This symposium will provide a forum to compare and contrast the theory and practice of public history in North America and the United Kingdom. The recent international dimension of public history discourse has generated considerable interest in how public history is conceptualized and practiced in different countries. This event follows a series of Public History conferences (co)-hosted by the IHR since 2006, most recently the international public history conference at Liverpool in 2008.
Since the term ‘public history’ was coined in the United States in the 1970s, it has been without clear, consistent, or formal definition in North America. Likewise, in the United Kingdom the multiplicity of voices and approaches has so far precluded consistent definitions. Until relatively recently, ‘public history’ has been particularly associated with ‘people’s history’ or ‘history from below’ in the 1970s tradition of Raphael Samuel and the History Workshop. Yet public history practices more widely have been ubiquitous for decades, conceptualized as ‘heritage’, museum studies, or public engagement with history. Increasingly, public history is now becoming one of the frameworks within which British concerns with cultural identity and heritage, resource management, institutional memory, civic engagement, and entertainment are being conceptualized. As a field—consolidated over three decades in the U.S. and Canada—Public History is in the process of organization in the U.K., witness the History & Policy initiative, the launch of IPUP York, MA programmes, and various websites, and the attention given to Public History by professional organizations. Yet, differences also are evident: for instance, in the U.S. and Canada, a wide variety of federal agencies and federal laws drive a sizable portion of public history practice, whereas the U.K. displays a comparative paucity of public history in the areas of policy formation and implementation.
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