PUBLIC HISTORY AND THE DEPARTMENT: PROSPECTS AND DIRECTIONS


Michael J. Galgano, Editor
James Madison University

This second issue of the Newsletter focuses on Public History and the traditional department. The topic has been examined extensively over the past decade and we hope to provide new insights for departments as they debate the utility of such programs in planning curricula and allocating resources.The points raised are designed to open a dialogue both within and between history departments.

Three essays are featured, each written by a specialist in the field and each exploring an important dimension of the question. Professor James K. Huhta opens the discussion with an entry on the origins and development of the field.He raises several fundamental questions and stimulates a host of others for department chairs. Is public history a viable option for all history departments? If so, how should the program be constituted? Are individual courses within an existing curriculum preferable to a freestanding program? Is a fully integrated program, blending the expertise of traditional faculty with the particular skills of public historians, such as exists at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, a better alternative than a separate one like the Center for Historic Preservation at Middle Tennessee State University? What internal resources can a department or university realistically commit to public history? How can external resources be identified, cultivated, and secured? Should standards used to award graduate stipends be the same for public history students as they are for those following a more traditional path?

If a department was not interested in establishing a full program, would individual classes, particular internships, a regis- ter of public history programs and professionals, etc. be helpful? Professor Barbara Howe begins her contribution by arguing that all historians need to know about public history, whether their institutions offer programs or not, and discusses the OAH workshops on the topic. Her summary of the Kutztown experience provides useful insights into the nature of public history programs to assist departments in making informed decisions.Work- shops can be tailored to suit departmental or individual requirements. One possible forum not mentioned for a workshop might be a state or regional organization of history faculty who are sometimes hard-pressed to assemble full programs to interest a di- verse constituency. Such a forum might also facilitate outreach to area secondary schools. Certainly, as her essay suggests, the workshop is informative and practical.

Turning from program to personnel matters, Professor Kendrick Clements considers tenure and promotion decisions for public historians, raising some fundamental questions.Are the activities of public historians meritorious in academic circles?Can academic public historians be fairly evaluated by traditional standards? Are alternative systems of evaluation necessary? Who is best equipped to judge the public historian's contributions?

The place of Public History is a growing concern and we trust that this second issue of the Newsletter calls attention to some of the questions to be addressed.As in the first issue, the aim is to open a dialogue among department chairs and encourage a free exchange of ideas and insights. Please address your com- ments to me at the Department of History, James Madison Universi- ty, Harrisonburg, VA 22807. 

PUBLIC HISTORY: ORIGIN AND DEVELOPMENT

James K. Huhta
Director, Center for Historic Preservation
Middle Tennessee State University

In the 1970s, a number of young historians across the country began to raise questions about the training of historians and the appropriateness of that training for the career opportunities of the foreseeable future. They were prompted, in part, by declining placement opportunities for traditional historians and by student pressures for ``more relevant'' curricula. They were not as convinced as some of their peers that there was something inherently good and practical about the liberal arts study of history that could prepare a student for many walks of life.

One answer to the dilemma was to prepare what some called a ``renaissance'' person, one of the ilk of Thomas Jefferson--lettered in the arts and humanities--but also con- cerned with practical applications. New public history programs began developing in history departments with individual courses or entire program emphasis in archives, historical preservation, historic sites and museums, corporate history, oral history, and editing, to name but a few. OAH responded to the growing national interest in public history in at least two ways.First, it created a broader-based Committee on Public History in 1981. Second, OAH developed a national project which looked at the question of how to revitalize the field of history. The first decision led to a series of valuable pamphlets on public history (the initial pamphlet, Historic Preservation: A Guide for Departments of History, was published in 1982), and career opportuni- ties and curriculum planning for interested departments.The second decision led to a major grant to OAH from the Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education (FIPSE) for the creation of a project staff, advisory board, and faculty teams to study how departments could best plan for their futures. The four year FIPSE project, reported several times in the OAH/FIPSE Project Newsletter, concluded in 1987 after a number of successful experiments on departmental assessment, faculty development, and cur- riculum reform. This present Newsletter, and its related Council of Chairs, is one direct result of the FIPSE project.

What can be said by way of an overview look at where the public history movement is today?There is no doubt that the movement has been controversial. It has caused consternation amongst many historians about the ``nature of the beast'' and whether indeed it is even history.Several other important conclusions have been reached by those who collaborated in the recent ``anthology,'' Public History: An Introduction (Barbara J. Howe and Emory L. Kemp, editors, Robert E. Krieger Publishing Company, 1986): ``unlike teaching and research in the traditional fields of history, public history by its very nature is a multi-disciplinary activity, demanding a team approach to projects which have well-defined and often limited objectives''; ``traditional historians have rarely confronted the issue of utility; they have dismissed it from their vocabulary as irrelevant or commercial''; and, ``most people involved in this area felt that traditionally structured history curricula were inadequate and needed to be supplemented''.In summary, the issues need to be given serious consideration as to ``whether this reformation movement constitutes a new professionalism within the discipline of history and hence will remain safely within the folds of traditional history departments or whether...[it] will result in the formation of separate public history programs.''

On the other hand, the record is clear that ample, if not abundant, career opportunities exist for graduates of public history programs. The record is also clear, when reviewing the academic position announcements in the Chronicle of Higher Education, the OAH Newsletter, and others, that few departments are using the opportunity of vacancies created by retirements or for other reasons to reassess their offerings and seek people with public history experience and training.The evidence is also accumulating that public history and traditional history, merged within a single listing of department courses, generally do not work.The trend is for the public history courses, in departments with advanced programs in public history, to be separated into a different division of the department or split off into a separate department, or established as an interdisciplinary program of the university.A number of universities have linked their public history programs with free-standing institutes or centers for public service and applied research.

The features common to most public history courses or programs include project-oriented and intensive ``real world'' project experience using team approaches and interdisciplinary skills. Paid internships play a key role in a student's professional development.There is an emphasis on the development of professional job characteristics such as dependability, responsibility, effectiveness and networking. Linkages have been created with agencies, organizations, foundations and government offices in the program's service region. Thesis work is also project related.A single public history program coordinator or director exists to develop and monitor projects; to plan curriculum changes; and, to recruit, advise, and place students. An advisory board can play an important support role. New organizational ties have been established with groups such as the American Association for State and Local History, the National Council for Preservation Education, the National Council for Public History, the National Trust for Historic Preservation, and the Society of American Archivists.A strong library collection of appropriate professional literature and microfilm/microfiche collections such as HABS reports, the National Register nominations in a region, or the Sanborn insurance atlases for a state, must exist in company with ready access to good local public and private archives.

To begin an effective program, a department must have or obtain qualified or interested personnel to support instruction.The assistance of appropriate consultants and professional organizations must be sought to identify on- and off-campus resources, needs, and opportunities. Specialized equipment often must be obtained in addition to different kinds of campus work spaces such as conservation laboratories and the like. Different kinds of literature and microfilms must be obtained for the university library. Consideration must also be given to the different ``products'' of a public historian's work in promotion and tenure process discussed elsewhere in this Newsletter. An effective public history program can revitalize a department, it can stimulate both student recruitment and placement, it can provide important support for an institution's public service and applied research responsibilities within its service region, and it can spawn increased public support for the institution. 

OAH PUBLIC HISTORY WORKSHOPS

Barbara J. Howe
West Virginia University

All history majors should at least know what public history is, even if there is no formal program at their institution. With that goal in mind, the OAH Public History Workshops seek to define public history, show how it can be incorporated into various classes, and help build links between academic and public historians.

The OAH Public History Workshop, originally part of the OAH-FIPSE Project to improve graduate education in history, is now trying to survive beyond the grant funding.Workshop leaders are Barbara J. Howe, Associate Professor of History at West Virginia University; Theodore Karamanski, Associate Professor of History at Loyola University of Chicago; and Patricia Mooney Melvin, Associate Professor of History at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. All are directors of public history at their respective institutions.

The workshop can be designed to meet the specific needs of a department if faculty development funds or other internal financing is available to support it. Alternatively, the workshop can draw from a number of institutions in the region, with participants paying their own expenses (or using funding from their institutions). This article, then, is both a report on the workshop that was given at Kutztown University (Kutztown, Pennsylva- nia), and an appeal to anyone interested in sponsoring future workshops.The Kutztown workshop, held January 20-21, 1988, was designed for members of that department and supported by funding from the University.We would like to thank Dr. Gordon Goldberg, chair of the department, for arranging the workshop and for his meticulous attention to detail that made the workshop run smoothly. We would also like to thank the members of the department and others from the University who attended the lively discussions that, we believe, led to a successful workshop.

The workshop leaders (Howe and Karamanski) included an orientation/introduction session so that they could learn about the interests and public history activities of members of the department. On a more formal note, Karamanski discussed the history of the public history movement.The Careers for Graduates in History chart [by the National Center for the Study of History, Germantown, Maryland] then sparked a lively discussion on profes- sional ethics as they apply to public historians and academic historians. Howe and Karamanski discussed oral history and public policy exercises that they have used in survey or upper divi- sion courses, exercises designed to introduce students to some of the skills used by public historians and to the way history can affect public policy.A sample lecture focused on Morgantown, West Virginia, and illustrated how urbanization, industrialization, and immigration in the late nineteenth century can be revealed in the buildings and sites of a city.At the same time, students can be introduced to the basic tenets of historic preservation.

After a full day of discussion on Wednesday, the 20th, participants went to Historic Bethlehem, Inc. on Thursday morning. There, Marie Catherine Smith, Curator of Education for Historic Bethlehem, Inc., and her assistant gave us an excellent tour of the mill building, waterworks, and tannery that make up this Moravian settlement's industrial complex. Historic Bethlehem already had an established internship program and worked with colleges in the Bethlehem area, but there had not yet been any formal contacts with Kutztown University. We hope that this visit will encourage Kutztown's faculty to consider internships or research projects of interest to Historic Bethlehem and other nearby historical agencies.

The last part of the workshop was spent discussing what type of public history program could be implemented at Kutztown University, if the faculty decided to pursue such an option. Here, we discussed available resources (interested faculty, public historians in the area, nearby businesses and historic sites), fund- ing, course options, internships, etc.Since the participants were all from the same university (a few outside of the department), this could be tailored to the needs of the department.

We have not yet received back the evaluation forms for the workshop, but it is our impression, in talking with Dr. Goldberg, that the workshop was successful. The department had an opportunity to spend two days discussing the future of its graduate program, exploring an aspect of history that was very familiar to some members and less so to others, and ``picking the brains'' of faculty experienced in directing public history programs. In addition, participants went home with stacks of paper on various public history organizations and resources that will help them when planning a public history component for Kutztown's curriculum.

Now that the OAH-FIPSE grant has been completed, the OAH Public History Committee is seeking ways to continue the existence of this workshop. After discussions at the 1988 OAH meeting, it is possible that the OAH Public History Committee, probably in conjunction with the National Council on Public History, will ar- range some mechanism to insure the workshop's future. These may have both public historians and academic historians as participants and leaders. Perhaps the OAH Public History Committee will determine a site for a workshop itself, then try to advertise as widely as possible to attract participants.

Since the workshop situation is now in a state of flux, comments on a preferred format would be most useful and should be sent to Noel Stowe, Associate Dean of the Graduate College, Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ 85287, or to me at the Department of History , West Virginia University, Morgantown, West Virginia 26506. Stowe is a member of the OAH Public History Committee, and I am chair of the National Council on Public History. Comments may also be directed to other members of the OAH Public History Committee (Jack Holl, U.S. Department of Energy), Marilyn Nichols (National Park Service), and Carol Groneman (John Jay College), as well as to Karamanski and Melvin. 

PROMOTION AND TENURE FOR PUBLIC HISTORIANS

Kendrick A. Clements
University of South Carolina

Embroidered on a pillow on a chaise lounge in Bette Davis's home are the words, ``A woman has to work twice as hard as a man to get half as far.''The same, unfortunately, is often true of public historians working in traditional departments.

Within the last decade public history programs have blossomed in colleges and universities, first in response to the academic ``job crisis'' of the 1970s, and then in recognition that there were a surprising number of professionally rewarding, non-academic opportunities available to historians with specialized training. Most such programs were staffed at first by regu- lar department members who took on new responsibilities, but as the field developed, men and women trained as public historians or who had worked in the field began to return to the academy to teach the next generation. With them came a revitalization of history graduate programs and a practical problem for administrators and faculty: how do we judge and reward the performance of people who seem to be doing such different things from their colleagues?

Criteria for promotion and tenure in most history departments follow a pattern. They stress broad goals like ``excellence'' in performance and ``unusual promise'' of future contributions and then go on to spell out more specific requirements for research, teaching, and service. Without tackling the problem of whether there really is enough ``excellence'' and ``promise'' among historians to fulfill those objectives for every institution, it is obvious that many activities of public historians do not fit narrowly constructed departmental promotion and tenure standards. Contract research, work done to deadlines, team projects, the supervision of internships, and other normal parts of public history pose evaluation problems for the best-intentioned academics.

A BASIC ISSUE

Institutions having or contemplating public history programs would do well to confront one basic question at the outset. Are the faculty members who will have to make promotion and tenure decisions really willing to believe that there are meritorious historical activities that may not involve traditional teaching and the publication of academic articles and books?

It is all too easy to say ``yes'' to this question in the period of enthusiasm that often accompanies the discovery that public history offers new job opportunities for history students. It is even surprisingly easy to get history departments to agree to broaden their promotion and tenure criteria to include the kinds of activities public historians engage in.

The problems begin when it comes time to apply the new criteria in specific cases.Confronted with strange looking materials like environmental impact statements, museum displays, or historic structure reports, academics often respond suspiciously. Then the motto on Bette Davis's pillow becomes relevant, and public historians may find themselves expected to fulfill both the demands of their own specialty and traditional academic require- ments. Any department that does not understand that public historians will actually be doing things quite different from their colleagues, things that can not be judged by traditional standards and methods, and that public historians will not be doing some normally expected things (like teaching large numbers of students), is headed for trouble.

Ideally, a department contemplating the establishment of a public history program ought to examine and consider specific examples of the sort of work done by public historians before they commit themselves.At very least, a departmental chair must make it clear to colleagues that this is not a decision to be taken lightly; the lives and careers of men and women will depend on their department's capacity to judge them fairly.

A BASIC ALTERNATIVE

A second question that must be resolved by any department with a public history program is the relationship of that program to the rest of the department.Is the program to be a technical, skills-oriented program, or is it to be fully integrated into the department?

As public history becomes increasingly professsionalized, skills training is crucial.Museumcurators need to master highly technical conservation skills; archivists require sophistication in information management; public policy experts must understand complex and technical legal issues, and so on. Some programs may choose to stress the teaching of these skills, and all programs must incorporate them to some degree.

Documentary preservation or information management are not skills needed exclusively by public historians, however, nor are these skills necessarily taught best in history departments. Public historians have special knowledge often not shared by their academic colleagues, and it is legitimate to ask whether they know as much as they should and teach it effectively, but it is also essential not to lose sight of the main goal--bringing historical methods and insights to a variety of new fields.

From a practical standpoint, this basic commitment to the unification of history and skills raises some difficult questions: should public historians be expected to teach some ``regular'' history courses; should they be expected to keep up to date in their academic fields; should they be required to continue research and publication in academic fields as well as in public history? The sooner departments confront these problems, the better for all concerned.

PROMOTION AND TENURE CRITERIA

A few departments may choose to write entirely new promotion and tenure criteria for public historians, but most prefer to adapt their existing standards.Simple enough in theory, this task also presents some practical problems.

SERVICE

Public service is normally the easiest criterion for a public historian to fulfill and the easiest for his or her colleagues to appreciate. The nature of their work brings public historians into extensive contact with the community, and frequently their problem is not to fulfill the service requirement but to avoid being exploited as free consultants. Moreover, public historians often carry a large administrative load not required of most academic colleagues--setting up and running interdisciplinary programs, seeking funding for internships and field trips, seeking out and bringing experts into contact with students. Depart- ments wishing to set realistic standards for promotion and tenure might consider making service weigh more heavily than it usually does.

TEACHING

The classroom activities of public historians are not so different from those of their academic colleagues so this area is usu- ally not a problem, yet it can be. One potential difficulty is that so much of the public historian's teaching time is outside the classroom, supervising internships, tailoring programs to individual needs, seeking grants and contracts to support the program. Another possible strain arises because most public history programs are graduate level only, meaning that the number of students a public historian teaches may be very small in comparison to his colleagues. Colleagues who do not understand from the outset that different teaching obligations do not necessarily mean lesser ones may be jealous and hostile toward a public historian who seems to them to be getting a ``free ride.'' Teaching evaluation for the public historian must, therefore, include sensitivity to the special requirements of the field.

SCHOLARSHIP

Publication or scholarly activity poses the most obvious difficulty in evaluating the public historian. Even if he or she produces written documents that resemble those of academic colleagues (and often they do not), there are crucial differences in intended audience, time limits for doing the work, and even style that make judging it very difficult for most academics. Indeed, in some cases academics may not be appropriate judges--and that of course raises problems too. If departments are to resolve these issues fairly, they must ask themselves some tough questions most of us usually dodge: what is history; what is the purpose of historical research; who is the audience historians want to reach; what impact do we want history to have on our society?

In the end I am acutely aware that no advice given here can cover all eventualities. Different sorts of programs may need different sorts of criteria (public policy experts may need more ``academic'' knowledge, for example, while archivists or museum specialists may need more ``practical'' information), and there are a number of other questions that can only be met with common sense and an effort to keep before us a vision of what is good for our departments and for the profession as a whole. 

For further discussion of this topic see: ``A Roundtable: Promotion and Tenure Criteria for Faculty in Applied History,'' The Public Historian (Spring 1984), 51-66; and ``Toward Promotion and Tenure:Guidelines for Assessing the Achievement of a Preservation Educator,'' A Report by the Committee on Promotion and Tenure of the National Council for Preservation Education, Oct. 27, 1984.

ERRATA

The frequency with which the OAH Council of Chairs Newsletter is published was incorrectly stated in the last issue.The Newsletter appears bimonthly not quarterly.Also incorrect was the subscription price of $10. The correct subscription price is $5.00 for six (6) issues.

___________ The OAH Council of Chairs Newsletter is published bimonthly by the Organization of American Historians, 112 North Bryan Street, Bloomington, Indiana 47401 (812-335-7311), and is available on a subscription basis ($5/year). The opinions expressed by contri- butors do not necessarily reflect the opinions or policies of the Organization of American Historians. For further information, contact the Production Editor, Michael Regoli, at the OAH offices in Bloomington. _________________________ ``...all historians need to know about public history, whether their institutions offer programs or not...'' _________________________ (O] page; exit;