History Communicators is Launched

The subdiscipline of history communication is set in motion at #NCPH2015

  1. Science has Science Communicators. Should History have History Communicators?

    The question was posed at our “History Communicators” panel at #NCPH2015 (session #s12). The response from public historians? YES! Public historians communicate history to non-experts on a daily basis. This makes public historians perfectly suited to occupy the middle position between new historical scholarship and the interests and needs of non-experts, using all the communications channels and new media available.

    The Background

    I first wrote about History Communicators in June 2014:
    Jim Grossman and I then wrote about it in the November 2014 issue of Perspectives, calling it either the “History Communicator” or the “History Mediator”:
    The basic premise: Science has trained a generation of scientists and science lovers to be science communicators

    Should history prepare historians to be history communicators? If so, what would that look like? What should that pedagogy be? What role would History Communicators play in the profession? How would they enrich the understanding of history among non-experts

These questions and more were on the table for the NCPH panel.

The Session

Turnout for our session was great–standing room only!

As a natural extension of the work that public historians already do, it’s clear there is an appetite for engagement with this idea. Increasingly this is also the direction the field is headed: driven by technology, the communication revolution has made communicating historical research across print, web, multimedia and audio platforms crucial to the success of history organizations and to sharing new scholarship and interpretations with key stakeholders who are non-historians: public audiences, students, teachers, journalists, funders and elected officials. The paradigms are shifting–and emerging public historians are eager for new approaches:


We began with the origins of the History Communicator idea, and spoke about how the field of Science Communication has communicated complex scientific concepts to non-experts–policymakers, students, the general public–for a generation. Science Communicators have generated increased enthusiasm, funding, and understanding of science. Could History Communicators do the same?

@RebeccaOnion of Slate.com spoke of how historians and journalists writing about history currently use the Internet and social media to share historical knowledge, and the perception that historians on Twitter tend to speak to one another as opposed to a wider public:

@JulieThePH next discussed the challenges of conducting original historical scholarship while fulfilling a role of a museum curator, educator and public historian. Through her work she bridges the gap between academic scholarship and the public’s understanding of history:

Finally, @PastPunditry reflected on the challenges of communicating political history in the public sphere. Through her work with publications such as U.S. News & World Report and in Think Tanks, it’s clear that history can easily become politicized and that the strong voices of History Communicators are essential to combat ‘bad history’ in the public domain:

With a sense of the opportunities and challenges in journalism, on the web, in museums and archives, and in the political arena, we then launched into a spirited conversation with the audience on how together we can better define the History Communicator role and put these ideas into action:


History Communicators can evangelize for the profession as a whole:

History Communicators can speak to *all* audiences, intellectual ones and non:

We launched our new hashtag: #histcomm


And we asked how can History Communicators find opportunities to do their work:

Many emerging public historians can see this role for themselves in the profession:


@lizcovart even updated her website to announce herself as a History Communicator!

Next Steps – Advocacy, Discussion, Meat on the Bones

Could history communication become an area of concentration in public history graduate programs?

How do we ensure that we are not further stratifying the history profession?

What other fields should we be in conversation with?

There is much more dialogue to be had and issues to think through. Most importantly, the session left many of us inspired about the possibilities.



Have Ideas? Join the conversation: #histcomm

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