Public History as the New Citizen Science of the Past


CALL: 2019

DOMAIN: ID - Humanities and Social Sciences





HOST INSTITUTION: University of Luxembourg

KEYWORDS: Public History / Shared authority / Participation / Community / Citizen Science / Heritage / Museum / Archives

START: 2020-06-01

END: 2025-05-31


Submitted Abstract

Is everyone their own historian, as suggested by American historian Ed Ayers? His argument that “we all do history every day” reflects an age-old tension in historical practices. (Ayers 2018; Rosenzweig and Thelen 1998; Becker 1931) History, much like the broader discipline of humanities, has entered a phase of democratization that requires sharing-authority and engagement with public groups. But our eagerness for dissemination and collaboration should not be to the detriment of critical thinking and historical methodology, especially in a context of direct access to information. Opening the process of history production to public groups gives rise to multiple interpretations of the past that historians are struggling to cope with.Thomas Cauvin’s (Colorado State University, USA) ATTRACT project, Public History as the New Citizen Science of the Past (PHACS), proposes to develop historical practices in public and digital spaces to include, empower and engage public groups in critical debates about the contemporary history of Luxembourg and European while maintaining ethical and methodological standards. The Centre for Contemporary and Digital History (C2DH) and the University of Luxembourg (UL) have the opportunity to lead the development of public history in Europe to better connect universities, cultural institutions, decision-makers and diverse public groups. Drawing on Cauvin’s international experiences, his team of PhD and post-doctoral students, and a network of partnering museums in Europe, PHACS will design and test models that turn visitors/users/participants into engaged co-producers of history. The C2DH’s expertise in crowdsourcing, storytelling and transmedia is the perfect environment to question the process and limits of shared-authority, to enrich institutional narratives of the past through community involvement and to create spaces of public engagement. The project goes beyond digital technology and citizen science and proposes to apply participatory practices to public history as a whole. Focusing on the economic development and community uses of Luxembourgish industrial heritage as well as town/city celebrations (for instance Esch-sur-Alzette being the European Capital of Culture in 2022), the project will develop innovative models and guidelines to foster history in public spaces. In order to make public history the new citizen science of the past, PHACS will also work with its multiple partners to support new history training in universities for students to communicate, share and use history in and with the public. As an expert in international public history training, Cauvin will help the C2DH and the UL’s objective of becoming a Grand Region University. PHACS will coordinate online public history workshops with European partners and will propose the first European Digital Public History summer school. By using historical methodology to examine present-day issues and providing a conceptualization of the processes and limits of shared-authority, PHACS has the potential to enrich international public history by embracing both pragmatic and skill-oriented approaches as well as a theoretical reflection on the role of history in contemporary societies. Cauvin’s unique North-American and European experiences and his role in the International Federation for Public History will place the C2DH and the University of Luxembourg at the forefront of a worldwide quest for innovative methods of public engagement with the past, debates on collective memory, and the search for a shared, participatory and empowering appropriation of cultural heritage.

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