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What is public history?

Want to take your degree in History and work in a museum; historical site, park, archive, historic preservation office, historical consulting firm, or other area? Then public history is the path for you.

Public history is the use of historical skills and methods outside of the traditional academic realm of history. Public historians use their training to meet the needs of the community-the public-whether that community is defined as a city, a neighborhood, a business, or a historical society. It is the audience that differentiates the public historian’s work. The public historian’s audience might be a client, a government agency, or a tourist. Different audiences often require the public historian to employ unconventional skills, answer difficult questions, and respond to unique situations.

You can learn more about the field from Dr. Thomas Cauvin in a podcast about public history.

Public historians pursue a wide array of tasks: researching and writing community, government, and corporate histories; curation and exhibit design in museums; establishing and operating archives and records management systems for private businesses, state agencies, or universities; conducting site interpretation and historic preservation projects; editing historical manuscripts; conducting oral interviews; preparing genealogies; participating in policy analysis and planning; performing land use studies; engaging in research in support of litigation; consulting on movies and multi-media presentations, offering historic tours; and much more.

You can check the website of the National Council on Public History for definitions, practices, and examples of projects and careers.

Local Resources

Special resources at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette include the University Archives, the Center for Cultural and Eco-Tourism, and the Center for Louisiana Studies which serves as a research center, as editorial office of the Louisiana Historical Association, and as publisher of scores of titles including Louisiana History. In addition, the study of public history at UL Lafayette is enhanced by the school’s location in the heart of Acadiana, the region of Cajun and Creole heritage. Acadiana is rich in history and filled with exciting opportunities for the study and practice of public history.