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Public History

Christopher White and Helena Ratté examine old newspapers in the Bentley Historical Library for the spring 2015 Michigan in the World Program.

Public history is "history put to work in the world." [1] This may take the form of museum exhibits, documentary filmmaking, monuments and memorials, community history projects, reenactments, walking tours, interpretation of historic sites, and more. 

At U-M, History faculty, graduate students, and undergraduate students reach beyond the university, undertaking projects that encourage greater historical understanding among the public at large. Participating students gain valuable experience for a host of related jobs in museums, libraries, archives, foundations, cultural organizations, and more. Whatever their career path, historians will certainly benefit from the research, writing, presentation, and communication skills that come with public history projects.

The History Department and the Eisenberg Institute also offer lectures and symposia on public history, exploring theoretical approaches, pedagogical applications, and innovative projects.

Professor Michelle McClellan is the department's public history coordinator. Contact her to learn more about how undergraduate and graduate students can incorproate public history experience into their degree program and extracurricular activities.

U-M's Museum Studies Program also offers an undergraduate minor and graduate certificate in museum studies.

[1] National Council on Public History.

Michigan in the World: Local and Global Stories

Michigan in the World: Local and Global Stories (MITW) features online, public exhibitions of research conducted by undergraduate students about the history of U-M and its relationships with the wider world. As we approach the university's bicentennial in 2017, this endeavor of reconstruction, reflection, and communication will lay the foundations for a critical appraisal of our university’s trajectories and reach out to a variety of constituencies in the spirit of public history.

Undergraduates may participate by electing eligible MITW courses (History 497 seminars; check the course guide) or by applying for the paid spring internship program (details announced in winter term).

U-M History faculty choose topics, and under faculty direction, students engage in extensive original research in campus archives. In lieu of term papers or exams, students will present their findings in a public, online exhibit. Learn more from a news story on Professor Michelle McClellan's spring 2016 MITW program on the history of women at U-M and a feature on Professor Matthew Lassiter's winter 2015 History 497 course exploring campus activism at the university.  

Michigan in the World is a partnership of the History Department and the Eisenberg Institute for Historical Studies, with additional support from Lisa and Timothy J. Sloan.

Resistance and Revolution: Anti-Vietnam War Activism at the University of Michigan, 1965-1972 (Winter 2015)
The University of Michigan and The Great War (Spring 2015)
Divestment for Humanity: The Anti-Apartheid Movement at the University of Michigan (Winter 2015)
"A Dangerous Experiment": Women at the University of Michigan (Spring 2016)
Ending the Business of Injustice: Anti-Sweatshop Activism at the University of Michigan, 1999-2007 (Winter 2015)

Graduate Student Projects

Graduate students Matthew Woodbury (left) and Kate Silbert (right) with Harmon Velie at Dr. Bob's Home. Velie is the chair of Founders’ Foundation, the organization that oversees the site.

Graduate students may undertake public history programs in course work, extracurricular projects, or as research assistants. 

Recent initiatives include:

Henry Gerber House (Chicago, IL): Successful National Historic Landmark nomination authored by Amanda Hendrix-Komoto (PhD 2015) and PhD students Jonathan Farr (History) and Andrea Rottmann (Germanic Languages and Literatures); this is the second LGBTQ landmark recognized by the National Park Service.

Dr. Bob Smith House (Akron, OH): Successful National Historic Landmark nomination authored by graduate students in Professor Michelle McClellan's public history seminar; Smith was one of the co-founders of Alcoholics Anonymous, and the home played a significant role the development of the organization.

"Bad Habit: Drinks, Drags, and Drugs in Washtenaw County History" Exhibit: This exhibit, based on undergradaute student research supervised by Diana Mankowski (a recent U-M History PhD), debuted at the Washtenaw County Historical Society in February, 2012.