What is "Public History", Anyway?

By Nina C. RSS Wed, February 19, 2020

On Thursday, February 20, David W. Young will appear at Parkway Central Library to discuss his book, Battles of Germantown: Effective Public History in America

Many Philadelphia residents are familiar with the annual reenactment of the historic 1777 Battle of Germantown—a loss for the Continental Army under the command of George Washington, but a critical moment in the American Revolution all the same. Bringing history to life and to the widest possible audience is one of the goals of "Public History."

Public History is a diverse and flexible field that embraces historic preservation, oral history, archives, and museum curation. Most of us have studied some history in school; we may even have enjoyed it. Public historians, in their many roles, reach the public in museums, in libraries, historical societies, on tour buses, and even via YouTube.

I met the author when he was the Executive Director of Cliveden, the historic house museum that was the site of the battle. I had recently completed a master’s degree in Public History at La Salle University and joined the staff of an organization called Historic Germantown. Historic Germantown is a consortium of historic organizations, now numbering 18 sites, museums, and destinations located in the Germantown section of Philadelphia. Germantown is remarkably rich in historic stories and architecture, but there are significant challenges to preserving and sharing these places with the public. At the same time, these sites are assets that can be employed to empower neighborhoods and build collaborations. David Young is a seasoned practitioner who can teach us how to build pride in our past and share our stories into the future.

If you have not experienced the Battle of Germantown, "Philadelphia’s Loudest Block Party," mark your calendar for the first Saturday in October!

The Battles of Germantown: Effective Public History in America event will take place on Thursday, February 20 at 6:30 p.m. in the Skyline Room on the 4th floor of Parkway Central Library. This event is free and open to the public, but registration is encouraged.

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