History Organizations and Engagement

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Resource Details
Publication Date: 
November 2012
Pam Korza and Barbara Schaffer Bacon
Number of Pages: 
Animating Democracy resource

The past is indeed always with us, and historic sites, history exhibitions and programs, anniversaries and commemorations, and heritage tourism efforts offer great potential for examination of both the history of a community and its contemporary civic and social concerns. History helps people understand the sources and complexities of present-day issues. History organizations and their tangible artifacts and spaces bring great assets to the process of making meaning of contemporary life. This paper adapts a report that Animating Democracy, a program of Americans for the Arts, developed in 2007 and 2008 for the Heritage Philadelphia Program (HPP). The Heritage Philadelphia Program at the Philadelphia Center for Arts & Heritage is a think tank and funding organization in support of excellence and imagination in public history practice in the Philadelphia region. The paper aimed to provide a snapshot of the state of history organizations nationally at the time; looking at leading edge interpretive public programming models and directions that engage publics and communities in meaningful ways. It also served to inform the Heritage Philadelphia Program as it sought to renew itself in order to maximize the power of history and Philadelphia’s many history organizations as vital contributors to the civic life as well as to the nation. This paper is based on a synthesis of trend reports, articles and essays, and research of exemplary projects as well as interviews with history field practitioners, service organization leaders, and scholars. Field leaders provided perspective on trends; leading edge program activity and best practices; as well as opportunities, issues and obstacles facing history organizations nationally. Web research and a review of literature was conducted across several categories, including: national service organizations serving the history and museum fields; individual exemplary history organizations, including museums, historical societies, historic house museums, history service organizations, and history projects or initiatives; heritage/cultural tourism; non-history organizations and projects that have taken up history. (See Appendices 1, 2, and 3 - included at the end of the trend paper - for lists of individuals interviewed, references, and resources.) Although the information was gathered in 2006 and 2007, the characterization of quality practices and strategies to link history and history organizations to contemporary life is still relevant and can inform how such activity can motivate people to become engaged in their communities, to inform and stimulate dialogue by linking past with present concerns, and to advance social change goals such as racial justice. Appendix 4 to this report profiles 17 history organizations and projects that reflect exemplary interpretive and program practice in the field. In addition, the “History as Catalyst” chapter from Animating Democracy’s book, Civic Dialogue, Arts & Culture: Findings from Animating Democracy, may be of interest. Appendix 1 — Interviews with National Field Leaders, Practitioners, Scholars Appendix 2 — References Appendix 3 — Resources Appendix 4 — Profiles of Exemplary Organizations & Programs (separate document)

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