History is practised everywhere: by governments, private corporations, universities, museums and galleries, in the tourism and heritage industries, on television programmes and in newspaper columns, and through local history societies, community development projects, and genealogical associations. History and historians play important roles at the level of the both the nation and the neighbourhood, contributing to public debates, policy decisions and popular education and entertainment.
Public history is concerned with the practice of history outside of academia in all its myriad forms and public historians come in all shapes and sizes: they are consultants, museum professionals, archivists, preservationists and curators, cultural resource managers, policy specialists, and community activists, among many other roles. What they share is a commitment to making history relevant, beneficial, informative and instructive within the public sphere. The practice and significance of ‘public history’ has grown significantly in recent years, as historians become more aware of audiences beyond the academy, of the role of history in politics, of the need for their research and analysis to have an impact in the real world, and of the growing public and media interest in popular history and heritage.
This MA will introduce you to key aspects and issues of the practice of public history. It will provide you with the necessary theoretical and practical skills to undertake critical assessments of public history projects and interventions - as well as to create your own. Its focus on public history in practice will provide you with a wide range of examples of different types and methods of public history, from museums and material culture, to public history in the media, to the role of history in policy making. This MA aims to give you a sense of the wide range of public history, the variety of roles played by historians in public, and the importance and impact of public history in politics, culture, and society.
The compulsory modules will introduce you to the systematic study of historiography, the methodologies used in the analysis and interpretation of historical source material, and the contemporary practice of public history. You can explore the enormous breadth of research interests in the Department via the 2 option modules you choose, which are drawn across disciplines including archaeology, classics, the history of art and museology. Finally, the dissertation gives you the chance to pursue your own interests and undertake your own research and critical thinking under the supervision of a member of staff with relevant expertise.
The MA Public Histories provides relevant training for careers in media, education, museums and heritage, publishing, and policy, and it also provides rigorous training in the historical discipline suitable to prepare you for further personal or professional research, or research at MPhil/PhD level.
Why study this course at Birkbeck?
Arts and humanities courses at Birkbeck are ranked third best in London and 11th in the UK in the Times Higher Education 2015-16 World University Subject Rankings. Many Birkbeck historians take very active public roles as policy consultants, columnists in newspapers, editors of digital history websites, and leaders in community history projects. Students on the MA Public Histories will be given the opportunity to benefit from their expertise. Tutors and potential dissertation supervisors on the course could include Dr. Julia Laite, whose work focuses on aspects of women's history and policy and who is an expert in history online; Professor Matt Cook, who works extensively in community history, oral history and queer history and is a Director of the Samuel Raphael History Centre; Professor David Feldman, who has worked extensively in history and policy related to migration and minorities and is Director of the Pears Institute for the Study of Antisemitism; Professor Orlando Figes, an expert in oral history and the history of nineteenth- and twentieth-century Russia; and Dr. Fiona Candlin, an expert in museum studies, whose work focuses on small museums and public heritage. MA Public Histories will be taught in Bloomsbury, at the heart of academic London, which contains one of the world's greatest concentrations of first-class library facilities, archives, museums, and heritage and public history organisations. Our Department of History, Classics and Archaeology is one of the leading research and teaching departments for history in the UK. It is ranked 6th in the UK for the percentage of our research deemed world-leading or internationally excellent. Our academic staff are international authorities in their fields, delivering stimulating, research-led teaching. Our Department is home to thriving student societies and a number of affiliated research centres that actively run seminars, conferences and other events where some of the world's best scholars present their latest research. These include the Pears Institute for the Study of Antisemitism, the Raphael Samuel History Centre and the Birkbeck Institute for the Humanities. We are located 5 minutes' walk from the British Museum and the British Library, while the Museum of London is easily reachable. The Institute of Historical Research is located in Bloomsbury, near the main Birkbeck campus, and has an internationally renowned library collection and seminars that you can attend. Birkbeck Library has an extensive history collection, including the major specialist journals, and access to online materials.