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MA in Public History

"Until lions have their historians, tales of the hunt shall always glorify the hunters." - African Proverb



Transforming the ways we represent traditions from the past


Vision

History has too often excluded the lives of ordinary people. Public history challenges this exclusion. It creates new interpretations of historical phenomena by engaging with people’s experiences of the past that were never earlier included in the grand narratives of history.

We, the Center for Public History (CPH) at the Srishti Manipal Institute (SMI), envision the Master of Arts in Public History as an opportunity to engage with communities and to learn new ways of working with historical sites, monuments, and institutions so as to address the contemporary challenges of interpreting history. The course will enable the creation of new resources that would offer fresh understandings of the past, and actively work with history outside of conventional academic practice. The course will create professionals trained to transform and reimagine museums, heritage sites, and archives as spaces that draw on new technologies to dynamically interpret the past by including voices that were not authorised to speak earlier.


Course Structure

  • Disciplinary and Interdisciplinary studios
  • Workshops
  • Seminars
  • Lines of Inquiries (Field work, Case Studies, Investigations, individual or Group Projects, Transdisciplinary Research)
  • Theory and Understanding
  • Independent Study
  • Open Elective
  • Practice
  • Exhibitions
  • Culminating Performances of Understanding (Portfolio, Transdisciplinary research, Projects, Colloquium, Capstone/Dissertation)
  • Knowledge Enhancement (ability or skills)



A shadow puppet show, designed by the CPH team, about the fall of the Bangalore Fort for a project with the Archaeological Survey of India


Learning Approaches

Learning at the postgraduate level is driven by published lines of inquiries that is enacted through studio-based learning, workshops, theoretical reflections and field work. This approach cultivates a creative practice through engagement in diverse contexts, collaborative and participatory approaches leading to knowledge development.

The MA in Public History provides critical and theoretical frameworks through an engagement with existing scholarship. The course organises specialist Winter Schools in Oral and Public History where students have the opportunity of learn from renowned faculty members from India and abroad. Our Winter School faculty have included researchers and scholars from India, Bangladesh, Australia, Europe, UK, and USA. The focus of the course is on acquiring practical public history experience and developing craft in a field that is expanding and shifting in exciting ways.

The practice of public history integrates oral history, digital storytelling, and archival practices with communication tools that can make history accessible to a larger public. Learning will, therefore, involve a combination of the following skills:

  1. Archival Research and Documentation
  2. Audio recording and Archiving
  3. Digital Archiving
  4. Interviewing and Transcription
  5. Performance
  6. Visual Communication Design
  7. Writing


Capability Sets

Upon successful completion of this course, graduates will have developed the following capabilities:

 

  1. Capability for judicious selection from among potential multiple versions of the past
  2. Capability for convivial research practice for constructing knowledge about the past
  3. Capability for conceptualising and co-creating archival systems and platforms
  4. Capability for disseminating research findings beyond academia



CPH member facilitating historical a walk through the M. G. Road area of Bangalore to enable people to discover the city’s layered history


Opportunities

Institutions and Corporate Sector

  • Leadership positions in institutional and corporate archives
  • Archival consultant for corporates and institutions
  • Content developer for events related to corporate heritage

Museum Sector

  • Museum curator
  • Museum educator
  • Content and Program Developer for museum galleries

Heritage Sector

  • Heritage exhibition designer
  • Archival and heritage book designer
  • Heritage Programmer for archaeological monuments and sites
  • Heritage-based walk designer

Education Sector

  • Consultants for school projects
  • Higher Education – Ph.D. in Public History



Archival exhibition on the institutional history of the Indian Institute of Management Calcutta designed by the CPH team


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Disciplinary Intersections

Public history expands the methods of academic history to incorporate history that is seen, heard, read and interpreted. Those specialising in Public History and Heritage Interpretation will therefore work with the historical method but also be trained in a larger range of practices that focus on visual culture, aesthetics, literature, geography, folk cultures, and language studies. Students will focus on the public context of historical scholarship. The core disciplines therefore move beyond history and include:

The practice of Public History integrates oral history, digital storytelling, and archival practices with communication tools that can make history accessible to a larger public. Learning will therefore involve a combination of the following skills:

Archival Research and Documentation
Audio recording and Archiving
Digital Archiving
Film
Interviewing and Transcription
Performance
Visual Communication Design
Writing


Research and Collaboration

Those in the Public History and Heritage Interpretation specialisation will primarily work with projects that are undertaken by the Centre for Public History (CPH). In the last six years, CPH has played a pioneering role in creating archives of contemporary Indian institutions. CPH has worked with heritage sites, folk and artisanal communities, designed public history interventions at the Bangalore Fort, and created archives and designed archival books and exhibitions for IIMC, Kolkata, IMSc, Chennai, EPW, Mumbai, Indian Museum, Kolkata, and Sasha, Kolkata.

CPH’s wide range of projects are based in different cities in India. By engaging directly with CPH projects, students will also learn to integrate oral history, digital storytelling, and archival practices with communication tools that make history accessible to a larger public and move beyond academia. Apart from that CPH will also find suitable internship opportunities (Summer Practice) for learners at reputed institutions that work with museums, archaeological heritage and contemporary history. Learners will thus gain the experience of working with real-time projects.

CPH also collaborates with the numerous research and practice labs in Srishti Manipal and learners will also have the opportunity of connecting with filmmakers, cultural activists, new media practitioners, artists, and designers who work with history and heritage.


 

FAQs

Public history is the practice of organizing, creating and presenting history in ways that communicate with a larger public in a variety of media. Academic and institutionalized versions of history often make no space for the narratives of ordinary people and the discipline of public history seeks to recover and document such narratives in order to create a more democratically nuanced account of our past. Public history engages in multiple sites – in museums, in places of pilgrimage and archaeological excavations. The discipline looks at modes of historical preservation by creating archives and creating modes of engagement and interventions at heritage sites. Public history explores history beyond the conventional classroom and brings together oral history, digital storytelling and archival practices with critical thinking through community memory, family history and institutional history projects.

Public historians make multiple histories available and accessible at different heritage and cultural sites. Public historians often work in museums, archives or heritage sites to develop an understanding of what is written about a particular historical subject and build a new interpretation based on research into source materials or create new interpretations by exploring new resources such as oral history. These interpretations are given a variety of forms – books, articles, exhibitions, websites, conducting historical walks, making films on historical subjects and creating sound and light shows at heritage sites and museums.

Public historians also work as consultants to various historical projects with a range of other professionals; for example, they work with heritage architects, exhibition designers and website designers. With the setting up of archives by numerous companies and business houses, public historians work on collecting, organizing and communicating the history of corporates and the values they represent. Finally, public historians also work within academia to research and interpret the past as well as teach students how to become professional public historians.

Anyone with a deep and enthusiastic interest in the past can become a public historian even if you do not have an undergraduate degree in history.

In trying to decide if a career in public history is right for you, it might be helpful to think about the qualities and interests that many public historians share and see if they overlap with your own. Firstly, public historians are keenly interested in all aspects of the past – in documents that exist, in the sites which house ancient monuments, in materials that are displayed in museums and in people’s memories of events they have experienced in the past. Public historians look at the material, visual and textual world that bear traces of history. They make connections between objects, texts, photographs and memories and ask questions about how we understand the past. A curiosity about what places and things looked like, what technologies were used to create them and what objects, texts and memories meant to people, lies at the heart of the public historian’s interest.

Just asking questions and finding answers are not enough for public historians, they also need to communicate and share their understanding in accessible forms. The public historian would therefore have to understand elements of communication design in order to share insights and understanding of the past with the general public. Students who feel excited by history but feel the need to work hands-on with different narrative forms such as creating stories, puppets, performances and films often make good public historians.

Public historians are also deeply concerned about the politics of representation. They work towards collecting resources and giving shape to the history of those who have been treated as “people without history”. The collection of oral history therefore becomes an important tool in their hands. Students who enjoy talking to people in order to understand their experience of the past can build on their interests and become public historians.

Finally, people become public historians because they wish to engage with history beyond academia. They nurture multiple interests which enrich their understanding of the past. An interest in literature, art, music and performance arts might open up new vocabularies of expression. An interest in sociology, psychology or economics may lead to new ways of understanding human society. An interest in architecture might point towards understanding ways in which people live. Any combination of these interests could enable the practice of public history.

Apart from having a deep understanding of how we understand the past through raw materials – such as archival documents, photographs, oral recordings, the public historian requires specific skills and competencies. Public historians require the basic tools of the historian along with good writing and communication skills. They need to cultivate an appreciation local history and histories of institutions within which they work but also show an awareness of the larger historical questions that shape any event.

The public historian engages in history as practice by creating, collecting and interpreting historical resources. Public historians need to understand different audiences and cultivate the ability to communicate with them. They need to have a grasp of contemporary tools of communication so that they can effectively participate in the process of designing for history. Increasingly, public historians need to be digitally literate, both in order to sustain the life of the archives they maintain, as well as to use digital resources and tools for dissemination and interpreting resources.

While research and critical analysis are critical skills for the public historian, he or she also works with a range of people – with museum professionals, conservators, archivists and a range of clients from government institutions to corporates; such engagements might require you to nurture deep listening and negotiating skills. The public historian also needs to acquire basic administrative skills such as project managements, budget planning, time management, fundraising, marketing and people skills.

Public history works closely with a range of presentation formats now made possible by digital tools and visual communication design. These communication tools might belong to the realm of design but can help students create and build a unique historical practice within multiple public spaces. In training to become public historians, students are trained develop a capacity to interpret, analyze and present archival material and integrate it with technical skills that enable them to create outreach programs that can educate, inspire and engage different audiences.

The Srishti Manipal Institute is the only institution worldwide that offers an MA in Public History within a design school setting. This course differs from courses that are offered in institutions abroad because it incorporates an active engagement with design tools. Along with learning about the mechanisms of historical knowledge creation, students also learn through hands-on workshops the tools of presentation and dissemination including digital skills such as archiving and creating online resources. The course has a strong practical component and students collaborate with a range of professionals who engage with heritage in museums, archives and archaeological sites through internships. In this way, the course enables students to build a meaningful dialogue between history and other disciplines.

Students will gain the tools to work in museums, archives, galleries, neighborhood and community history projects, cultural conservation programs and corporate archives. Students can also begin work as consultants to numerous historical projects.

An MA in Public History is an ideal qualification for those students who wish to pursue a career that entails researching, curating and delivering historical content for a range of audiences. There are a range of institutions and establishments that require this role to be fulfilled. Museums, galleries, archives, libraries (both public and private), corporate bodies, NGOs and media companies are some possible venues where a master’s degree in public history would be considered a great asset.




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