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Public humanities is the work of engaging diverse publics in reflecting on heritage, traditions, and history, and the relevance of the humanities to the current conditions of civic and cultural life. Public humanities is often practiced within federal, state, nonprofit and community-based cultural organizations that engage people 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.
Workers within the public humanities endeavor to create physical and virtual 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. One example of this type of project is the Humanities Truck, an experimental mobile platform for collecting, exhibiting, preserving, and expanding dialogue around the humanities in and around the Washington, D.C. area, and is sponsored by the Henry Luce Foundation and American University. The National Endowment for the Humanities notes that public humanities projects it has supported in the past include "interpretation at historic sites, television and radio productions, museum exhibitions, podcasts, short videos, digital games, websites, mobile apps, and other digital media." Many 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." Others suggest a more balanced understanding of the ways in which history, heritage and culture are shared between the academy and the public, drawing on the notion of shared historical authority.
Subfields of the public humanities include public history, public sociology, public folklore, public anthropology, public philosophy, historic preservation, museum studies, museum education, cultural heritage management, community archaeology, public art, and public science.
Programs in Public Humanities
Several universities have established programs in the public humanities (or have otherwise expressed commitments to public humanities via the creation of centers, degrees, or certificate programs with investments in various forms of "public" work), including:
- Bishop Grosseteste University, Lincoln, UK, whose newly created BA Sociology degree has deliberately been placed within a School of Humanities, and will be delivered by members of a research cluster wherein the idea of "public sociology" (i.e. a sociology that engages audiences beyond the academy in cultural, literary and sociology debate) is activeliy cultivated and fostered.
- Brown University, whose John Nicholas Brown Center for Public Humanities and Cultural Heritage supports public humanities programs and offers an MA in Public Humanities. Brown's public humanities program emphasizes practice, balanced with theory and a ground in a field of study.
- 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."
- New York University, whose Center for Experimental Humanities offers an MA program in Interdisciplinary Studies that encourages "students to develop exhibitions, make films, write books, experiment with digital media and incubate collaborative projects"
- Portland State University, whose Portland Center for Public Humanities provides a yearlong forum of talks, roundtables, and workshops where the public can engage with humanistic questions, knowledge and debates.
- Rutgers University-Newark, whose Public Humanities track in the American Studies MA program "is designed to ground students in the history, theory and methods of the public humanities, and in a foundation in nonprofit management, and bring it all together with project-based courses, an internship and capstone, preparing students for careers in cultural and community institutions."
- University of Michigan - Ann Arbor, whose Rackham Program in Public Scholarship supports students by facilitating collaborative scholarly and creative endeavors that engage communities and co-create public goods while enhancing graduate students’ professional development through grants, summer workshops, and semester-long learning initiatives
- University of Sheffield, which offers an MA in Public Humanities with pathways in digital humanities, public engagement and cultural heritage.
- 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."
- University of Wisconsin–Madison, whose Center for the Humanities is the primary vehicle on the campus for interdisciplinary work in the humanities, has a public scholarship program, Public Humanities Exchange that supports collaborative work between humanities grad students and the community.
- The Walter Chapin Simpson Center for the Humanities at the University of Washington offers a Certificate in Public Scholarship.
- Yale University, whose MA program in Public Humanities is part of the American Studies Program at the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. The degree can be earned en route to a Ph.D. in participating programs, but is not offered as a terminal master's degree.
- Georgetown University, whose Graduate Certificate in the Engaged & Public Humanities  is stewarded by Georgetown’s Connected Academics task force, a Mellon-funded project organized by the Modern Language Association.
- University of Maryland, Baltimore County, has a newly created Minor in Public Humanities where "students use the tools and methods of the humanities to build knowledge democratically and respond critically to challenges of the twenty-first century." It is housed in the Department of American Studies’ Orser Center for the Study of Place, Community, and Culture.
- Oakland University in 2019 chartered a Center for Public Humanities, whose mission is to advance excellence in Public Humanities and the Arts to support and enrich Southeast Michigan’s diverse learning communities.
- "Division of Public Programs". National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH). Retrieved 2018-11-19.
- Quay, James; Veninga, James (October 5–7, 1989). Making Connections: The Humanities, Culture and Community. National Task Force on Scholarship and the Public Humanities. Racine, Wisconsin: American Council of Learned Societies. Retrieved 25 Jan 2016.
We think it more useful and more accurate to consider 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.
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