Introduction to Public History: Interpreting the Past, Engaging Audiences

:pencil: Notes

1. Public History

Key terms:

Robert Kelly, 1978:

Public history refers to the employment of historians and the historical method outside of academia.

banking: “a model where knowledge, or in our case history, is delivered as facts prepared by the experts to be accepted by the learners” (p. 7)

problem-posing:”heart” critical pedagogical practice; defined as “reflection and action upon the world in order to transform it.” (Paolo Freire)


The banking method emphasizes permanence and becomes reactionary; problem-posing education—which accepts neither a ‘well-behaved’ present nor a predetermined future—roots itself in the dynamic present and becomes revolutionary.

Freire cautioned the expert:

not to consider himself or herself the proprietor of history… [or to become] the prisoner of a ‘circle of certainty’ [in which he or she claims to know all of the answers for everyone]

free-choice learning or informal learning: museums, zoos, and historic sites

Variation on chart (p. 14)

12am=>operation: Set problems, assess goals, and reach out to stakeholders.
3pm=>operation: Pay close attention to barriers and opportunities.
6pm=>operation: Find patterns in what works and what does not.
9pm=>operation: Apply what you learn from developing patterns.




  • History museums
  • Historic sites
  • Local public libraries
  • Local college libraries
  • Historical societies

Thinking crticially about representation and local history:

  1. accuracy (historicity)
  2. representation

2. Thinking Historically

Key terms:

4. Collecting History

Key terms:


  • Plan a Community Collecting Event
  • Evaluating Collections

5. Interpreting and Exhibiting History

Key terms:

  • witnessing objects
  • thesis
  • big idea

Interpretive Text

  • exhibition title
  • master label
  • section topic label
  • case or group label
  • object identification
  • descriptive caption
  • interpretive labels
  • funder list
  • credit panel
  • orientation label

Material Culture

  • material culture
  • lineage objects
  • place-base story-telling



  • evaluation
  • front-end evaluation
  • focus groups
  • formative evaluation
  • remedial evaluation
  • summative evaluation


  • Interpreting Material Culrue Objects
  • Reviewing an Exhibition

6. Engaging Audiences

  • interpretive techniques


  • second- and third-person interpretation
  • first-person interpretation
    • living history
    • open-air museum
  • relevance
  • anarchist tags
  • fingerprinting
  • authenticity
  • recreations
  • historical context
  • civic engagement
  • mission statements
  • International Coalition of Sites of Conscience
  • difficult encounters
  • discomfort zone
  • visitor identification

8. Putting Public History to Work in Your World