History, MA (Public History Track)
What is Public History?
One broad definition of the field is that public history is “a joint endeavor in which historians and their various publics collaborate in trying to make the past useful and valuable to the wider society.” The public history track prepares students to become professional historians with a firm foundation in historical methods and scholarship, who can engage with public life today.
Public historians study the way we remember and interpret the past. They use historical methodologies to preserve, collect, present, and interpret history with and for public audiences. Public historians work with historic landscapes, sites, parks and monuments; in museums and historic buildings; on film and the worldwide web; and with community groups and organizations, families, and institutions. They also study public awareness and consciousness of the past and how various actors, including public intellectuals and public interest groups, seek to “raise” historical consciousness and nurture historical thinking.
Public historians employ the methods common to the discipline of history, but public history projects are often interdisciplinary, drawing upon the research and methods of other disciplines such as anthropology, archaeology, art history, literature, and folklore. Public historians use such tools to help people understand personal and community histories and their relationships to broader historical contexts.
The public history track prepares students for careers in interpretation, education, research, and public programming in historical organizations, museums, and government agencies.
Why Public History at UMass Boston?
UMass Boston is an ideal choice for graduate students preparing for careers as public historians and archivists because of its urban mission; its close ties with libraries, collections, and public history institutions; and its faculty’s interest in civic engagement. The public history and archives tracks are designed to prepare students for careers in a variety of public history settings such as museums, historical parks, and historical societies, and in archives management.
Our graduate students in the public history and archives tracks also benefit from a cross-disciplinary approach that allows them to take one or more courses in the other track. Proficiency in these related fields contributes significantly to professional expertise.
Historical Thinking and Methodology
The public history track prepares students by first giving them a firm foundation as historians with deep skills in historical research and scholarly analysis. Students also bring these skills to their work in public history—in creating exhibits, tours, websites, and documentary films, curating collections, and interpreting landscapes, for example, and in evaluating the history they encounter in the public realm. Students are introduced to the best practices in public history—in the classroom and in field experience.
In addition to the department’s offerings in public history and archives classes, public history students also undertake a semester-long internship at a historical organization, working under the supervision of professionals in the field and gaining practical experience.
Department-sponsored field trips, symposiums and roundtable events provide more opportunities to engage in thinking and discussion of issues and topics of concern to the public history community and to meet and network with professional practitioners.