History & Historians in the Public

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Throughout the How Historians Work series we’ve explored how historians find and research historical topics, how they identify and read historical sources for information, and how they publish their findings so others can know what they know about the past.

But not all historians work to publish their findings about history in books and articles. Some historians work to convey knowledge about history to the public in public spaces and in public ways.

Therefore, we conclude the How Historians Work series with a look at how historians do history for the public with guest historian Lonnie Bunch, the Founding Director of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture.

Episode Summary

Lonnie Bunch, the Founding Director of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture takes us on a behind-the-scenes tour of how historians do history for the public.

During our exploration, Lonnie reveals why it’s important for historians to reach multiple audiences with their work and how museums allow them to reach those audiences; The importance of humanizing history; And, how history and the historian’s process helped Lonnie and his colleagues build the National Museum of African American History and Culture and interpret the history within it.

What You’ll Discover

  • Why Lonnie seeks to reach multiple audiences with his historical scholarship
  • How museums allow people to interact and engage with history
  • Lonnie’s favorite part of doing history in museums
  • Oral Histories and how historians can use them
  • The importance of humanizing history
  • Lessons learned from studying free black communities before the Civil War
  • How history and historical research assisted Lonnie with creating the National Museum of African American History and Culture
  • How Lonnie and his team at the NMAAHC found the right tension between what people wanted to see and what they needed to see in the museum
  • How historians write history in museum exhibits using historical artifacts
  • The process of creating a museum exhibit
  • How the practice of history can be contentious
  • How museums can collect history now for future exhibits and interpretations
  • The role of technology in museums
  • How to visit the National Museum of African American History and Culture
  • The power of museums to humanize history

Links to People, Places, and Publications

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Episode 14