Welcome to Public History at UIUC. We’re a group of faculty, archivists, and graduate students — and this Spring some awesome undergraduate public history interns too— who are exploring the possibilities of “Public History and Student Research” as a Research Cluster sponsored by the Illinois Program for Research in the Humanities. We spent our first semester talking about different dimensions of public history as we can construct it at the University of Illinois and get students involved. We focused on three issues:
1) community histories and the ways that historians and archivists can facilitate them, with examples from working-class and labor history;
2) race and public space as they have been engaged by various public history practitioners—historians, community activists, teachers, students—who have agitated the ways that particular histories are rendered visible or invisible in the landscapes of universities, cities, national parks, focusing on issues of the erasure of American Indian history, Asian American history, white settler colonialism in South Africa, and women’s history in Los Angeles; and
3) digital humanities and their promises and challenges for making various stories publicly accessible, focusing on the Bracero History Archive, the Seattle Civil Rights and Labor History Project, and the History Harvest at the University of Nebraska.
We then weighed a variety of possible events we could sponsor to put these ideas into practice. You will see the poster for our two-day April 22-23 public event on “Mapping Places | Telling Stories: Hidden Histories of Campus and Community.” This two-day event will feature a guest speaker, Ted Gordon of the University of Texas at Austin, who has devised and offered alternative tours of his campus focusing on little known stories of underrepresented groups and the spaces where they made history. Meanwhile we’re partnering with local archival projects and community groups to document histories of our own campus and community that will provide the basis of panels and tours delving into a variety of hidden histories connecting UIUC and Champaign-Urbana. These include nurses who worked and organized at Burnham hospital, which once stood where new communities of apartments and retail are now blossoming at the intersection of 4th Street and Springfield, residents of the North Side of Champaign whose neighborhoods are being transformed by new construction for student residence in their neighborhoods, and can look back to when their homes provided residence for African American students at UIUC.
We’re still digging and talking to people so there are likely to be some surprises, and we hope new stories generated by students and community members alike, that can help us historicize broadly and deeply the spaces where we live, work, and study together. Watch this space for updates from our interns’ research, our ongoing discussions, and our plans for continued initiatives on public history at UIUC!
Our current and imagined future projects build many different kinds of local, state and national public history work different members of the cluster have done in archives and oral histories, urban planning and history courses, blogs and digital history projects, educational engagement with unions and K-12 schoolteachers, and expert witness and institutional consulting. We hope to share some of these in future blogs. Meanwhile, we are curious about what you think public history can be, locally or at wider scales. Whether you want to help us dig into campus and community history this term, or ideas about the intersections of history, community, and the public more generally, we welcome your participation. Our next meeting is March 8 at noon in room 204, School of Labor and Employment Relations.