Call for pitches and manuscripts: Commemoration and Public History
05 February 2020 – Nicole Belolan
Entering the Flight 93 National Memorial galleries in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, a few years ago, my mind was on my achy muscles. My husband and I had just completed an intensive, multiday cooperage workshop at the Somerset Historical Society nearby. We don’t visit western Pennsylvania that often, so we thought this would be a good opportunity to check out the Memorial despite being pretty exhausted. But as I studied the artifacts Memorial staff selected to tell the story of Flight 93’s final moments and 9/11 more broadly, the physical pain quickly melted away. In a haze, I drifted from one artifact to another. My eyes welled up as the objects and their interpretation prompted me to think about the last moments of the passengers and crew. After just a few minutes in the gallery, I found my husband and bolted for the exit, grabbing some tissues staff had perched on a ledge by the back door.
I knew no one who died in the September 11, 2001, attacks. But perhaps like many of you who also lived through those events and their aftermath, the memory of that day remains raw, especially at sites of commemoration. As the saying goes, we will never forget. But what does it all mean, almost twenty years later? What have we already done to remember, and to what end? Why do we put our energies into commemorating past events, places, and people in the first place? Are commemorations always public history?
Next year marks the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. Surely we have stories we want to share about doing public history commemorations related to those events in the United States and abroad. But we are also in the midst of a number of other nationally significant, landmark commemorations ranging from the 100th anniversary of the passage of the 19th Amendment to the 30th anniversary of the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act. To capture how and why public historians and their communities have been commemorating events with national and international profiles—as well as less widely known people, places, or events—the editors of The Public Historian and History@Work want to hear from you about your public history work on commemorations, broadly defined.
We invite reports from the field by public historians about the challenges of commemoration at museums and archives, online, or in your community at large. Submissions might address upcoming and recent national and international anniversaries (such as the American Revolution, 9/11, the 19th Amendment, the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Stonewall uprising, and World War I).
But we also want to hear about local or regional site-specific commemorations of less widely known people, places, or events. All submissions should engage with the historiography of commemoration and what or whom is being commemorated and should provide readers with portable lessons or best practices for doing public history. As always, we welcome and encourage international perspectives.
Successful submissions will address one or more of the following questions:
- What can we learn about the practice of public history from commemorations of people, places, or events?
- What counts as commemoration?
- In what new ways are public historians remembering local or regional history?
- Who are the stakeholders and collaborators for these projects?
- What forms does commemoration take, and what are public historians getting right and wrong?
- Who is included in commemoration, and who is left out?
- What role does material culture play in how we commemorate the past?
- What purpose does commemoration serve, and how does it change over time?
So whether you want to write about 9/11 or something more lighthearted, such as how to negotiate what should go on your home’s historical marker issued by the local historical society (something we’re currently talking about at home), please get in touch. The Public Historian manuscripts and History@Work pitches will be accepted on a rolling basis and will be evaluated using the established practices for each publication. Please follow standard submission guidelines for each publication (for History@Work and The Public Historian), and indicate your special interest in our commemoration call when you submit. Submissions may take a variety of forms, but we are particularly interested in reports from the field (The Public Historian) and project showcases (History@Work), Direct all pre-submission queries to me, Nicole Belolan, Co-Editor of The Public Historian and Digital Media Editor for NCPH. You can download the full call for commemoration submissions as a Word Doc or PDF. We look forward to hearing from you.
~Nicole Belolan is the co-editor of The Public Historian and the Digital Media Editor, both for the National Council on Public History. She is a historian of the material culture of disability and is Public Historian in Residence at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Center for the Humanities (MARCH) at Rutgers University-Camden.