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Lubar Syllabus - Methods in Public Humanities 2009

Lubar Syllabus - Methods in Public Humanities 2009

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Published by: Steven Lubar on Oct 14, 2012
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AMCV1550 Methods in Public Humanities, Spring 2009
Prof. Steven Lubar 
Lectures: MW 11:00, Wilson Hall 309Discussion section: Undergraduates, F 11:00, Wilson 309; Graduate students, W 1:30, JNBCEmail:lubar@brown.eduPhone: 401-863-1177Office hours: JNBC, 357 Benefit Street M 2:30-3:30
This course provides a survey of publichumanities work, including cultural heritage preservation and interpretation, museumcollecting and exhibition, informal education,and community cultural development. It alsoincludes an overview of the contexts of that work in nonprofit cultural organizations:management, trusteeship, and development.We’ll put much of what we learn to use in a final project: an exhibition on the Fox Point Cape Verdean community of the 1930s. Working with community members, we’ll find objects and images, determine themes, write labels, and organize a display for the Carriage HouseGallery, and perhaps a virtual exhibition.
This course focuses on the work that public humanists do:techniques, concerns, and practical issues. We’ll look whathappens behind the scenes in museums and other culturalorganizations in order to understand how the people whowork there make decisions about content, interpretation, and presentation. We will try to understand and appreciate thework that public humanists do—as well as to question someof their assumptions and techniques.The course is organized into four parts. Part 1 addresses thefundamental question in any discussion of cultural heritage:what’s worth saving, what’s worth remembering, and why?How do we as individuals and as communities decide whatwe want to keep? What is the role of the expert in that process? Part 2 considers the ways in which the things wesave and remember are interpreted, presented to the public.Part 3 considers civic engagement, and Part 4, theinstitutions that do this preserving and presenting.In general, Monday’s class is a lecture; Wednesday,sometimes a lecture, sometimes a visitor; Friday(Wednesday, for graduate students), a discussion section. Inthe discussion, we’ll talk about the material in the lectures,and also the readings. You should read the assigned weeklyreading (marked with a *) early in the week. Additionalreadings of interest are listed on the syllabus as well. Thereadings are on reserve at the Rockefeller Library or on thelibrary’s reserve site (OCRA): the password is jnbc. Manyare also at the JNBC library. There is a class blog, athttp://blogs.brown.edu/course/spring09_amcv1550s01/. Iwill post the class powerpoints there, as well as other materials of interest. Check it at least once a week. The classdeals with contested issues: it would be good to keep upwith web sites, blogs, and newspaper stories on culturalheritage. Feel free to post articles or web sites of interest tothe blog.The course looks at methods, the art of getting things done.The assignments reflect this. You’ll write letters andmemoranda, presenting guidance to a boss about whatshould be done, and why. You’ll work in teams for some of the assignments. There’s a real project at the end, withdeadlines throughout the semester and an opening date, onethat requires working with curators, designers, and other  professionals, and with members of the community. Pleaserespect their time and expertise as you work with them; youneed to have a professional relationship with them. Theclass will work as the exhibition team, and your work will be graded based both on your individual work, and your ability to work as part of a group.Your grade is based on writing, class participation, and thefinal project. The papers are described in detail at the end of the syllabus. Briefly:1.
Advise on a contentious historical project (10%)2.
Proposal for new program in communitymemory, oral history, and intangible heritage(10%)3.
Exhibit labels (10%)4.
“Ethics bowl” question (1 page) (10%)5.
Writing labels for “Fox Point exhibition (20%)6.
Participation in other aspects of the exhibition,including organization, PR, events, installation,and more (20%)Class participation—questions, discussion sections—willcount for the other 20 percent of your grade.
AMCV1550 Assignments
Assignment 1: Memorandum and letter to the editor, on one of the three contentious historical projects discussed inclassDraft due 2/4, revised paper due 2/13
Choose one of the three case studies considered in class last week: the Park Service fight with those who would makePaterson a national park, Ken Burn’s invitation to talk on race during the Inauguration, or the critique of the NationalMuseum of American History published in the
Weekly Standard 
. Read the articles assigned, and explore the relevant websites. Pretend you are the advisor to a decision-maker: the head of the Sixth & I Historic Synagogue, the director of the Park Service, or the director of the NMAH, and write a 3-page memorandum summarizing the issues involved at the site. Giveenough background for the director to understand the history and issues. Consider the “ownership question” (who has theright to tell the story?) and the politics of the decision. Conclude with practical advise. What should be done? What advisewould you give? Who should be involved in the discussions leading to a decision, and what process should be followed?Include a 200-word letter to the editor of a relevant newspaper, to be signed by the director.
Assignment 2: Community Memory and Local HistoryDraft due 2/23; revised paper due 3/5
Write a 3-5 page memorandum to either the director of the Providence Preservation Society, the director of the Rhode IslandHistoric Society, or the director of the Rhode Island Council for the Humanities, describing recent developments incommunity memory, oral history, and intangible heritage, and setting out a program for his or her organization to follow toexpand into these areas. Be convincing: explain why this is a good idea. Do some research on the organization you choose sothat you can argue from present mission, audience, collections, and expertise. Give some examples of other organizations thathave done a good job of collecting and presenting this material. Spell out a specific plan of areas to collect, ways to use thematerial, and audiences that it will attract. (Extra credit: prepare a rough budget, with staffing and costs, and suggest potentialgranting agencies or foundations that might be interested in funding the project.)
Assignment 3: Exhibit LabelsDraft due 3/11; revised paper due 3/20
Write two exhibition labels.Label 1. For any exhibition that you’ve visited, or viewed on the web, write a new main label, 200 words long, exactly.Label 2. For any object, or group of objects, on display at Brown: write a descriptive label that might be posted next to theobject to explain it better. There are many choices, including the artwork in exhibitions and outdoor sculpture; the antiquecomputers at CIT; material on display at the library; even the exhibition of rebar (extra credit if you find this!). 100 wordsexactly.
Assignment 4: Ethics Bowl questionDue 4/16
Write an “ethics bowl” question, using as models the sample questions at the Society of American Archaeology ethics bowlweb site (http://www.saa.org/aboutSAA/committees/ethics/eBowlcases.html) or those athttp://www.iupui.edu/~mstd/a403503/ethicsbowl5.html. Your question, a paragraph or two in length, should address anethical issue that a museum curator or director, historic preservationist, or community cultural worker might find in his or her daily work. It should be complex and open-ended enough to allow for debate, and should reflect the issues raised in the codesof ethics listed on the syllabus.OR: Compare two of the codes of ethics. Why are they different? What does this say about the two organizations thatcomposed them?
Assignment 5: Fox Point exhibition and research
These assignments are to be done in small groups – each group will be responsible for one section of the exhibit, with onegroup responsible for overall organization of the show. Details, including dates, will be refined as we go along, but it willlook something like this.
5A: Due 4/1:
Group research/exhibition paper 
3-4 pages outlining a section of the exhibit – what history is important for thistopic? What artifacts are available? What images? What 2-3 points need to be made?
5B: Due 4/3.
The group should also prepare a PowerPoint presentation about their section, 5 minutes, to be presented in class4/3.
5C: Due 4/6.
Draft section labels (roughly 100 words) for the Fox Point exhibit due to teaching fellows from each group.Final section labels
due 4/10. All objects and images must be selected and available by 4/10.5D: Due 4/15
: Final script (object and images labels) for Fox Point exhibit due.
Assignment 6: Exhibition organization, design, publicity, installation, programs, and eventsApril 1 – April 29
Participate in some aspect of the exhibition beyond research, writing, and object and image selection. Details to be workedout in class. Mostly group work.

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