Public history as a university discipline: its background, content and value

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Irmgard Zündorf
Martin Lücke


Public history as a university discipline has expanded exponentially, especially in the United States, ever since its inception in the 1970s. Only in the last three decades, however, has it slowly but surely become an international phenomenon, albeit with structural modifications. Not every university offers a public history major, but it does exist as an area of concentration in many, more general bachelor’s and master’s programs. Apart from these numerous courses, there has been a surge of national and international associations, journals and conferences dealing with issues of public history as a field of research and an academic subject. Their focus, content-wise, is on the presentation of history to a broader, non-specialist public. In Germany, specifically the degree program at the Freie Universität Berlin (FU) presented in this essay, instruction is based on two pillars: practical exercises in the design and implementation of public history products, and specialized seminars on the development and application of theoretical models of analysis developed by the participants themselves. Apart from being taught historical and didactic methods, students will discuss questions of historical learning. The public history major at the Freie Universität is unique in its being a full Master of Arts program as well as in its cooperation with numerous places and institutions of public history in Greater Berlin and beyond. These include museums, memorial sites, publishing houses, media agencies and even government ministries, and entail the joint implementation of practical projects and seminars. Some outstanding examples will be highlighted following a brief introduction to the underlying idea and structure of the degree program.


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