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101 Public History, Diversity, and Higher Education Three Case Studies on the African American Past jodi skipper, kathryn green, and rico d. chapman In 2014, Angela Thorpe, a recent graduate of the Museum Studies ma pro‑ gram at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, began a series of blog posts on diversity in the field of public history for the National Council on Public History (ncph). Thorpe, who is African American, wrote the posts af‑ ter she witnessed the failure of the museum at which she interned to engage with the local African American community. African Americans did not seem to perceive the museum as a welcoming space, and “the museum was not confronting diversity [issues] head-­ on.”1 She also found a comparable inat‑ tention to diversity among the institutions that she considered for graduate school: “Each program director admitted their program ‘struggled with diver‑ sity,’” while claiming that “they were ‘working on it.’”2 The four-­ part series in‑ cluded interviews with other public historians and attempted to understand what suggestions they had for better diversifying public history. Thorpe was not the first to inquire into these questions. In 2009 an ncph working group, “How Do We Get There? Racial and Ethnic Diversity in the Public History Profession,” was co‑organized by Modupe Labode and Calinda Lee “to discuss the profession’s lack of diversity and share ideas about remedy‑ ing the situation.”3 A recurring explanation for the lack of diversity in public history was described as the “‘pipeline’—the process by which public histori‑ ans are produced.”4 History majors tend to be perceived as the best candidates for public history graduate programs, and racial and ethnic minorities are underrepresented in the historical profession at large.5 These concerns have been recognized by the Association for the Study of African American Life and History, the Association of Black Women Historians, and the American Historical Association’s Committee on Minority Historians, but they have yet to be remedied. The recruitment of undergraduates from other disciplines is necessary, in addition to more conscious attempts to recruit and sustain minority history students, through an “encouraging environment” that coun‑ 102 skipper, green, and chapman ters “intellectual racism.”6 Minority students may “feel directly and person‑ ally connected to broader experiences of oppression and to struggles for em‑ powerment,” and white faculty “claims of objectivity are more apt to sound like self-­ serving maneuvers to preserve hierarchy and privilege,” to them.7 In turn, white cohort and faculty claims of subjectivity or subpar scholarship to students of color can create hostile environments. One participant specifi‑ cally “urged the ncph to engage in meaningful collaborations with minority-­ serving colleges and universities.”8 This means that their frameworks and “the idea of putting scholarship to the service of their own communities’ empow‑ erment” must be valued by potential collaborators.9 Even though “five years later, the implications of the session, and its im‑ pact on the field, [were] still being assessed and remain complex,” its findings, and Thorpe’s blog posts, offer a lens through which we, as three academics— two historians and one anthropologist—who work in public state universi‑ ties on public history projects, can assess the practicality of doing public his‑ tory work without formal public history program structures.10 Chapman is a historian at Jackson State University, a historically black university in the Mississippi capital, Jackson; Green is a historian at Mississippi Valley State University, a historically black university in the Delta region; and Skipper is an anthropologist at the University of Mississippi, a historically white university in the North Mississippi Hill Country. The ncph’s statement on best practices for undergraduate and graduate students recognizes that “history departments introduce public history to un‑ dergraduate students in a variety of ways,” yet the ncph does not adequately consider professionals working outside of history departments, in interdis‑ ciplinary programs like southern studies; those working in history depart‑ ments, with limited means for doing public history projects; or instructors offering “a class or two on public history theories and/or practices.”11 Public history often requires efforts by individuals with limited departmental sup‑ port or resources and explicit efforts to work across disciplines to introduce such methodologies. Our focus on the public history profession does not as‑ sume that it is the only way to do this kind of work but that this subdiscipline has offered the best methodologies thus far. The goal of this chapter is to trans­ disciplinarily...


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