- Colombian Historians and the Public
The practices we have come to name "public history" are characterized by their diversity. Furthermore, they have changed over time and have had different national or regional trajectories and connotations. Having an umbrella term can be useful insofar as it enriches local experiences in conversation with distant ones. However, it is crucial to understand local developments in their own terms when entering conversations with the wider field so as not to sacrifice depth. This is precisely what Jacqueline Nießer and Juliane Tomann accomplish in their article. Although the authors recognize the influence of US public history on the development of the field in Germany, and that the "broadening of focus in historical science that takes into consideration nonacademic, public uses of the past"1 is a global phenomenon, they explain the particular shape that the field has adopted in Germany as firmly grounded on local trajectories.
In Germany, they explain, public and applied history emerged as two distinct fields. The authors track the use of these two terms in the titles of courses, emerging professorships, publications, and in the names of academic programs. They find that those who use the term public history tend to approach the practice in terms of using different communication strategies to present historical knowledge to the public. Whereas their interaction with the public concentrates in presenting history to them, applied history on the other hand has been distinctive for doing history with the public. The authors note that the term applied history was also used to refer to the marketing of history, but that it refers more often to the horizontal civic engagement of historians with local communities. The configuration of these two forms of relating to the public results from the division within German historical sciences between two camps: research and teaching. Public history derived from the former, Geschichtswissenschaft, the sub-discipline in which historians concentrate on researching and producing narratives about the past. For its part, applied history was tied to Geschichtsdidaktik, the denomination of professorships [End Page 28] concentrating on the teaching of history and the advancement of historical consciousness through education, museums, archives, etc. The development of public and applied history in Germany thus makes sense in the context of the particular structures that have forged the historical discipline there.
Although there is a tension between public and applied history in Germany, the authors argue that this tension should not be interpreted as a schism because both are part of a single phenomenon: a transformation in the historical sciences which have grown more interested in the public sphere. This is true of other sciences as well. The authors refer to the idea of "citizen science" which has relatively recently acknowledged the potential of opening up the process of scientific production to the public. The goal is to unlock the ivory tower, and the authors argue that both public and applied history—as defined in Germany—are necessary in this process.
I find this conversation useful, even though the local context in which I practice what could be called public history by international standards is far removed from the situation described by Nießer and Tomann. In Colombia, and to the best of my knowledge this applies to the rest of Latin America, there are no public history programs. The term has indeed begun to be used—the third conference of the International Federation for Public History (IFPH) in Bogotáin 2016 convened around "public history" practitioners from the region and beyond—and courses are slowly opening in different universities.2 The practices that now begin to fall under that name are quite old but have undergone a recent resurgence that, while tied to local trajectories, is not foreign to the process described by Nießer and Tomann.
Before describing the development of Colombian historians' interest in being of use outside the ivory tower, I want to clarify that I am going to omit writing about the many instances in which individuals and institutions outside academia have participated in the production of narratives about the past in public.3 In Colombia, the institutionalization of history as a discipline only happened in the...