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 every Fall semester, allowing students to follow up in Spring semesters with seminars and internships. 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. 

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. Students wishing to pursue a concentration in Archives can take advantage of our partnership with Simmons College. UMass Public History students can take two courses at Simmons on their home (UMass) tuition.  Occasional courses relevant to students interested in archival work are also offered from time to time at UMass (see below).

Public History Courses Offered in Regular Rotation: 

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;Sample Syllabus; 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; 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)

697J/797J Comparative Memory 
The phenomenon of cultures of memory has emerged over the past decade as a subject of serious historical scholarship.  The aim of this seminar is to discuss the problem of national memory cultures since the Second World War. We will begin the semester by looking at theories of memory and national identity since 1945. Although the primary thrust of our readings will deal with remembering the Second World War, we will also delve into other areas of remembering. The German concept of Vergangenheitsbewähltigung, or coming to terms with the past, and its relationship to national identity will serve as our guiding analytical tool for our investigation into this topic. We will look at a variety of nation-states in Europe as well as the United States and Japan in order to compare and contrast national forms of memory culture and ponder questions of universality versus distinct historical experience.  We will also concentrate on the political and cultural aspects that different national forms of remembering have had on the historical development of these nations. (Sample Syllabus)

697U/797U Landscape and Memory 
This seminar explores the relationship between historical consciousness and environmental perception, or "sense of history" and "sense of place." Among the topics we will consider are how individuals and groups identify with particular environments; represent those environments in words and pictures; and transform those environments through the creation of monuments and memorials, historic preservation, and heritage tourism. Of particular interest are issues associated with the identification and protection of cultural landscapes.   We will discuss theoretical works and case studies drawn from a variety of disciplines, including cultural geography, history, anthropology, and landscape architecture. Students registering for 697U will be responsible for leading discussions and writing two short papers based on weekly readings, as well as a final presentation and short paper analyzing a particular site.  Students registering for 797U will be expected to lead discussions and write an original research paper exploring some aspect of this phenomenon in a particular place and time. (Sample Syllabus)

Public History Courses Offered on an Occasional Basis/Courses in Allied Departments: 

Hist 692D: Indigenous Peoples and Public History  
Museums, archives, monuments and commemorative events have long contributed to a master narrative in which indigenous peoples die out, disappear, or make room for progress.  This seminar will examine past and present examples, then take a look at how indigenous communities are reclaiming public history spaces at the local, regional and international level. Open to graduate students in any field and to advanced undergraduates with instructor permission. (Sample Syllabus)

Simmons College, LIS 438 Introduction to Archival Methods and Sources 
Fundamentals of a wide range of archival activities, including appraisal, acquisitions, arrangement, description, reference, and access. Overview of history and terminology of the profession. Discussion of the types and varieties of archival repositories and the value of historical records beyond traditional research use. Course includes a required 60-hour internship completed in an archives or manuscript repository. Required course for Archives Management Concentration. (See Simmons College for more information)

UMass Anthropology, 697TR Interpretive Trails  
This course will be an examination of cultural heritage tourism with an emphasis on interpretive trails. We will look locally, nationally, and internationally to gain an overview of the scale, scope and organization of interpretive trail planning; emphasis on development of cultural and heritage resources of tourism; and identification of issues related to the economic, technological and political aspects of interpretive trail tourism. Some of the complex issues we will examine include: What are the collaborative processes involved in choosing sites for inclusion? Indigenous communities often have holistic views of landscapes that cannot easily divide natural, cultural and spiritual landscapes. How these multiple aspects of a place best presented to diverse public audiences? Who decides which communities are included on multi-cultural trails, and how do diverse groups work together in developing and caring for trails, particularly when cultural concepts of “care” vary dramatically and can sometimes conflict? Some of the most significant challenges in cultural heritage tourism, and interpretive trails in particular, center around the decision to even identify a site. How do archaeologists and public historians work with communities to protect and preserve sites once their locations are publicly identified? (See Anthropology courses for more information)
UMass Public History students can also take courses in the Arts Administration, Historic Preservation, and Cultural Landscape ManagementPrograms.