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.

2014 Working Groups

1. Beyond Saving: Achieving Sustainability in Historic Preservation
Facilitators: Steven Burg, Shippensburg University
Kim Campbell, University of South Carolina
Megan Southern, University of South Carolina
Daniel Vivian, University of Louisville

This working group is designed as a forum where public history educators and historic preservation practitioners can join together to examine the concept of sustainability as applied to historic preservation. In the months before the NCPH annual meeting, group members will participate in a blog where they can share their own experiences, consider the existing literature on sustainable preservation, post interactive content (pictures, videos, and hyperlinks), and examine critical case studies demonstrating examples of sustainable historic preservation. The group will then come together to discuss these issues, and to lay the groundwork for an article examining how public historians and preservationists can achieve greater success in achieving sustainability in their historic preservation work.

2. Consulting Alliances: Obstacles and Opportunities
Group Introduction and Case Statements
Facilitators: Michael Adamson, Adamson Historical Consulting
Heather Lee Miller, Historical Research Associates

Taking our cue from management gurus Peter Drucker and Tom Peters, we hypothesize that consulting historians, particularly those working as sole proprietors or within small firms, may be missing opportunities to work within a film production model, whereby historians with skills particular to the project come together for that project, and then reassemble for other “productions.”  To begin, participants will discuss their experiences in working with either other individuals or firms, or as firms retaining outside historians on a project basis. The working group will then ascertain why consulting historians form alliances less often than they might.

3. Innovative Reuse in the Post-Industrial City
Group Blog and Case Statements
Facilitators: William Ippen, Loyola University Chicago
Devin Hunter, Loyola University Chicago

Our group will address the complex issues facing the preservation of decaying industrial buildings and infrastructure that once defined Western urbanity. Participants’ temporally and regionally diverse cases address a wide range of issues unique to this type of preservation with an emphasis on the intersection between sustainability, preservation, and public history.  The working group’s major themes include the following: a) the post-industrial urban context: empty factories or warehouses due to decentralization, deteriorating inner city infrastructures, and neglected built environment due to population and tax revenue loss; b) the importance of environmental impact in dealing with these resources; c) the relative sustainability of adaptive reuse versus new green construction; d) tensions between historic preservation and LEED; e) community dynamics: social inclusion, economic development, addressing underserved population, or contested historical memory; f) issues about reuse during an economic downturn; and, g) importance (or over-emphasis) of National Register of Historic Places listing.

4.  GenNext: Are Public History Programs Sustainable?
Facilitators: Kathleen Franz, American University
Benjamin Filene, UNC-Greensboro

This working group asks the question: How can we ensure the sustainability of graduate education in public history? After two decades of incredible growth, public history has become a part of many history graduate programs. History departments in the US, however reluctantly, offer public history either as an undergraduate track, a handful of graduate courses, or a program. The field has gotten an additional boost from calls within the discipline to train graduate students broadly and prepare them for jobs outside the academy. While public history is still not offered in every department, the ranks of public historians in the academy has grown, as has the number of trained professionals.
However, these programs and the people they train face tremendous challenges as the economic recovery lags, sequestration squeezes both federal and state budgets, and universities adopt more capitalist approaches to education that emphasize efficiency and profitability. Many program directors have worried about the increasing cost of education and a shrinking job market for graduates. Many of us have seen a growing reluctance among students to pay for graduate degrees that don’t “pay off,” and some of us have seen enrollments decline even as we face pressure from departments and deans to increase numbers.
While every program faces its own unique circumstances, we plan to ask the broad question about sustainability, see if it resonates, and propose some strategies for defining and studying the issues related to the future of public history graduate education. That may include thinking about the call for accreditation of programs.

5. Public History in China
Facilitators: Na Li, Chongqing University
Jon Berndt Olsen, University of Massachusetts Amherst

On May 23 and 24, 2013, a nation-wide seminar on public history took place at the Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities and Social Sciences, Chongqing University, China. First of its kind, the seminar brought together 13 scholars engaged in public history theory or practice in China. The discussion focused on the theory and concept of public history, practices of public history in China, and on how to establish public history programs in China. This working group extends those conversations.
Three issues are integral to our discussions: 1) Is public history possible in China? Experience has demonstrated a legitimate public space for citizen dialogues, for authority sharing, but how to take advantage of this active and thinking space remains to be explored further. 2) What kind of curriculum will fit in a Chinese context? Participants are encouraged to bring in primary experience of teaching public history related courses in China, as well as suggestions for pedagogy. Initial thoughts include: how to utilize campus resources to encourage students to take courses from different departments based on the specific tracks they choose; how to integrate local historical study and experience in the core curriculum; how to design skill-oriented classes; and how to educate the educators. 3) How to integrate historic preservation practicum into public history programs? Discussions will situate the above general inquiry in a specific context. We will explore issues in the following aspects: a) what kind of history is interpreted and preserved in the public landscape? b) how to use oral history to document and analyze collective memory that is made public? c) how public history can make preservation sustainable for the future?

6. Sustaining Digital Public History: Workflows for the Future
Group Blog and Case Statements
Facilitators: Sharon Leon, Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media, GMU
Paolo Baglioni, European University Institute

In 2000, the U.S. Congress set aside funding to establish the National Digital Information and Infrastructure and Preservation Program (NDIIPP) through the Library of Congress. In the subsequent years, the Library and its partner stakeholders have done an admirable job of directing the attention of the cultural heritage community to the dire need for planning and execution of digital preservation strategies. The two reports from 2003 and 2011, both entitled “Preserving out Digital Heritage,” offer a baseline for significant forward progress on digital preservation, but far too little of this work has filtered into the everyday practice of public historians.  As the public history community creates more and more digital assets, we need to take a proactive approach to digital preservation and sustainability.
In preparation for our face-to-face session at the NCPH meeting, the facilitators and participants will spend several months in asynchronous conversation through a blog. Each week, we will raise a targeted question and gather existing case studies and resources to share with the public history community. At the outset we will target several key aspects of digital preservation work, including: a.) the range of institutional repository options, both free-standing and hosted; b.) digital preservation standards for a range of media types and the ways they might be incorporated into existing public history workflows; c.) methods for creating standards-based interoperable digital public history websites that more easily lend themselves to upgrade and preservation. Then, the discussion will turn to the roadblocks that participants most commonly face in their own efforts to build, sustain, and preserve digital history work.

7. Toward a History of Civic Engagement and the Progressive Impulse in Public History
Working Group Introduction and Introductory Blog Post
Facilitators: Denise Meringolo, University of Maryland, Baltimore County
Daniel Kerr, American University

Today, public historians promote the ideal of “civic engagement.” We practice public history as a form of public service and even political activism. We aim to produce historical interpretations with immediacy and value for our stake holders and audiences. Yet, we have done little to historicize the progressive impulse that has led some to gather, protect, commemorate, and interpret the past NOT to stem the tide of social change, but to advance it. This Working Group will address that gap in the historiography of our field and broaden our understanding of what it means to do public history. We seek both historical examples and contemporary case studies that can shed new light on history-related activities intended to foster social justice and inclusivity.
By identifying, historicizing, and analyzing the progressive impulse in public history, the Working Group will open up a new conversation about the beginnings of our field. Our work will draw needed attention to the limitations, and potential of contemporary public history practice. Most historiographies have set public history’s roots in 19th century historic preservation movements, Civil War battlefield commemoration, and the local history movement. A variety of scholars have argued that these practices infused public history with a conservative agenda, to protect America from the forces of dramatic social change. Less well studied has been the history and influence of progressive impulses underpinning public history as it is practiced today.
In addition to examining this alternative past, we are interested in documenting current public history projects that work to facilitate movement building and social transformation. Progressive public historians believe in the potential of historical inquiry to provoke public reflection and promote social justice, but they struggle against the constraints of institutionalization. How can public historians address those constraints and more effectively use historical reflection to foster change while broadening our efforts to work in and with diverse and marginalized communities?