AMST2650: Introduction to Public Humanities     Fall 2017  Steven Lubar

Course Description

This graduate seminar considers some of the big questions in the public humanities, providing a background that will help students understand the choices made in preserving, interpreting, and presenting art, history and culture. We address these issues by reading and talking about history and theory, and considering case studies to see how theory plays out in practice. We’ll also consider contemporary issues and projects, applying theory and comparing them with historical examples.

The course is organized into four parts. Part 1 addresses the idea of the public. Who are the “publics” in public humanities? What is the relationship that we, as professionals, should have with them? How might we best work with them? Part 2 considers the subject of much of our work: “the other”; what is our relationship with the objects of our interpretations? Part 3 focuses one kind of “other”: the past. How does society decide what’s worth remembering? What role do we, as public humanities professionals, play in shaping, sharing, and interpreting public memories? And finally, we end the course by considering ourselves, the “experts.” What is the nature of public humanities work?  How does the work we do shape us?

How the course works: there’s a book, or several articles, to read each week. You should also keep up with contemporary writing on the web and in popular and professional media. In each class, we’ll discuss the reading, and consider contemporary issues that raise some of the same questions.

The point of this course is not to critique the literature, but to learn from it. Our goal is to understand the issues in working with culture, and with the public. As you read, and in class discussions, try to come up with a set of rules, concerns, techniques, and considerations for public humanities work. How might what we read be applied to exhibits, collections, and performance, in preserving the built environment, and interpreting the world around us? How do these authors, and the public and professionals they write about, think about culture, the public, the past, the work they do and the institutions in which they work?

Student responsibilities


Please try to attend every class, but if there are other engagements at class time that will be more useful to your professional development, it’s up to you to make the call on which is more valuable. Please let me know if you’re not able to make the class, and talk with me or with other students to catch up on class discussions.

Plan to attend the trip to New York City November 21. If there’s interest, I’ll plan local trips as well.


Read assigned work. Read strategically, to get what you need out of the book. On how to read for graduate seminars see, for example, Miriam Sweeney’s or Larry Cebula’s blog posts. Read the class blog each week before class.

Browse, throughout the semester, journals and websites that address issues related to the class. Check out the library’s Public Humanities Resources page. Look at journals, including Art in America, Museums, History News, and The Public Historian. Peruse useful blogs, including:,,,,, and Take a look at the books in the Center for Public Humanities library. You should also follow and browse my blog and the Center for Public Humanities blog occasionally. Subscribe to mailing lists of interest. Follow appropriate Twitter feeds. (Some useful lists: public humanities alums,  arts-museums-libraries, CSREA, museum and heritage studies, museum geeks, digital humanities.) Keeping up with the literature, online and in print, is a professional responsibility.


The class only works if you participate. Please read the readings, read further in areas of interest, write on the blog and on Twitter, and come to class prepared to discuss what you’ve read and thought about. Participation is evaluated by the quality of your comments: I’m interested not so much in critique, or your opinions of the readings, as in what useful approaches and techniques you can gain from them. Be constructive: refer to the readings, present new information from your experience and from outside readings, and suggest new ideas. Participation should be a dialog, building on my remarks, and other students’ contributions, as part of a conversation. You should speak up when you have something to say; in general, that should be more than once in each class. Continue the conversation beyond class, through Twitter or other social media (#amst2650).


Here’s what I think makes a good paper: Tell a story. Make an argument. Connect to class readings and discussions. Use a range of examples. First-person is fine. A memorandum is fine. You can write for me, or for a different audience, for example, the director of the organization you’re writing about, or the general public; let me know.

I’m happy to read preliminary drafts of any assignment, or a second, improved, version. Email or come talk to me if you’d like to discuss your assignments as you’re working on them, or after you’ve turned them in. Late work and make up: I would rather see an excellent paper than a less-good one turned in on time; as long as you turn in all of your work by the end of the course you’ll get credit for it.

Your writing should be your original work, based on class work, your reading, experience, and conversations. Footnote anything you use from books, articles, interviews, or the web. Note ideas that came from other people. Plagiarism can result in failing the class.

I’m open to other formats of presentation: video, audio, websites, exhibits, whatever…. Consider writing your paper in an open, on-line format, for example Medium. Talk with me about your ideas.

Submit your papers via Canvas. In addition to my review, your paper will be peer-reviewed (Canvas will randomly assign another student to read and comment on it).

Class Schedule


Week 1 (September 6) Introductions

Introductions, explanations, etc. About the course. What is public humanities? Curating an exhibition: “What is Public Humanities? A History” Rewriting the Wikipedia page on Public Humanities. Rethinking the @publichumans twitter, instagram and tumblr feeds. Introducing the “interview a public human” project.

Part 1: The Public

Week 2 (September 13) The Public Sphere

Questions:  How have cultural theorists defined the word “public”? What are your assumptions about “public” and the way this term is defined/used? How do different institutions (government, museums, grassroots, libraries, academia) define “public”?

Jennifer Barrett, Museums and the Public Sphere (2011)

Jürgen Habermas, “The Public Sphere: An Encyclopedia Article (1964),” New German Critique, no. 3 (1974).

Mary Mullen, “Public Humanities’ (Victorian) Culture Problem,” Cultural Studies, 2014

Week 3 (September 20) Connecting with the Public

Questions: What is public humanities? What is the common ground? What are the limitations? Is how to make the humanities public a different question than how to make science public? How to make culture public? How to make art public? How can looking at different disciplines expand our idea of public humanities?  How do international perspectives on these questions differ from U.S. perspectives?

Hilde Heine, Public Art: Thinking Museums Differently (2006)

Michael Warner, “Publics and Counterpublics,” Public Culture 14, no. 1 (2002): 49–90, or abridged version

3:00-4:15  Visit from Stacy Kastner, Writing Center.

Part 2: The Other

Week 4 (September 27) – Contact Zones

Question: Looking into the frameworks and processes through which museums and institutions handle cross-cultural interactions, cultural appropriation provides a lens into a difficult emotional and legal responses. What is the responsibility of institutions to the communities they study and display? How do institutions understand and discuss cultural “ownership,” appreciation, and parody of culture?

James Clifford “Museums as Contact Zones” in Routes: Travel and Translation in the Late Twentieth Century, 1997.

Steven Conn, “Whose Objects? Whose Culture? The Contexts of Repatriations,” in Conn, Do Museums Still Need Objects?, pp. 58-85.

Kwame Anthony Appiah, “Whose Culture is it?” in the New York Review of Books, Vol. 53, No. 2, Feb. 9, 2006.

“Introduction,” in Richard Kurin, Reflections of a Culture Broker (1997)

Lisa Gilbert, “’Loving, Knowing Ignorance’: A Problem for the Educational Mission of Museums,” in Curator 59:2 (2016)

Week 5 (October 4) – Representing Ourselves

Question: Working through the concepts of exoticization, “other”, and objectivity, consider how empathy fits into the access and understanding of a culture. How do we use empathy – cognitive and affective – to contextualize histories? How do we use empathy to understand and contextualize others? How do we use empathy to understand and contextualize ourselves?


Jennifer Gonzales, Subject to Display: Reframing Race in Contemporary Installation Art (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2011).


Fusco, Coco, Paula Heredia, and Guillermo Gómez-Peña. The Couple in the Cage: A Guatianaui Odyssey. Chicago, Ill.: Video Data Bank, 200.

Tanya Brugera, Tatlin’s Whisper #5 (view on youtube)

Week 6 (October 11) Shared Authority/Engagement/Participation

What are the ethical obligations of an institution to the public(s) it serves? How can we balance the need for institutional authority with dialogic forms of learning? In what context is one more appropriate than the other and how much is everyone supposed to “get”?


Bill Adair, Benjamin Filene, Laura Koloski, Letting Go? Sharing Historical Authority in a User-Generated World (2011)

Pew Center for Art and Culture, Push Me, Pull You: Questions of Co-authorship

The Hammer Museum’s “Public Engagement” site is a useful resource

Week 7 (October 18) Working with community

Glenn Wharton, The Painted King: Art, Activism, and Authenticity in Hawaii

Pablo Helguera, Education for Socially Engaged Art, Chapter 2 “Community”


Part 3: The Past

Week 8 (October 25) – Past and present

Questions: What is history? Who “makes” history? How does power and difference shape historical narrative?

Michel-Rolph Trouillot, Silencing the Past: Power and the Production of History (1995)

Week 9 (November 1) – Myths and Memorials

Questions: How are myths made? What role does denial/myth/nostalgia play in historical memory? How do memorials capture, create, and freeze memories?

Dell Upton, What can and can’t be said: Race, uplift and monument building in the contemporary South (2015)

Mitch Landrieu, “Speech on the Removal of Confederate Monuments in New Orleans,” New York Times, May 23, 2017

Notes on an Imagined Plaque to be Added to the Statue of General Nathan Bedford Forrest, Upon Hearing that the Memphis City Counci has Voted to Move it,” Memory Palace podcast

Rebecca Carter, “Valued Lives in Violent Places: Black Urban Placemaking at a Civil Rights Memorial in New Orleans,” City and Society (2014) 26: 239–261. doi:10.1111/ciso.12042

Week 10 (November 8) – Memorials today

Questions. How do we “use” history for political goals? How do representations of the past support political agendas? What is the role of politics in commemorating the past?

Erika Doss, Memorial Mania: Public Feeling in America (2010)

———->Saturday, November 11: Field trip to New York    (Note: date may change)

Adam Gopnik, “Stones and Bones: Visiting the 9/11 memorial and museum, New Yorker, July 7, 2014

Rick Beard, “Exhibit Review: The National September 11 Memorial & Museum,” The Public Historian Vol. 37 No. 1, February 2015

Marita Sturken, “The 9/11 Memorial Museum and the Remaking of Ground Zero,” American Quarterly, June 2015

James Young, “The Stages of Memory at Ground Zero: The National 9/11 Memorial Process,” The Stages of Memory: Reflections on Memorial Art, Loss, and the Spaces Between, pp. 19-77

Part 4: Experts

Week 11 (November 15) Working the Past

Amy M. Tyson, The Wages of History: Emotional Labor on Public History’s Front Lines (2013)

“Ask a Slave” and Interpreting Race on Public History’s Front Line,” interview with Azie Mira Dungey, The Public Historian 36:1, February 2014

———-> November 22:  Holiday – No Class

Week 12 (November 29) Accessibility

Question: How to create inclusive, visitor-centered experiences that engage the public? Knowing the public and knowing the value of public humanities work, what steps do institutions need to take to reimagine and engage their communities?


Nina Simon, The Art of Relevance (2016)

Stephanie N. Stallings and Bronwyn Mauldin, Public Engagement in the Arts: A Review of Recent Literature

“Making Museums Work for Visitors” in John H. Falk, Identity and the Museum Visitor Experience (2009)

Week 13 (December 6) Public Humanities and Activism

Questions: Is public humanities just activism by a different name? How do politics, personal and professional, shape the work of public humanists? What’s the contact between aesthetic and political innovation? How can we be radical, how radical do we want to be, and what kind of radical best serves our purposes?

Ruth Sergel, See You in the Streets: Art, Action, and Remembrance (2016)

Filene, Benjamin, “Passionate Histories: ‘Outsider’ History-Makers and What They Teach Us,” The Public Historian, 34 (2012), 11–33

Mary Mullen, “Public Humanities’ (Victorian) Culture Problem,” Cultural Studies, 2014