Working Groups

What’s an Annual Meeting “working group”?

NCPH working groups are seminar-like conversations of 8-10 people before and during the annual conference that explore, in-depth, a subject of shared concern.  Working groups have a purpose they are working toward, a problem they are actively trying to solve.  The working group proposal must articulate this as well as an end product(s) that the group seeks to create.

What makes a working group unique? 

Two things.  When a group convenes at the annual meeting, the conversation has already begun. Participants are invested in the outcome. Facilitators have had time to refine their questions and perhaps refocus on the issues.  Second, facilitators lead their group in  developing an end product, such as an article, a list of resources, an exhibit, a manifesto, a white paper, or a new collaborative project.

How will they be formed for the upcoming conference?

Individuals willing to serve as facilitators propose topics in response to the Annual Meeting Call for Proposals (due July 15). The Program Committee then selects several working group topics and issues another call, this time for working group discussants, in September to October. Facilitators build their groups in the fall by selecting discussants from among people who have submitted one-paragraph requests to join.  Two to three months prior to the conference, facilitators ask each discussant in their working group to write a 2-4 page document that (1) outlines a personal statement and/or specific case study related to the working group’s organizing theme, and (2) raises questions and issues with which the participant would like to grapple in advance of the conference. These documents are circulated, and discussants are expected to take part in active online conversations prior to the conference.  Facilitators might also circulate a set of readings or assign other tasks or questions prior to the conference.  The Public History Commons is available as an online venue for pre-conference discussions, or groups may wish to set up their own sites. Participants’ case statements typically are archived in the NCPH Public History Commons Library as open-access documents (NOTE: Acceptance into a Working Group implies permission for digital archiving of pre-conference materials unless a group or individual participant stipulates otherwise.  Groups using their own sites are invited to share materials in a form that can be archived, for example a PDF file of all case statements.)

Who may participate?

Anyone who proposes a working group topic that is accepted by the Program Committee, or anyone selected by working group facilitators in the fall in response to the working group call for participants. While some facilitators make their group’s discussion at the conference private if they believe the topic is controversial and public conversation would keep their discussants from speaking their minds, most facilitators will open their working group to other conference goers who want to sit in on the discussion. Such observers may be welcome to join in the conversation but are reminded that facilitators will give priority to the group’s pre-selected discussants who, by time of the conference, will have met each other online (by email, wiki, or blog) and in this manner, are already in the middle of a conversation when they meet face-to-face.  When the group sits down at the conference, self-introductions should be limited to matching faces with names (no more than 30 seconds per person).

What happens after the annual meeting?

Facilitators report on the outcome of the discussion and/or the end product by authoring a one-paragraph summary (150-200 words) for the NCPH newsletter and, if they wish, a longer piece (750-1,000 words) for the NCPH blog, [email protected].  The newsletter report is a summary of highlights that explains the final product the group will be producing.  The blog post can be a critical review of the issue(s) discussed and should aim to demonstrate their wider relevance.

Questions? Contact the NCPH office at (317) 274-2716 or [email protected].

2010 Working Groups

1. Consultants Working Group *Case Statements*
Facilitators: Matthew Godfrey, Historical Research Associates
Edward Salo, Brockington and Associates, Inc.

This working group brings together practicing full-time historical consultants to discuss how they use their training as historians in their daily work, how their consulting practices operate, what kinds of clients they serve, and how they have adapted to changing conditions, specifically the recent economic downturn, in the consulting marketplace. Questions the group will cover include the following: How do public historians working as consultants enhance the public’s understanding of history? Do client relationships potentially compromise the integrity of “for hire” historical research and analysis? How does working as an independent consultant differ from working in a larger public history consulting firm? Is the study of public history (as a field or a major) important/essential to working as a consulting historian? Should professors and directors of public history programs encourage their students to consider consulting as a potential entry-level employment goal? Is it possible for consultants to pursue their own passions and research interests within a program of work largely dictated by client needs and demands?

2. Employment/Experience Opportunities for Recent Graduates and New Professionals *Case Statements*
Facilitators: Sharon Babaian, Canada Science and Technology Museum
Katie Wilmes, National Archives Experience

This working group will bring together a group of new professionals, recent graduates, and students to share their ideas, needs, and concerns with experienced public historians who, in turn, will talk about what they think new public historians can bring to their institutions or agencies. We see this as a dialogue between new professionals and experienced public historians, each contributing useful information, innovative ideas, and practical solutions to the employment challenges facing us.

3. Environmental Sites of Conscience: Exploring Issues to Inspire Visitor Action at Environmental History Sites *Case Statements*
Facilitators: Erika Gee, International Coalition of Sites of Conscience
Morgan M. Smith, NPS John Muir National Historic Site

This working group will bring together staff at historic sites, historians, advocates, and others to explore how sites of environmental history can foster public dialogue on contemporary environmental issues. The Environmental Sites of Conscience Project can address questions of how to ensure that communities who want to preserve their sites and how they can be supported as educational facilities over the long term. The working group would explore how the idea of Sites of Conscience relates to environmental history heritage preservation efforts, defining unique ideas of what Environmental Sites of Conscience could be. Participants will discuss specific strategies for how they currently or could imagine environmental history sites as spaces for addressing the contemporary legacies of what happened there, as well as discuss broader approaches to fostering dialogue on environmental questions and issues. Participants will also define goals and direction for the project, how they might see this group working together, and the role that the Coalition might play. The working group will be the first step for the future project, in which the Coalition’s primary contribution will be to create a space for peer exchange among existing and emerging sites; provide financial and technical assistance for sites interested in designing programs, and to connect with relevant learning and experience in the international network.

4. How Do We Get There? Racial and Ethnic Diversity within the Public History Profession: Continuing the Discussion *Case Statements Not Available*
Facilitators: Calinda Lee, Emory University
Modupe Labode, Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis

The working group will begin prior to the conference by engaging new participants, as well as participants from the 2009 How Do We Get There? working group, in dialogue via the online classroom set up post-conference by co-chair Modupe Labode. Co-chairs will facilitate an online discussion that enables 2009 participants to share the lessons from ongoing projects, noting best practices and initiatives to increase racial and ethnic diversity at sites that educate and employ public historians. The working group will also discuss developing a new policy for the NCPH about increasing racial and ethnic diversity. Case statements should focus on diversifying the profession, including successes and failures, as opposed to the demonstrated merits of diversity within the profession. Case statements with an emphasis on environmental history are welcome.

5. International Council on Public History? Bringing Global Public History Closer? *Case Statements*
Facilitators: Anna Adamek, Canada Science and Technology Museum

This working group is part of an initiative by the NCPH International Task Force to provide a forum for a dialogue among public historians worldwide. Over the last three decades public history has been proliferating in North America. The task force would like to explore the state of public history around the world, and opportunities for greater international cooperation in the field. Is there a need for an international organization in public history, for universal standards, and a strong global lobby? How can the NCPH and its journal, The Public Historian, serve the international community? The facilitators invite the participation of public history professionals from around the world; contributors will explore the need for and benefits of formal international cooperation in the field. (Discussants who cannot join us in person in Portland may be able to contribute via a video link.) Each participant will be asked to outline the state of public history in their country, and present examples of the best practices or model institutions from their home countries. Next, discussants will be asked to present their views on bringing public history professionals across the globe together. The working group will then put forward a list of non-binding recommendations for the international task force.

6. Interns to the Rescue! Public History-University Partnerships in Financial Crisis *Case Statements*
Facilitators: Aaron Cowan, Slippery Rock University
Turkiya Lowe, National Park Service

The recent international financial crisis has ravaged the budgets of public history institutions both large and small, as endowment portfolios shrink and legislators sharply curb public funding to balance government budgets. In response, many museums, historical societies, and other history organizations have been forced to eliminate or reduce full-time staff positions, with resulting cuts in the quality and availability of education, preservation, and archival work. In order to maintain viability, some organization’s boards have turned to universities to pick up the slack through the use of student volunteers, interns, and public history faculty members. This working group seeks a dialogue about questions raised by the “rescue” of financially-burdened local history organizations. How should public history faculty approach such opportunities? Should such relationships be established formally, and if so with what terms, conditions, or limitations? What should be the primary focus of such relationships: to provide ongoing day-to-day support, or establishing a firmer foundation by which such organizations can regain independent operation? Is it realistic to ask student interns to perform the work of public history professionals? To what extent do academic historians have a public responsibility to aid institutions in distress, and how might this “rescue” work be reevaluated in terms of institutional performance review?

Participants should be either public history faculty who have some recent experience with this type of partnership as consultants, teachers, or supervisors of interns at financially-distressed institutions or staff of museums, archives, or other local history sites who have pursued such a relationship in response to financial hardship. Others who might have significant and prolonged volunteer experience (for example, as a historical society board member) in such arrangements would also be most welcome.

7. Jump Start Your Digital Project in Public History: Planning Sessions *Case Statements Not Available*
Facilitators: Sheila Brennan, The Center for History and New Media
Sharon Leon, The Center for History and New Media
Tom Scheinfeldt, The Center for History and New Media and George Mason University

How often do your digital project ideas sit untouched and never progress to the planning and implementation stages? Staff from The Center for History and New Media will facilitate this working group to help public historians think about their goals for reaching audiences with digital media. Discussants and facilitators will brainstorm open-source or free tools that can help accomplish those goals. This group will be most useful for those contemplating projects such as an online exhibition, mobile content delivery, audience participation in collecting stories or annotating objects or photographs, digital archives, and others. Pertinent open-source or free tools may include: Drupal, WordPress, Omeka, Flickr, Phone Gap, Open Street Map, or Wikis.

8. Preparing the Professional Historian: Connecting Academic Training with the Changing Marketplace*Case Statements*
Facilitators: Michelle McClellan, University of Michigan
Brian Martin, History Associates, Inc.

In recent years, there has been a proliferation of public history programs, specialized certificates, and courses intended for graduate students, as well as continued turbulence in the various job markets for graduates of history programs. Through a moderated discussion, participants in this working group will explore several interrelated issues central to teaching public history at the graduate level and the employment of historians beyond the academy: the reasons for developing (or not developing) public history coursework and programs for graduate students; how to identify and fill gaps between the skills and experience of academically trained historians and what they need to succeed on the job; how the training offered by graduate programs can be better aligned with the actual requirements of public history positions; and, consider the need for focused continuing education to ensure that professionals can maintain and expand their skill sets in a dynamic labor market.

We anticipate a thoughtful discussion between teachers, employers, and students aimed at bridging gaps between graduate training and market expectations for the benefit of future professionals, academics and employers. The working group will engage in an honest appraisal of the current job market for historians before exploring the questions of when and why it is appropriate to create a public history program for graduate students. Since this is part of what we hope will be an expanded conversation across the profession, we invite educators, practitioners and employers, as well as students and recent graduates to participate in this working group.

Please note: Preparing the Professional Historian is intentionally scheduled for Saturday so that participants can attend one or more of the following NCPH sessions: Career Workshop; The Challenge of Public History: Integrating Training, Practice and Policy (Roundtable); Employment, Experiences, and Opportunities for Recent Graduates and New Professionals (Working Group); Interns to the Rescue (Working Group); Promoting Community Involvement with Service Learning (Roundtable); and/or Working 9 to 5 While Practicing History (Working Group).

9. Public History for Undergraduates: Teaching, Mentoring, and Program Development *Case Statements*
Facilitators: Eleanor Mahoney, National Park Service
Ivan Steen, State University of New York Albany

In recent years, there has been a proliferation of public history programs intended for undergraduates. Discussants will explore several interrelated issues linked to teaching public history at the undergraduate level: how public history courses can enhance undergraduate education, how public history techniques can be profitably incorporated into all undergraduate history classes, how the training offered by undergraduate programs can be better aligned with the actual requirements of public history positions, and the reasons for developing, or not developing, new public history programs.

The working group will begin with an honest appraisal of the current job market for historians before exploring the questions of when and why it is appropriate to create a public history program. Participants are asked to explore the following specific questions: Given the depressed nature of the job market, is it appropriate to create a new public history program? Do faculty members have a responsibility to ensure that students have an honest understanding of the limited job market? How can public history professionals be brought into the conversation to ensure that students do acquire skills which employers require? How can public history programs better prepare students for a career in which they may not be able to work full-time as historians? We ask that those who hire historians participate in this session to assist educators in gaining a better understanding of the skills employers need and public history programs should teach.

Please note: Public History for Undergraduates is intentionally scheduled for Saturday so that participants can attend one or more of the following NCPH sessions: Career Workshop; The Challenge of Public History: Integrating Training, Practice and Policy (Roundtable); Employment, Experiences, and Opportunities for Recent Graduates and New Professionals (Working Group); Interns to the Rescue (Working Group); Promoting Community Involvement with Service Learning (Roundtable); and/or Working 9 to 5 While Practicing History (Working Group).

10. Public History’s Outlaws: Engaging the Histories of “Illegal” Behavior *If you would like to review the case statements for the Public History’s Outlaws working group, please send your request to [email protected] or to [email protected]*
Facilitators: Andrew Urban, Emory University
Amy Tyson, DePaul University

Terrorism, prostitution, abortion, copyright piracy, pot-smoking, bootlegging, insider trading, sodomy, draft dodging, undocumented immigration, flag burning, murder, violations of the Clean Air Act. What do public historians stand to gain when they take on histories of “illegal” behavior? This working group explores this question by looking at examples of museum exhibits, documentary films, programs, and websites that have successfully or unsuccessfully broached such histories. We are also interested in theoretical approaches that engage why public history should take on the history of “illegal” events or actions that in many cases, people have chosen to avoid, ignore, or forget. Ultimately, we hope to examine how public histories of the “illegal” might provide a critical framework for thinking about how laws are created, disseminated, and naturalized within society. Interested participants should send a one-paragraph abstract describing the specific case-study or theoretical perspective they would like to discuss as part of this working group. We welcome proposals from individuals from a range of professions and career stages.

11. Recycling Buildings? Reframing Historic Preservation in the Language of Sustainability and the Green Economy *Case Statements*
Facilitators: Leah Glaser, Central Connecticut State University
Henry Kunowski, Architectural Historian

We are interested in case statements about historic preservation projects that might help influence or change the perception of historic preservation as non-sustainable, projects that illustrate the technical (embodied energy) and philosophical (historical preservation is sustainability) benefits and obstacles (public/professional perception) involved in rehabilitating and LEED-certifying buildings, buildings that are challenged to make good on their promise of eco-benefits. This issue may also introduce broader public history projects that one may be able to use as models for promoting reinvestment in our existing infrastructure. In addition, we also hope to hear about successful ideas for getting public conversations started and keeping them sustained, perhaps grounded in marketing, lobbying at the local or national level, partnerships between the academy and advocacy groups like the National Trust and the U.S. Green Building Council, etc.

12. Toward a New Textbook for Undergraduates in Public History *Case Statements Not Available*
Facilitators: Rebecca K. Shrum, University of Wisconsin at Whitewater
Cherstin M. Lyon, California State University, San Bernardino

Have you taught the introduction to public history course to undergraduates? Have you found it difficult to find suitable textbooks? What would an ideal textbook for the Introduction to Public History undergraduate course look like? This working group seeks proposals from people who have either content ideas for specific portions of such a textbook or overarching thematic or conceptual frameworks. Ideally this discussion will bring scholars together who might want to take on the challenge of writing this much needed textbook for undergraduates. If this working group decides to move forward with writing such a textbook, the participants would work collaboratively on the project. Additionally, the working group is also interested in considering specific readings that participants have used in the past and found to be successful. Scholars who are authors of existing materials are also invited to participate in this working group

13. Working 9 to 5 While Practicing History *Case Statements*
Facilitators: Scott Hoffman, KLRU-TV, Austin PBS
Lynn Kronzek, Lynn C. Kronzek & Associates, Burbank, CA

This NCPH Working Group will provide a forum for looking critically and thoughtfully at the professional work of historians who practice their craft while working full time in unrelated or tangentially related careers. The recent recession has exacerbated an already challenging public history employment market. This working group will explore prospects and ideas for engaging in serious historical work when doing other, more remunerative employment. Case studies might explore topics such as: employment trends, building a consulting firm from scratch, compensation for historical consulting, strategies for managing professional expenses and supplementary income, publishing, techniques for working outside the 40 (or more) hour workweek, and coping with a dual identity.

14. Continuing Conversations/Bearing the Standard: Public Historians Role in the Commemorations of the Sesquicentennial of the American Civil War *Case Statements*
Facilitators: Donna Neary, Kentucky Historical Society
Carroll Van West, MTSU Center for Historic Preservation and Tennessee Civil War National Heritage Area

This working group focuses on commemoration of the Sesquicentennial of the American Civil War (2011-2015). Initiated at the 2009 annual meeting, participants called on NCPH to provide opportunities for members to share information and coordinate efforts before and during the commemoration of the Sesquicentennial. This working group continues the conversations begun in Providence exploring the responsibility of public historians to offer new insights into familiar topics, identify gaps in the historical record, encourage new scholarship, and explore the public history of previous commemorations of the Civil War. Following the theme of the conference, working group participants will reflect on changing and evolving attitudes about the Civil War since its conclusion, through the present.

Those interested in participating in the Working Group should submit a one-paragraph overview of what they will bring to the discussion, and hope to take away. Topics that may be explored are changing perceptions, previous commemorations, the role of memory in history, the role of empathy in Civil War commemoration, and others.

15. Structuring the International Discourse of Public History Practice and Scholarship *Case Statements*
Facilitators: Rebecca Conard, Middle Tennessee State University
Holger Hoock, John W. Kluge Center, Library of Congress
Mark Phillips, Carleton University

This group will examine public history as a distinctive mode of practice and scholarship that transcends venues of practice and national borders. Participants will be asked to use case studies to examine theoretical frameworks and methodologies that inform inquiry and analysis, and the relative roles that historian, audience (or end user), collaborators, partners, or governing bodies play in shaping the processes of inquiry and interpretation. In this respect, case studies will focus on the dynamics of historical production rather than end product in order to foreground the purpose-driven nature of public history. The underlying premise is that regardless of venue or location, public historians approach their craft, implicitly or explicitly, by first assessing the purpose for which historical knowledge is needed and then framing a historical problem, or set of historical questions, that respond to that need, and that the intended audience plays a role, actively or passively, in shaping the final product. Thus, to encourage comparably high degrees of introspection and international comparisons, participants will be asked to address the overarching questions of 1. for what purpose is history being engaged or applied? and 2. or whom is history being engaged or applied? A series of related questions flow from these two questions, which we also will ask presenters to address: what authority does the historian exercise in the inquiry process vis-a-vis the agency held by client, collaborator, partner, governing body, and/or audience? how does the historian negotiate the uncertainties that attend the process of inquiry? what theoretical frameworks and/or interdisciplinary methods inform inquiry or interpretation? what authority does the historian exercise in constructing the interpretation? what role does the client, collaborator, partner, governing body, and/or audience play in shaping the end product? and, most importantly, how does the historian maintain the integrity of history?