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Public Histories in Practice


  • Credit value: 30 credits at Level 7
  • Convenor: Professor Julia Laite
  • Assessment: a 4000-word critical review essay or project development (75%) and 1000-word short, journalistic-style piece of public history (25%)

Module description

History is everywhere: from television programmes and newspapers columns, to government consultations and community development projects. History and historians have had important roles to play in public debates, popular entertainment and tourism, and heritage at the level of both the nation and the neighbourhood. The practice and significance of 'public history' has grown significantly in recent years, as academic historians become more aware of audiences beyond the academy, of the role of history in politics, of the need for their academic work to have an impact beyond the academy, and of the growing interest in public and media interest in heritage and popular history.

We will introduce you to key aspects and issues of the practice of public history. We will provide you with the necessary theoretical and practical skills to undertake critical assessments of public history projects and interventions, as well as to create your own. Our focus on public history in practice will provide you with a wide range of examples of different kinds and methods of public history, from museums and material culture, to public history in the media, to the role of history in policy making.

Indicative syllabus

  • What is public history?
  • Public history and the museum
  • Public history and the archives
  • Public history and the media
  • Public history online
  • Public history and policy
  • Public history and material and built culture
  • Public history and oral history
  • Public history and the community
  • Project presentations and course summary

Learning objectives

By the end of this module, you will be able to:

  • understand the wide-ranging practice of public history and be able to comment critically upon existing projects, interventions and practices
  • understand the key debates surrounding public history and the role of the public historian
  • understand the way that history is used and disseminated in the media and on the internet
  • understand the way that museums and archives engage in public history
  • understand the role of public history in the heritage and tourism industries
  • understand the way in which policy makers engage with history, and the way in which historians have contributed to public policy debates
  • understand the role that history plays in community development and community-based projects
  • prepare written critiques of existing public history projects and interventions
  • understand how to design a successful and critically engaged public history project or intervention
  • write a short piece of public history journalism
  • engage critically with current historiographical debates about public history.