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Public History Scholarship

The faculty of the UMass Amherst Public History Program are leading scholars in the field, who through their own publications as well as service on editorial boards and as reviewers, help shape this field of inquiry. Some examples of this work are below. 


Books by Faculty 

Samuel Redman, Bone Rooms: From Scientific Racism to Human Prehistory in Museums (Harvard University Press, 2016)
In Bone Rooms, Samuel Redman unearths the story of how human remains became highly sought-after artifacts for both scientific research and public display. Seeking evidence to support new theories of human evolution and racial classification, collectors embarked on a global competition to recover the best specimens of skeletons, mummies, and fossils. The Smithsonian Institution built the largest collection of human remains in the United States, edging out stiff competition from natural history and medical museums springing up in cities and on university campuses across America. When the San Diego Museum of Man opened in 1915, it mounted the largest exhibition of human skeletons ever presented to the public. The study of human remains yielded discoveries that increasingly discredited racial theory; as a consequence, interest in human origins and evolution—ignited by ideas emerging in the budding field of anthropology—displaced race as the main motive for building bone rooms. Today, debates about the ethics of these collections continue, but the terms of engagement were largely set by the surge of collecting that was already waning by World War II.

Marla R. Miller and Max Page, Bending the Future: Fifty Ideas for the Next Fifty Years of Historic Preservation in the United States (University of Massachusetts Press, 2016).

On the 50th anniversary of the 1966 National Historic Preservation Act, Page and Miller's volume gathers fifty original essays -- or "provocations" -- that reflect on the past, present and future of this field.  The commentators include leading preservation professionals, historians, writers, activists, journalists, architects, and urbanists whose essays offer a distinct vision for the future and address related questions, including, Who is a preservationist? What should be preserved? Why? How? What stories do we tell in preservation? How does preservation contribute to the financial, environmental, social, and cultural well-being of communities? And if the “arc of the moral universe . . . bends towards justice,” how can preservation be a tool for achieving a more just society and world?

James Young, The Stages of Memory: Reflections on Memorial Art, Loss, and the Spaces Between (University of Massachusetts Press, 2016) ; Winner, National Council on Public History award for the "best book about or growing out of public history published within the previous two calendar years."

From around the world, whether for New York City’s 9/11 Memorial, at exhibits devoted to the arts of Holocaust memory, or throughout Norway’s memorial process for the murders at Utøya, James E. Young has been called on to help guide the grief stricken and survivors in how to mark their losses. This poignant, beautifully written collection of essays offers personal and professional considerations of what Young calls the “stages of memory,” acts of commemoration that include spontaneous memorials of flowers and candles as well as permanent structures integrated into sites of tragedy. As he traces an arc of memorial forms that spans continents and decades, Young returns to the questions that preoccupy survivors, architects, artists, and writers: How to articulate a void without filling it in? How to formalize irreparable loss without seeming to repair it?

Max Page, Why Preservation Matters (Yale University Press, 2016)

Every day, millions of people enter old buildings, pass monuments, and gaze at landscapes unaware that these acts are possible only thanks to the preservation movement. Historian Max Page offers a thoughtful assessment of the movement’s past and charts a path toward a more progressive future, arguing that if preservation is to play a central role in building more-just communities, it must transform itself to stand against gentrification, work more closely with the environmental sustainability movement, and challenge societies to confront their pasts. Touching on the history of the preservation movement in the United States and ranging the world, Page searches for inspiration on how to rejuvenate historic preservation for the next fifty years. 

Jon Berndt Olsen, Tailoring Truth: Politicizing the Past and Negotiating Memory in East Germany, 1945-1990 (Berghahn Books, 2015)

By looking at state-sponsored memory projects, such as memorials, commemorations, and historical museums, this book reveals that the East German communist regime obsessively monitored and attempted to control public representations of the past to legitimize its rule. It demonstrates that the regime’s approach to memory politics was not stagnant, but rather evolved over time to meet different demands and potential threats to its legitimacy. Ultimately the party found it increasingly difficult to control the public portrayal of the past, and some dissidents were able to turn the party’s memory politics against the state to challenge its claims of moral authority.

Marla Miller and Max Page, University of Massachusetts Amherst Campus Guide (Princeton Architectural Press, 2013) 
The newest title in our Campus Guide series takes readers on an architectural tour of University of Massachusetts Amherst. As one of the nation's oldest public universities, and the largest in the Northeast, the University has a rich and storied history. Initially chartered as the Massachusetts Agricultural College, the school has grown from fifty farmers to close to 24,000 students of diverse backgrounds and academic interests. The University's campus has also expectedly experienced parallel growth. From a few barns on the Berkshire foothills, the University now sits atop nearly 1,500 acres. Five carefully considered tours put the architectural history of the campus into context. 

Max Page, The City's End: Two Centuries of Fantasies, Fears, and Premonitions of New York's Destruction (Yale University Press, 2010) 
Max Page examines the destruction fantasies created by American writers and imagemakers at various stages of New York’s development. Seen in every medium from newspapers and films to novels, paintings, and computer software, such images, though disturbing, have been continuously popular. Page demonstrates with vivid examples and illustrations how each era’s destruction genre has reflected the city’s economic, political, racial, or physical tensions, and he also shows how the images have become forces in their own right, shaping Americans’ perceptions of New York and of cities in general. 

Max Page and Randall Mason eds,  Giving Preservation a History: Histories of Historic Preservation in the United States (Routledge, 2003) 
In this volume, some of the best figures in the field have come together to write on preservation movements across the country, from New York to Atlanta to Santa Fe and others. Giving Preservation a History also touches on the European roots of the historic preservation movement; on how preservation movements have taken a leading role in shaping American urban space and urban development; how historic preservation battles have reflected broader social forces; and what the changing nature of historic preservation means for the effort to preserve the nation's past. 

Max Page and Steven Conn,  eds,  Building the Nation: Americans Write About Their Architecture, Their Cities, and Their Landscape (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2003) 
Moving away from the standard survey that takes readers from architect to architect and style to style, Building the Nation: Americans Write About Their Architecture, Their Cities, and Their Landscape suggests a wholly new way of thinking about the history of America's built environment and how Americans have related to it. Through an enormous range of American voices, some famous and some obscure, and across more than two centuries of history, this anthology shows that the struggle to imagine what kinds of buildings and land use would best suit the nation pervaded all classes of Americans and was not the purview only of architects and designers. Some of the nation's finest writers, including Mark Twain, W. E. B. Du Bois, Henry James, Edith Wharton, Lewis Mumford, E. B. White, and John McPhee, are here, contemplating the American way of building. Equally important are those eloquent but little-known voices found in American newspapers and magazines which insistently wondered what American architecture and environmental planning should look like. 

David Glassberg, Sense of History: The Place of the Past in American Life (University of Massachusetts Press, 2001) 

In this book, David Glassberg surveys the shifting boundaries between the personal, public, and professional uses of the past and explores their place in the broader cultural landscape. Each chapter investigates a specific encounter between Americans and their history: the building of a pacifist war memorial in a rural Massachusetts town; the politics behind the creation of a new historical festival in San Francisco; the letters Ken Burns received in response to his film series on the Civil War; the differing perceptions among black and white residents as to what makes an urban neighborhood historic; and the efforts to identify certain places in California as worthy of commemoration. Along the way, Glassberg reflects not only on how Americans understand and use the past, but on the role of professional historians in that enterprise. 

Max Page, The Creative Destruction of Manhattan, 1900-1940 (University of Chicago Press, 1999) 
The oxymoron "creative destruction" suggests the tensions that are at the heart of urban life: between stability and change, between particular places and undifferentiated spaces, between market forces and planning controls, and between the "natural" and "unnatural" in city growth. Page investigates these cultural counterweights through case studies of Manhattan's development, with depictions ranging from private real estate development along Fifth Avenue to Jacob Riis's slum clearance efforts on the Lower East Side, from the elimination of street trees to the efforts to save City Hall from demolition. In these examples some New Yorkers celebrate planning by destruction or marvel at the domestication of the natural environment, while others decry the devastation of their homes and lament the passing of the city's architectural heritage. A central question in each case is the role of the past in the shaping of collective memory—which buildings are preserved? which trees are cut down? which fragments are enshrined in museums? Contrary to the popular sense of New York as an ahistorical city, the past—as recalled by powerful citizens—was, in fact, at the heart of defining how the city would be built. Winner of the 2001 Spiro Kostof Book Award from the Society of Architectural Historians. 

James E. Young, At Memory's Edge: After-Images of the Holocaust in Contemporary Art and Architecture (Yale University Press, 2002) 
How should Germany commemorate the mass murder of Jews once committed in its name? James E. Young, the only foreigner and the only Jew to serve on the German commission to select a design for a national Holocaust memorial, tells the inside story of this enormously controversial project. Young also inquires deeply into the moral and aesthetic questions surrounding artistic representations of the Holocaust produced by young artists who themselves did not experience it. 

David Glassberg, American Historical Pageantry: The Uses of Tradition in the Early Twentieth Century (University of North Carolina Press, 1990) 
At its peak, between 1910 and 1917, pageantry blended elements of the historical oration and the carnival parade and served as a vehicle for local boosterism, patriotic moralizing, and popular entertainment. Many of its promoters, immersed in the world of progressive reform movements, also viewed pageantry as a dramatic public ritual that could bring about social and political transformation. But embedded within the pageant form was a glorification of a distant past at the expense of the present, a facet of American culture that would later become even more prominent. By the mid-twentieth century, Glassberg shows, public imagery had begun to depict the past as something without ongoing significance for either the present or the future. At the same time, narratives of local community developmentt had given way to an emphasis on national unity, and the popularity of pageantry as a way of representing history in civic celebrations waned. 

 

Selected Articles and Book Chapters by Faculty 

Marla R. Miller and Anne Mitchell Whisnant, "Pulling from Outside, Pushing from Inside: Imperiled Promise and Change in the National Park Service," The Public Historian (Fall 2016); Honorable Mention, National Council on Public History G.Wesley Johnson Award for the best article in The Public Historian for the 2016 calendar year.

In 2011, The Organization of American Historians released Imperiled Promise: The State of History in the National Park Service, a multi-year team-authored study commissioned by the NPS Chief Historian. The study offered twelve findings assessing strengths and challenges facing history practice across the agency, and made almost one hundred recommendations that aimed to support that work.  The report’s fifth anniversary offers an opportunity to review how Imperied Promise’s proposals have fared across the agency.  The authors find that, though the report has been positively received and many of its perspectives and specific suggestions embraced, persistent structural issues that it identified continue to challenge full realization of the parks’ promise.  The OAH, NCPH, AHA and other professional associations, as well as their members, must continue to advocate strongly and consistently for NPS history.

Jon Berndt Olsen, "Commemorating Luther: Contested Memories and the Cold War," in Divided But Not Disconnected: German Experiences of the Cold War (Bergahn, 2010) 
The Allied agreement after the Second World War did not only partition Germany, it divided the nation along the fault-lines of a new bipolar world order. This inner border made Germany a unique place to experience the Cold War, and the “German question” in this post-1945 variant remained inextricably entwined with the vicissitudes of the Cold War until its end. This volume explores how social and cultural practices in both German states between 1949 and 1989 were shaped by the existence of this inner border, putting them on opposing sides of the ideological divide between the Western and Eastern blocs, as well as stabilizing relations between them. This volume’s interdisciplinary approach addresses important intersections between history, politics, and culture, offering an important new appraisal of the German experiences of the Cold War. 

Marla R. Miller, "‘Common Parlors’: Women and the Recreation of Community Identity in Deerfield, Massachusetts, 1870–1920," Gender & History, 6 (1994): pp. 435-455. 
For many vacationers, this quiet, tree-lined street simply offers respite from over-trafficked, demanding lives, but for most Deerfield offers something more, a chance to experience the seeming timelessness of a community steeped in the colonial period... While interpreters introduce visitors to prominent men who held positions of political economic or ecclesiastical power in the village's past, Deerfield's eighteenth-century women are met largely in chance encounters. Hearts and spinning wheels, traditional icons of women's work, collapse the real diversity among women in early America into one mythical Goodwife who worked tirelessly to provide food and clothing for her family. The colonial Goodwife looms so large that she obscures the experiences of subsequent generations. Most visitors would be surprised to learn of women's critical role in the late nineteenth-century recreation of Deerfield as the historic village it is today. 

Marla Miller, "Playing to Strength: Teaching Public History at the Turn of the 21st-Century," American Studies International, 42 (2004): pp. 174-212.
Presents a conversation about the nature and future of graduate education, and the place of public history in it. The increased attention paid to public history by the two leading professional organizations. Initiation of a regular column on public history in 1996, and its task force in 2001, while the OAH launched a Committee on Public History 1981, and a Committee on the National Park Service 1995--constitutes further evidence of changing attitudes within the profession at large. As the AHA and the NCPH continue to review and consider public history education, certain broader trends in public history, and higher education more generally are likely to influence the shape that education takes in the years to come. Faculty members should be encouraged to participate more actively in public history education, whether or not they see themselves as specialists in this area, helping relieving the burden on faculty members too-often identified as sole sources of public history knowledge, and modeling for students the continuum of public history practice within the academy. 

 

Public History Scholarship Produced by PH Program Faculty and Affiliated Scholars

Julio Capó, "Locating Miami's Queer History," LGBTQ America: A Theme Study of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer History, National Park Service, 2016

In the wee hours of a summer night in 1954, several Dade County deputies raided a handful of bars and nightspots throughout Miami and Miami Beach in what had popularly become known as their “pervert roundup.” Local law enforcement arrested nineteen “suspected perverts” that August night. Police, politicians, and those connected to the courts often used the term “pervert” to reference those thought to be homosexual or those who challenged gender norms, particularly by wearing clothes traditionally associated with the opposite sex. They raided those places that night just as they had in the past and would continue to do in the future. This was, by no means, an anomalous occurrence.

Marla R. Miller and Laura A. Miller, "A Generous Sea: Native Hawaiians, Pacific Islanders, and the Jewish Community" in New Bedford Whaling & Whaling Heritage,  ethnographic report for New Bedford Whaling National Historic Park,

This study aims to provide New Bedford Whaling National Historical Park with information about the historical participation of two ethnic groups in the New Bedford whaling industry—Pacific Islanders, and the Jewish community—and describe their continuing association with New Bedford and its whaling history.  The project also seeks to understand the evolution of the memory of whaling in New Bedford, especially as it pertains to these two groups.  Drawing on ethnographic and oral history interviews, archival and genealogical research, examination of crew lists and other data sources, and the use of a database provided by the NPS, the study argues that Pacific Islanders and Jewish New Bedford -- both 19th-century diasporic communities whose history in New Bedford is inextricably linked to global migration and geopolitical forces, particularly in the second and last quarters of the nineteenth century -- have been “collapsed,” in local memory, into a figure that simplifies that group’s history and role in maritime heritage.
 

Anne Mitchell Whisnant, Marla R. Miller, Gary B. Nash, and David Thelen, "Imperiled Promise: The State of History in the National Park Service", National Park Service, 2011

The National Park Service (NPS) takes care of and interprets some of hte most powerful and instructive historic places in the nation. Millions of Americans each year cultivate a deeper appreciation of the nation's past through encounters with historic buildings, landscapes, and narratives preserved by the NPS and its constituent agencies nad programs. At two-thirds of the nearly four hundred national park units, history is at the heart of the visitor experience, and human activity has profoundly shaped them all. History is central to the work of the Park Service. In 2008, the Organization of American Historians (OAH) agreed, at the behest of the  NPS chief historian's office, to undertake a study of "the State of History in the National Park Service." Four historians - Anne Mitchell Whisnant (University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill), Marla Miller (University of Massachusetts Amherst), Gary Nash (University of California, Los Angeles), and David Thelen (Indiana University) - were charged with carrying out this assessment.

Cathy Stanton and Jane Becker, "In the Heart of Polish Salem: An Ethnohistorical Study of St. Joseph Hall and Its Neighborhood," National Park Service, in Collaboration with University of Massachusetts Amherst History Department, 2009

This report focuses on Polish Americans in Salem, Massachusetts, and their associations with St. Joseph Hall (now owned by Salem Maritime National Historic Site) and the Derby Street neighborhood in which the national park site is located.  The report (1) documents how members of Salem's Polish American community have developed a sense of themselves as a collective group over time from the period of immigration through the present, (2) explores the role of the St. Joseph Society and its hall within their identity as a distinct ethnic community over time, and (3) provides a basis for future research and for an ongoing collaboration between community members and the park to document, preserve, and celebrate the history of Poles in Salem.

Leonard L. Richards, Marla R. Miller, and Erik Gilg, "A Return to His Native Town: Martin Van Buren's Life at Lindenwald, 1839 - 1862" , National Park Service, 2006

Martin Van Buren National Historic Site in Kinderhook, New York, was established in 1974 as a unit of the National Park System in order to preserve in public ownership a significant property associated with the life of Martin Van Buren, eighth president of the United States. The site consists of the core portion of "Lindenwald," Van Buren's working farm and country seat. Van Buren purchased the property in 1839, during his presidency, and from 1841 to his death in 1862, Van Buren made Lindenwald his primary residence, taking up the life of a gentleman farmer while continuing his political activities, and later, while writing his autobiography. Lindenwald was the base from which Van Buren launched two failed campaigns to regain the Presidency, first as a candidate for the Democratic nomination in 1844, and the nas the candidate for the Free Soil Party in 1848.   

Jack Ahern, David Glassberg, Elisabeth Haman, Ethan Carr, Mary Lee York, Sandra C. Krein, Mark Wamsley, "People and Places on the Outer Cape: A Landscape Character Study," National Park Service with the University of Massachusetts Amherst Department of Landscape Architecture and Regional Planning and Department of History, 2004

 


Public History in Historical Perspective

The Public History Program is home to the series Public History in Historical Perspective, a University of Massachusetts Press enterprise that explores, from different critical perspectives, how representations of the past in the U. S. and elsewhere have been mobilized to serve a variety of political, cultural, and social ends. Books in the series -- several of which have been recognized with prizes from the National Council on Public History and other shclarly communities -- offer analyses of interest not simply to public historians but also the wide community of scholars engaged in efforts to understand the role of history in public life.  Our editorial board includes leading scholars in the field who help identify and nurture the scholarship that will shape our field for years to come. 

Books in the Series (arranged by year of publication):

  • Erin Krutko Devlin, Remember Little Rock (forthcoming, 2017)
  • Catherine L. Whalen, Material Politics: Francis P. Garvan, American Antiques, and the Alchemy of Collecting in the Interwar United States (forthcoming, 2017) 
  • James E. Young, The Stages of Memory: Reflections on Memorial Art, Loss, and the Spaces Between (2016) 
  • Max Page and Marla R. Miller, Bending the Future: Fifty Ideas for the Next Fifty Years of Historic Preservation in the United States (2016)
  • Jessie Swigger, "History is Bunk": Assembling the Past at Henry Ford's Greenfield Village (2014)
  • Tammy S. Gordon, The Spirit of 1976: Commerce, Community, and the Politics of Commemoration (2013)
  • Max Page, ed., Memories of Buenos Aires: Signs of State Terrorism in Argentina (2013)
  • Andrea A. Burns, From Storefront to Monument: Tracing the Public History of the Black Museum Movement (2013)
  • Michael A. McDonnell, Clare Corbould, Frances M. Clarke, and W. Fitzhugh Brundage, eds., Remembering the Revolution: Memory, History, and Nation Making from Independence to the Civil War (2013)
  • Amy Tyson, The Wages of History: Emotional Labor on Public History's Front Lines (2013) 
  • William S. Walker, A Living Exhibition: The Smithsonian and the Transformation of the Universal Museum (2013)
  • Susan Reynolds Williams, Alice Morse Earle and the Domestic History of Early America (2013) 
  • Keith A. Erikson, Everybody's History: Indiana's Lincoln Inquiry and the Quest to Reclaim a President's Past (2012) 
  • Michael Van Wagenen, Remembering the Forgotten War: The Enduring Legacies of the U.S.-Mexican War (2012) 
  • Denise D. Meringolo, Museums, Monuments, and National Parks: Toward a New Genealogy of Public History (2012) 
  • Seth C. Bruggeman, ed. Born in the U.S.A.: Birth, Commemoration, and American Public Memory (2012) 
  • Briann C. Greenfield, Out of the Attic: Inventing Antiques in Twentieth-Century New England (2009)