Where in the world is the Public History Commons?


Rockefeller Center Observation Deck. Photo credit: NVinacco

Rockefeller Center Observation Deck. Photo credit: NVinacco

If you’ve visited the website of the National Council on Public History lately, you’ll know that it’s been renovated and refreshed, with a brighter, cleaner look and (we hope) an easier-to-use design. Now it’s time for Phase II of the re-set, and since that involves the blog you’re [email protected] the space where it has lived until now—the Public History Commons—we wanted to explain what you can look for in the near future and some of the thinking that went into these changes.

First, both [email protected] and the Public History Commons will be moving into the refurbished NCPH site. This reflects the organizational infrastructure behind what you see here, all of which is maintained and edited by NCPH volunteers and staff. Editorially, logistically, and financially, it makes much more sense to bring everything under one digital roof.

And second, we’ll be uncoupling [email protected] and the Public History Commons. [email protected] now has its own dedicated area within the NCPH site, while the Public History Commons will be moving into the “Publications & Resources” section where it can continue to serve as an area for discussion and experimentation as needed.

This may be confusing to people who think of the blog and the Commons as being one and the same. We’re hoping the new configuration will make their relationship and evolution a bit clearer.

Here’s the bullet-point version:

  • The Public History Commons (publichistorycommons.org) was always intended as a space where NCPH could incubate digital projects and enable more active exchange among public historians. When we created it in 2012, we decided to make it a stand-alone website because we needed to be more nimble and flexible than we were able to be within the old NCPH site. But it’s always been an NCPH project, and the move within ncph.org just reflects that more clearly.
  • One of the projects we’ve successfully incubated in the Commons is the [email protected] blog, which built on the earlier NCPH blog called “Off the Wall.” Five years and more than 700 posts after our inaugural piece, [email protected] seems established as a regular presence in the public history world and one of NCPH’s most active publications.
  • Other uses of the Commons that have proven successful are the now-annual posting of conference topic proposals (here’s the 2016 list), occasional public and private discussions by conference Working Groups and others (again, here’s an example from 2016), and the weekly posting of announcements about professional opportunities, which will continue under the updated heading of “Around the Field.”
  • Not all of our experiments in the Public History Commons have gotten traction. We experimented with creating an Omeka-based digital library where we could collect and share a wide variety of work relating to the field, but it has never really found its focus, and the materials we’ve gathered to date will be relocated shortly in the publications and resources area of the NCPH site.
  • We’ll also be letting go of the “Interest Sections” around which we originally structured [email protected] These categories initially helped us to think about ways to reach out to authors and readers from different areas of the field, but we’re finding them increasingly constricting in practice. We’ll be letting our tag taxonomy do the work of indexing our subject matter so that readers can zero in on posts of specific interest to them.

So [email protected] has “graduated” from the Public History Commons and gone on to have its own area within the NCPH website, while the Commons itself will continue to exist as an as-needed resource for discussions and possible incubation of future projects.

We welcome your feedback in the comments below or via email at [email protected], and we hope you’ll find this transition a smooth one!

~ Cathy Stanton is Digital Media Editor for the National Council on Public History.


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