The case statements posted by participants in the upcoming NCPH 2018 Working Group, “Disrupting Institutional Power,” provide us with a solid framework for beginning our discussion.
It appears we have much in common despite variety in our institutions and in our career stages.
First: we are all painfully aware of the economic constraints we face as public history educators and as public historians more generally. Whether addressing issues of funding for our programs or the challenge of finding viable paid employment, all of our participants identified the need to think creatively about money.
Second: we are all concerned about the impact of competition on our students as well as on our programs. As we are painfully aware, departments of history and administrators in higher education, under pressure to attract students, often develop and market Public History, public humanities, and related tracks as job-preparation programs. But duplication both inside individual universities and across universities in regional systems undermines the health of the field. Not only do we fail to increase the number of graduate students –because there are so many programs to choose from– we also undermine their ability to find paid employment because we flood local public history organizations with unpaid interns and requests for classroom projects.
Third: We are committed to collaboration and partnership as the foundation for our scholarship, our pedagogy, and our program development.
From this common ground, we can begin to recognize frameworks for re-imagining our work culture. Participants have identified models on which we may build and from which we can learn, ranging from North Carolina’s Institute of Applied History to the NCPH “mini-con” to the Guantanamo Public Memory Project. But there are also deep contradictions and the potential for unintended consequences. These are emerging in the form of questions:
- How can we successfully disrupt the competitive university model and work together to create distinctive programs within a given system or region? How do we begin this conversation? What will make the idea palatable to adminstrators?
- What can we do to prevent and/or address faculty burn out?
- Are we prepared to exert sustained and thoughtful influence on the broad field of public history? What steps can we take to increase diversity in the profession, to foster more critical models of dialogue in public history settings, to build new and better relationships between public history institutions and their audiences, and to fully engage people who have been marginalized and left out of public history in the past?
- How can we eliminate competition between students and those seeking employment? Providing free labor –in the form of interns and classroom based students– undermines the development of new paid positions and keeps salaries low.
- What are the benefits and risks of taking advantage of university initiatives around civic engagement or entrepreneurship?
- What do regional partnerships and public history training look like in areas that are less urban and less densely developed and populated?
In order to approach these questions, I invite working group participants to fully describe and analyze a specific case study –no matter how small. Describe ONE moment in your career as a public history student, public history educator, or public history practitioner in which you successfully built a cross-institutional partnership. How did you initiate the conversation? What barriers did you encounter? How did you overcome or circumvent those barriers? How did you acquire funding –or did you? What were some of the best outcomes and the unintended consequences? What do you think is most instructive about your example and which of the numbered questions above (if any) do you think it addresses?
Please respond to this prompt by posting a comment no later than February 19.