NCPH Robert Kelley Memorial Award

This $500 award honors distinguished achievements by individuals, institutions, or nonprofit or corporate entities for making history relevant to individual lives of ordinary people outside of academia.

The Kelly award was not awarded in 2019.
2017 Winner

Lonnie G. Bunch, III

The 2017 Robert Kelley Memorial Award winner is Lonnie G. Bunch, III, who exemplifies the ideals of public history described in 1978 by Robert Kelley in the first issue of The Public Historian.
Lonnie Bunch became the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture director in July 2005, having no staff, no building, no building site, and no collections. The international acclaim that greeted the museum’s opening eleven years later in September 2016 testifies to Lonnie’s vision, his determination, his talent and, above all, his commitment to public history.

Lonnie not only created a clear and compelling vision and mission for the museum, but also coordinated its fundraising and membership campaigns; developed its collections; established cultural partnerships around the world; oversaw the design and construction of the museum’s building; and hired a remarkable team to make it all happen. He inspired the museum’s outreach efforts, including the successful Save Our African American Treasures program.

The National Museum of African American History and Culture is only the latest accomplishment in a distinguished career dedicated to interpreting American history. For three decades Lonnie has brought the best of historical scholarship to regional, national, and international audiences. Since his early career as a curator, he has consistently demonstrated a strong commitment to public history and an uncanny ability to present that history in a variety of settings.

He began his career in the academy, with teaching positions at The American University in Washington, DC and the University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth. Finding the parameters of traditional history a bit too restrictive, he moved to the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum, where he wrote a history of African Americans in aviation – and launched a career in public history. Lonnie served as the curator of history for the California African American Museum in Los Angeles from 1983 to 1989, where he organized award-winning exhibitions and produced several historical documentaries for public television.

He returned to the Smithsonian in 1989 as supervising curator at the National Museum of American History (NMAH). In 1994, he became Associate Director for Curatorial Affairs at the NMAH, managing a curatorial and collections staff of nearly two-hundred. He also led the curatorial team that developed a major permanent exhibition American Presidency: A Glorious Burden in 2000. He left the Smithsonian in 2001, to become president of the Chicago Historical Society, one of the nation’s oldest museums of history. There, he developed an unprecedented outreach initiative to diverse communities.

Lonnie has written on topics including diversity in museum management, the impact of funding and politics on American museums, slavery, the black military experience, the American presidency, and all-black towns in the American West. He is a popular and engaging speaker and has addressed audiences of both museum professionals and scholars in the United States and in many nations abroad. He has served on the advisory boards of many organizations and has trained and mentored countless museum professionals and public historians.

Knowing one’s history and understanding how it has shaped the creation of both community and culture is essential to the role of public history in the 21st century. Lonnie Bunch has helped a national and an international public understand this relationship and, in so doing, has given them an insight into the meaning of history to their lives. For this, and for his many other accomplishments – publishing, teaching and leading – NCPH is proud to present Lonnie G. Bunch III with its highest award, the 2017 Robert Kelley Award.

2019 Submission Guidelines

This award seeks to perpetuate the legacy and memory of a founder of the public history movement, Dr. Robert Kelley. It honors distinguished and outstanding achievements by individuals, institutions, non-profit or corporate entities for having made significant inroads in making history relevant to individual lives of ordinary people outside of academia.

The Kelley Award consists of a $500 cash award and framed certificate that will be presented at the annual meeting of NCPH.  The award recipient will receive a complimentary registration for the awards breakfast at the 2019 NCPH annual meeting in Hartford, CT, March 27-30.


Individuals or organizational entities may be considered for the award.

Award Criteria


Individuals may be nominated based on their achievements and specific contributions to the public history movement, usually over a sustained period of time.

Evidence of scholarly excellence must be combined with two or more of the following:

  1. Sustained service to NCPH in an appointed and/or elected capacity
  2. Demonstrated innovation in teaching and/or development of institutional training programs
  3. Creativity as evidenced through the development of teaching and/or educational outreach materials
  4. A singular achievement (i.e. a motion picture, major exhibit, or a well-recognized book) that significantly contributes to the general public’s understanding and appreciation of history
  5. A distinguished record of creating, administering, or managing an undergraduate or graduate public history program at an institution of learning
Organizational Entities

Institutions, colleges and university departments of history, non-profit, corporate or other organizational entities may be nominated based on the institution’s achievements and specific contributions in advancing the cause of public history, usually over a sustained period of time.

Evidence of program excellence must be combined with two or more of the following in evaluating the contribution of each nominated institution:

  1. Innovative excellence in the training of public historians (either at the undergraduate or graduate level) as evidenced by a quality public history curriculum and/or success in placement and accomplishments of graduates in public history related jobs
  2. Sustained commitment to the development of scholarly or other educational or teaching materials relating to the field of public history
  3. Sponsorship and/or delivery of high quality training courses, conferences, or educational outreach to the public or the public history community
  4. An outstanding record of public outreach programs (i.e. mass media, exhibitory, lecture series) that advance the appreciation of public history
  5. Demonstrated commitment to the value of expanding the public’s knowledge and appreciation of history in the institutional or corporate setting

Submission Process

  1. Nominations should be submitted in the form of a written narrative not to exceed 1,500 words (typed).
  2. Nominations should include pertinent supporting documents, including a copy of the nominee’s resume or curriculum vitae if available, plus a minimum of two and a maximum of five letters of support and this cover sheet (click to download).
  3. A total of four copies of all submission materials are required. Send this cover sheet (click to download) and a copy of all materials to each of the Robert Kelley Award Committee members (click for addresses) and one to the NCPH executive office at:

127 Cavanaugh Hall – IUPUI
425 University Blvd.
Indianapolis, IN 46202.
[email protected] 

Clearly mark each submission, “NCPH Kelley Award.”  If emailed, nominations must be sent in one complete document (MS Word or a PDF).  Please note that materials will not be returned.

Materials must be received (not postmarked) no later than November 1, 2018.  Late submissions will not be considered.

Questions?  (317) 274-2716; [email protected]


Past Kelley Award Winners


  • Lonnie G. Bunch, III


  • Donald A. Ritchie, Senate Historical Office


  • Janelle Warren-Findley, Arizona State University


  • Michael Devine, Director, Harry S. Truman Library and Museum


  • Lindsey Reed, Managing Editor of The Public Historian


  • Richard Allan Baker, United States Senate Historical Office


  • Alan S. Newell, Historical Research Associates, Inc.


  • Dwight T. Pitcaithley, National Park Service


  • The Government and Citizens of the Tr’ondek Hwech’in, First Native Peoples of the Klondike


  • The University of South Carolina Public History Program


  • Debra Bernhardt, Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives at New York University


  • Otis L.Graham Jr., University of North Carolina, Wilmington


  • The American Social History ProjectFirst time presented in


  • Page Putnam Miller, Coordinating Committee for the Promotion of History