Rebecca Bush, Curator of History/Exhibitions Manager, The Columbus Museum

Proposal Type


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

This roundtable seeks to highlight the experiences of public historians who are proactive in their communities in sometimes unexpected ways. The ensuing discussion will tie directly into this year’s conference theme of “power lines” within communities. How can we build community while navigating existing power structures that may be new or unfamiliar to us? How can we become better advocates for, and facilitators of, public history projects when we venture outside our personal or institutional comfort zones? How can we best communicate when collaborators might be speaking two (or more!) professional “languages”? In an honest and open conversation, participants will share lessons learned, tools needed, and tips for success.


In the new book “Art and Public History: Approaches, Opportunities, and Challenges,” public history consultant and Arizona State University administrator Nancy Dallett issues “A Call for Proactive Public Historians,” in which she challenges our field to “proactively engage in new arenas.” It’s not enough, she says, to train good historians to serve in the usual places or to count on being invited to participate in community projects; “[i]t’s on us to knock on doors and create new arenas.” Dallett then details her experiences collaborating on several public art master planning commissions across the country.

In addition to Nancy sharing her work, we are looking for additional participants/collaborators for this session. Those who have experience with public art projects are welcome, but we’re also hoping to include a broad range of stories and experiences to create a richer conversation. Are you, or do you know, an historic preservationist working with state Departments of Transportation or other state/local government authorities, sharing the importance of the past in meetings where a site’s historical significance might be on the back burner? Perhaps you’re a museum professional who’s developing an off-site exhibition in a hospital, senior living center, public housing community, or other non-traditional venue, navigating different physical and organizational structures? An archivist working with local community groups to develop their own organizational archives? Are you doing projects with active military members or veterans, or bringing your historical expertise to discussions about social justice or environmental concerns? Maybe you work in an institution where you and your colleagues were trained in different fields and speak different “languages,” such as in a corporate or interdisciplinary setting. This list just scratches the surface, and we hope to bring together practitioners with a wide range of diverse experiences.

In addition to seeking participants, we’re open to suggestions for further focusing the proposal. If you were attending this session, what kinds of topics or projects would you like to see discussed? What are the big theoretical questions or practical advice you’d like to see addressed?

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: Rebecca Bush, [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. Remaining open to the possibilities for civic engagement certainly led the International Museum of the Horse to an opportunity that wouldn’t have necessarily been pursued otherwise.

    Quite a few years ago, a scholar, Pellom McDaniels, visited the museum to do research on Isaac Murphy, the greatest Thoroughbred jockey of all time who also happens to be African American. Mr. McDaniels eventually published a book on Murphy and developed a traveling exhibit on the topic, bringing it to Lexington, Kentucky and specifically engaging children in dialogue about the history of their neighborhood. Mr. McDaniels deeply engaged with community members and his visit led to important dialogue among a diverse group of people in the community and the development of “Phoenix Rising” – a non-profit organization dedicated to educating the community about the forgotten history of black horsemen and more generally, the history of the horse industry in and around Lexington. Museum staff also took the opportunity to engage deeply with this group early on both with volunteer and monetary support. We have since been developing two separate projects related to the topic; an exhibition, “Black Horsemen of the Kentucky Turf”; and a digital project, “The National Chronicle of African American Horsemen”, both of which are scheduled to go public in early 2018. These projects provide many challenges and opportunities.

    Becoming and remaining relevant to the local community has been a challenge for a museum dedicated specifically to the history of the horse. While, for thousands of years, horses were an inextricable part of life for humanity, today keeping horses is mostly a hobby unattainable by a majority of Kentuckians – especially underserved, city-dwelling populations. Remaining proactive in our approach to project and audience development, as well as being discerning about where to dedicate limited resources, has opened up possibilities for engagement with new audiences enabling us to connect them with the history of the region’s signature industry.

    Another one of our challenges is race. The museum staff is all white and our subject matter is African American history. We realize that planning for and completing projects on African American topics will take a sincere and dedicated effort to engage the African American community. We need their knowledge and support as we develop and implement these projects. Navigating local politics, getting quality feedback, building bridges and developing new lines of communication, and simply being honest about our potential naiveté, are necessary if we want effectively to present racial and social histories.

    We would be happy to participate in your roundtable if you feel like our experience fits your topic. Once the conference rolls around we will have opened the exhibit and hopefully launched the digital project so our experience will be much deeper. I can explain those projects in more depth if you’d like more info.

    1. Rebecca Bush says:

      Hi Travis,

      Thanks for reaching out. These new projects sound intriguing, and I’d love to hear more about how you’re beginning (or planning) to identify and engage new community partners. Email me at [email protected] with your thoughts, and we can talk more directly. Thanks!

  2. Mary Rizzo says:

    Interesting topic! Your mention of transportation made me think of a History @ Work post a couple years ago by Rebekah Dobrasko, who is a preservationist who works for the Texas Department of Transportation.

    She would be a great person to talk to.. Her piece was part of a longer series about historic preservation and may yield other ideas.

    1. Rebecca Bush says:

      Thanks for your feedback, Mary. I actually know Rebekah and was thinking about some of her work when I drafted this topic – great minds think alike!

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