“Public history describes the many and diverse ways in which history is put to work in the world.” – NCPH

Every historical marker by the roadside, every war memorial, every historical article in a magazine, every exhibition at a historical society is an act of public history.

  • How does public history differ from — but grow out of — academic history?
  • How can we communicate ideas about history effectively to a broad audience?
  • What is the purpose?

Look for these questions throughout the History department’s public history “threads.”

What is a thread?

A thread lets you knit together courses on a wide array of topics that share a common interest in the problems and techniques of public history. Lower key than a formal field, this is a purely optional way of pursuing public history that introduces you to an exciting range of issues, analysis, and assignments, all of which connect to the common theme.

Public History courses: Winter, 2018-2019

History 204 Jews, Christians and Muslims in the Medieval Mediterranean. The Mediterranean was a dynamic hub of cultural exchange in the Middle Ages. We will draw on Jewish, Muslim, and Latin Christian sources to explore this contact from 1050-1492 and the role of the sea itself in joining and separating the peoples who surrounded it. What did it mean to be a Muslim pilgrim in Christian-held Palestine? A Jewish vizier serving a Muslim ruler in Spain? A Christian courtier courting martyrdom in North Africa? We will explore lives led between coexistence and violence, intellectual and legal structures that helped to negotiate difference, and the textures of daily life. Victoria Morse

History 216 History Beyond the Walls. What kind of country turns a president’s teeth into jewelry? Must we dismember to remember?  America has always struggled with how to publicize the past; in this course we’ll cover the theory and the practice of that struggle, with a focus on museums (Enola Gay: yes or no?), collections (from skulls to placemats), and monuments (both celebrated and contested).  And the 19th Amendment turns 100 in 2020, so for civic engagement we’ll go beyond Carleton’s walls and work with the League of Women Voters on how to commemorate the event. Serena Zabin

History 262 Public Health: History, Policy, Practice. This course examines the rise of the institution of public health in the modern period. Locating public health within the social history of medicine we will consider how concepts of health and disease have changed over time and how the modern state’s concern with the health of its population cannot be separated from its need to survey, police, and discipline the public. Topics covered will include miasma, contagion, quarantine, vaccination and the connection between European imperialism and the institutionalization of public health in colonial contexts. We will also consider how certain epidemics became the major drivers for public health. Amna Khalid

Additional Public History courses

History 100 – Soot, Smog and Satanic Mills
History 202 – Icons, Iconcoclasm
History 203 – Icons for All
History 231 – Mapping Before Mercator
History 235 – Bringing the English Past to (Virtual) Life

Public History / Digital Humanities Resources


Please contact Victoria Morse, Susannah Ottaway, or Serena Zabin.