This week I’m in Baltimore for the NCPH annual meeting, “Challenging the Exclusive Past,” co-organizing the working group Campus History as Public History with Caitlin Cohn (University of Minnesota), LaQuanda Cooper (UMBC), and Anne Mitchell Whisnant (UNC-Chapel Hill). Representing nearly 20 campus history projects from Massachusetts to Oklahoma, and many points in between (see our map), the working group is a first step in imagining how to offer resources for public historians working in a variety of institutional contexts–from K-12 schools to public and private colleges and universities.
For me, this group has already provided an opportunity to reflect on the projects I’ve worked on and advised at the University of Chicago and Bryn Mawr College, including On Equal Terms, Closeted/Out in the Quadrangles, and Black at Bryn Mawr. Follow our NCPH conversation with the hashtags #ncph2016 #campushistories (which I’m collecting using Storify), and read the group’s case statements over on the NCPH blog, History @Work.
Campus History as Public History was proposed in 2015 with the following CFP:
As some of the most exclusive sites in our communities, educational institutions are increasingly called upon to confront and interpret their own histories in order to become more open, inclusive environments. Yet when treasured campus stories, landscapes, buildings, monuments, traditions, or celebrations carry the legacies of exclusion – legacies that some constituencies find offensive or discriminatory – conflict often emerges. Historians are called upon to help navigate competing demands and facilitate new research and dialogues.
In line with the 2016 theme, “Challenging the Exclusive Past,” this working group will explore the possibilities and perils of campus history projects at a wide range of public and private institutions: colleges, universities, and K-12 schools. Given that many campus histories are entangled with slavery, segregation, white supremacy, and other types of ethnic, class or gender privilege, our discussions will focus on a number of interrelated questions:
- How do campus activism and public history meet? Can such intersections lead to more inclusive histories?
- What public history approaches (preservation efforts, digital or physical exhibits, walking tours, oral history, civic engagement techniques, etc.) adapt well to campus settings?
- How might we connect these projects to our classrooms, or to those of our colleagues?
- How can robust public history initiatives support or work in tandem with other campus initiatives aimed at enhancing diversity and cross-cultural understanding?
- What are successful strategies for working with campus partners and stakeholders (administration, alumni, students, faculty, staff, trustees) in such efforts?
- Who should control such projects, and how can they be institutionalized?
- How might we make these projects accessible and relevant to off-campus communities?
Part of the aim of the working group is to generate a draft of best practices for our work; we also seek to develop a community of support for historians who may become part of such initiatives on their own campuses and hope to create a resource(s) for future projects.
Are you working on a campus history project? Get in touch in the comments or via Twitter.