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2012 Spring Issue 8 (May 25, 2012)

New Course That Tackles the Making of Public History to Be Offered Next Spring

May 25, 2012
By Kaitlyn Gerber

The Carleton History Department will offer a new course next year on the production and consumption of public history.

“We have been talking for years about ways to introduce our students to public history more effectively,” said Professor Susannah Ottaway, chair of the department. “This year we have had a subcommittee working in a sustained way to explore the many ways in which we could do this.” The solution, she explained, was the creation of a new course: “Finding History: Museums, Monuments, and Memory,” formally designated History 285.

 “‘History’ is not just the name of the department at Carleton College,” reads the course description. “‘History-making’ is an activity engaged in by everyone, everyday.” It goes on to describe the course as an explanation of “the varied and sometimes risky terrain of contemporary history-making,” which will include watching historical movies, reading memoirs, and listening to and analyzing political speeches that invoke history. Most importantly, the course will teach students how to “find history today in Minnesota, and more broadly, in popular culture”—whether it be theatre, film, television, schools, oral history projects, or even on the internet.

When asked about the importance of the course, Ottaway explained that many Carleton history majors go on to work in public history settings, such as the current executive director of the National Council of Public History (an ’87 graduate) and a previous head of Historic Williamsburg (a ’63 graduate). Many others end up in diverse areas of public history, such as documentary filmmaking, museum studios, and national park services.

History 285 is also designed to appeal to a broad range of students.

“We hope that students, both history majors and non-history majors, will learn how to be more sophisticated in their production and consumption of public history,” said Ottaway.

As an example, she noted that CAMS students would benefit from the discussion of documentary films, Studio Art and Theatre majors might enjoy discussions of historical performances and exhibits, and English majors could thrive in discussions about journalism and writing historically.

“For our majors going on in related fields of public history, the course will be a great launching pad for their careers in public history,” she explained, “but for many other students, the course will simply provide a way to engage more effectively and think more critically about the way in which we are all exposed to historical narratives.”

Ottaway also explained that while many Carleton professors already work in public history, none felt that they could currently teach such a broad course on methods and theories of public history. As a result, the department hired a local expert, Brian Horrigan, to teach the course. Horrigan currently works at the Minnesota Historical Society, and has taught the public history methods course at Hamline for nearly a decade.

Ottaway said that Carleton faculty “are looking forward to learning from Brian as we think about our own directions for course development in public history.”

For more information about History 285, please contact Susannah Ottaway. “Museums, Monuments, and Memory” will be offered in Spring 2013.

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