New Field, Old Practices: Promises and Challenges of Public History
Although public history is becoming increasingly international, the field remains difficult to define and subject to some criticism. Based on sometimes long-established public practices, public history displays new approaches to audiences, collaboration and authority in history production. This article provides an overview of public history, its various definitions and historiography, and discusses some of the main criticisms of the field. Public history is compared to a tree of knowledge whose parts (roots, trunk, branches and leaves) represent the many collaborative and interconnected stages in the field. Defining public history as a systemic process (tree) demonstrates the need for collaboration between the different actors – may they be trained historians or not – and aim to focus on the role they play in the overall process. The future of international public history will involve balancing practice-based approaches with more theoretical discussions on the role of trained historians, audiences and different uses of the past.