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Introduction to Public History

Interpreting the Past, Engaging Audiences

Cherstin M. Lyon; Elizabeth M. Nix and Rebecca K. Shrum

Introduction to Public History: Interpreting the Past, Engaging Audiences is a brief foundational textbook for public history. It is organized around the questions and ethical dilemmas that drive public history in a variety of settings, from local community-based projects to international case studies. This book is designed for use in undergraduate and graduate classrooms with future public historians, teachers, and consumers of history in mind.

The authors are practicing public historians who teach history and public history to a mix of undergraduate and graduate students at universities across the United States and in international contexts. This book is based on original research and the authors’ first-hand experiences, offering a fresh perspective on the dynamic field of public history based on a decade of consultation with public history educators about what they needed in an introductory textbook. Each chapter introduces a concept or common practice to students, highlighting key terms for student review and for instructor assessment of student learning. The body of each chapter introduces theories, and basic conceptual building blocks intermixed with case studies to illustrate these points. Footnotes credit sources but also serve as breadcrumbs for instructors who might like to assign more in-depth reading for more advanced students or for the purposes of lecture development. Each chapter ends with suggestions for activities that the authors have tried with their own students and suggested readings, books, and websites that can deepen student exposure to the topic.
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Rowman & Littlefield Publishers / AASLH
Pages: 200Size: 7 1/4 x 10 1/2
978-1-4422-7221-7 • Hardback • March 2017 • $78.00 • (£52.95)
978-1-4422-7222-4 • Paperback • March 2017 • $39.00 • (£24.95)
978-1-4422-7223-1 • eBook • March 2017 • $37.00 • (£24.95)
Cherstin M. Lyon is an associate professor of history and the past coordinator for the public and oral history program at California State University in San Bernardino where she directed that program for six years. She currently is coordinator of the interdisciplinary M.A. program in Social Sciences and Globalization that offers a track in public history and museum studies. She is author of Prisons and Patriots: Japanese American Wartime Citizenship, Civil Disobedience, and Historical Memory, published by Temple University Press in 2012.

Elizabeth Nix is an Associate Professor of Legal, Ethical and Historical Studies and the Director of the Helen P. Denit Honors Program at the University of Baltimore. An American Studies graduate of the undergraduate program at Yale and the Ph.D. program at Boston University, Nix was part of the steering committee for Baltimore '68, the winner of the National Council on Public History Outstanding Project award in 2009 and an award of Merit and the WOW Award from the American Association of State and Local History in that same year.

Rebecca K. Shrum is an Assistant Professor of History and Assistant Director of the Public History Program at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI) where she works with both graduate and undergraduate students studying public history. Along with local partners, she also directs the IUPUI Public History Program’s Curatescape project, Discover Indiana, available at discoverIN.org. Her research interests include early American history, material culture and identity, and historic site interpretation. She is author of In the Looking Glass: Mirrors and Identity in Early America, published by Johns Hopkins University Press in 2017.


Chapter 1: Introducing Public History

Chapter 2: Thinking Historically

Chapter 3: Interpreting the Past Case Study: The Baltimore ’68 Project

Chapter 4: Collecting

Chapter 5: Interpreting and Exhibiting History

Chapter 6: Engaging Audiences

Chapter 7: Engaging Audiences: Case Studies from the Field

Chapter 8: Putting Public History to Work in Your World
This book provides an innovative look at the practice of public history for students beginning to explore opportunities in the field. Rather than simply present careers, the authors focus on the key theories and principles of public history from collecting to interpretation to engaging an audience, along with a variety of case studies and teaching resources. Introduction to Public History will quickly become an essential book for undergraduate and some graduate courses, but it will also be valuable for interns and new practitioners.
Ann McCleary, Coordinator, Public History and Museum Studies Programs, University of West Georgia

Like the best work in the field itself, this book is accessible and engaging, laced with new and familiar narratives, attuned to past injustices and their present-day reverberations, and deeply committed to the task of combining rigorous historical analysis with the creation of space for considering multiple, sometimes competing understandings of the past. There is plenty here about “how,” but always in dialogue with the crucial questions of “why.”
Cathy Stanton, Department of Anthropology, Tufts University and author of “The Lowell Experiment: Public History in a Postindustrial City”

Introduction to Public History is an essential book for undergraduate courses.