How to Bridge Academic and Public History

BridgingDo you consider yourself an academic or a public historian? How do you bridge public and academic history?

I get asked these questions quite often. People ask via e-mail messages and when we meet in-person at seminars and conferences.

In this post, you will discover how I work in both the academic and public history disciplines.

Two Disciplines, One Historian

The simple answer to how I work in both academic and public history: I am a historian.

Intellectually, I am an interdisciplinary historian. I trained as an academic because I wanted to better understand how historians produce historical knowledge and learn how I could participate in this process.

I also have a bit of training as a public historian. I worked as a seasonal interpretive ranger for the Boston National Historical Park for five years (2001-2005). In this role, I witnessed the “David McCullough Phenomenon”: The ability to generate interest in and create advocates for history through the effective communication of history.

The challenge of trying to adapt the "McCullough Phenomenon" for scholarly history fascinates me.

My interest in the entire process of history, from knowledge creation through knowledge dissemination, means I must work in both historical disciplines. I would be dissatisfied intellectually if I had to choose between parts of the process.


4 Ways I Navigate the Worlds of Academic and Public History

1. Network. I network a lot. I attend seminars and conferences about both academic and public history. I engage fellow #Twitterstorians on Twitter, and I network through e-mail; never underestimate the power of a thoughtful reply.

Of all the networking techniques I engage in, attending seminars and conferences is the most powerful way to cultivate relationships with colleagues because interactions happen face-to-face. Additionally, seminars and conferences offer fantastic opportunities to stay abreast of new historical research and interpretive techniques.

The best way to become a part of the academic and public history communities is to know what is going on within the disciplines and to interact with your peers.


2. Participation. I participate in the processes of both history disciplines.

As an academic historian, I produce scholarship and participate in peer review. I research historical questions, analyze and interpret evidence, and I write up my findings for academic journals and (hopefully soon) book publication. I also present my work at conferences.

As a public historian, I interpret scholarly history for non-specialist or public audiences. I distill both important historical research and the historical process and convey it in blog posts, newspaper and magazine articles, and through podcast episodes. I also volunteer at public history organizations when time permits.


3. Education. I try to keep up with scholarship and happenings in both academic and public history.

At present, I subscribe to 6 different journals: The William and Mary Quarterly, Journal of the Early American Republic, Early American Studies, The Public Historian, Journal of American History, and American Historical Review.

Honestly, I lack the time to read all of these journals, but at the very least I read the table of contents for each issue and skim articles that look intriguing or helpful.

Although I am behind in reading journal articles, I am fairly up-to-date with the book historiography for early America. The interview-driven format of Ben Franklin's World ensures that I read at least one history book per week.

I also read a fair number of history blogs each morning by individual historians, historical organizations, and mainstream media.

Knowing the literature of your field, and what is going on within the disciplines, will help you learn about and become a part of the professional communities. Knowing what is going on will also help you network and participate in conversations at your next conference or seminar.


4. Combine Interests. My public history project combines my interest in academic and public history. Ben Franklin’s World is both a public and academic history communications project.

Ben Franklin's World is where I grapple and engage with the challenge of history communication. Each episode represents an attempt to answer: How can I convey history and the historical process in a way that will appeal to a public audience? I want each episode to reveal the importance of history and historians’ work.


Concluding Thoughts

I am not sure if my four techniques will work for everyone, but this is how I bridge the disciplines.

A Note of Caution: If you have the same interdisciplinary historical inclinations that I have, you may find it difficult to find a job with an institution or organization. It has been my experience that both academic and public history organizations want their faculty and staff to focus on one aspect of the discipline. This is why I created my own job.

With that said, both disciplines are changing. In the future, we may see academic training include aspects of public history and public history training include aspects of academic history. It’s an exciting time to be a historian regardless of whether you prefer one side of the discipline to the other or, like me, enjoy them both.


4 Reasons Why Google+ is a Great Tool for Historians and Writers

social media logosAre you feeling overwhelmed by all of the different social media networks? Although you may belong to Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pintrest, Four Square, and/or Instagram, I will give you 4 reasons why you should sign-up for one more: Google+.

Spoiler: Read to the end to learn about 2 new Google+ Communities for history, writing, and entrepreneurship.


What is Google+?

Google+ is more than just a social networking site. It is a communications platform and a forum for "passions."


Google+logo4 Reasons Why Google+ is a Great Tool for Historians & Writers


Reason 1: Networking: Expand Your Connections & Your Reach

Facebook connects you with existing friends.

Google+ fosters the formation of new connections through shared interests and communications in the form of text-based chat, Hangouts, and Communities.

(More on these features below)


Reason 2: Circles: Every Communication and Person Has Their Place

Circles allow you to manage your relationships just as you would in real life, by placing people into different categories or circles.

With circles you have the ability to communicate with specific groups of people rather than everyone you follow; you can post an article about "Revolutionary News: 10 Breaking Stories" to your "history" & "writing" circles without communicating it to the people in your "friends" & "family" circles.


Reason 3: Hangouts: Face-to-Face Interaction

Hangouts allow you to interact face-to-face with other Google+ users. You can use hangouts for both personal and professional reasons.

Whether you want to host a virtual meeting with your writing coach, attend a web chat about how to apply for fellowships, catch up with friends and family, or discuss your passion for Elizabethan dress, hangouts will allow you to see and speak to people as long as your computer/smartphone/tablet has a webcam and a microphone. (The service is free.)


Reason 4: Communities: Places for Passion

Communities connect you with other people who share your passions. In a community, you can share useful articles, post interesting questions, give advice, and interact with other community members.

Communities are places for conversation.


HistoryExtending the Conversation with 2 New Google+ Communities

I am excited to announce the creation of "The Historian's Craft," a new Google+ community dedicated to the discussion of history, research, writing, and teaching.

"The Historian's Craft" community will allow us to supplement our discussions on Uncommonplace Book with extended conversations about how we work as historians. This Google+ forum will also enable us to vary our methods of communication: Community members can post helpful articles and videos, host discussions with traditional text-based comments, or participate in video chats via "Hangouts."

lightbulb with graduation hatAdditionally, my friend Jennifer Polk and I cofounded "PhD Business Owners, Entrepreneurs & Freelancers," a Google+ Community for PhD-holders who thought of "Plan B" as "Plan Business."

The "PhD Business Owners, Entrepreneurs & Freelancers" community is a forum to share resources and advice about starting, running, and growing our businesses. (I plan to launch Missing Advisor Consulting next month.)


Easy to Join

You can join these communities in 2 mouse clicks: First click on "The Historian's Craft" or "PhD Business Owners, Entrepreneurs & Freelancers." Second click on the "Join Community" button at the top of the Google+ Community page.


What Do You Think?

What is your preferred social network? What do you like about it & How do you use it?

Click to connect with me on Google+.