Threads of Change
National Council on Public History (Atlanta, Georgia)
Monday, July 15, 2019

The National Council on Public History is in the midst of celebrating its 40th anniversary, and we are planning on capping the party off with our 2020 Annual Meeting in Atlanta, Georgia.

The raw materials of public history rest in communities, among people and their stories. Public historians encourage people to remember aloud, giving presence to intangibles of cultural memory not always captured or contextualized in formal spaces. From threads, fragments, and disparate materials, public historians create multi-layered quilts of historical meaning that reflect, frame, deconstruct, reassemble, and repurpose narratives. No matter the participants or where they learn their craft, the constant in this work is change.

The celebration of NCPH’s 40th year in 2020 offers an ideal moment to recognize the totality of practitioners across the field. Public history work lives in museums, archives, publications, and historic places—but it’s also history as activism, history as storytelling, and history as healing. Our challenge is to reconnect to our local, activist roots, to forge new and stronger partnerships, and to incorporate new fabric into our collective endeavor, one thread at a time.

Some topics and questions to consider as you craft your proposal include:
Public history is diverse, by every definition; over its long history, which reaches back far longer than four decades, it has encompassed a broad range of professionals, volunteers, and activists. What are our common threads, and how can we ensure their strength and durability?

  • How, where, and with whom do public historians work? How do we ensure our community and organizational partnerships are healthy? How do we foster truly collaborative work?
  • How do we create sustainable communities of practice? What resources do we need, and how do we gather them?
  • How do we steward the stories, material culture, and spaces that we research and interpret?

2020 marks not only the 40th anniversary of NCPH’s founding, but also anniversaries of the 15th and 19th amendments to the US Constitution, the armistice that ended WWI, and other watershed moments. How are such occasions catalysts for change?

  • How do public historians ensure that our work looks to the future as well as the past? How do we balance tradition with innovation?
  • More broadly, how do public historians commemorate? How can we mark the past in ways that are valuable and useful? How can we ensure such markings do no harm?
  • How far has NCPH come, and where should we go next? What have we done well, and what can we do better?

As public historians help craft interpretations of the past, we create new understandings and reinvent others, about our nation, our communities, and ourselves. How does our work support generation and regeneration?

  • How does the city of Atlanta—from its pre-Civil War past to its role in the Civil Rights Movement to its current position as a hub of the travel and entertainment industries—inspire us to think about change?
  • How do we care for ourselves? What does self-care look like for those who do public history work?
  • What strategies help make the case for history relevance and historical thinking?

NCPH strongly urges participants to dispense with the reading of papers and welcomes a wide variety of session formats. We encourage sessions that push past “show and tell” to share lessons learned, identify implications for future work, and invite substantive exchanges between presenters and audience.

For more on presentation formats, please download the NCPH "Threads of Change" flyer.

Please note: Proposals are due July 15, 2019 and can be submitted via

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