Sunday, September 13, 2009

Readings for September 14th

So this week we tackled the intro to the Lowell Experiment, a speech to the AHA in 1931 and Ian Tyrrell's Historians in Public.

Stanton's text has the potential to be very intriguing. I am very interested if her frame of Lowell's mission and tours provides reasonable support for her arguments regarding the methods of doing public history and Lowell's performance therein. I am concerned that the frame may not be the best fit and may not allow for her argument to fully develop. Or that her theory is good, but Lowell NHS may not be the best place to implement it. One of my current co-workers worked at Lowell during Stanton's research there (Stanton even took a couple of her tours) and I am excited to compare Stanton's analysis to her experience at the park.

Becker and Tyrrel's pieces present a good starting place for our discussion of public history. Becker's argument that history as a discipline will 'disappear' unless academics realize how to integrate the academic into the public is an interesting one. Whether or not he intended it to be so dramatic an idea, or just trying to get historians thinking in a broader way (this was an address as the president of the AHA, after all), I'm not sure. In any case, Becker presented many observations that are central to both academic and public history,such as his discussion of the present interpretation of history being the facts that are currently considered truths, while that which has been discarded are those facts which have been deemed false or incorrect, and the constant fluidity of such defining ideas.

Tyrrell approaches history in public in a similar manner to Becker, in so much as history and its practice being fluid. Tyrrel frames his discussion of history in public and public history (a difference which probably requires a separate post to discuss) in the realm of the academic. He does this for a reason, noting that academics although hidden in the hallowed ivy covered halls, move in the same direction as public desires and pressures and that they are not intrinsically separate worlds with completely separate methods, practices and applications (pg 138). He also touches on the swing of American history from the super specialized to the all encompassing, and follows history's inclusion in the public realm through its trends of highly specialized to broad interpretations and research. He leaves us with the question of where these the public will take academic history (and vice versa) and where the pendulum of historical practice is going next.

If nothing else, this week's readings taught me that I should probably refrain from doing my public history reading while at work. It becomes far too overstimulating (I want to try to apply things I've read and see what works), and sometimes far too cooincidental. While reading Tyrrel's section on the incorporation of history cirriculum in schooling (particularly the arguments that between the world wars the american youth barely knew anything of their own nations history), an american student in university asked me "what is the american revolution?" (and not in the methaphorical sense, either). Such events are prime examples of why history education, both in its academic and public forms, is so very important to have and to investigate.

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