Wanted: History Communicators

By: Adam Jagich

Getting the general public to engage with and more importantly care about an academic subject isn’t easy.

But Public History Commons, a division of the National Council on Public History think they have found a way to do just that.

They have called for the creation of ‘History Communicators’, and will discuss their role in society and how public historians can help fill such a position at the upcoming annual meeting of the NCPH in Nashville, Tennessee.

Jason Steinhauer, a public historian in Washington, D.C. opened the discussion of this new position on the PHCs website saying, “we must develop household names and engaging personalities who communicate about public history in popular culture…We must develop a cohort whose specialty is not to communicate within public history, but on it, mastering all media available to us, television, YouTube, Vine, Podcasts, radio, music, print, social, and Web”.

Science has their version of these popularisers.  Think of Carl Sagan, Neil deGrasse Tyson, Richard Dawkins, Jane Goodall and the like.  These Science Communicators not only make the technical aspects of the hard sciences easy to understand, but they also discuss the role Science plays in modern society and how it might be used to shape a better future.  This is what PHC wants from History Communicators.

History Communicators must not only interpret history for the general public, but must be able to make the public understand the history, and above all, that heritage matters; that the past is not only to be learned about, but should be learned from. History has an impact on present day societies all over the world.

But history is subjective.  Unlike Science, where fact can be separated from speculation, History is imperfect and is often blurred by inadequate documentation and personal experience.  There isn’t a single historical narrative that is agreed upon by everyone all the time.  History can be used to fuel the hatred between two existing cultural groups or to suppress the rights of a particular group.  But history also has the power to improve the lives of people living today by promoting intercultural understanding.

In our view, this means that communicators should improve the transparency of historical research and should facilitate cooperation and co-creation between different audiences.  Identifying the various stakeholders and acknowledging their varied points of view on historical events is a vital role for History Communicators to undertake.  Furthering this understanding is what is needed to help heal the scars of the past and build cultural ties where they never existed.  This gives History Communicators an enormous amount of power and responsibility.  Helping people understand the past, each other’s viewpoints, how we research and care for heritage, and that heritage matters, are however only elements that can be communicated if one focuses on storytelling, on narratives, and on engaging people in the stories to be told.

Perhaps the easier side of their role is to discuss the benefits of understanding history for modern society and development.  Mark Twain once said that, “history doesn’t repeat itself, but it does rhyme”.  Understanding the rhythm of history will hopefully allow society to learn from its past mistakes and move towards a more peaceful and prosperous future.  The role of History Communicator would therefore also be to highlight those aspects worth rhyming and to advise policy makers and the general public to support such paths into the future.  

History Communicators must inherently reside close to their audiences.  This opens up the possibility to really listen and communicate with stakeholders, both from a scientific and social viewpoint. By doing this they can create a unique cross-over with heritage, archaeology and history as in tales, folklore and immaterial culture. CommonSites and our partners remain committed to this goal. By utilizing the latest technology and communications strategies, CommonSites is well suited to become a two-way channel for communicating history and heritage from the bottom-up. We look forward to the day when history and heritage have a face and a voice we can all recognize and support. Applications welcome.

Comments list

No comments found for this article.