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Guide to the Records of the Public History Program RG.20.9

New York University Archives
Elmer Holmes Bobst Library
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New York, NY 10012
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New York University Archives

Collection processed by Ashley Jones and Julianna Monjeau. Additional processing by Claire Wolford.

This finding aid was produced using ArchivesSpace on July 23, 2018 using Describing Archives: A Content Standard

 Container list updated by John Zarrillo Container list updated by Kelly Haydon and John Zarrillo to reflect digitized media and access copies  , December 2017 , July 2018

Historical Note

Created in 1981 by Paul H. Mattingly and Daniel J. Walkowitz, the Public History graduate program at NYU was one of the first of its kind in the nation, and has maintained such prominence through the innovative work of its students, faculty, and alumni. Drawing its inspiration and guidance from the intellectual movement of the same name, the program at NYU was founded upon a fundamental objective to connect the general public with its past. In contrast to academic historians who primarily write for an audience of peers, public historians seek to produce meaningful historic representations for a broader, more popular audience. They are employed in a wide array of environments, ranging from archives to libraries, historical societies to historic sites, and museums to national parks. The alumni of the program have taken positions at highly regarded historic institutions in New York City, including The Lower East Side Tenement Museum, The Museum of the City of New York, and The New-York Historical Society. They have also proved influential in the establishment of such non-profit organizations as City Lore and the American Social History Project. Their analyses of their public history activities have been published in national periodicals and they have proved active members of the field's professional organization, the National Council on Public History. The great contributions to the field made by alumni have allowed the program to prosper over the years and have led to the recognition it receives today.

Over the course of its existence, the Public History program curriculum has evolved to adapt to changing technologies and student needs. For its initial four years, the Public History program was simply a concentration accompanying the general history M.A., requiring three courses: Local and Community History; History and Public Policy; and Media and History. These courses became the core of the program and have been consistently offered to the present day. In 1985, student demand arose for closer ties between class readings and the practical projects they were responsible for. Consistent demand led to the creation of the Introduction to Public History course. The introductory course was designed to provide a more general view of issues that were more fully developed in the three core classes. During the 1980s, other electives emerged, considering issues such as: material culture, cultural resource management, and historical fiction.

Until 2007, the Introduction to Public History course culminated each year in an all-day workshop that took place at the end of the Spring semester. The workshops were essentially public presentations of students' collaborative research projects. A specific topic, typically a New York City community, was selected for each year's workshop, and all student research centered around this singular topic. The resulting workshop would often be held within that particular neighborhood and would include participation of local scholars and residents. Several workshops established collaborative efforts between the program and historical organizations, including The Museum of the City of New York, The Lower East Side Tenement Museum, The Bread and Roses Historical Collective, and the New York Labor History Project.

Upon his assumption of the directorial position in 2007, Peter J. Wosh made a significant structural change to the introductory course, in response to both student feedback and his own professional experience. He felt that students would be better prepared for the employment arena by becoming immersed in the field during their studies. In place of the comprehensive workshop projects, Public History students would take on intern positions in historic institutions of their choice, completing tasks that correlate with their professional interests. They would produce a final project to formally evaluate their experiences, and would attend biweekly class meetings to discuss their experiences with fellow students.

Beginning in the Fall of 2008, the M.A. program in Public History merged with the M.A. program in Archival Management (also headed by Professor Wosh), to form a dual degree program, through which students would acquire a grounding in both fields. It is commonly expected that most students will be drawn to one one field more than the other. Another recent curricular alteration occurred in response to the rapidly evolving digital field and the quest of historians to keep in tune with new technologies. A Digital Media Specialist was hired in the Fall of 2008 to help integrate digital issues into current courses, particularly the History and New Media course. In addition to the core class on History and New Media, an Advanced Digital History course has been created by Professor Wosh and this specialist, to be introduced in Fall of 2009.

In addition to coursework, the Public History students also participate in monthly mid-day conferences, often referred to in earlier years as 'Public History Forums,' and more recently as 'brown-bag lunches.' During these meetings, students, faculty, and guests gather to socialize and discuss relevant issues to the Public History arena. Typically, a panel of professionals is invited to make presentations and offer advice to current students. Recent panel topics have included employment prospects and digital media initiatives.