Public History Projects
Public history as a practice means connecting past ideas, lives, and experiences to the present day, illustrating the need for continual re-interpretation, and communicating the gripping interest of historical research to those outside of academia. The experience of considering the broader implications of their academic work has invited students — and invites our broader audience — to consider the meaning and uses of information in general, and of history in particular, in public debates and in the formation of communal (national, racial, ethnic, religious) identities. Projects in public, applied, and digital history enable students to explore how history is put to work in the world and deployed in the public sphere. Students engage with questions around history, memory, commemoration, and identity, by producing public history projects in a variety of forms, including museum exhibits, websites, and more.
Where Fear and Wonder Meet: 400 Years of Animals and Monsters at William H. Hannon Library
In spring 2019, the students in Professor Amy Woodson-Boulton’s Museums and Society course curated a pop-up exhibition titled “Where Fear and Wonder Meet: 400 Years of Animals and Monsters.” After spending the semester studying the history and theory of museums and museology, the students put their skills to work to stage an exhibition – from start to finish – using the collections of the Department of Archives and Special Collections at William H. Hannon Library. Students selected artifacts, developed an exhibition concept, designed the exhibition, wrote the labels for individual artifacts, wrote and recorded the audio guide, and developed publicity materials for the exhibition. Organized around the theme of animals and monsters in history, “Where Fear and Wonder Meet” included objects ranging from seventeenth-century books of monstrous births, to Aesop’s Fables and Puss in Boots, to production materials from Planet of the Apes.
Grappling with the Nazi Past
Students in Professor Elizabeth Drummond’s spring 2019 HIST 4273 Nazi Germany class created a website with two parts. They collaborated on a digital timeline for the history of Nazi Germany, with each student focusing on a particular theme. Using primary sources from the German History in Documents and Images (GHDI) digital archive, the German Propaganda Archive, and other digital repositories, each student contributed ten entries to the timeline, each with a link to the primary source and an accompanying image (sometimes itself the primary source). Taken together, the timeline explores the origins of Nazi ideology and its development over time, the nature of the Nazi state and German society under Nazism, and some of the legacies of Nazism in postwar Germany. The primary sources used for the timeline then became the source base for each student’s analytical essay, which were posted to the research blog section of the website. Later that year, the timeline project was published in the inaugural issue of Central Europe: An Undergraduate Yearbook.
Contested Representations: Debating Britain’s Imperial Legacy
In fall 2017, Professor Amy Woodson-Boulton’s Topics in Public History course on Britain, Ireland, & the Empire introduced students to the issues and practice of public history through a study of the British Isles in relation to the world. How have the British and Irish debated their role in Europe, their own national identities, and their role as colonizers and colonized? What debates over commemoration, visibility, and invisibility or erasure have become important for people in Britain, Ireland, and their former colonies? Students identified and researched a specific topic related to Britain, Ireland, and the world, and collaborated to translate their projects into a website, Contested Representations: Debating Britain's Imperial Legacy. Putting their study of public history theory into practice, students created web pages exploring multiple public history debates: over monuments, over commemorating episodes in the struggle for Irish independence, over the legacies of the Troubles, over the memory of the World Wars, and over the processes of cultural decolonization.
Technohistory! A Social & Cultural History of Technology
In fall 2017, the students in Professor Elizabeth Drummond’s Honors History class examined the social and cultural history of technology, using a variety of technologies as means to understand broader historical developments in Europe; Europeans’ interactions with other parts of the world; the relationship between technology and political, intellectual, economic, social, and cultural developments; and how our everyday lives are shaped by technologies, which in turn are shaped by our own wants, needs, and desires. Almost all of the assignments in the course – analytical essays, “unessays,” fictional memoirs, op/ed columns, a time map – became part of a course website, examining the history of technology since Gutenberg’s invention of the printing press.
Overcoming the Past: The History & Memory of Nazi Germany
In spring 2017, the students in Professor Elizabeth Drummond’s Nazi Germany class grappled with the history and memory of Nazism and the Holocaust, what Germans call Vergangenheitsbewältigung. Each student chose a topic related to the history of Nazism, within the broader themes of the Nazi rise to power in the context of the Weimar Republic, the Nazi state and German society, Nazi racial policy and the Holocaust, World War II, and the postwar legacies of Nazi Germany. They traveled to Berlin over Spring Break to examine how Germans themselves have grappled with the history of Nazi Germany, visiting museums, memorials, and other sites of memory in Berlin and the surrounding areas, to see how Germans have engaged in discourses of public history and memorialization. Upon their return, they created their own public website about the history of Nazism and the Holocaust.
Thomas Horsfall in Context
In spring 2016, the students in Professor Amy Woodson-Boulton’s undergraduate History seminar “The Artist and the Machine” conducted research into the work of Thomas Horsfall and the historical context in which he worked. Horsfall was a Victorian reformer who worked to bring art to one of the poorest areas in industrial Manchester, and The Horsfall Space has recently opened near the location of his original Ancoats Art Museum to continue his work, using art for healing and community building. Each student chose a topic related to Horsfall’s work, and then they formed groups around relevant themes – art, nature, labor, children, and the city. The project developed in concert with the mental health charity The Horsfall Space, the Manchester Art Gallery, and the University of Manchester, and the class visited Manchester over Spring Break to share their initial ideas and website plan with the Horsfall Space web team. The resulting website examines specific objects, texts, and images from the Ancoats Art Museum and the broader culture, in order to understand the ideas behind Horsfall’s work, and will be integrated into the new Horsfall Space website.
Not Silent: Finding Voices in Civil War Artifacts
Students in Professor Carla Bittel’s fall 2014 Civil War seminar commemorated the 150th anniversary of the U.S. Civil War by curating an exhibition of manuscripts and artifacts from the Department of Archives & Special Collections at William H. Hannon Library. They studied remnants of everyday life to recover a diversity of voices: women and men, slave and free, citizen and soldier. These artifacts were “not silent,” but capsules of information about known and unknown people of the past. The resulting exhibit was part of a broader campus-wide collaborative program – Voices of the Civil War Speak at LMU – to commemorate the sesquicentennial of the end of the American Civil War.
Living in a Socialist City: Urban Strategies in East Germany
In fall 2010, five students from LMU – Elizabeth Hedge (2012), Julianna Herrera (2011), Jaskeerat Malik (2013), Ashley Noehrbass (2013), and Nolan Rivkin (2013) – and five students from Leipzig University (Germany) participated in a workshop about museum studies, public history, and the history of the German Democratic Republic, which was co-organized by Professor Elizabeth Drummond, Leo Schmieding of the University of Leipzig, and Cristina Cuevas-Wolf of the Wende Museum in Culver City. Using artifacts from the museum, which is dedicated to the visual and material culture of the former East Germany and other states of the Soviet Bloc, the students curated an online exhibit about life in East German cities. The exhibit explored the strategies used to communicate socialist ideas across media and public spaces as well as the citizen responses to their urban environment. The exhibit, in both English and German, was featured on the Wende Museum website from August 2013 through July 2017. Two LMU students published their reflections on the project on the blog Undergraduate Research in German and European Studies:
- Nolan Rivkin (2013), “On the Benefits of Attending College Next to an Archive”
- Elizabeth Hedge (2012), “The Wende Museum Workshop: A Reflection on Collaborative Research