Public humanities

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Public humanities is the work of federal, state, nonprofit and community-based cultural organizations that engage the public in conversations, facilitate and present lectures, exhibitions, performances and other programs for the general public on topics such as history, philosophy, popular culture and the arts. Public humanities programs engage everyone in reflecting on diverse heritage, traditions, and history, and their relevance of the humanities to the current conditions of life.

Workers within the public humanities endeavor to create spaces where the public can engage in conversation, learning and reflection about issues and ideas. Public humanities projects include exhibitions and programming related to historic preservation, oral history, archives, material culture, public art, cultural heritage, and cultural policy. Practitioners of public humanities are invested in ensuring the accessibility and relevance of the humanities to the general public or community groups.

The American Council of Learned Societies' National Task Force on Scholarship and the Public Humanities suggests that the nature of public humanities work is to teach the public the findings of academic scholarship: it sees "scholarship and the public humanities not as two distinct spheres but as parts of a single process, the process of taking private insight, testing it, and turning it into public knowledge."[1] Others suggest a more balanced understanding of the ways in which history, heritage and culture are shared between the academy and the public.

Several universities have established programs in the public humanities, including:

  • Michigan State University, whose Public Humanities Collaborative "provides a gathering place, a commons, where faculty, students, and outreach professionals can collaborate with community groups to build strong campus-community partnerships and enhance public understanding of liberal arts for democracy."
  • University of Western Ontario, where a new program called The Public Humanities @ Western "is "designed to enhance the Faculty of Arts and Humanities’ commitment to the promotion of innovative forms of publicly engaged knowledge creation, experiential learning, and campus-community collaboration."

Related fields include public history, public sociology, public folklore, public anthropology, public philosophy, historic preservation, museum studies, cultural heritage management, community archaeology, public art, and public science.

Examples of some private/public institutions and organizations that implement public humanities programs are:


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