Overall this course has not only reaffirmed things I felt I had known about the field of public history, but also given me new ideas to think about and apply within the field. I am truly thankful for our time in the classroom because each week, I walked in looking forward to the shared experiences and open conversations. In my opinion, the purpose and definition of public history is to better interpret, present and operate historical sites, research, and projects for both the professionals and the general audience. Public historians should always be aware of historic integrity as well as the readability and impact of their work. Class readings explained that personal touches, community involvement and relevant histories were key elements of successful public history endeavors.
Classically trained historians often lack the skills to create work personally relevant and comprehensible to the masses. Public historians could therefore be seen as the middlemen in transforming a work of scholarly history into something that can reach the general public. Andrew Hurley’s Book Beyond Preservation described the way historic preservation efforts need to include the surrounding communities. He used archaeological projects as examples to prove that the involvement of local people is vital. While his focus remained mainly on archaeology, those ideas can also directly apply to public history, where a successful project is often one that involves the community. In From Storefront to Monument, Andrea Burns described the African-American communities that developed institutions displaying their own history. Within these grassroots movements, the local population’s involvement was again essential. The struggles they faced as well as their transformations from grassroots to professionalized museums had interesting outcomes. However, I believe involving public historians could have improved each museum in a major way. Our training in interpretation, exhibits, and historical practices means we can and should actively improve the chances of success as well as content within budding museums.
Ari Kelman’s A Misplaced Massacre was one of the most compelling and interesting works we studied. I found the way public historians worked to gain the valuable trust of the Native people as they participated in a major historic preservation project to be remarkable. Public historians have the ability –and, I would argue, even the duty– to serve the people for whom work, as well as the groups whose history they are representing. While several important figures were engaged in the Sand Creek preservation process, David Halaas stood out to me as an example public historians should strive to become. “This combination of duties arguably made Halaas the state’s most influential public historian, the person with the greatest understanding and impact on how the Coloradans experience their heritage.” He went above and beyond to shape and protect a collective memory, while also becoming a trusted representative of the Native community involved. The importance of careful attention to the community will remain a central lesson I received during this course. From my work and studies in the field, the idea of being both a professional and someone who is approachable and trustworthy is exciting.
Having skills to research a subject, as well as a relationship to it, means it is even more important to present it in an honest, yet beneficial way. Through class, we discussed the way museums, sites, and tours can and should invoke thoughts and emotions. I believe this class made me more aware of the implications, details and practical challenges involved in that process. I now will be able to apply the ideas of the Anarchist Guide to Historic House Museums and the Sites of Conscience to my future projects. Both of those works are at the cutting edge of public history and set examples that could greatly enhance multiple aspects of the field. The idea from the Anarchist Guide of showing the visitors the preservation process or showing a room that actually looks lived in provides new interpretive ideas that can improve a historic site. Sites of Consciences breaks the mold on what historians can and should preserve; for example, the Oral Archives idea, and the global community that develops within this organization. Amy Lonetree’s work clearly is impacted by Sites of Conscience, as it illustrates the way in which individuals working within public history can collaborate resulting a beneficial outcome. We need to be able actively work together because doing so can only benefit the field as a whole. The amount of work involved in properly practicing public history as well as the number of innovative ways to address different topics is enormous.
The semester-long Baltimore Heritage project came with its fair share of struggles and successes. Finding and constructing an interesting narrative about specific historic sites left me pleased to give readers a relatable sense of the past. However, my biggest drawback and regret was that my sites, and the owners or people involved in them were all either long gone or unreachable. After learning so much about the value and importance of personal accounts and community participation, having sites leaving me unable to reach anyone able to provide them left me wanting more from the experience. I was pleased I find stories that involved local people but I still hoped for more. Whether it is yearning for more funding, visitors, memberships, or sources, I think “wishing for more” represents a part of public history I must accept. More importantly, I will need to see the value of what I could find instead of focusing on what I could not.
In my opinion, the most important conclusion I draw from this course is that public history is never stagnant. It is a living and evolving field that deals with the past, but is vital to the present. After I finish this course, this degree, and (hopefully) find a job, the process of learning public history does not end. Continuous research on museums, sites, and ongoing projects will only improve my own work and the field.
 Andrew Hurley, Beyond Preservation: Using Public History to Revitalize Inner Cities,(Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2010) 46-52.
 Andrea A. Burns, From Storefront to Monument Tracing the Public History of the Black Museum Movement, (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2014).
 Ari Kelman. A Misplaced Massacre Struggling Over the Memory of Sand Creek,(Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2013)76.
 Franklin D. Vagnone and Deborah E. Ryan, Anarchist’s Guide to Historic House Museums (Walnut Creek, CA: Left Coast Press, INC., 2016), 142.
 Franklin D. Vagnone and Deborah E. Ryan, Anarchist’s Guide to Historic House Museums (Walnut Creek, CA: Left Coast Press, INC., 2016), 162-166.
 Amy Lonetree, Decolonizing Museums: Presenting Native America in National and Tribal Museums. (North Caroline: The University of North Carolina Press, 2012).
Burns, Andrea A. From Storefront to Monument Tracing the Public History of the Black Museum Movement. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2014.
Hurley, Andrew. Beyond Preservation: Using Public History to Revitalize Inner Cities. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2010.
Kelman, Ari. A Misplaced Massacre Struggling Over the Memory of Sand Creek. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2013.
Lonetree, Amy. Decolonizing Museums: Presenting Native America in National and Tribal Museums. North Caroline: The University of North Carolina Press, 2012.
Vagnone, Franklin D. and Deborah E. Ryan, Anarchist’s Guide to Historic House Museums. Walnut Creek, CA: Left Coast Press, INC., 2016.
Edited from Source: Reflective Blog by Jordan Ritchie