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UMass Sesquicentennial

University of Massachusetts Amherst

History Department

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Contact us:

History Dept., Herter Hall
University of Massachusetts
161 Presidents Drive
Amherst, MA 01003-9312

Tel. 413.545.1330
Fax. 413.545.6137



Public History Courses


Undergraduate Courses
Although we have no formal concentration for undergraduates, we have recently developed a new course, Introduction to Public History, that will allow undergraduates to contemplate the theory and practice of our field . This course is being offered in the Fall 2013 semester. Other courses that have enabled undergraduates to learn about the field of Public History have included a Junior Writing Seminar titled "The Power of Place: The Politics of Memory on the UMass Campus"; "Mining the Museum: Adventures in the Theory and Practice of Museum Work" (Hist 497b, taught on site at the Emily Dickinson Homestead); Public History workshop (Hist 397s) offered by Professor David Glassberg; and Monuments and Memorials (Art 297J/597J), offered by Architecture + design Professor Max Page. In Spring 2009, adjunct research associate Cathy Stanton offered a course at Hampshire College on the "Politics of Urban Heritage." In 2010, we added a new course that will be of interest to students contemplating careers in museums, Introduction to American Material Culture.

Graduate Courses
After completion of the Introduction to Public History (History 659), graduate students pursuing the Public History certificate are required to complete two linked courses in some area of Public History. In order to fulfill these requirements, past students have completed courses in Landscape Architecture and Regional Planning, Art History, Architecture, Public Policy, and other departments across campus. Most students interested in Museum Studies fulfill their requirements in the History Department's graduate-level course in this area, History 662 (see below).

659 Public History
Public History is history that is seen, heard, read and interpreted by a popular audience. Public historians expand on the methods of academic history by emphasizing non-traditional evidence and presentation formats, reframing questions, and in the process creating a distinctive historical practice. Public history is also history that belongs to the public. By emphasizing the public context of scholarship, public history trains historians to transform their research to reach audiences outside the academy. History 659 introduces students to the “distinctive historical practice” of Public History. The first few weeks of the course will examine the various public images and uses of history, past and present. Topics include how versions of the past are created, institutionalized and disseminated as the public history in civic celebrations, memorials and monuments; in popular culture, including television and film; and in the landscape. We will also consider the relationship of these public histories to more private versions of the past communicated among family and friends (the relationship between public history and collective memory). The remainder of the course will examine some of the particular issues confronted by historians who work in public history settings such as museums and historic sites, historic preservation agencies, archives, history-related web sites and documentary film. Note: This course is required for those seeking an MA with a concentration in public history; it is highly recommended for others interested in the place of history in modern American culture. Course requirements include a significant group service project with a local organization.

Sample Syllabus

661 Readings in American Material Culture
The aim of this course is to introduce graduate students to study of "history from things," or material culture. Throughout the semester, we will attend both to the methods by which material culture can be harnessed for historical analysis and to significant genres or avenues of inquiry undertaken by scholars working with material culture sources. Each week, we will look closely at one work, selected either because it is, or will surely become, a classic work in American material culture studies. Here we will consider the careers of the authors themselves, how the work at hand fits into the larger trajectory of their careers as well as the larger trajectory of the field. Secondly, we will try to situate the work among others that have tackled similar sources or asked similar questions. Along the way, students will gain familiarity with the most significant literature in material culture studies, major trends in material culture historiography, and the leading figures who have given the field its shape and direction.

Sample Syllabus

662 Museum and Historic Site Interpretation
Students in this course will use their research and writing skills to develop exhibits, tours and public programming for area museums and historic sites. During the first half of the semester, seminar discussion will explore issues involved with the interpretation of objects and landscapes. During the remainder of the semester, students will devote most of their energies to field projects undertaken in teams for a nearby institution.

Sample Syllabus

691W Writing History
This is an experimental course that combines a passion for history and a dedication to writing. It will explore ways in which historians and others with a reverence for the past write well, in diverse manners, for their particular, chosen audiences. Featured will be visits by writers who have had success in bringing history to "publics" outside the academy. Permission of the instructors is required.

Sample Syllabus

693B Digital History
This course on digital history examines both the theoretical and practical impact of new media and technology on history, especially in the field of Public History. We will examine how digital media has influenced (and is still influencing) how we research, write, present and teach history. We will draw on theoretical readings as well as analyze the potential benefits and drawbacks of online resources, such as websites, wikis, and podcasts. A major component of the course will be a semester-long project that will require each student to develop a proposal for a digital historical resource and construct a home page for it. The semester project is an opportunity to experiment with new technologies and to overcome any anxieties students might have regarding the use of new media.

Course Website