Amelia Edwards: Egyptology’s First Public Historian

Known as the “Godmother of Egyptology,” Amelia Edwards, British author, traveler, and social climber opened new doors for the field of Egyptology when she formed the Egypt Exploration Fund (EEF) in 1882.  This British Victorian society was managed by academics and enthusiastic amateurs interested in the study and preservation of ancient Egyptian history.  The EEF was funded by subscriptions and donations from the public, and these monies went to fund excavations in Egypt, publications of discoveries, and transport of objects to museums in Britain, Egypt, and the United States.  The society had a long-lasting impact on the field of Egyptology.  The EEF changed its name to the Egypt Exploration Society (EES) in 1919, and the society is still operating today.  For historians, EEF can be considered part of a larger British Victorian Biblical archaeological movement, entangled with British imperialist interests in Egypt.   

Amelia Edwards

Amelia Edwards.  Image courtesy of the Egypt Exploration Society and TrowelBlazers.

There are a number of publications written in recent years about Edwards, springing in part from an increased scholarly interest in women’s history.1  Edwards was no ordinary woman.  She did not come from a noteworthy family, she had no titles, no formal education, but despite these obstacles she made a name for herself.  She never married and became independently wealthy through her writing.  Today, her most well-known work was a travelogue about her trip to Egypt, published in 1877 entitled, A Thousand Miles up the Nile.2  When she toured the country, she was distressed by the dilapidated state of the monuments.  Egyptians and European tourists sought antiquities to sell and Egypt’s monuments were easy targets.  These eager, poorly-trained antiquarians often destroyed the very things they valued.  Edwards wrote in A Thousand Miles, “the work of destruction, meanwhile goes apace. There is no one to prevent it, there is no one to discourage it. […] When science leads the way, is it wonderful that ignorance should follow?”3  She believed that the Egyptians were not capable of protecting their history from themselves and others and that action needed to be taken immediately by the British.

A Thousand Miles up the Nile Book cover

A Thousand Miles up the Nile by Amelia B. Edwards.  Courtesy of the University of Pennsylvania Digital Library and “A Celebration of Women Writers,” Mark Mark Ockerbloom, editor.

Edwards, after returning home to England, wrote to friends, acquaintances, and complete strangers in Egyptology for help in starting a society, and in 1882 the Egypt Exploration fund was born.  There has been much debate about the real motivation behind Edwards’ startling career change from fiction author to society founder.  The current scholarship on Edwards attributes her travels in Egypt as the motivation for her creation of the society which aimed to preserve and explore Biblical and Egyptian sites.  In my research, I argue that Edwards, a woman in Victorian England with no titles  a modest background, would not have been accepted as an equal among the British elite, no matter how popular her gothic novels.  Edwards drew on her experiences in Egypt and the popularity of her travelogue and wielded the EEF as a tool to cultivate connections with scholars and wealthy supports, thus elevating herself as a member of British Victorian elite.  But, enough about my research, let’s get back to public history.    


“Yet to look is something, if one can but succeed in remembering; and the Great Hall of Karnak is photographed in some dark corner of my brain for as long as I have memory.”  – Amelia Edwards in A Thousand Miles up the Nile.  Chapter VIII:  Hypostyle Hall, Karnak Temple, Luxor, Egypt.  Courtesy of the University of Pennsylvania Digital Library and “A Celebration of Women Writers,” Mary Mark Ockerbloom, editor.

The EEF needed money so that it could pay archaeologists to dig in Egypt.  To raise funds and share the latest Egyptological news and findings, the EEF’s archaeologists published a series called Memoirs which were available for purchase.  Edwards often summarized progress updates from the archaeologists in the field and published these in newspapers and journals such as The Times and The Academy, to reach both public and academic audiences. Edwards was a talented author who was adept at writing to the general public.  Her audience knew little of Egypt and she was extremely capable of inspiring interest in her readers.  She brought this unique skill to the EEF’s publications.

Not everyone was supportive of this ground-breaking approach.  When the editor of The Morning Post, a daily newspaper from London, suggested to Edwards his interest in creating a column about ancient Egypt, Edwards reached out to her Egyptology contacts for support.  One scholar, Samuel Birch, discouragingly responded to Edwards.  Birch believed that the British Museum’s ancient Egypt displays were enough public outreach.4  For Birch, Egypt’s history did not belong to the masses.

Edwards’ effort to reach the public went beyond newspaper articles and museum exhibits. In 1889, Edwards traveled to the United States to give lectures at colleges and museums in American cities including New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Chicago, and Baltimore.  Edwards had over two thousand people attend her first lecture, ‘The buried cities of ancient Egypt,’ held at the Academy of Music in New York.5  She was also the first woman to be allowed to lecture at the Peabody Institute, where there were over thousand people in attendance.6  During her five months in the United States, Edwards gave over 120 lectures and reached thousands of people.7  She did all of this while in ill-health; she would be diagnosed with breast cancer a few months later.      


Edwards Stela

Upon her death, Edwards bequeathed financial support for a Egyptology teaching position at the University College London, the first of its kind in Britain.  She also left her private collection, including this stela of Osiris and Neskhons.  This collection founded  the Petrie Museum.

Edwards’ efforts changed how ancient history was presented.  Unlike historically-geared societies of the past, Edwards worked to get the EEF to publish and present information in ways that would be easily accessible to the public.  This approach was truly progressive and indicative that the EEF was something unique, thanks to the efforts of Edwards.


This blog post is based upon my ongoing research during my Ancient Near Eastern Colloquium Independent Study under the guidance of Dr. Pedram Partovi.

 Erichson, Alexandra.  “Amelia Edwards and the Egypt Exploration Fund.”  American University, 2015.   

  1.  There are many biographical works on Amelia Edwards.  For more information see Amanda Adams, Ladies of the Field:  Early Women Archaeologists and their Search for Adventure (Berkeley:  Greystone Books D&M Publishers Inc., 2010).  Adams bases much of her work off of two older publications: Joan Rees, Women on the Nile:  Writings of Harriet Martineau, Florence Nightingale and Amelia Edwards, (London:  The Rubicon Press, 2008), Patricia O’Neill, “Destination as Destiny:  Amelia B. Edwards’s Travel Writing,” Frontiers:  A Journal of Women Studies 30, no. 2 (2009),, and Brenda Moon, More Usefully Employed:  Amelia B. Edwards, writer, traveller and campaigner for ancient Egypt (London:  Egypt Exploration Society, 2006).  Another work of interest on Amelia Edwards is Joan Rees, Amelia Edwards:  Traveller, Novelist & Egyptologist (London:  The Rubicon Press, 1998).  Rees’ works view Edwards’ trip to Egypt as the reason behind her passion to protect and preserve Egypt’s ancient history.  Adams, Moon, O’Neill, and Rees would disagree that imperialism, Biblical studies, or desire for fame had any influence on creating the EEF.
  2. A.B. Edwards, A Thousand Miles up the Nile, (London:  George Routledge and Sons, Ltd., 1877).  
  3. A.B. Edwards, A Thousand Miles up the Nile, vol. 2, (London:  1887), 519f, quoted in Margaret S. Drower, Flinders Petrie:  A Life in Archaeology (London:  Victor Gollancz Ltd, 1985), 57.
  4. EES III.j.3, quoted in Brenda Moon, More Usefully Employed:  Amelia B. Edwards, writer, traveller and campaigner for ancient Egypt (London:  Egypt Exploration Society, 2006), 161.
  5.  Moon, More Usefully Employed, 224.
  6.  Ibid.,228.
  7. Amanda Adams, Ladies of the Field:  Early Women Archaeologists and their Search for Adventure (Berkeley:  Greystone Books D&M Publishers Inc., 2010), 38.



History by Design: The Importance of Good Design in Public History

The earliest museums did not look much like the ones we know today. They were repositories of stuff, Cabinets of Curiosity curated by enthusiastic collectors. When artist, naturalist, and scientist Charles Willson Peale what is widely recognized as America’s first museum in Philadelphia in 1786, he first filled it with his own paintings of George Washington and the bones of woolly mammoth. It was random, there was no narrative. Artifacts were preserved, but not interpreted.

C_W_Peale_-_The_Artist_in_His_Museum (1).jpg

In this self portrait, Charles Willson Peale pulls back a curtain on his museum, where artifacts are arrayed on shelves. (Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts)

A lot has changed in the intervening decades (and centuries), and today museum exhibits do a lot more than display artifacts – they immerse visitors in narrative, pair artifacts with images, video, and audio, and feature innovative interactive experiences. The confluence of content and atmosphere mean that, more than ever, the best exhibits are developed not only by historians and curators, but by architects, designers, and programmers. Every aspect of exhibit design – from colors and fonts to lighting and layout – dictates how a visitor will experience and relate to the content, and it is critical that the design and content sync up.

This past fall I had the privilege of taking an Exhibition Design class through George Washington University’s Museum Studies program, which strengthened my conviction that public historians should become acclimated with the fundamentals of design so, at the very least, they can communicate with designers. And, as may be the case at smaller museums and historic sites, they will be prepared to take on the role of designer themselves.

First Ladies-01

Before and after photos of the First Ladies exhibit at the Smithsonian demonstrate how design can transform an exhibit. (Smithsonian Archives)


There is a lot to learn about design, from its principles to computer programs like AutoCAD, Photoshop, and InDesign that designers rely on heavily. To some extent, too, good design cannot be taught or even necessarily learned – as my graphic designer sister assures me, some people have a natural eye for it, others don’t, and that’s okay. It is not, by any means, something that public historians need, or, let’s be honest, even have the time, to become experts in, but again, I believe having a grasp on the basics is fundamentally important, and not too difficult. Here’s an brief overview.

Organizing Space
Designers are responsible for transforming a given space into an exhibit. This involves a lot more than put panels on walls and objects in cases. It means determining how visitors will move through the exhibit. Will they be guided through from beginning to end? How do you accomplish that? How do you signal to visitors how to move? One prominent example of such an exhibit is the main gallery at the United States Holocaust Museum and Memorial here in Washington, D.C. Other exhibits have an open flow, visitors can move freely from one area to the next. How an exhibit is laid out will have a major bearing on the organization and order of the content.

Color and Texture
The colors, textures, graphics, and materials used to fabricate an exhibit go a long way in setting the environmental mood and thus a visitor’s experience. Cool colors often create a more modern atmosphere, while warm colors tend to feel more historical or earthy. Texture adds a different layer of sensation, and can further immerse a visitor in the experience. The Hall of Geology, Gems, and Minerals at the Smithsonian Natural History Museum makes good use of texture, including walls made of rough rock that give the visitor the feeling of entering a mine.

Exhibit Labels
Exhibit labels are important not only because they convey content but because, if done poorly, a visitor will not take the time to read them. Historians need to work with designers to make sure their labels are the right length, while designers select the typeface, size, and placement of the text. The text must be readable at appropriate distances, and also for visitors with vision impairments, so it cannot be too small (or too big), or employ a font that it is difficult to read. The color of the font must be appropriate for the background of the panel, so there is enough contrast and visibility. The designer must also establish hierarchy, so visitors can distinguish titles from labels and captions. It should ensure that, even if a visitor only skims parts of panels, they easily be able to identify what is most important to read. Hierarchy can be seen in the photograph of the poster I designed below – the title is prominent, as is the lead that is meant to hook the reader. The main text is larger than the sub-topic text, which is larger than the image captions.

The way an exhibit is illuminated can also has significant bearing on visitor experiences. Dark spaces convey a serious mood, giving content a certain gravitas, while open, light spaces do just the opposite. Records of Rights at the National Archives is a good example of an exhibit with appropriately low lighting. Of course, mood is not the only reason for lighting decisions. Lighting designers must also work with conservators to ensure that objects are not exposed to damaging amounts of light, another reason for the low lights on delicate documents at the National Archives.

This is just a small glimpse at the important work that designers do in bringing history to the public, but hopefully a helpful one. For more information I would recommend Kathleen McLean’s excellent Planning for People in Museum Exhibitions.


The poster I designed for my Exhibition Design class is currently on display on at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum.

The Diversity Deficit in American Historic Preservation


Historic preservation as a profession is flawed and practitioners have no problem admitting that. Diversity,or lack thereof, within both the hiring practices and the physical act of preserving sites has been a topic of much discussion within the field for the past three or so decades. This demonstrates a desire to change and evolve into an all-inclusive field where everyone is considered a part of the majority. Whereas the first unit’s readings mentioned African American history and preservation in a peripheral sense, these readings re-position it as an issue at the forefront of the profession. In one way or another they all discuss access to preservation resources (both economic and political),the hidden prejudice within preservation, the evolution of diversity and preservation and various solutions to the single stories presented by many historic sites today. All of the readings conclude with the sentiment that although considerable strides have been made toward diversity and inclusion within the field there is more that can be done.

Equality, or rather equity, in preservation has not always been an area of concerted focus in the profession. But as Dianne Harris so aptly muses in her piece Seeing the Invisible, race and space (ie. the built environment and by extension preservation of said environment) are inextricably linked. So just as American attitudes about racial equality, prejudice and power have evolved over time, so too have ideas about the connection between racial diversity within preservation. Although preservationists have not always been concerned with African American history or the preservation of sites connected to it, African American history (and minority history in general) has long been present in and linked to other preservation ventures. for example, preserving a house in an all white neighborhood that excluded minorities will inadvertently be telling the story of segregation alongside its central narrative.

According to Kaufman, the decision to present more diverse histories, particularly those of African American import, spurred a lot of talk but not much action. In 1992 the National Trust held a conference centered around diversity where they trained preservation leaders from minority communities, and various initiatives,such as the New York based Place Matters and the National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom Program, were started to try and reconcile the racial imbalance within preservation. But momentum could not be sustained and the initiatives ceased. Additionally, as of April 20, 2004, of the 77,000 properties listed in the National Register only about 1,300 were explicitly associated with African-American heritage, 90 with Hispanic, and 67 with Asian. The failure of the above programs and those staggering statistics have shown practitioners in the field, specifically at NPS, that they have two large diversity deficits to remedy–first, that the National Register does not fully recognize stories beyond the mainstream and two, African American stories are represented at a higher number than that of any other minority group.

Simply put, the addition of race to the agenda of historic preservation has allowed the profession to see it’s inherent flaws.But any system initially designed by a homogenous group with the aim of maintaining the structures built for and used by that group would be understandably biased. Early preservationists most likely  never foresaw that diversity and inclusion would be topics of discussion in regards to their profession because the stately homes and pristine neighborhoods that their white identities and preservation ideals were built upon were themselves exclusionary. By only preserving and presenting certain types of sites, landscapes or buildings preservationists are only depicting a one-sided view of America. However, to continually label certain sites by racial


African-American Heritage Marker in Pinellas County, Florida. 

markers serves to continually other them and therefore perpetuate their marginalization instead of their integration into a comprehensive American narrative. While this dilemma is difficult to navigate (as it pits the need to be recognized against the need to be accepted as equal) it does incite questions that may prove useful in finding solutions.


One question gleaned from the Harris piece is, how does othering occur in the built environment? Do certain sites tell the unintended story of exclusion and segregation while simultaneously reinforcing privilege and predominance by virtue of still standing? Harris would argue yes. Lee’s piece asks the question, how can we expand the preservation template to work towards the preservation of all types of cultural resources? She is concerned with aspects of minority cultural that are often outside the realm of the national standards for preservation. Currently, there are parameters in place to protect the intangible heritage of many Native and indigenous groups but the lack of a cultural safety net for the cultural resources of other minority groups link Lee’s concept of an expanding preservation template to Harris’ concepts of the prejudice inherent in preservation. Lastly, Kaufman presents a few guiding questions in his piece but the most insightful seemed to be how can historic sites facilitate intergroup reconciliation? Kaufman makes the point that histories that may be viewed as only essential to specific groups may come to be seen as central to a larger narrative if these disparate communities can unite. Thus, historic sites may serve as the place where reconciliation of the past may take place so that a new, more cohesive history can take shape.

These readings helped me to better understand the presumptions that have been and still are prevalent in preservation. By denoting a space or a site as an “African American heritage site” you are asserting that African Americans are a monolithic group with a monolithic experience–while white sites are never deemed as such; rather they are simply called “American heritage sites.” This process of categorizing and recognizing sites by race (although it is supposed to affirm equality) actually serves to perpetuate the othering necessary to maintain the concept of mainstream whiteness. Ultimately, the historic sites that we preserve can uphold the racism and social injustice that we as a nation have been working to dismantle.





Harris, Dianne, “Seeing the Invisible: Reexamining Race and Vernacular Architecture.” Perspectives in Vernacular Architecture 13, no. 2 (2006/2007): 96-105.

Kaufman, Ned. “Historic Places and the Diversity Deficit in Heritage Conservation.” CRM: The Journal of Heritage Stewardship 1 ,no. 2 (Summer 2004).

Lee, Antoinette. “From Historic Architecture to Cultural Heritage: A Journey Through Diversity, Identity, and Community.” Future Anterior 1, no. 2 (2004): 15-23.

Michael D. Newsom. “Blacks and Historic Preservation.” Law and Contemporary Problems (Summer 1971):423-431.


Buzzzzzing Through Time: A Public History Practicum Project

I see honey bees everywhere.  Of course, not the living, buzzing kind because those populations are in rapid decline, but preserved versions found in old books, tapestries, and stone walls.  My dear future graduate students, you will soon learn that even though you’ve turned in your paper, your research projects never really leave you.  

Karnak Bee

When my guide called this a butterfly, I nearly launched into a full-blown lecture.  Somehow, I resisted.  Karnak Temple, Luxor, Egypt.

Nearly a year ago classmates Anna Snyder, Anna (Reiter) Torres, and I began our bee adventure with our Public History Practicum project.  Every spring the American University Public History program partners with many institutions around the Washington, DC area, and my group worked with Smithsonian Gardens.  Each year the Gardens host Garden Fest, an event held on the National Mall that features educational booths and hands-on activities for people of all ages.  In 2015 the theme for Garden Fest was ‘pollinators,’ and the Gardens wanted a pop-up exhibit on the history of honey bees.

‘History of honey bees’ is open to many interpretations. Further, we are historians, not scientists, so we worried about doing this complex, interdisciplinary history justice.  Each of us has very different historical interests and we decided to utilize our diverse strengths. Together we created a ‘big idea’ that would guide the educational message of our pop-up exhibit:  “Humans have long relied on honey bees for their production of honey and wax.”[i]  This big idea gave us the freedom to show the dependence of humans on honey bees from circa 13,000 BCE to today, while demonstrating that the loss of honey bee populations would greatly impact our society today.                   

Bees China

Though the cases of Colony Collapse Disorder remain unclear, the consequences are undeniable.  In the 1980s, the honey bees in Southern Sichuan Province of China disappeared.  Now the people must pollinate their fruit trees by hand.  This could be the future of the United States.  Courtesy of Christopher O’Toole, Bees:  A Natural History.

Pop-up exhibits are designed to be temporary and are meant to create conversation by making one’s personal experience a part of the education (if you want to learn more about her innovative museum exhibit format, check out Nina Simon’s blog post).  The limited space in the garden made interpreting such a long history more of a challenge. Throughout the process of creating a pop-up exhibit, the three of us met with the Smithsonian Garden’s Manager of Horticultural Collections and Education Cynthia Brown and Education and Volunteer Program Coordinator Alison Kootstra to make sure we were meeting expectations and that our designs were doable.  


Building an exhibit takes planning and creative thinking.  Here we laid out a test panel to decide how large to create our text blocks.


Garden Fest Set-Up

Setting up the exhibit at Garden Fest 2015.  The ancient Egyptian ‘clay’ reproduction hives and one of the straw skeps are displayed on the table.

In the end, we created a timeline with pictures that showed moments in history when honey bees played an important role in peoples’ lives.  There were also hands-on options for visitors of all ages to get them engaged and excited about learning.  We had a photo-op where kids (and adults!) posed as a beekeeper.  There were three types of hives that visitors could touch and a large whiteboard with markers that posed the question:  “Can you name something honey bees help make?”  These hands-on activities encouraged visitors to start thinking about all the things that we need from honey bees, both as pollinators and producers of honey and wax.  Visitors were left wondering: if for thousands of years we have relied on honey bees, what will happen if honey bees disappear?

When we go.jpg


If you want to learn more about our project, check out our History of Honey Bees blog.  

Want to learn more about applying public history?  Take a look at this list of practicum projects by other American University Public History students.  

The Importance of the Digital World in Public History

The Importance of the Digital World in Public History

Typically, when people think of public history (after finally understanding what exactly it entails), their minds are drawn to physical museums and historic sites, be it somewhere as well-known as a Smithsonian or something more remote, such as a small, locally run museum; however, that is not all there is.

As the world grows more reliant on the internet for information, public historians have learned to adapt to this new forum as well. A museum’s physical location inherently limits the audience it can reach as only those with the right proximity or monetary resources can feasibly visit. An online exhibit or a digitized archive, on the other hand, can be accessed from anywhere with an internet connection. Technology has the ability to empower history in a way that physical sites and printed words never could; it makes history much more open and accessible.

The goal of public historians is often to reach as many people as possible and digitization can aid in this process.

  • Digitized archival material means “to those who previously had no access, online archives open locked doors,” such as all the resources available on Internet Archive.
  • Digitizing collections is “about taking cultural heritage collections and changing them. Changing what we can do with them. Changing how we see them. Changing how we think about them, even the ones they don’t intend to display.”
  • Mobile apps can “foster a new, robust relationship between the twenty-first-century communities we serve and the collections we care for.”

Online exhibits are one of the best and easiest ways to truly get history to the public. They are not only reachable to many people, but are often free and fairly easy for the institution to create—a must for museums with small budgets. Further, they are no less curated than a physical exhibit and in some cases, you can even virtually walk through the entire museum.

Last year, I worked at Ford’s Theatre as their digital public history intern. My time spent there enabled me to see just how critical the internet can be for museums. I created three online exhibits using Google Cultural Institute, I wrote blogs, and contributed to Remembering Lincoln, their new online collection of responses to the Lincoln assassination, all of which brought the story of Abraham Lincoln’s life and legacy to thousands of people who live outside of Washington, D.C. After about 9 months, my blogs had over 3,000 views, and after just a few months, the first two of my exhibits had nearly 11,000 views! While Ford’s Theatre is a popular tourist spot and does not need to worry about visitorship or public recognition, this cannot be said for many smaller museums. And in those cases, utilizing online spaces can greatly benefit the site.


You can walk through Ford’s Theatre and virtually stand on the stage–something you can’t even normally do while visiting the site.


Or you can zoom in to look at John Wilkes Booth’s derringer in incredible detail!

People are sometimes skeptical about relying so heavily on digital technology, and often for good reasons. However, for public historians, this online world is certainly one worth exploring.

Exploring the Presence of the Past at President Lincoln’s Cottage


During one of my first weeks working at President Lincoln’s Cottage I had an encounter that many historic site interpreters dread — the illusive foreign visitor. Luckily, although the guest was a Frenchmen he understood/spoke fluent English, therefore translation was not an issue. However, the mere presence of this “foreigner” added an unexpected yet provocative dynamic to the tour itself.

I have crafted my tour to be as interactive and thought-provoking as possible. I have thoughtfully designed specific questions for each space in the Cottage that will help visitors make present-day connections to the past as well as think historically. During one of  my tours, after entering the drawing room, I engaged visitors with a story about an Englishman named George Borritt who visited the President unexpectedly at the Cottage one day in 1863. After playing a sound clip of the President asking Borrit his thoughts on “our great country” I proceeded to ask the audience how they would describe what is great about America to a foreign visitor. By happenstance the visitor who decided to answer my question was the man from France. He told the group that he was an immigrant practicing medicine in the States and raising his children here. Specifically, he noted that “the opportunity of America that Lincoln saw” is what he would describe as one of the country’s best tenets and something that he was glad his children were afforded.

I found this to be a very telling admission. Not only was this visitor drawing connections between himself and Borritt (both as visitors in America) but also between his vision of America and Lincoln’s vision (as a land of immense opportunity). By mentioning his children and the fact that they can enjoy the privilege of boundless opportunities it was made clear that the guest was employing a type of connecting talk, known as a “life connection.”  In Learning Conversations in Museums, Sue Allen invokes this term in her analysis of a visitor observation that she conducted at California’s Exploratorium Museum. She defines connecting talk as, “explicit connections between something in the exhibition and some other knowledge or experience beyond it.” By offering up this personal association the French guest was unknowingly signalling that the content of the tour was triggering some type of historical stimulus.

In Public History Seminar (a required course at AU) we talked extensively about the importance of history and why/how some people connect to it better than others. This “strangeness of the past”, as Sam Wineburg calls it, sometimes causes people discomfort when interacting with history. In his book Historical Thinking and Other Unnatural Acts Wineburg argues that thinking within a historic context detached from the past is abnormal. Thus, thinking within this framework meant that discussions about history’s relevance were recurrent throughout the course. The concept of historical thinking as “unnatural” may also be applied to my experience with the French guest. He was able to relate his own experience to what he presumed were Lincoln’s ideas about America due to “presentism–the act of viewing the past through the lens of the present.” While the visitor was analyzing and making connections he was not necessarily interpreting the information historically. However, if the tours were longer more time could be devoted to making those cognitive leaps that historians normally employ.

While it may seem small, interacting with this visitor greatly enhanced, if not validated, my thoughts about public history practice. If done correctly tours can truly elicit meaningful conversations that impact all parties involved. This small act of linking the experience of Lincoln to that of this man from another country demonstrates, not only the temporal relevance that history has, but geographic and/or spatial relevance. Through our brief conversation about Lincoln and his life the visitor was able to analyze his own native experiences in France and how they compare to that of Lincoln and to those of his children who are being raised in America. I found this moment to be particularly cool because it clearly showed that the past is very much so present, relevant and relatable.


Allen,Sue. “Looking for Learning in Visitor Talk: A Methodological Exploration.” Learning Conversations in Museums.Mahwah: Lawrence Erlbaum, 2002.

Wineburg, Sam. Historical Thinking and Other Unnatural Acts.Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2001.

Beyond Flappers: Challenging Gender Norms in the 1920s

The flapper, with her bobbed hair and swinging, beaded fringe, has become an iconic character of the American past. She was young, educated, and daring. She smoked, she drank, she danced, she showed off a lot more than just her ankles. And in the process, she challenged the lives and expectations of past generations. The flapper wanted a career. She wanted to date before marriage. She did not want to settle down and raise children – at least not until she had experience more of what life had to offer.

Yet the flapper lifestyle was by no means a universal experience for women in the 1920s. Indeed, it was very much an urban, middle- to upper-class phenomenon, one that, for many women, remained distant, even alien. A 1922 article in the Prescott, Arizona, newspaper The Weekly Journal-Miner attests to that: “Typical Flappers. You’ve often heard ’em called that, but did you ever really understand what it meant?” It identifies them for the reader, as if providing a classification for an exotic bird that might one day be spotted in the wild.

1922 08 02 Weekly Journal Miner

But the story of resistance to gender norms does not end with flappers. Over the summer, I was struggling to come up with a definite topic for my research seminar when at the National Archives I stumbled across a collection of letters written by women across the United States to the Children’s Bureau  – a federal agency charged with improving the lives of women and their children. A majority of these women came from rural areas, towns like Creston, Montana, or Villisca, Iowa, with small populations. They were the wives of farmers and laborers. Women like Gertrude Lirones of Mount Pleasant, Michigan, whose husband worked as a hat cleaner. Their lives could not have been further removed from their daring, glittery flapper counterparts. And yet each of the 46 women whose letters I found at the archive sought change her life, to achieve more than, in the words of one letter writer, “Poverty & More Babies.”

The writers of these particular letters all wrote to the Children’s Bureau asking for birth control. While at this time activists like Margaret Sanger were making strong arguments for birth control, the agency did not take a stance on or give advice about it. Indeed, it would have been illegal for them to do so – an 1873 law outlawed the sale, publication, or dissemination, especially through the mail, of any device or material related to the prevention of conception. Women wrote all the same, some desperate, others determined and defiant, and all hoping to gain some control over their health and their lives.

Flappers were not alone in their quest to change the female experience, and these remarkable letters provide ample proof. Below I’ve included a few of the letters, and a snapshot of the women who wrote them, information I was able to glean using census records from

Sophia Micka, of Cayuga, North Dakota, wrote to the Bureau in 1921. She and her husband, a meat merchant, had seven children, but she “did not want any more after [she] had two.” Her letter alludes to now controversial debates about who should or should not have children.


Helen Harting of Muskegon Heights, Michigan, wrote her letter in 1927. At 23 she already had two children – Pearl and Leonard – and a husband who did not support her. Like all of the women in this study, the Children’s Bureau did not provide assistance, but records reveal that she was able to divorce her husband in 1929, citing “extreme cruelty & non-support.”


Finally, Gertrude Lirones of Mount Pleasant, Michigan, wrote for help in 1929. She was raising five children under the age of 10 and worried that any more would cause too much financial and physical stress. “Sicknesses every year. Bills! Wife very tired… Having to keep on child bearing strikes absolute terror to wife’s heart. She goes on to mention all of the advice pamphlets available – on everything from goats to bird houses – and writes that “If the government can’t help us now we’ll feel pretty badly.” She did not get the help she sought – by 1940 Gertrude had given birth to three more sons.


These letters show only a glimpse at these women’s lives, but what they reveal is both heartbreaking and powerful, and indicative of powerful, growing trends. None of these women received assistance from the Children’s Bureau, but what’s important is that they sought it in the first place.



So, what exactly do you do?

One of the ironies of being a public historian is that, for the most part, people have no idea what that means. The phrase “public history” has so much meaning – often contested – within the field, and almost no meaning outside of it. It’s a phrase that tends to elicit a response like, isn’t all history public? Or, as opposed to what, private history?

This blog seeks to take one small step towards exposing what we do and why we love it. It also allows us, as students in a graduate program, to share our studies, research, and work experiences. We are constantly grappling with new perspectives, developing arguments, and uncovering fascinating resources, and a lot of what we do does not reach the public. It is grueling and frustrating and utterly rewarding, and this is our way of sharing it with you.

We won’t use this post for definitions – we hope that the blog will provide a better sense of this rich, diverse field than we could possibly do in a few sentences. Happy reading!

Ethnographic Terminalia and Interdisciplinary Exhibitions: A Review

Last fall the exhibition collective, Ethnographic Terminalia, hosted its eighth annual event at the 2015 International Symposium of Electric Art (ISEA) in Vancouver, Canada. Titled ARTIC NOISE, the exhibit, created by Geronimo Inutiq, promised to uphold the collective’s commitment to exposing the shared boundaries of art and the social sciences, namely anthropology. The multimedia installation called upon archival footage from the National Gallery of Canada, on-site research collected from a trip to Igloolik, as well as materials sourced from the artist’s personal collection. Ethnographic Terminalia stated the exhibit was an “Indigenous response to Glenn Gould’s celebrated [documentary] composition The Idea of the North.” In addition, Ethnographic Terminalia offered its audience a workshop, Terminus: Archives, Ephemera, and Electronic Art, to explore the challenges and discourse surrounding the preservation of born-digital art in the archives. The workshop resulted in a handmade catalog, or archive, with future plans to digitize the work for posterity and research.

So, what does this kind of work mean for public historians? I believe Ethnographic Terminalia demonstrates that we can embrace new horizons in our work by challenging notions of historical presentation and ultimately reexamine how we share the past. And we can begin by looking around us, investigating how the humanities, social sciences, and arts interact, share artifacts, and illicit public interaction.

I was fortunate enough to attend Ethnographic Terminalia’s 2014 event, The Bureau of Memories: Archives and Ephemera, at Washington, DC’s Hierarchy Gallery. Described as an investigation of the tension between public memory and history, Bureau of Memories hosted twenty-six unique mini exhibits representing the research of anthropologists and artists, from seasoned scholars to newly minted graduate students. And unlike any historical exhibition I’d previously encountered, their exhibits shared historical objects, oral histories, film and audiovisual art in simultaneously stimulating ways. Everything seemed to be in conversation with its audience in a fashion I’d only experienced in abstract art spaces. In this review, I’d like to briefly highlight three of the mini exhibits that showcased this rethinking of historical interpretation through individualized interdisciplinary approaches.

As a graduate student deeply invested in the field of oral history, I am endlessly fascinated by the outcomes of oral history research, specifically, presenting it to the public. The exhibit Sweet Tea utilized a personal narrative to document E. Patrick Harris’s story as the first Black man from Hickory, North Carolina, to earn a Ph.D. The experimental documentary, produced by Nora Gross and Jack Johnson, was projected on a stencil of E. Patrick Harris; his arms strewn open in a dance-like pose. The film, a video series of Harris revisiting meaningful places in his hometown (cue David Glassberg’s Sense of History), included a trip home to remake his mother’s sweet tea recipe. An audio recording of his oral testimony complemented the film. Harris used this multimedia, multilayered format to explore his coming out experience as a gay Black southerner with such provocative statements as “Most people never forgive themselves for being gay.” Harris’s story not only invited its audience to consider the many experiences of Black gay men from the South, but also “what does it even mean to blur the boundaries between art and science, scholarship and activism, and what’s to be gained from doing so?”[1]

teaSweet Tea, Hierarchy Gallery, Washington, D.C., Fall 2014

As the audience, I felt the exercise of the exhibit was achieved. I let myself drift between the audio, static image, and film while embracing the power of Sweet Tea’s message: activism through self-reflection. To me, this was a fantastic expression of oral history. Utilizing only wall space Sweet Tea interpreted the past while challenging me to understand the history of race, gender, place, and sexuality.

The next mini-exhibit utilized a technique museum director Nina Simon refers to as “social objects.” In her digital book, The Participatory Museum, Simon describes “social objects” as objects that have the ability to “spark conversation.” In other words, “Social objects are the engines of socially networked experiences” and they “allow people to focus their attention on a third thing rather than on each other, making interpersonal engagement more comfortable.”[2]

feltdeskHistory Felt: Alaska Peninsula Reindeer Herding, Hierarchy Gallery, Washington, D.C., Fall 2014

feltdesk2History Felt: Alaska Peninsula Reindeer Herding, Hierarchy Gallery, Washington, D.C., Fall 2014

feltdesk3History Felt: Alaska Peninsula Reindeer Herding, Hierarchy Gallery, Washington, D.C., Fall 2014

Amber Lincoln’s exhibit, History Felt: Alaska Peninsula Reindeer Herding, was the culmination of two-years of research on reindeer herding on the Alaska Peninsula. Using memos, rangeland permits, maps, historical photos, and oral testimonies, Lincoln assembled her exhibit as an office desk. Interpreted as belonging to a reindeer herder, the desk was covered in artifacts, inviting its audience to read and feel its history. Lincoln dropped notes on the desk and pinned maps of herd routes against the wall to address issues of community erosion as herders were drawn to more lucrative industries, like fishing. I watched as the public compared the desk and its contents to that of an acquaintance’s or a beloved grandfather’s, but also delighted in touching the unfamiliar hides of reindeer. Lincoln seemed to latch on to the power of “social objects.” This thoughtful simulation also used an antique phone, much like the one you might find in an old office, to share the personal stories of herders. I observed participants talking with each other about these narratives suggesting that expressing oral sources through a phone was a great example of another “social object.”

Each of the twenty-six mini exhibits offered the audience nuanced visions of history in creative and meaningful formats. Yet, the final exhibit I will recognize in this post achieved a powerful presentation with a familiar and simple “social object” as its focal point: a board game. The Ward: DuBois and Oral Histories, created by Stephanie Brodie and Amy Hillier, aimed to share W.E.B. DuBois’s vision for Philadelphia’s Black community from his book The Philadelphia Negro written in the city’s Seventh Ward. The board game invited the audience to sit down and act out DuBois’s dream while a film of activists and religious leaders from the Seventh Ward played in the background.

gameThe Ward: DuBois and Oral Histories, Hierarchy Gallery, Washington, D.C., Fall 2014

game2The Ward: DuBois and Oral Histories, Hierarchy Gallery, Washington, D.C., Fall 2014

The setting was inviting — as if you were welcomed into someone’s home with a television set illuminating your host’s favorite series. Brodie and Hillier’s board game, positioned in the foreground, was well executed and I watched as the audience settled into the activity with ease and interest. The pawns, cards, and board used sophisticated graphics and asked users to choose their piece from a selection of historical community members. As players moved across the board, encountering issues of DuBois’ The Philadelphia Negro, they were lulled by the captivating stories projected on the wall behind them.


As mentioned earlier, Ethnographic Terminalia roots itself between anthropology and art. Though it is not explicitly history, its presentation of the past relies on the same objects public historians use to tell stories: maps, images, artifacts, oral testimony, ephemera, film, and more.

To me, this project demonstrates that by keeping attune to the interest of audiences and the practices of neighboring disciplines, public historians stand to benefit a great deal as we continue to reimagine how we share the past with the public.

[1] The Bureau of Memories: Archives and Ephemera, Exhibit Catalog

[2] Nina Simon. The Participatory Museum (Museum 2.0; First Edition (US) First Printing edition, 2010) accessed August 6, 2015,, chapter 4.


The Mount Rushmore of Public History

Rising high above the Black Hills of South Dakota, Mount Rushmore memorializes George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt. It also serves as a testament to American ingenuity, as the project took 14 years, cost over $15 million in today’s money, and required over 400 workers to execute the vision of sculptor Gutzon Borglum.[i] The monument has become an American cultural icon, appearing on stamps and coins, in movies and television commercials, and inspiring the Racing Presidents mascots of the Washington Nationals.[ii] It also serves as shorthand for a grouping of the four most important practitioners of a certain craft. For example, there is the Mount Rushmore of bad sports announcers, the Mount Rushmore of actors, and the Mount Rushmore of jazz musicians. To create an alternative Mount Rushmore, modern-day Gutzon Borglums analyze various historical accomplishments of potential honorees, and make interpretations about who is the greatest (or perhaps worst). Thus, creating an alternative Mount Rushmore is an exercise in public history.

What is public history exactly? The National Council on Public History board defines it as “a movement, methodology, and approach that promotes the collaborative study and practice of history; its practitioners embrace a mission to make their special insights accessible and useful to the public.”[iii] But perhaps the easiest way to think of it is interpreting the past for a general audience outside of traditional academic formats. Mount Rushmore, the South Dakota version or various others, interprets the past by showing to the public who is important. After all, it can’t get more public than a thousand-foot high mountain.

So who then would be on the Mount Rushmore of public historians? There are hundreds to choose from, but these four represent the variety of the field: Ann Pamela Cunningham, who created America’s first major house museum; Horace Albright, who made history a prominent aspect of the National Park Service; Allan Nevins, who bridged the gap between academic and popular history; and Robert Kelley, who founded the modern Public History movement.

Ann Pamela Cunningham dedicated her life to the preservation of Mount Vernon.

Ann Pamela Cunningham dedicated her life to the preservation of Mount Vernon, which became one of the first historic houses in America to be preserved specifically for public enjoyment. This model paved the way for the thousands of house museums that exist today in America. Image courtesy of Mount Vernon.

In 1853 Louisa Bird Cunningham passed by Mount Vernon on a steamboat headed down the Potomac River. Dismayed at the ruinous conditions of the former mansion, she wrote to her 37-year old daughter Ann Pamela that perhaps women could save and preserve Mount Vernon as a shrine to George Washington. Ann Pamela Cunningham took up this challenge, writing “An Appeal to the Ladies of the South” in December 1853. Widely reproduced in newspapers all over the South, it encouraged Southern women to lead efforts to save George Washington’s home, unless “pilgrims to the shrine of pure patriotism should find it forgotten, surrounded by blackening smoke and deafening machinery!”[iv] The idea soon caught on throughout the South and indeed in the North too. Cunningham, who as a childless and unmarried invalid dedicated her whole life to this effort, created the Mount Vernon Ladies Association which helped raise the $200,000 needed to purchase the estate in 1858. While the Civil War interrupted the house’s preservation, it has served as a house museum ever since.

Thanks to the legacy of Cunningham, historic house museums have become America’s most common public history site. As former National Trust for Historic Preservation (NTHP) President Richard Moe wrote in 2002, “Almost every American community of any size can boast at least one—and quite often more than one—house museum.”[v] In 2013, in a speech at the annual National Preservation Conference, current NTHP President Stephanie Meeks estimated that there are about 15,000 house museums in the country—the equivalent of about five for every American county.[vi] The oversaturation of this type of public history is not necessarily a good thing. Both Moe and Meeks mentioned the ubiquitousness of historic house museums to demonstrate that strong action is needed to redefine the best practices for house museums. In fact, Moe’s article was entitled “Are There Too Many House Museums?” Nevertheless, Cunningham’s actions still affect the field today. As Moe wrote, “The successful Mount Vernon campaign established a pattern that has since been followed by hundreds of preservation groups.”[vii] Moe’s successor echoed his comments. “Mount Vernon – where the house museum concept was conceived in our nation,” Meeks said, “established and forever legitimized a model” for public history.[viii] So while debates over the efficacy of Cunningham’s model exist, there is no doubt she had a tremendous influence on public history.

If house museums are America’s most common example of public history, the National Park Service (NPS) is the country’s largest and most visited collection of public history sites, with 1,769 museum facilities.[ix] The land area of the national park system is also staggering: 401 specific units, covering over 84 million acres in every state, Washington, D.C., American Samoa, Guam, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. According to its FAQ page, NPS received 273,630,895 visitors in 2013, which is equivalent to roughly 85% of America’s population.[x] Though not all of those visitors necessarily learned about history, there’s no doubt that public history and its related fields of archaeology, anthropology, preservation, and museology are ever-present characteristics of National Parks. The man most responsible for this focus is Horace Albright.

Horace Albright focused on adding history parks when he became National Park Service Director

In this colorized photo slide from 1922, Yellowstone Superintendent Horace Albright enjoys a “bear dinner.” After his time as a Superintendent, Albright became National Park Service Director, where he added parks that focused on history rather than nature.
Image courtesy of National Park Service, Historic Photograph Collection.

Horace Albright joined the Interior Department at the age of 23 in 1913 and worked as an early employee of NPS after Congress authorized it in 1916. After serving as Assistant Director and then the Superintendent of Yellowstone, Albright was named the second Director of the Park Service in 1929 (two years into Mount Rushmore’s construction). In the early days of the Park Service, the vast majority of its holdings were large western parks, preserved and protected for their stunning natural scenery. Under Albright’s leadership, however, NPS added more parks in the eastern part of the country, and pushed for more focus on history in the parks, since history “served the public good, encouraging Americans to find their place in the nation.” The subsequent creation of a Park Service history program, “transformed vernacular landscapes and local traditions into components of a national heritage.”[xi] Specifically, in one of his last acts as Director, Albright successfully secured the transfer of 57 Civil War and Revolutionary War battlefields to the Park Service from the War Department, in 1933, after arguing that because “the interesting features of each of these parks are their historic associations” NPS should preserve them for future generations.[xii] This act “placed the importance of historical parks on par with natural parks.”[xiii] Under Albright’s directorship, the first two national monuments dedicated to history in the NPS were established, both in Virginia. Lastly, he created the Branch of Research and Education in 1931, which after many different transformations became the modern History Division.[xiv] As part of this process, he hired the first Chief Historian Verne Chatelain who executed Albright’s vision of expanding history in the parks after his retirement in 1933.

Albright’s legacy is still important today. The NPS training center at the Grand Canyon that educates rangers on public engagement is named after him, since he emphasized the importance of rangers doing public service. Also, NPS’s management of battlefields has made them great places of public history engagement. For example, according to one estimate, 15 National Park Service Civil War battlefields and historic sites in Missouri, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia attracted an average of over one million visitors in 2010, on the eve of the Civil War sesquicentennial. And during the sesquicentennial, major battlefield sites have seen huge upticks in attendance. [xv] Perhaps without Albright, these Parks would not have been preserved by NPS for public enjoyment today. In the end, current Chief Historian Robert Sutton sums up Albright’s contributions very succinctly: “In many ways, Horace Albright was the most important person in National Park Service history.”[xvi]

Visiting house museums or national parks is one way the public interacts with history. There are also passive interactions, like reading books, listening to audio programs, and watching films about historical topics. This is where another definition of public history comes into effect.  I like to think of public historians as translators; we “translate” the latest academic historical research and writing into easily understandable segments for a general audience. Perhaps no greater academic historian accomplished this than Allan Nevins.

Allan Nevins always had the public in mind.

Allan Nevins always had the public in mind. His promotion of history through popular magazines, radio programs and accessible books connected the wider world with history, even as he maintained an academic post for most of his career.
Image courtesy of Columbia University.

Starting in 1929, Allan Nevins served as a historian at Columbia University for 30 years, as well as on the faculty of Oxford University. Despite these lofty academic credentials, he railed against the inaccessibility of academic history, while promoting the legitimacy of amateur history. Nevins crucially helped historians “bridge the perceived gap with the general public” by bringing together “leading amateurs and professionals in a crusade against pedantry.”[xvii] Though he was not the first to engage with the general reader, Nevins worked in several different mediums to make history accessible. He fostered the development of the American Heritage magazine, which by 1959 had similar circulation to Harper’s Magazine and Atlantic.[xviii] Through the Society of American Historians (SAH), which he helped found in 1939, Nevins produced radio and television productions of history, including the American Stories radio series that was distributed throughout the country.[xix] Lastly, Nevins was a prolific writer, publishing over 79 works throughout his career, including an extremely successful and popular textbook, America, the History of a Free People, which was published in several editions in the 1950s and 1960s.[xx] These publications, especially his eight-volume series on the Civil War, combined scholarly research with readable prose, and were widely read. Though Nevins ruffled some feathers in the process of bridging the gap of academic and popular history, his push to make history more accessible to the public was crucial. To honor his influence, SAH awards the Allan Nevins Prize to the best-written doctoral dissertation. So in some ways, anytime an academic historian writes a widely accessible book that the public greatly consumes, she is fulfilling the goal of Nevins.

Robert Kelley found the modern Public History movement by creating the first graduate program at UC Santa Barbara in 1976. The National Council on Public History (which was founded in 1979) honors his legacy with the biannual Robert Kelley Memorial Award. Image courtesy Of National Council on Public History.

Robert Kelley found the modern Public History movement by creating the first graduate program at UC Santa Barbara in 1976. The National Council on Public History (which was founded in 1979) honors his legacy with the biannual Robert Kelley Memorial Award.
Image courtesy Of National Council on Public History.

Cunningham, Albright and Nevins are all very important figures in the history of public history. Yet, none of them called what they did “public history.” That term gained prominence thanks to Robert Kelley. Kelley served on the history faculty of the University of California, Santa Barbara from 1955-1993, retiring just months before his death in August 1993 at the age of 68. Yet his academic career did not solely define him. In addition to his faculty position, he also served as a legal consultant and expert witness for the California Attorney General, and during the Korean War served as an Air Force adjutant and historian. So he had plenty of non-traditional historical experience. Using this varied experience, Kelley created an experimental program in 1976 at UCSB in “Public History.” At the time, there was a growing jobs crisis for PhD holders, as American universities turned out new doctorates at a high rate that exceeded deman. In light of the doomed job opportunities, Kelley remembered his experiences as an expert witness earlier and applied for a Rockefeller Grant to institute a new program that would train PhD students to use history in non-academic settings. This created the modern movement, and was the biggest contribution of his career. “His frequent periods of off-campus engagement shaped his view of the relationship between the university and society,” one obituary wrote, “and led him to programmatic and curricular innovations that came atop a superbly successful career as an academic historian. For him, academic knowledge should be applied to the needs of society. This was the central dynamic in his career.”[xxi]

In addition to leading to an increase in the phrase “public history” (instead of “applied history” which used by a similar program at Carnegie Mellon), Robert Kelley helped found the Public Historian, and NCPH. Today, NCPH honors his legacy with the biannual Robert Kelley Memorial Award, which “honors distinguished and outstanding achievements by individuals, institutions, non-profit or corporate entities for having made significant inroads in making history relevant to individual lives of ordinary people outside of academia.”[xxii] Recent winners can be considered the heirs of Cunningham, Albright, and Nevins, as they’ve directed presidential museums, served as NPS Chief Historian, and bridged the gap between public and academic history. Authors who argue for a longer genealogy of public history, such as myself via my Mount Rushmore, agree that Robert Kelley founded the modern Public History movement.

So there you have it, a Public History Mount Rushmore: Ann Pamela Cunningham, who fought to preserve the first President’s house as America’s first house museum; Horace Albright, who pushed the boundaries, literally, of the National Park Service to interpret and preserve historical landmarks for the public; Allan Nevins, who used his position of an academic appointment to make history more relatable; and Robert Kelley, who fathered the modern movement that gives us the framework for understanding the other three.

A Public Historian Mount Rushmore (l-r): Ann Pamela Cunningham, Horace Albright, Robert Kelley, and Allan Nevins.

A Public Historian Mount Rushmore (l-r): Ann Pamela Cunningham, Horace Albright, Robert Kelley, and Allan Nevins.

[i] “Frequently Asked Questions,” Mount Rushmore National Memorial website, accessed December 6, 2014,

[ii] In 2013 the Nationals also added William Taft, the first president to throw out a first pitch on Opening Day.

[iii] Cathy Stanton, “‘What Is Public History?’ Redux,” Public History News, 27:4 (September 2007) via Robert Wieble “Defining Public History: Is It Possible? Is It Necessary?” Perspectives on History March 2008, accessed December 4, 2014,

[iv] Patricia West, Domesticating History: The Political Origins of America’s House Museums (Washington: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1999), 7.

[v] Richard Moe, “Are There Too Many House Museums?” Forum Journal, 16:3 (Spring 2002), 4.

[vi] Stephanie Meeks “House Museums: A 20th Century Paradigm,” (speech, Indianapolis, October 30, 2013),

[vii] Moe, “Are There Too Many House Museums?” 4.

[viii] Meeks, “House Museum.”

[ix] I tried to find out the total number of “house museums” in the National Park Service. However, they do not classify their museums as such, since it’s hard to distinguish between a fully furnished house with original materials, a partially furnished house, and a house with reproduction furnishings. But according to Ron Wilson, Chief Curator of NPS, “326 parks have 1,769 museum facilities and we have NPS museum collections in 587 partner facilities.” [NPS Chief Historian Robert Sutton, e-mail message to author, December 8, 2014.]

[x] Both land area and visitation from “Frequently Asked Questions,” National Park Service, accessed December 6, 2014,

[xi] Both quotes from Denise Meringolo, Museums, Monuments and National Parks: Toward a New Genealogy of Public History, (Amherst, MA: University of Massachusetts Press, 2012), 86.

[xii] Meringolo, Museums, Monuments, and National Parks, 90, 111-12.

[xiii] Robert Sutton, e-mail message to author, December 8, 2014.

[xiv] Organization of American Historians, Imperiled Promise: The State of History in the National Park Service, prepared by Anne Mitchell Whisnant, Marla R. Miller, Gary B. Nash, David Thelen, (Bloomington IN: Organization of American Historians, 2011), 23.

[xv] The Harbinger Consulting Group, “Economic Benefits of Civil War Battlefields: Summary of Existing Data and Analysis,” published by Civil War Trust, April 2012, page 4. Nick Sacco “Analyzing Visitor Attendance to Civil War Sites During the Sesquicentennial,” Exploring the Past (blog), April 28, 2014

[xvi] Robert Sutton, e-mail message to author, December 8, 2014.

[xvii] Ian Tyrrell, Historians in the Public: The Practice of American History, 1890-1970 (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2004), 61.

[xviii] Tyrrell, Historians in the Public, 67.

[xix] Tyrrell, Historians in the Public, 103.

[xx] Peter Charles Hoffer, Past Imperfect: Facts, Fictions, Fraud—American History from Bancroft and Parkman to Ambrose, Bellesiles, Ellis, and Goodwin (New York: Public Affairs, 2007), 44-45.

[xxi] Otis L. Graham, “Robert L. Kelley, History: Santa Barbara,” in University of California: In Memoriam, 1994, edited by David Krogh. (Oakland: University of California, 1994), 146, accessed via;NAAN=13030&doc.view=frames&

[xxii] “Robert Kelley Memorial Award,” NCPH website, accessed December 6, 2014,