Public History & Public Humanities

The Warren Center for the Study of American History is committed to becoming a public history / public humanities hub at Harvard by highlighting existing projects and gradually introducing new initiatives that support members of the Warren Center community in their applied work. As public interpretation and commemoration of the national past are contested on the streets and in the media, academic communities such as the Warren Center face an important opportunity and responsibility to collaborate in historical meaning-making as a process of civic engagement and social connection. Our undertaking is especially timely given President Lawrence Bacow’s launch of a Presidential Committee on Harvard and the Legacy of Slavery, housed at the Radcliffe Institute under the leadership of Dean Tomiko Brown-Nagin [link].

Guided by the examples set by the National Council on Public History [link], The National Humanities Alliance [link], and our neighboring veteran program, the Public History Program at the University of Massachusetts Amherst [link], the Warren Center defines public history as active involvement with historical and humanities research, writing, interpretation, and dissemination in public spaces and contexts. The Warren Center’s public history/public humanities initiative will emphasize the principles of undertaking serious and studious inquiry, relating the past to the present, and striving for responsible and reciprocal research practices that balance the needs of community institutions with the priorities of the university’s pedagogical mission. In this endeavor, process is as important as tangible outcomes. By shifting centers of historical knowledge production from the campus classroom to many public domains, public history/humanities acknowledge not just community stakes in local, regional, national, and global histories, but also widely distributed skills in historical interpretation and narration. In this process, the public good is collectively imagined and pursued by relationships that build broad capacity to engage the living past critically and creatively.

Principally organized around the United States, its territories and imperial spaces; the Indigenous Americas; Ethnic Studies; and the Caribbean, the Warren Center’s public history/humanities initiative will advance four goals: Research, Teaching, Training, and Partnership. 

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