- Take 1Historians of Technology Watching Chernobyl
Chernobyl, Public History, Musealization, Technoscience
In a 1978 editorial to the new journal The Public Historian, founding editor G. Wesley Johnson (1932−2018) considered the nature of academic historical research, speculating on how history could serve society in his lifetime: "Historical skills and method are needed now outside of the academy." He continued to write, "it is desirable for the historian to relate to the needs of the community, whether that is defined as government, business, or institutions such as museums or historical societies."1 While Johnson thought history written for the public's benefit was the hallmark of Public History, today the term covers a diverse spectrum of activities and ambitions rather than a fixed set of goals. Publicly engaged scholarship can find expression in, for example, archival work, preservation practice, or museum curatorship. Indeed, the public debate about technology is taking place in many different venues besides museums—and historians should be part of it.
Exhibition reviews have been a constant companion of Technology and Culture since the 1960s.2 And starting in 2014, in its "Beyond Words" feature, the journal has engaged with a broad spectrum of audio-visual sources (from films to databases and public history websites), building on the journal's periodic reviews of history of technology related documentary films. The increased visibility of other projects including oral history campaigns, designation of historic sites, the creation of digital repositories, the engagement with archival sciences or the opportunities offered by social media formats, have created an even wider public sphere. These media contribute to a larger public recognition for scholarly work in the history of technology, and history in general. They also offer possibilities for scholars willing to enter the arena and contribute to the debate. [End Page 1149]
Reflections on audiences, non-traditional outlets for scholarship, and the public understanding of the history of technology are common grounds for the Technology and Culture readership and SHOT community. In the October 2010 issue of the journal, Colin Divall argued that the history of technology community should strengthen its ties with professionals outside academia.3 His essay reinvigorated the recurring themes during the journal's previous editorial transition, with the subsequent launch of "Beyond Words." Its founding editor Hanna Rose Shell, proposed that "feature documentaries, television programs, archival film collections, and interactive (web-based) media have the potential for particular kinds of innovation in the study of technology." "Beyond Words" engaged with a range of new media sources, investigating the history of technology through social media, exploring the role of data visualization in historical practice, and engaging industrial film repositories as sources for innovative new historical approaches. The section also engaged with researchers, who, for example, transformed their scholarly practice through filmmaking.4 The new Public History section will build on the insight: new media are important both as a subject of critical reflection but also as a way to communicate scholarly findings to broader audiences than just scholars. Furthermore, media materials are crucial in undergraduate teaching.
One of the SHOT community's ongoing concerns is extending Technology and Culture's coverage beyond its historically rooted North American and European foci. The journal's current articles and topics reflect the intellectual creativity attained by moving beyond themes covering the Global North. Today internationalization is an evident and sustained practice within SHOT. The Public History section will reinforce these trends. Thus far, the journal's exhibition reviews tended to reflect curatorship in countries with a high number of museums of technology. Consequently, combining them with the view offered by other media, including the audio-visual subjects featured in "Beyond Worlds" is an opportunity to move beyond the geographic bias in review practice.
The Public History section will run twice a year, in the April and October issues. Reviews will comprise but not be limited to formats such as films, industrial heritage sites, parks, archives, libraries, exhibitions, oral history projects, digital repositories, websites, and social media. Rather than discussing individual cases, the section integrates a curated set of review essays on a common theme. The editors welcome readers' suggestions for potential projects or sites to be further explored. The...