Public History Practicum

The first iteration of the Public History Practicum (PHP) has the goal of providing PhD and MA students in the social science, humanities, and divinity schools training, to learn what expertise means and how to engage in public contexts. It also provides an imaginary of careers outside of academia that would make good use of their academic training. Consequently, the course is a benefit to not only to the Department of History but to other graduate students in the University. To make the most of the opportunity, the PHP was designed as a two-quarter course that has both academic and practical components.

A different theme organizes the projects and the coursework every year. Each iteration involves partnering with three or four organizations in or near Chicago, including museums, archives, libraries, commemoration projects, artistic installations, radio stations, and oral history projects. As each new iteration of the public history practicum is established, the Department of History will become more fully integrated into the fabric of public history in Chicago and train a new cohort of graduate students to see themselves as experts, broadly defined.

Since the course requires building partnerships with several institutions and is logistically complicated, two doctoral student interns assist the professors. The interns are all alumni of the program and so they have a rich foundational understanding of it.

The colloquium and practicum provide students with a variety of useful tools whether they seek a career outside of academia. They learn to work collaboratively and with partners, to meet non-negotiable deadlines, and to translate their expertise into terms comprehensible to the public. They master a wide range of skills such as digital mapping, audio tour development, grant writing, and oral history interviewing, among other things. These experiences have led students in the course towards career opportunities of a kind that were sometimes unexpected.

Not only does the program benefit UChicago graduate students, but it also serves the partner institutions, many of which are small and have limited audiences despite their important public work. Given the reach of the University, the program can help promote the organizations and increase public engagement with them.