Socially-Engaged Public History: Practice, Ethics and Politics
This conference will explore the practice, ethics and politics of collaborations between academic historians and groups outside the university in socially-engaged ways. It focuses in particular on projects involving groups who have not historically been well represented at universities. Such ‘co-production’ of historical research seeks not simply to engage with marginalised publics or to communicate research findings beyond our usual audiences. Rather it includes members of the public as active participants and partners in the research process. In doing so, it seeks to tap into other forms of expertise beyond academia, to develop new perspectives and approaches, and to produce an enriched and revitalised historical analysis. Such collaborations are often challenging – practically, intellectually and sometimes emotionally. This conference will explore some of the questions they raise about the ethics and politics of doing public history.
What role should historians play when engaging with marginalised, disadvantaged or minority groups? What challenges do historians face when working in collaborative ways with groups who might not have historically had much contact with universities or academics? How can historians create spaces for dialogue and the two-way sharing of expertise? And how can we work with a variety of groups and individuals in a mutually beneficial and non-tokenistic way? What do such collaborations offer at a moment when concerns about racist attacks, inequalities in education and social tensions are so visible?
At the heart of this are a series of questions about the politics of public history. For some practitioners, it is axiomatic that public history has a politics and that politics is left-wing. But might a politicised public history that seeks social justice actually reinforce the academic echo chamber?
Finally, the conference aims to bring together a range of historian-practitioners to reflect back on our own discipline. What new insights, perspectives and methodologies might historians stand to gain from this? How does socially-engaged or collaborative public history contribute to the discipline of history? How does public history intersect with the politics, identity and emotions of the historian? Does good socially-engaged public history depend on the commitment and emotional investment of the historian?