Pondering Public History

Before I started the HSTY3902 unit, when I thought about public history I often discounted its validity because I believed museums and other historical spaces only showed the public the stories/images of the past they desired to remember or commemorate. However, one particular reading from the unit has managed to change my perspective. Thomas Cauvin’s article ‘Shared Authority’ highlights that public history has the possibility to be more than just an arena to unquestionably celebrate/commemorate victories and tragedies. In Cauvin’s article I like the idea that “…historians should strive to understand [the past] as it really was, not as what people want it to be, and by doing so should endeavour to create a space for discussion about the past”.
As many are aware, there are multiple perspectives and interpretations of the past and each need to be heard, discussed and analysed in order to create a truer picture of history. Only by allowing public audiences to see and hear multiple voices, including those which juxtapose to their own experiences or views, can there ever be a ‘shared authority’ of the past between historians and different groups and individuals of the public. If only one story is ever told from a singular point of view, it can ever only feel owned from a small fragment of society.

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