Historians and Journalists Gather at UMass Amherst March 4-5 to Rethink Communicating History in the Digital Age

Illustration by visual note-taker Amanda Lyons, who will be one of the participants in the March 2016 History Communication summit at UMass Amherst.
Illustration by visual note-taker Amanda Lyons, who will be one of the participants in the March 2016 History Communication summit at UMass Amherst.

AMHERST, Mass. – The history department at the University of Massachusetts Amherst is hosting a March 4-5 national summit on “History Communication,” bringing together prominent historians, journalists and thinkers from across the history profession to discuss the communication of history in the digital and mobile age.

This invitation-only summit – the first of its kind – will examine new approaches for communicating history to 21st century audiences, with an eye toward developing a new curriculum for training graduate students to communicate history to non-experts using mobile and digital technologies.

On Friday at 7 p.m., the summit will open its doors to the general public for its feature event, a series of on-stage, 10-minute “lightning talks” by leading figures in the field. The event, which takes place in Campus Center’s Amherst Room will be moderated by Jason Steinhauer of the Library of Congress and New England Public Radio producer and reporter Susan Kaplan, and will include:

  • Jim Grossman, executive director of the American Historical Association
  • Jamia Wilson, executive director of WAM: Women Action Media!
  • Slate.com history writer Rebecca Onion
  • Ed Ayers of BackStory with the American History Guys, president of the Organization of American Historians and recipient of a 2014 National Humanities Medal
  • Time’s history and archives editor Lily Rothman
  • Award-winning filmmaker and curator Shola Lynch
  • UMass Amherst history professor Julio Capó, Jr.

Marla Miller, director of the UMass Amherst public history program and co-organizer of the event, calls the summit “an important step forward in thinking about how history gets communicated beyond the academy in the digital and mobile age.”

“This summit builds on UMass’ Public History Program’s long-standing leadership in training students to communicate history beyond the academy, and it coincides with the 10th anniversary of our writer in residence program,” she says.

The Library of Congress’s Steinhauer, also a co-organizer of the event, is a public historian based at the John W. Kluge Center in Washington, D.C. He is the originator of the term “History Communicator,” and has been the leader of the growing movement within the profession to focus attention on how historians communicate to non-experts in today’s digital environment.

“Today we have the means to communicate and disseminate historical knowledge in ways almost unimaginable a generation ago,” said Steinhauer. “The history profession has an opportunity to think critically about how we communicate historical scholarship to 21st century audiences, and how we best make use of all the tools available to us. This workshop will help to further stimulate those conversations.”

The summit is being offered in partnership with the Innovate program at Purdue University and the National History Center of the American Historical Association with support from the UMass Amherst Dean of Humanities and Fine Arts, the UMass Amherst Provost’s Office, Five Colleges, Inc., and the UMass Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research and Engagement. The UMass Amherst Graduate School is a co-sponsor of the lightning talks. A follow up summit is planned for summer 2016 in Washington, D.C.


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