Dwight Pitcaithley: A Historian's Take on the National Park ServiceHistorians in the News
Dr. Dwight Pitcaithley's lengthy National Park Service career wrapped up with a decade during which he served as the agency's chief historian. Now retired and teaching at New Mexico State University, Dr. Pitcaithley recently was interviewed by the Thunderbear, a web-zine whose self-described task is"to protect the protectors of the environment: park rangers, forest rangers, scientists, managers, and others engaged in defending public lands against rapacious developers, special interest groups and their politician friends."
Here are some snippets from that interview, which you can find in its entirety at this site. The questions were posed by Thunderbear's overseer, P.J. Ryan, a former ranger.
Dwight, you identify yourself as a"public historian." What exactly is a public historian?
The term public historian was coined around 1980 to describe historians whose primary audience is public rather than academic. So, historians who teach at colleges and universities are generally termed academic historians while those who work at historic sites, museums, archives and other places where the public is the primary audience are termed public historians. That is not to say, however, that academic historians cannot work in the public realm, and, of course, many of them do.
Do public historians get into trouble more often than academic historians?
Probably, but that depends on your definition of"trouble." Academic historians generally operate within an environment of freedom of thought and expression, although they, too, often run afoul of the"thought police." Public historians are more vulnerable to public criticism because they are more exposed to the public and do not enjoy the cover of academic freedom, although, of course, they should. Frankly, getting into trouble is not necessarily a bad thing. If a member of the public complains about an historical interpretation at a public site, it means two things: 1) that person cares about history, and 2) someone is paying attention to your presentation of the past. I would be more concerned if the public never complained about the discussion of history in public places.
comments powered by Disqus
- The Anthropocene epoch: scientists declare dawn of human-influenced age
- ‘No Vacancies’ for Blacks: How Donald Trump Got His Start, and Was First Accused of Bias
- New Yorker profiles activist who's drawing attention to lynchings
- Wisconsin GOP senator wants to replace history professors with Ken Burns videos
- UT removes Confederate inscription that it previously said would stay
- NYT publishes historians' plea for the revival of political history
- Some Ohio University professors ditch the textbooks, and the prices
- Renowned Israeli Holocaust Historian: ‘If I Were a British Jew, I’d Be Worried’
- Heather Ann Thompson pries loose the long-kept secrets of Attica in her new book
- Lonnie Bunch remembers his first day on the job as director of the new black history museum