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2011 April 12
by Sheila

Last week, I was pleased to participate in and attend the National Council on Public History conference in Pensacola, FL. The conference attracts a nice blend of academics teaching in public history programs and public historians working in public and non-profit agencies, museums, libraries, and archives. (Catch up on the conference’s Twitter stream, #ncph2011.)

Overall, I see this group as both very open, even when skeptical, to digital methods and practices for historical work. Public historians are attracted to the digital for the same reasons Roy was attracted 17 years ago: the potential to democratize the practice of researching, teaching, and writing about history. Public historians want to reach new audiences, increase access to primary sources, and assist teachers, students, and non-academic to do their own work. Looking at the program, I counted 8 out of the 61 sessions (roundtables, panels, working groups) that dealt with digital projects, tools, or methods, plus there was a one-day THATCamp. This percentage is quite high when compared with AHA 2011 program: “1 out of nearly 300 covers digital matters”, with possibly another 6 sessions overall. Please read Dan Cohen’s analysis for more details. Thank you, NCPH for being more open and receptive to digital-focused proposals.

Usually at conferences like these, I am presenting on my CHNM (digital) work, but this year I actually presented on my own research. I discussed how the US Post Office Department became a powerful institution that legitimized and distributed historical narratives of select episodes and individuals from the American past. Most often when we think when the federal government gets into the history business we tend to think of the New Deal, with the expansion of the Park Service to include historic sites, oral history and folklore programs. But, the federal gov had begun producing historical narratives long before when it began its commemorative stamp program in 1892.

I posted my slides if you’re interested in looking at images. I did not write a paper so I do not have a script to fill in the gaps. Feel free, however, to create your own narrative or rename the slide titles, because I am interested to see how others might interpret what I presented here.

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