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Where is Public History?

2018 October 14

A Companion to Public History by David Dean

I’ve just received a new collected book edited by David Dean called  A Companion to Public History and published by Wiley.

This was written a few years ago with over thirty people interested in Public History. Unlike some of the other contributors I wanted to write more critically about the idea of it being ‘what is public history?’ That seemed a rather definitive – and static – response. Hence my article is called ‘Where is Public History?’ ‘Where’ seemed to to be a rather different response. I was trying to think critically about the ways in which people engage with the past and the processes by which this can become accessible and relevant to contemporary life.

Some of my images include the two words written by Italian prisoners of war in Motto in Cumbria . Corso Vittorio is a reminder of the number of avenues made in Italy after Victor Emmanuel 11, the first king after unification in 1861.The prisoners of war were making a direct reference to their home in another country. Nowadays the two words  remain in the local garden centre…

Corso Vittorio by Italians in Cumbria in the
 Second World War

Rather then see public history as only an activity of academic historians I have been more interested in ordinary people’s history-making. Yesterday I went to the annual classic motorbike gathering in Hastings where people presented their usually old – and very engaging – motorbikes made in a different time particularly in the creation of such motorbikes in Britain. People chatted and discussed the different motorbikes with many others coming to the event.

Such interests also often take place online in ‘Motorcycle Racing Nostalgia’ . A key feature of the former bike racers and keen enthusiasts is to understand what you know and also how.Thus information can be offered through ‘being there’ as a rider or spectator and by looking at the old programmes, newspaper cuttings,or photographs. There are often competitions of sorts, sometimes called WWW (Who? Where? When?). Apart from the past of racing and the motorcycle industry , a broader context of another historical past experience can be created. An engaging and dynamic activity rather than a static approach to a form of history might be another way of creating new histories.

It’s far too expensive to buy unless you are into ebooks but I hope you can get to read my article and those of the others if the book actually becomes available in a relevant library! 


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