Last Thursday our combined 510/612 Digital History class attended an event titled, “Public History Today: Current Challenges, Future Directions.  The event was actually a panel discussion, led by U of L Public History director Daniel Vivian and Lara Kelland, the latest addition to the program here.  The panel was evidently built around this, the inaugural semester of the Digital History course being taught at U of L.  This suggests to me that it was the original intent of the discussion to explore the ways in which technology (nameably the internet) has changed the public historian’s practice.  Of course I may be way off base in this assumption (and believe me, it wouldn’t be the first time).  The guest speakers were John Dichtl, director of the National Council on Public History, and Craig Friend, director of a successful PH program at North Carolina State University.

As it happens, the panel focused very little on the digital aspects of the field, and instead, the dubious nature of the public history job market manifested itself so palpably, I could almost swear to you, dear readers, that it was a (very insistent) member of the audience, sitting beside me in the front row.  In fact, I’ve given him a name.  Let’s call him Job.  No- too biblical.  How about, Marky DeBenture.  Ah, yes.

Well, unfortunately, the panel didn’t have a whole lot of good news for poor Marky.  Though he asked several pointed questions, Marky had to satisfy himself with the explanation that the lousy job market is not limited to public history.  Furthermore, it was made clear that it was not the responsibility of our guest speakers.  Marky finally relented.

The panel was otherwise deemed a complete success.  Just to have a dialogue with visiting professionals is an exciting occurrence, and it was well attended.  Though many of us may have come away with more questions than answers, the event demonstrated that the field of public history is currently pretty muddy.  It may be slow going, but we will have to persevere.  C’mon, Marky, let’s go to Wendy’s.


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