Hope Shannon, PhD Candidate, Loyola University Chicago

Proposal Type


  • Seeking Additional Presenters
  • Seeking Specific Expertise
  • Seeking General Feedback and Interest
Related Topics
  • Civic Engagement

This roundtable will explore how local history can be used to shape political and social change at the local level. Participants will discuss their struggles and successes working with local history to pursue local change, followed by a discussion with the audience. Questions and problems to be considered include, but are not limited to, the issues faced when using local history to do this kind of work; how local history is (or is not) suited to political and social activism, broadly defined; how to support these projects when people and institutions doing this work often lack essential funding; and how local history projects and initiatives fit within the larger efforts of community activism.


I’d like this roundtable to consist of 5 or 6 panelists who can each speak for 5 minutes about their experience exploring the connection between local history and local political and social change. Ideally, the roundtable will consist of a diverse array of participants who represent a variety of careers and experiences in public history– from administration and education to collections and outreach, and everything in between. Keeping participant comments to 5 minutes will allow ample time for audience input and discussion.

Please reach out to me if you are interested in participating in this roundtable. Include in your message why you are interested and what you would speak about if our session proposal is accepted. I’ll get back to all interested participants by early July so we can finalize the proposal in advance of the July 15 deadline.

Goals for this roundtable include engaging in a thoughtful discussion about how we, as history professionals, can put local history to work to shape change and foster productive dialogue. We can discuss and adjust the exact parameters of the session, as well as how we might keep the conversation going after the session, before submitting the proposal. When thinking about the scope of our roundtable and finalizing the proposal, we’ll take into consideration the fact that local history is not the only kind of history that can be put to use for the purposes noted above, and that change at the local level is not the only kind of change sought by local history work.

If you have a direct offer of assistance, sensitive criticism, or wish to pass along someone’s contact information confidentially, please get in contact directly: Hope Shannon, [email protected]

If you have general ideas or feedback to share, please feel free to use the comments feature below.

All feedback and offers of assistance should be submitted by July 2, 2017.


  1. Benjamin Filene says:

    This sounds like a promising topic. One challenge, it seems to me, will be trying to articulate a focus. To me, the examples given fit more closely to the word “activism,” as opposed to “change,” a term that can apply so very broadly. Am I right that the key is that you want to explore having impact beyond the host institution, in the wider community? Or would having impact on how visitors think count, or do you mean changing how people vote or spend their money, etc., beyond the museum/site/etc.? A related question is whether you can identify a kind of institution to focus on that does this work. Right now the actor is local history itself (“local history is or is not suited”), but I’d suggest focusing either on museums & sites or, if you prefer, just “projects.” Finally, if people are sharing examples, they may need more than 5 minutes, to give the audience something to chew on. Maybe 4-5 participants would allow more room for people to talk a little longer?

    1. Hope Shannon says:

      Hi Benjamin,

      Thank you for your comments. We’ll certainly take these into account when finalizing our session proposal.

      You are correct that the key is making an impact beyond the host institution. It’s about people and/or institutions who have somehow mobilized local history with a goal of bringing about some kind of change– right-leaning, left-leaning, in-between, or nonpartisan– on the local level. At its heart it’s about the intent and goals of the person or institution engaged in local history work.

      The inspiration from the session came from a mixture of my own research– I look at the political and social change local historical societies used local history to advocate for in the post-WWII era and how this has shaped the metropolis– and the explosion of grassroots activity in the wake of the recent election. Since waves of grassroots activity ebb and flow, I wondered how the current situation might influence the ways in which people and/or institutions might now use local history in the spirit of shaping change at the grassroots. But I also want to make sure that we think about how local history has been used to demand more rightward change in addition to progressive change. One of the session participants has work that addresses this. Another will discuss work that takes place without an institutional affiliation. We have room for 1 or 2 others still.

      Talking about this with you is making me think that we should articulate the inspiration for the session more clearly in the final proposal. We want attendees to be left thinking about how the local places in which they live and work have been shaped by certain people or group’s understandings of local history. We also want them to think about how they can use local history to jump into demands for grassroots change– a connection some may not have thought of before.

      In any case, thank you. You’ve given me a lot to think about as I work with the others to finalize the proposal. I’m also happy to talk about this off-site if you’d like to continue the conversation.

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