent years to reflect the diversity of the history job market, and is always looking for volunteers who can offer advice about interviewing for non-academic jobs. (those interested in volunteering for this session, should contact Noralee Frankel, assistant director, AHA). To help educate high school, undergraduate, and beginning graduate students about the wide range of career paths open to professional historians, the PD will sponsor "Careers in History: A Workshop for Aspiring Historians" on Friday January 6, from 12:30 to 2 p.m. Eight participants employed in universities, government agencies, museums, and non-profit organizations will describe their career paths and lead an informal discussion of education and job opportunities in the field. Graduate students interested in learning about careers outside the academy are encouraged to attend these two sessions.

The Professional Division will co-sponsor several sessions on public history, including a roundtable, which is jointly organized with the National Council on Public History, "New Directions in United States Public History: ExplorePAhistory.com" (3). The division will sponsor two off-site sessions, "Reconstructing Historical Experience: Material Culture and the Making of Knowledge (79, at Bartram's Garden) and "Public Historians Reaching K–16 Classrooms through Museums" (110, at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, with the Teaching Division). Other sessions on public history include "Human Rights, Public History, and the Creation of National Histories," jointly organized with the Coordinating Council for Women in History (50); "Preserving Today for Tomorrow's Historian—Roundtable," sponsored by the Research Division (84); and, for those who define public history to include civic engagement by academic historians, a series of linked sessions on the Scholar's Initiative in Yugoslavia. The Society for History in the Federal Government, one of the AHA's affiliated societies, has organized a session on the topic, "Echoes of War, The Role of Government Historians in Documenting Military Operations in Iraq and Afghanistan".

The AHA is committed to increasing the presence of public history at the annual meeting. We invite our colleagues in public history to submit proposals for the 2007 annul meeting, particularly in the form of workshops, roundtables, and experimental sessions. Please visit www.historians.org/annual for the call for proposals and access to the electronic submission system.

—Debbie Ann Doyle is the AHA's public history coordinator.