Photo credit: Benny Lin

Granting organizations and professional associations that support public history projects are in a unique position to make the field more inclusive by directing resources and initiatives toward these efforts. Museums, historical societies, libraries, and other public history and public humanities organizations often want to work with grassroots populations and tell narratives from the perspective of workers, the poor, racial minorities, and other marginalized peoples, but are often stymied by their own lack of outreach or fears of repercussions from funders. For their part, even when grant makers and capacity-building organizations are excited by such work, they are uncertain how to seed success. How can organizations that support the public preservation, interpretation, and telling of history best assist communities assert their right to tell their own histories?

To explore this question, we have organized a Working Group for the National Council on Public History (NCPH) 2016 Annual Meeting in Baltimore that will serve as a collaborative forum for developing a draft of best practices that can help public historians guide collaborations and model effective partnerships that build the capacity of grassroots groups and community organizations to explore, document, preserve, and use their histories in meaningful ways.

Working Group participants are listed below. Follow the links on their names to read individual case statements.

In this working group, we aim to bring together practitioners, grantees, staff of state humanities councils, the NEH, other granting organizations, and professional associations or capacity-builders to reflect on the successes, challenges, and future of democratizing historical narratives in response to pressing social issues on the ground. In preparation for our in-person meeting at the NCPH meeting, the working group will engage with several questions:

  • What are strategies for effective outreach and communication to draw new project ideas, communities, and voices into the field?
  • How can larger organizations be responsive to the needs and capacities of individuals and communities on the ground while still aligning projects with guidelines and standards in the field?
  • What might a framework of equity and inclusion look like for organizations supporting public history work?
  • How can public historians best use our resources to partner with new audiences to shape a deeper understanding of history from multiple perspectives?
  • In cultivating historical inquiry at a community level, how can larger organizations with resources respond to needs “on the ground” and share authority while also shaping their own programs and requirements?

In order to make the most of our time in Baltimore, we will host a pre-conference conversation here on History@Work. This post is the first in a series that will use case statements written by members of our working group as a starting point for identifying the key themes and issues affecting capacity building work. We also welcome anyone else interested in joining the conversation to add their voices in the comments section along with working group participants.

We will start things off with introductions. Please use the comment section below to tell us a bit about yourself and your work. What is your home institution? What is your role there? Why did you choose this working group or decide to comment on the working group’s post?

  • Briann Greenfield, Executive Director, New Jersey Council for the Humanities
  • Joseph Cialdella, Program Manager, Michigan Humanities Council
  • Jesse Johnston, Senior Program Officer, National Endowment for the Humanities
  • Samip Mallik, Co-founder and Executive Director, South Asian American Digital Archive


  1. Joe Cialdella says:

    Welcome to the working group, everyone. As you know, I’m one of the co-organizers. I work at the Michigan Humanities Council (MHC), where my primary responsibility is managing a grant-making program that supports projects examine local histories of race, ethnicity, and cultural identity in communities across the state. One of the goals of the program is to help cultural organizations and grassroots groups give voice to histories that are frequently left out of our understanding of Michigan’s past. Another goal is the build the capacity of MHC to support organizations, projects, and audiences we have not in the past. More details to come in my case-statement.

  2. Jesse Johnston says:

    Hello, all. I’m also one of the co-organizers. My background is as a musicologist and an archivist, and I’m very much looking forward to the discussions of this working group and learning more from the participants. I’m a program officer at the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), where I work in the division of preservation and access. Our grants go largely to cultural heritage institutions, like libraries, archives, museums, historical societies, and the like. I manage NEH’s “Common Heritage” grant program, which makes grants that aim to help local cultural heritage organizations preserve and interpret community history and culture. The program aims to illuminate the American cultural mosaic by preserving heritage materials and telling community stories. The program is part of NEH’s “Common Good” initiative, which prioritizes reaching new communities and public humanities work.

  3. Francesca Morgan says:

    Hello, I’m a member of the working group and I appreciate being included. I teach history at Northeastern Illinois University in Chicago, and I have long been at work on a booklength history of genealogy practices and beliefs in the USA. My book manuscript’s working title is “Nation of Descendants: Genealogy and the Self in America.” I am keenly interested in the history of history outside the academy, including community history and various forms of do-it-yourself, uncredentialed history writing.

    1. Briann Greenfield says:

      I believe you and I spoke several years ago when I was doing research on the genealogist Donald Lines Jacobus. While I never published that research (and ended up writing an article about the Connecticut Humanities Council instead–a turning point for me), I remain fascinated by your work and am thrilled to meet you in this context.

  4. Briann Greenfield says:

    Hello. I’m very much looking forward to learning from this group. I’m the Executive Director at the New Jersey Council for the Humanities. Reaching new and under-served audiences is about to become a priority for NJCH (the proposal goes before our board in a few weeks, fingers crossed) and we will be examining our grant program to align with that goal. My interest in grant strategy started when I was a consultant and eventually board member to the Connecticut Humanities Council. Seeing several iterations of the grant program there helped me understand the impact grantmaking can have on how history is presented and preserved. Like Francesca, I’m also a cultural historian who has studied the history of popular history making. So my interests are both practical and scholarly, and I believe that the work of this group can profoundly influence our collective relationship to the past.

  5. Hi everyone,
    Thank you for including me in the group! I am a public historian at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse. In April 2015 I launched a project called Hear, Here: Voices of Downtown La Crosse that sought to uncover untold stories about our city, many of which were from marginalized and historically underrepresented groups. I look forward to our discussions.

  6. Hello! I chose this working group because I am committed to extending the reach of the humanities. Over the last decade I’ve had the privilege to work within a multicultural milieu that served multiple audiences and generations across communities in and outside of the United States. Currently, I’m a Senior Program Officer at the National Endowment for the Humanities, Office of Federal/State Partnership. Federal/State Partnership oversees the councils’ congressionally appropriated general operating support grants, carries out on-site consultations and review, maintains network-wide communication, and tracks trends and ideas in the broad nonprofit and grantmaking worlds.

  7. Ian Gray says:

    Hello everyone,

    I’m a MA Public History student at WVU in my final semester of study. Over the past several semesters, I’ve been immersed in researching local railroad history in two northern WV counties. These efforts have lead to the successful completion of an Oral History project and are on track (pun intended) to culminate in a local museum exhibit, outdoor display, and possibly a lecture series come summer. The various projects look to highlight history where it is either being swallowed by urban sprawl or, more importantly to this working group, being passed on by very small groups in a very economically depressed county.

  8. Minju Bae says:

    Hello all,
    I’m sorry for the late comment!
    I’m excited about this discussion, and I’m looking forward to meeting everyone in Baltimore. I’m working on a PhD in twentieth-century American history at Temple University, and my research looks at New York in the 1970s and 1980s. I’m currently involved in a digital humanities project with CAAAV: Organizing Asian Communities to create a more robust and interactive web-based archive. CAAAV recently compiled its organizational newsletters that reveal a history of housing rights, labor, and anti-brutality organizing in New York among Asian communities. This working group addresses some of my interests and questions about the extent of participatory public history and its methods.

  9. Eric Rhodes says:

    Hello all!
    Very excited to be working with you. I’m a Fourth Year at Antioch College in Yellow Springs, OH. My thesis, entitled “Coloring the Gem City: An Urban History of Race and Housing Policy in Dayton, Ohio” explores the confluence of federal, local, and state housing policy and the creation of postwar racial segregation in metropolitan Dayton. I subsequently explore the cultural and socio-political effects of segregation through the lives and works of funk groups in the inner city and Erma Bombeck in the suburb of Centerville. With a grant I received from Oral History in the Liberal Arts (for which I also served as the Digital Archives Coordinator this past summer), I have interviewed local scholars and community activists about housing issues from 1930-1980 and plan to interview members of the Ohio Players and Bombeck’s family. I have also undertaken GIS mapping of demographics in the Dayton area during this period. The resulting scholarship will be posted on an eponymous website which should serve as a public resource for activists and policy makers and that will put on display the history of segregation in Dayton, Ohio.

  10. jason allen says:

    Hello everyone,
    My name is Jason Allen, I am the director of community engagement at the NJ Council for the Humanities. I have been using design thinking and positive deviance models to connect and create with under-served & under-represented communities in NJ and PA.

    1. Joe says:

      Hi Jason – Reading your background now, I think you’re likely the Jason that was at Cliveden in Philly when I was a part of a group of students who was working to update the NHL designation for the site? Glad to reconnect in this context and look forward to the discussion.

      1. jason allen says:

        That would be me and you would have been part of the U Michigan contingent, correct?

        1. Joe says:

          Yes – that’s correct.

  11. Greetings All, Very excited to be a part of this group, I’m late getting going with the start of the semester taking over my life. I’m an assistant professor in the Department of Library of Information Science in the School of Informatics and Computing at Indiana University at Indianapolis. My current research focus on connecting the cultural outputs of individuals and community groups (especially those with a social justice imperative) to a sustainable preservation infrastructure. Of key importance to this connection is the process of co-creation in which involves all partners learning and benefiting from each other during creative endeavors. But more about that later on. Great to meet you all.

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