Day of Public Humanities

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Like “public history,” “public humanities” is a concept that seems relatively straightforward but quickly proves hard to define and explain (especially when we are asked to do so by our friends and relatives). At Brown University’s John Nicholas Brown Center for Public Humanities and Cultural Heritage, we use the term “public humanities” to describe the wide range of work that we do: curation, educational programming, digital projects, or archival initiatives (among other projects). But we also acknowledge that people value other terms, like “public history.” We’d like to have more conversations with people within, across, and beyond public humanities, public history, and other fields. What do you call what you do, and why? What does your work look like on a daily basis? How might that work look if you thought about it within the context of public humanities?

With these questions in mind, the JNBC invites you to join us on Tuesday, May 9th for Day of Public Humanities. This crowdsourced initiative asks anyone invested in or just curious about this thing called “public humanities” to describe, discuss, and debate the term and its meaning with us.

We’re particularly interested in the labor of public humanities work: who is doing it, why it’s important, who determines its value, and what it means to us. Many of us create public-facing projects and programming. Yet a lot of the work behind these initiatives is invisible to our audiences. We know it can be hard to find time to write or reflect on our labor. Day of Public Humanities aims to expand conversations on our work beyond conventional narratives privileged by academic and scholarly texts, contexts, and practitioners. For example, we’ve asked people to send us their To-Do Lists to make our day-to-day work more visible: check out our blog to learn more!

On #DayofPH, we’re less interested in arriving at a specific and all-encompassing definition of “public humanities.” The JNBC is more excited about learning how practitioners in and around the field gravitate towards the term (or steer clear of it!) in their descriptions of what they do and why.

Here’s how you can join us on Tuesday, May 9th:

  1. Show Your Work: What does your work day look like? Show us your To-Do List. Live-tweet your morning (after getting some coffee). Take a picture of your desk, or share another image of your work: favorite co-workers, office ephemera, other images of life “behind the scenes.” Don’t forget to use the #DayofPH hashtag as you are documenting where and how you work!
  2. Join our conversations on Twitter. Who are your professional role models? What projects are you most excited about? What is the most challenging part of your work? We will circulate some questions, but please share your own as well!
  3. Advocate for public humanities in your community: On May 9th, we’ll be hosting a panel on advocating for the arts and humanities in the age of Trump at Brown. What conversations can you start with your professional peers and the communities with whom you collaborate?

We hope you’ll join us on May 9th. In the meantime, follow us on Twitter (@DayofPH), where lots of these conversations are already happening!

~ Day of Public Humanities is organized by Jim McGrath (@JimMc_Grath), Robyn Schroeder (@reconstitut) and Inge Zwart (@zwart_i) at the John Nicholas Brown Center for Public Humanities and Cultural Heritage (Brown University). For more information, email [email protected], follow @DayofPH on Twitter, and visit

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