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.

2013 working Groups

1. The Challenge of Interpreting Climate Change at Historic Sites with a Conflicted Audience
Facilitators: Chuck Arning, Blackstone River Valley National Heritage Corridor
Mauro Agnoletti, Universita di Firenze

The landscape of interpreting climate change is a tricky terrain, for it is fraught with inaccuracies, misinformation, and the belief that the scientific community is divided on the issue. While the truth of the matter is that 97% of publishing climate scientists agree that climate change is occurring and that it is caused primarily by human activity, the interpreter often faces a conflicted audience at historic sites. The goal of this working group Discussion is to explore how the interpretation of climate change at historic sites could be undertaken from the perspective that the climate is changing, what strategies are in place or could be developed to deal with its impact and what approaches would work best in explaining it to a sometimes doubting public.
This is a global problem. Parks Canada is currently confronting its impact at several sites throughout its system. The 18th century Prince of Wales Fort National Historic Site of Canada in Churchill, Manitoba, is succumbing to “the relentless progress of climate change” (to quote a Parks Canada website). Climate change is melting the permafrost underneath significant Canadian sites such as the Dawson Historical District in the Yukon and the York Factory along the Hayes River in Northern Manitoba. Scotland also has a significant problem and has actually formed a group, Scottish Coastal Archaeology and the Problem of Erosion to deal with the critical issues they face: 30% of the Scottish coastline has been surveyed revealing 11,500 archaeological sites of which 3,500 are at risk due to fierce erosion. In the U.S., the National Park Service sees a serious threat to Jamestown, the first permanent English settlement in North America established over 400 years ago, by the end of the century. The interpreter needs to bring this story of global change and its impact on park resources into historic site interpretation.

2. Exhibiting Local Enterprise: Developing Online Exhibits
Group Blog/Case Statements
Facilitators: Celia James, University of South Carolina
Anjuli Grantham, Baranov Museum
Claire White, Nantucket Historical Association
Allison Marsh, University of South Carolina

How do you reach audiences at your small museum or local historical institution? How can the digital world help you do so? What is involved in the process of creating online exhibits? How do institutions with limited staff and little or no technical support tackle such a project? This working group will consider these questions by using, evaluating, and refining “Exhibiting Local Enterprise” (ELE), a series of learning tools designed to help history institutions create online exhibits to showcase their local business history. ELE leads participants through the process of guided inquiry. The theme of the conference, the significance of audiences, is at the core of the discussion, as ELE must respond to several distinct audiences: the staff and volunteers at history institutions who are struggling to establish a digital presence, the local audiences of history institutions, and the global one established via the internet. The learning modules increase institutions capacity to make informed decisions, create quality on-line exhibitions and to share local business history to different audiences through the digital realm.
We are seeking professionals at history institutions who are interested in exhibiting local business history online but do not have the knowledge or technical skills to do so, as well as professionals at small museums and historical societies who are in the process of doing so or perhaps have recently created such a digital project. Discussants will analyze the particulars of how ELE addresses these concerns and how well it guides institutional staff through the process. ELE was created to fulfill a mission to “learn in public” by documenting the experience of graduate students during the creation of a digital business history exhibit of cotton mills in Columbia, South Carolina and then using that experience to educate professionals at small history institutions. ELE is a product of the University of South Carolina’s Public History Program, in collaboration with the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History, the Baranov Museum in Kodiak, Alaska, and the Nantucket Historical Association. The online exhibits created for this project are expected to bring local voices to the Smithsonian’s national exhibition American Enterprise, scheduled to open in 2015.

3. Teaching Public History Working Group
Case Statements and Blog Posts
Facilitators: Thomas Cauvin, European University Institute Ciaran O’Neill, Trinity College Dublin

Long practiced in North America and Australia, public history teaching is a much more recent development in Europe (except in Britain), Asia, or South America. In relation to the newly created International Federation for Public History, the working group proposes to discuss the specificity of public history teaching and its development worldwide. Initially devoted to Europe, the working group also seeks participants from other parts of the world.
Three main categories of questions are to be discussed: First, we need to concentrate on the ways public/applied history is taught in different universities. To what extent is public history similarly taught in Europe, North America, Asia, or Australia? What are the curricula and how are they applied? How can theory and practice be associated in undergraduate and graduate
programs? Are textbooks useful in teaching Public History? The second major interrogation relates to the links between public history teaching and projects outside the university. Collaboration with external institutions allows for internships and organization of public history projects (exhibitions, websites, tourism-oriented activities, etc.) in which students of the programs gain experience. This is why it is necessary to discuss the background of the faculty in charge of public history teaching. Who can teach public history? Is experience in public history projects sufficient? The task is particularly difficult in countries where public history is not a wide-spread discipline (e.g. France, Italy). Finally, the working group examines career expectations and job markets for students graduating from programs in public history. The participants will debate the changing needs for public historians in different parts of the world. Participants may examine the different positions graduate students can apply to, and to what extent public history teaching can adapt to accordingly. In order to do so, the working group is also looking for graduate students who could contribute to the discussion with their own experiences.

4. Public Historians and the Local Food Movement
Group Blog and Case Statements
Facilitators: Cathy Stanton, Tufts University
Michelle Moon, Peabody Essex Museum

Current food-reform efforts around the world are working rebuild local and regional food systems that existed in most places until fully industrialized and commoditized agriculture became dominant after World War II, making the kinds of places and knowledge associated with older food and farming systems potentially invaluable as real-life resources for rediscovery and reinvention. Yet for a variety of reasons, public historians have been slow to create strong partnerships with those actively producing and marketing food on local and regional scales. This disjunction has meant that public history sites have tended to reinforce the long-standing aura of “pastness” that has developed around small-scale agriculture over the past two centuries in places where industrialized farming has become the norm, rather than becoming linked to lively civic debates about real-life food supply. The local-food movement, meanwhile, has often assumed an over-simple story about the rise of “big ag” which overlooks the much more nuanced realities that have contributed to the development of our industrialized food system over the past century and a half. This Working Group is based on the premise that the methods and critical insights of public historians are crucial in uncovering and communicating those more nuanced histories, and that doing so is an outstanding way to link our own methods and values with vital public dialogue about a wide range of environmental and economic issues.
The facilitators are working to identify and connect with an Ottawa venue that links historic preservation with contemporary small-scale food production so that the session can combine a tour with the Working Group discussion. We will recruit widely among public historians with an interest in food-related topics, and will build on existing professional conversations within the U.S. National Park Service and elsewhere, working toward an edited collection of papers and case studies. We hope that both the edited volume and this conference session will include a
historical and theoretical framework for thinking about the public history/food movement nexus plus a set of examples that illustrate the exciting potential of these partnerships for civic dialogue and action.

5. Teaching Digital History and New Media Working Group
Case Statements
Facilitators: Steven Burg, Shippensburg State University
Sharon Leon, George Mason University
Jon Berndt Olsen, University of Massachusetts Amherst

Do you currently teach a course on digital history? Have you been thinking about integrating digital history methods into your public history course or program? Have you been wondering how digital history can enhance the teaching and practice of public history? This working group will provide public history educators, graduate students, and those interested in digital history with a forum for discussing the most effective approaches for teaching future public history practitioners about digital history and new media. We see this working group as an opportunity to compare notes, to share practical tips, and to delve into the question of how digital technologies and new media are reshaping the relationship of public historians to sources and audiences.
Growing numbers of public history graduate programs have introduced digital history into their curricula, either by integrating digital history into existing courses, or by introducing entirely new courses dedicated to digital history or new media theory and practice. It is likely that digital history will continue to grow as a part of public history graduate programs, and that it will also move into the undergraduate curriculum. The working group will seek to explore at least three core questions: (1) What are the goals of educators in training their public history students in digital history? How do differing goals shape the way digital history will be approached? (2) What should be taught? Are there specific knowledge, technological skills, theory, or perspectives that should be considered essential to a public historian’s training in digital history? And, (3) what approaches have educators found to be the most effective for teaching digital history to their students? Are there specific projects, assignments, or approaches that have been particularly effective in helping students to gain competence or expertise in digital history methods?
This lively session should provide participants with practical ideas and insights that they can apply to their own teaching and public history work.

6. Best Practices for Establishing a Public History Program
Blog post and case statements
Facilitators: Larry Cebula, Eastern Washington State University
Denise Meringolo, University of Maryland, Baltimore County
Jon E. Taylor, University of Central Missouri

The current expansion of public history programs at North American universities is well-documented. Public history has become a “hot field” in academic hiring, but do these departments that are new to the field know what they are doing? Are they prepared to support the special requirements of housing and supporting a public history program? Are they providing relevant and realistic training for students?
Lara Kelland and Anne Parsons, public historians studying at University of Illinois at Chicago, recently shared their thoughts about the explosion of academic positions in public history on the NCPH blog, History@Work. Their article, “Help wanted: Thoughts on the Recent Boom in Academic Public History Jobs,” can be found at: The blog post spurred a debate about the need to create best practices guidelines to help department chairs and university administrators think more critically about the establishment of public history programs. The working group will create a draft document (to be submitted to the NCPH Curriculum & Training Committee) after considering the following questions:
● What departmental and institutional conditions are ideal for supporting public history?
● What are appropriate and necessary justifications for the creation of new programs? (Student demand? Market demand? Visibility?)
● What kinds of resources are necessary for the establishment and development of public history programs?
● How should departments prepare to address issues of faculty workload?
● What mechanisms should departments and institutions put in place to facilitate the formation and nurturing of partnerships with various public institutions?
● Are there trends in higher education that can be beneficial to fledgling public history programs?
● What kind of student support must departments put in place for graduates of their public history programs?
Discussants selected for the working group will comment on the questions outlined above in their case statements and suggest additional questions. The facilitators and discussants will then revise the list of questions and use them to survey public history programs in their region. The working group will also use the NCPH educators’ listserv to gather information and encourage participation and will use a blog to keep members informed about the progress of the working group up until the point it meets in Ottawa.