Canadian Public History: Where Art Thou?

Credit: Nikopol_TO

Public Historians work in a range of positions within and outside the heritage sector.  Public historians can be found in museums, archives, libraries, academic institutions, corporations, not-for-profits, the film industry, research firms, and other organizations.

In the United States the National Council on Public History is an active professional organization that represents, offers services to, and connects public historians.  Currently, Canada has no similar active national organization.  There is a public history working group under the Canadian Historical Association, but many public historians outside of academia are not involved with this group.

 Currently, the institution I work at is a member of:

Each group has a very specific focus and offers a variety of professional development tools, connections, and resources based on its focus.  A Public Historian working in an archive may find the occasional article in Archivaria or The American Archivist which approaches archival principal from a public history view point, but that’s probably all the PH content one will get.  

I’ve taken to reading The Public Historian and Public History News to get my Public History fix – but since both are American based publications I’m often level longing for Canadian content.  ActiveHistory.ca content helps fill in some of the void in Canadian Public History.  But I’d love to hear any suggestions on where else to turn for new Canadian Public History reading and collaboration.

Musarians: Libraries, Museums, and Archives

The Centre for the Future of Museums blog featured an interesting guest post by  AAM staffer Lauren Silberman, entitled  “Musarians: The bastard children of museums and libraries.”

Silberman paints an interesting portrait of a combined Librarian/Museum professional and highlights some of the overlapping interests of both professions.  Silberman’s post also sparked my thoughts about the overlap between libraries, archives, and museums.

One of the first cultural heritage organizations I worked in contained a museum, archive, and a local history library.  However, despite containing all three types of institutions the organization was dominated by museum practices — the archive was more of a paper museum than an archival institution.  Librarians, archivists, and museum professionals all have different skill sets and strengths, there are overlaps but I can see value in each distinct profession.  The idea of a Musarian is interesting but I think would be more of a compromise between professions than an ideal sharing of resources.

The Portrait Gallery that never was.

The dream of a Canadian Portrait Gallery has died, possibly for good. Following the creation of the Gallery in 2001, the Gallery has faced a number of challenges including a lack of an institution. However, despite this lack of permanent building the Gallery managed to stage exhibitions at both the Museum of Nature and the Science and Technology Museum this summer.

It was recently announced that the Portrait Gallery of Canada will no longer exist in it’s current format. Some of the functions of the Gallery will be taken over by Library and Archives Canada. However, it is unclear what resources will be available for exhibitions, staffing, digitization, and purchasing of new works. What details are available can be seen here. The Gallery’s demise is yet another blow to the Canadian art and heritage community. This development may result in the diverse portraiture art and history of Canada being lost to the Canadian public.

Summer Whirlwind

After completing the course work portion of the UWO Public History program, I packed all my bags and moved to Ottawa. I spent the summer working as an intern for The History Group and volunteering at the Canadian Museum of Nature. I enjoyed my time at both organizations, and was able to gain a number of valuable experiences.

The History Group (THG) is a historical research company that focuses on a variety of research topics including: archaeological, first nations, anthropological, and civil litigation. While working with THG I worked on various source identification, and research organization projects. This work was primarily involving collections held by Library and Archives Canada. Working with these collections was both time consuming and interesting. My experience with THG allowed me to gain an understanding of how to organize huge amounts of material effectively, and which research techniques work best for me.

While volunteering at the Canadian Museum of Nature I assisted in the botany collection. Prior to volunteering my knowledge of botany was limited at best. Spending hours mounting various types of grasses from British Columbia, forges a new interest and appreciation for botanists. Additionally, unlike many of my past experiences the Canadian Museum of Nature was not comprised soley of those from the historical field. A large portion of the staff at the Museum of Nature are scientists and researchers. This mix of professionals was interesting and exposed me to a facility which combines history with numerous other fields.

Overall, my summer was filled with diversity. Historical research and museums collection work are drastically different. This diversity is something which speaks to the field of public history and the variety of fields which a public historian can find employment in.