AMST2650: Introduction to Public Humanities
Class: Wednesday 3:00-5:20, Nightingale-Brown House
Office Hours: Tuesday 2-4 or by appointment
This graduate seminar considers some of the big questions in the public humanities, providing a background
that will help students understand the choices made in preserving, interpreting, and presenting art, history and
culture. We address these issues by reading theory and discussing case studies to see how theory plays out in
practice, and by considering contemporary projects in the light of both theory and historical examples.
The course is organized into three parts. Part 1 addresses community. Who is the “public” in public humanities?
What is the relationship that we, as professionals, should have with them? How might we best work with them?
Part 2 asks the question “Who Own Culture?” and considers both philosophical answers and practical
considerations of policy and practice, and examines historical and contemporary case studies. Part 3 focuses on
memory. How does society decide what’s worth remembering? What role do we, as public humanities
professionals, play in shaping, sharing, and interpreting public memories.
The point of this course is not to critique the literature, but to learn from it. Our goal is to understand the issues
in making decisions in working with culture, and with the public. As you read, and in class discussions, try to
come up with a set of rules, concerns, techniques, and considerations for public humanities work. How might
what we read be applied to exhibits, collections, performance, in preserving the build environment, and
interpreting the world around us? How do these authors, and the public and professionals they write about,
think about culture, the public, the past, and the institutions in which they work?
How the course works: there’s a book, or several articles, to read each week. (I’ve also listed additional books or
articles, should you want to explore further.) You should also keep up with contemporary writing on the web
and in popular and professional media. In each class, we’ll discuss the reading, work on related projects, and
jointly compile a set of guidelines that will be useful for public humanities work, including rules for community
engagement, cultural preservation, and interpretation.
This course is designed for graduate students interested in work in public humanities institutions.
Required and Optional Texts and Materials
All of the readings for the course are available online through Canvas and the Brown University Library, with the
exception of a few books, which are available for purchase at the bookstore and also on reserve at the Library
and the Public Humanities Center. Canvas includes a range of additional readings. Books are available in the
bookstore, in the Center for Public Humanities library and often, online.. Note that there are a great many related
books and article on reserve in the library, on Canvas, and in the JNBC library, and I’ll add more as the course
progresses. Additional readings (including books and articles considered for the class but not in the syllabus)
are available at my Zotero page, https://www.zotero.org/lubar/items/collectionKey/Q94R2F6R.
Attendance: Please try to attend every class, but if there are other engagements at class time that will also be
useful to your education and professional development, it’s up to you to make the call on which is more likely to
be valuable. Please let me know if you’re not able to make the class.
Participation: The class only works if you participate. Please read the readings, read further in areas of interest,
write on the blog and on Twitter, and come to class prepared to discuss what you’ve read and thought about.
Participation is evaluated by the quality of your comments: I’m interested not so much in critique, or your
opinions of the readings, as in what useful approaches and techniques you can gain from them. Be constructive:
refer to the readings, present new information from your experience and from outside readings, and suggest
new ideas. Participation should be a dialog, building on my remarks, and other students’ contributions, as part of
a conversation. You should speak up when you have something to say; in general, that should be more than once
in each class. Continue the conversation beyond class, through Twitter or other social media
Late work and make up: I would rather see an excellent paper than a less-good one turned in on time. Exceptions
are when we are working with an outside organization or on group projects: in those cases, meeting deadlines is
essential. As long as you turn in all of your work by the end of the course you’ll get credit for it. I’m happy to read
preliminary drafts of any assignment, or a second, improved, version. And email or come talk to me if you’d like
to discuss your assignments as you’re working on them, or after you’ve turned them in.
Field trips: Plan to attend the trip to New York City November 22.
Read assigned work. Note: Read strategically, to get what you need out of the book. On how to read for
graduate seminars see, for example, Miriam Sweeney’s or Larry Cebula’s blog posts.
Read, throughout the semester, newspapers, journals and websites that address issues related to the
class, for example, the New York Times, Art in America, Artsjournal.com, Museum News, The Public
Historian, CRM, http://www.aamd.org, http://futureofmuseums.blogspot.com/,
http://publichistorycommons.org/, http://museumanthropology.blogspot.com/, or
www.artsjournal.com/culturegrrl/. Browse the books in the Center for Public Humanities library.
Follow appropriate Twitter feeds. Keeping up with the literature, online and in print, is a professional
Read the class blog each week before class.
Discussion (25 percent of grade)
Participate in class discussion. Good discussion requires everyone to contribute. Come to class
prepared with interesting things to say. Listen to what other students say. Build on what’s been said
Participate in out-of-class discussion, online. At least three times a week, post links and comments on
Twitter, using the hashtag #amst2540. Note interesting bits in the class reading. Call our attention to
events, exhibits, programs, and writings that you think will be of interest. Follow me on
twitter, @lubar, and the Twitter feeds from others in the class. You should also follow and browse
my blog and the Center for Public Humanities blog occasionally.
Participate in group note-taking during class on Google docs.
Interview with a graduate of the Public Humanities program (10 percent of grade)
Interview an alumnus of the public humanities program about “life after the M.A.” Your interview
should focus on the work that individual now does and how it relates to the larger field of public
humanities. Based on your interview, create a short (2-3 minute) audio or multimedia presentation,
suitable for posting on the Center’s website. We’ll also share these presentations in class. Draft due
October 8, final product due October 22.
Blog writing assignments (20 percent of grade)
By Tuesday before each class, post to the blog (http://2014AMST2650.wordpress.com/) a short (100-
300 word) essay related to the reading for that week. For example, you might post some theoretical or
historiographical background, a critique of the argument, a summary of some aspect of the reading, or
a related case study. We’ll use these to help guide our class discussion. NOTE: the blog is open to the
Here’s what makes a good blog post. The first sentence, or perhaps the first paragraph, should make it
clear what you’re writing about and your point of view. Consider your audience: the main audience for
this writing is the rest of the class, so you can assume a good bit of knowledge and background. Make
an argument. Use words like “I think” or “I suggest.” Use images when possible. Be sure to give you blog
entry categories and tags.
Three longer writing assignments (15 percent of grade each)
Write a paper, each about 1000-2000 words, for each of the major sections of the class:
o Community (due October 15)
o Culture (due November 12)
o Memory (due December 14)
These papers can be on any topic of interest to you and appropriate to the class. For example: you
might write a case study of a public humanities project or institution, either historical or
contemporary, based on research in the library or interviews; a comparative study of several projects
or institutions; a theoretical exploration; or something else. Your paper might suggest considerations
and guidelines for institutions doing this kind of work.
Here’s what I think makes a good short paper: Tell a story. Make an argument. Connect to class
readings and discussions. Use a range of examples. First-person is fine. You can write for me, or for a
different audience, for example, the director of the organization you’re writing about, or the general
public; let me know.
Note: Your writing should be your original work, based on class work, your reading, experience, and
conversations. Footnote anything you use from books, articles, interviews, or the web. Note ideas that
came from other people. Failure to do so can result in failing the class.
I’m open to other formats of presentation: video, audio, websites, exhibits, whatever... Consider writing
your paper in an open, on-line format, for example Medium.
Submit your paper via Canvas.
Week 1 (September 3)
Introductions, explanations, etc.: What is public humanities” Curating an exhibition:
“What is Public Humanities? A History” Rewriting the Wikipedia page on Public
Humanities. Introducing the “interview a public human” project.
Connecting to Community
Week 2 (September 10) The Public Sphere
Jennifer Barrett, Museums and the Public Sphere
Week 3 – (September 17) Arts and Civic Engagement
Stephani Etheridge Woodson, “Specifying the Scholarship of Engagement 2.0: Skills
for Community-based Projects in the Arts and Design”
Read one case study from Americans for the Arts, Civic Dialogue: Arts and Culture,
or other similar case study
Artists’ Prospectus for the Nation
Mastering Civic Engagement: A Challenge to Museums (Washington, DC: American
Association of Museums, 2002),
Week 4 (September 24) – Sharing authority
Bill Adair, Benjamin Filene, Laura Koloski, Letting Go? Sharing Historical Authority
in a User-Generated World (2011)
Nina Simon, Participatory Museum
Claire Bishop, “The social turn: collaboration and its discontents,” Art Forum,
February 2006, pp. 179-185
Grant H. Kester, Conversation Pieces, Community and Communication in Modern
John Durel and Anita Nowery Durel, “A Golden Age for Historic Properties,” History
News, December 2008
Week 5 (October 1) Working with community
Glenn Wharton, The Painted King: Art, Activism, and Authenticity in Hawaii
Barbara J. Little and Paul A. Shackel, Archaeology, Heritage, and Civic Engagement:
Working Toward the Public Good, Chapter 3: Heritage, Civic Engagement, and
Chapter 2, “What is consultation and what is it for?,” in Claudia Nissley and Thomas
F. King, Consultation and Cultural Heritage: Let Us Reason Together
Week 6 (October 8) – Connecting in a digital world
Diana Taylor, Save As... Knowledge and Transmission in the Age of Digital
G. Wayne Clough, The Best of Both Worlds: Museums, Libraries, and Archives in a
Achal R. Prabhala, “People are Knowledge,” video, http://vimeo.com/26469276
Read articles of interest in:
New American Notes Online, Issue 5: Digital Humanities, Public Humanities
“Visualizing the Past: Graphs, Maps, and Trees: Imagining the Future of Public
Interfaces to Cultural Heritage Collections”
Articles in “Involving Users in the Co-Construction of Digital Knowledge in Libraries,
Archives, and Museums”: Library Trends Volume 59, Number 4, Spring 2011
Who owns culture?
Week 7 (October 15) – Cultural heritage?
Michel-Rolph Trouillot, Silencing the Past: Power and the Production of History
Kwame Anthony Appiah, “Whose Culture is it?” in the New York Review of Books, Vol.
53, No. 2, Feb. 9, 2006. OCRA
Week 8 (October 22) – Cultural heritage!
Derek Gillman, The Idea of Cultural Heritage
Kirshenblatt-Gimblett, Barbara. “Objects of Ethnography.” Exhibiting Cultures: The
Poetics and Politics of Museum Display. Ed. Ivan Karp and Steven D. Lavine.
Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1991. 386-443.
James Clifford “Museums as Contact Zones” in Routes: Travel and Translation in the
Late Twentieth Century, 1997.
Steven Conn, “Whose Objects? Whose Culture? The Contexts of Repatriations,” in
Conn, Do Museums Still Need Objects, pp. 58-85.
Lisa Corrin “Mining the Museum: Artists Look at Museums, Museums Look at
Themselves” in Mining the Museum, 1992. OCRA
Ruth B. Phillips and Marl Salber Phillips, “Contesting Time, Place, and Nation in the
First Peoples’ Hall of the Canadian Museum of Civilization,” in Daniel J.
Walkowitz and Lisa Maya Knauer, ed., Contested Histories in Public Space
Week 9 (November 29) – Communities, past and present
Stephanie E. Yuhl, A Golden Haze of Memory: The Making of Historic Charleston
Week 10 (November 5) - Collecting and displaying the exotic
Sally Price, Paris Primitive: Jacques Chirac's Museum on the Quai Branly
Paula Heredia and Coco Fusco, “The couple in the cage” video (through Canvas)
Susan Vogel, “Always True to the Object, in our fashion,” from Karp and Lavine,
Exhibiting Culture OCRA
Nélia Dias, “Double erasures: rewriting the past at the Musée du quai Branly,
Social Anthropology Volume 16, Issue 3, pages 300–311, October 2008
New York Times articles at: http://bit.ly/D8UWA
Remembering and Memorializing
Week 11 (November 12) - Creating the past
Michel-Rolph Trouillot, Silencing the Past: Power and the Production of History
Pierre Nora, “Between Memory and History” and “Reasons for the current upsurge
David Glassberg, Sense of History: The Place of the Past in American Life, Chapter 1,
“Sense of History”
Week 12 (November 19) – Remembering 9/11
Paul Williams, Memorial Museums: the Global Rush to Commemorate Atrocities
And also: Public humanists respond after 9/11: read from the articles below
James B. Gardner and Sarah M. Henry, “September 11 and the Mourning After:
Reflections on Collecting and Interpreting the History of Tragedy,” The
Public Historian, Aug 2002, Vol. 24, No. 3: 37-52.
Elizabeth L. Greenspan, “Spontaneous Memorials, Museums, and Public History:
Memorialization of September 11, 2001 at the Pentagon” The Public
Historian Vol. 25, No. 2 (Spring 2003) (pp. 129-132)
Janet A. McDonnell, National Park Service: Responding to the September 11
James Cuno, “A World Changed? Art Museums after September 11,” Bulletin of
the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Vol. 55, No. 4 (Summer,
2002), pp. 17-36
“September 11 and the Academic Profession: A Symposium,” Academe
Vol. 88, No. 1 (Jan. - Feb., 2002), pp. 18-23
Setha M. Low, The Memorialization of September 11: Dominant and Local
Discourses on the Rebuilding of the World Trade Center Site,” American
Ethnologist, Vol. 31, No. 3 (Aug., 2004) (pp. 326-339)
Adam Gopnik, “Stones and Bones: Visiting the 9/11 memorial and museum, New
Yorker, July 7, 2014
---------->November 22: Field trip to New York
---------->November 26: Holiday - No Class
Week 13 (December 3) Remembering Slavery
Richard Rabinowitz, ”Eavesdropping at the Well: Interpretive Media in the Slavery
in New York Exhibition,” The Public Historian, Vol. 35, No. 3 (August 2013), pp. 8-
Roger C. Aden, “Redefining the ‘Cradle of Liberty’: The President’s House
Controversy in Independence National Historical Park,” Rhetoric & Public Affairs
13, no. 2 (2010): 251–79
Marc Howard Ross, “Collective Memory and how the Present Shapes the Past: A
Philadelphia Story About George Washington and Slavery”
Jill Ogline, “’Creating Dissonance for the Visitor’: The Heart of the Liberty Bell
Controversy,” The Public Historian, Vol. 26, No. 3 (Summer 2004), pp. 49–57.
Cheryl J. LaRoche and Michael L. Blakey, “Seizing Intellectual Power: The Dialogue at
the New York African Burial Ground,” Historical Archaeology 31 (1997): 84–106.
Slavery and Justice and Memorial publications at
Week 14 (December 10) Last day of class
Summary, review, and writing next year’s syllabus