Reaction: Recognizing the Best in Public History Blog

Added to Medium, January 31, 2019

Since I earned my Master’s degree in Public History, I continue to review sources and read about current developments in Public History. According to my graduate program at Central Connecticut State University, public historians are front-line interpreters bringing historical knowledge to a broad public audience beyond the traditional academic classroom. Public historians expand research skills and content knowledge of traditionally trained historians to incorporate new sources of historical evidence such as oral history and material culture in varied institutions such as museums, government agencies, and heritage destination sites. I recently came across the Backstory website which posted a blog post written by Diana Williams about recognizing various mediums public history is shared.

Backstory, according to their website, is a weekly podcast that uses current events in America to take a deep dive into the past, and each episode provides listeners with different perspectives on a specific theme or subject by giving listeners all sides to the story and then more. For the first time, Backstory is acknowledging the works of public history with a prize. There are numerous public history projects that deserve to be acknowledged and it is wonderful several of them are being nominated for the prize. I did not know that other than museum associations there are recognition of excellence in public history projects, and it makes me happy to learn there is a way our work in public history that is recognized outside of academia.

I am also impressed that there was so much work that went into researching public history project. In the Williams’ blog post, she pointed out that

BackStory lead researcher Monica Blair created the list, thinking broadly about historical mediums, both physical and digital. In addition to online reviews, she looked up reviews in academic journals like “The Public Historian” and general newspapers like “The Washington Post.” For books, she turned to “The New York Times” Non-Fiction Bestsellers List and for podcasts, she used Apple Podcasts charts. Each nominee fell under a broadly conceived definition of American history.

I can imagine that there are so many projects that are out there but have not been acknowledged or noticed. After reading through the blog, there is a lengthy list for each category for the Backstory prize.

A list of categories and nominees is given to show which ones were nominated for this prize. The categories were films, documentaries, podcasts, plays, books, and exhibits and monuments both physical and digital. In the films category, there were 16 nominations which include The Post, Darkest Hour, First Man, Battle of the Sexes, and American Animals. In the documentaries category, there were 21 nominations and they include Rachel Carson: The Woman Who Launched the Modern Environmental Movement, Won’t You Be My Neighbor, Tell Them We Are Rising: The Story of Black Colleges and Universities, and Birth of a Movement. In the podcasts category, there were 23 nominations including Ben Franklin’s World, Omohundro Institute, The New York City Public Library Podcasts, American History Tellers, Wondery, Stuff You Missed in History Class, and Witness, BBC. In the play category, there were seven nominations including American Revolutions: The United States History Cycle, Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Come From Away, and Days of Rage.

In the book category, there were nine nominations which include The Gulf: The Making of an American Sea by Jack E. Davis, Darkness Falls on the Land of Light: Experiencing Religious Awakenings in Eighteenth-Century New England by Douglas L. Winiarski, Hitler in Los Angeles: How Jews Foiled Nazi Plots Against Hollywood and America by Steven J. Ross, and These Truths: A History of the United States by Jill Lepore. In the exhibits and monuments both physical and digital category, there were 31 nominations including The National Memorial for Peace and Justice — Equal Justice Initiative, Black Citizenship in the Age of Jim Crow — New York Historical Society Museum and Library, Echoes of the Great War: American Experiences of World War I — Library of Congress, Righting a Wrong: Japanese Americans and World War II — National Museum of American History, and City of Hope: Resurrection City & the 1968 Poor People’s Campaign — National Museum of African American History and Culture.

Each of these categories, except for the book category, have links to each of the nominations listed to show and describe the projects. The blog post also gave a brief description of the decision process for selecting a project for the BackStory prize.

The hosts of BackStory, Ed Ayers, Brian Balogh, Nathan Connolly and Joanne Freeman, as well as the Senior Producer David Stenhouse were joined by guest judges Chris Jackson (“Hamilton” on Broadway) and Margot Lee Shetterly (“Hidden Figures”) to review the nominees to determine the best project. There was a rigorous debate and ultimately decided and announced The National Memorial for Peace and Justice — Equal Justice Initiative was the winner. The National Memorial, which opened on April 26, 2018 in Montgomery, Alabama, according to the website:

is the nation’s first memorial dedicated to the legacy of enslaved black people, people terrorized by lynching, African Americans humiliated by racial segregation and Jim Crow, and people of color burdened with contemporary presumptions of guilt and police violence.

With so many nominated for the prize, I can imagine that it was a long and challenging process to select one project. Especially in this day in age, The National Memorial is important for all to visit and pay respect, so we will never forget this sad period in our history. I recommend taking the time to review each nomination to learn about what public history projects are out there.

Resources:

https://www.backstoryradio.org/blog/recognizing-the-best-in-public-history/

https://museumandmemorial.eji.org/memorial

https://www.backstoryradio.org/ http://www.ccsu.edu/history/graduate/MA_publicHistory.html

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