Archivist Angle: 40th Anniversary of the Archives and Public History Program
September 15, 2017
Emily Rose Johnson (GSAS '18)
This semester marks 40 years since the Department of History opened the Archives, Historical Society, and Historical Editing Training Program, later adding the Public History program. Both born of a “desire to connect the concerns of the academy with the culture of the streets,” the two programs were merged in 2007.
In the 1970s, archival training was usually given without the context of historical scholarship and theory. The Archives, Historical Society, and Historical Editing Training Program opened in 1977 with the belief that archives administrators should have training in not only archiving and records but also “the broad humanistic training of the historian.” Four years later, when the Public History program was implemented, students worked collaboratively with each other and the larger community to record and present community histories in ways both accurate and interesting to the public. The program defined the public as“genuine participants in the work of historical analysis,” and stated, “the public’s experience is where history happens.”
Hands-on work provided the foundation of the programs. In the Archives program, a practicum course brought students into NYU’s special collections to practice inventorying and handling archival materials, the place “where the theoretical rubber first hits the road,” before students found internships and job placements in archives and historical societies across the city—from the Chase Bank to the Brooklyn Historical Society to Carnegie Hall. The program also sought an interdisciplinary perspective, encouraging students to take courses at the Institute of Fine Arts and the departments of anthropology and sociology. The program grew rapidly, with the number of courses offered to double in the first decade. Public History students drew on NYC’s diversity and long history. Year after year and neighborhood by neighborhood, students explored the histories of NYC. Chinatown, Union Square, Lefferts Manor, and many others, provided subjects of research. Over the course of the first year, students performed oral history interviews and allowed the lived experiences of community members to inform the construction of historical narratives.
In 2007 the two programs, having been founded on similar instincts to combine theoretical knowledge practical skill and community engagement, merged into a single, two-track program, making this both the tenth anniversary of the combined program and the fortieth anniversary of NYU’s program in Archival Management.