In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

  • On "Big Tents" and "Umbrellas"
  • Jacqueline Nießer and Juliane Tomann

Presenting ideas about public and applied history in an international context and having them evaluated by scholars active in the same field but with different national or disciplinary angles is an exciting endeavor. We are very thankful to all colleagues for their time, thoughts, and insights about our take on public and applied history in the German context. Thomas Cauvin pointed out that internationalization "triggers questions regarding the definition, approaches, and limits to the field" (42) and in these concluding remarks we would like to pick up on some of the questions raised. The most important insight we gained from this stimulating read is the emphasis on the shared authority approach, which seems to be common in public history programs across the world. Co-creating knowledge, being grounded in a community and in activism, as well as having a social impact are mentioned throughout the papers as common features of public and applied history. This understanding highlights the relationship between professionals, their subjects of study, and their audiences for which Steven Lubar's metaphor of "Us, Them, and You" offers a simple formula for a sophisticated process (34). The triangle engages with the self-reflexivity of public historians and their understanding of audiences as well as with basic social scientific standards such as methodological transparency, accurateness, and objectivity that often are challenged while working outside academic settings.

The Columbian example illustrates this challenge and has resonated with the authors who have had similar experiences of living and working in a context of rapid political and social change, including observing the German and European unification process from the perspective of the German-Polish border and researching the aftermath of socialist regimes. Muñoz reminds us of how history can become a public battlefield after significant national change, and how gaining authority for historians over the process of defining the past without complying with one political side can become a difficult task. Particularly when pursuing a global perspective on public and applied history, more reflections about common challenges may be fruitful. [End Page 61]

Our American and British contributors view public and applied history in a "big tent" (Dickey, Lubar). To them, the field emphasizes application and calls for investigating practices in order to further reflections about public history as "a framework for integrating engagement into the research process itself" (Green, 57). The "the big tent theory" also embraces the public "when they realize that they are part of a larger story and that the history tent is big enough for us all." (Dickey, 41).

In her analysis of the German case, and focusing on practice, Alix Green's reminder "that the difference between 'sharing authority' and 'a shared authority' is not merely one of grammatical nuance" proves productive (60). Green refers to Michael Frisch to assert that "sharing authority" still confirms the authority of the historian as a professional who can dictate the process, whereas a "shared authority" approach also will include the authority of those other than the historian in the meaning-making process.1

In the German context, it seems that the "shared authority" approach is not yet in sight. Although public impact, participation, and communication are considered important in German academia, the practice in research and teaching resembles "sharing authority": that is, historians performing as experts while providing space for participation and dialogue with nonhistorians. Those nonhistorians are either othered as nonprofessionals, or in case academics from other disciplines, regarded with a soft paternalism. Furthermore, publications about German public and applied history suggest an assumption of continuing to be strongly associated with history departments. A "shared authority" approach would imply more conversation with other fields of inquiry such as philosophy, sociology, geography, anthropology, and archaeology as Green proposes, or with the students as future public agents as Lubar emphasizes. How much the field of German public history is at all interested in such a conversation needs to be seen.

In the meantime, the institutionalization of public history is going on in Germany and a handbook on public history in German came out in March 2018.2 The book offers an overarching survey of the developments in Germany...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1533-8576
Print ISSN
0272-3433
Pages
pp. 61-63
Launched on MUSE
2020-01-02
Open Access
No
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