GVGK Tang, Graduate Student, Temple University

Proposal Type

Working Group

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

Who gets to do what kind of work? We, as public historians, must engage the ethics of occupying/interpreting spaces to which we do not belong. Some practitioners may pave the way for disenfranchised populations to take the lead in the interpretation of their own histories in a “top-down” approach. The disenfranchised may themselves originate grassroots initiatives in order to disrupt institutional power in a “bottom-up” approach. We must self-assess our own positionalities in variable contexts – when to learn through witnessing, when to educate through action.


Objectivity is a myth; accounts of the past and present are best communicated by the marginalized. Our relative positions in society are defined by intersecting, ascribed characteristics such as race, gender, and class; these positions comprise the breadth of our perspectives. As such, in claiming “epistemic privilege,” Others interpret their own experiences as a means of subverting the dominant historical narrative.

We must ultimately wrest the dialogue of inclusion and representation from those who would undermine it through their proclamations of “giving voice” to Others’ struggles. “Diversity” has been co-opted by white liberalism, and become a self-congratulatory proclamation. This dominant narrative encourages the tokenization of Others’ bodies and the appropriation of their emotional and intellectual labor. We must transform our communal histories into our own collective cultural capital. Within an interdisciplinary theoretical framework that draws on concepts such as positionality and standpoint theory, how may we argue for (or against) epistemic privilege in public history? How may we simultaneously negotiate and translate the exclusionary pretensions of our jargon for practical application in the field? (Think: bell hook’s “Theory as Liberatory Practice.”)

I’m seeking a co-facilitator with experience and/or a keen interest in this topic; potential discussants are welcome to comment. I hope this working group can result in the creation of a white paper and/or article that reclaims and prioritizes the experiences of Others (particularly low-income people of color) in the public history field.

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: GVGK Tang, [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 description raises some truly important questions, ones that the field as a whole has often failed to address and certainly needs to wrestle with. I have 3 suggestions for you to consider. I think they would help build interest, understanding, and engagement, but of course you should only adopt what suits your intentions for the panel. First, I think the discussion would gain more traction if it were tied to particular projects. Right now it’s quite abstract, and I think to connect it to examples would be a way to offer (and test) a new way of working. Secondly, to broaden potential audience, I’d suggest translating some terms. This is completely up to you, of course, but to me, the title makes sense without the term “positionality.” Similarly, instead of “epistemic privilege,” one could say “the authority to tell other people’s stories,” etc. Finally, to invite discussion, I’d be inclined to pose some of the assertions as questions. The first sentence of the abstract does this nicely, as does the end of the 2nd paragraph. You could take the same approach to assertions like “accounts of the past and present are best communicated by the marginalized”: Do marginalized people inherently tell their own story better than outsiders do? Should people from beyond the community acknowledge their outsider status, aim to be facilitators, or just step aside?

  2. I would be very interested to participate in this proposal, following the same remarks as stated above (especially the one about translating the jargon). However, I thought maybe this topic would be better addressed in a ‘structured conversation’ format rather than a working group?

    looking forward to it!

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