I am interested in learning about and developing models of public history that are inclusive of people’s diverse experiences and memories of the past. Historical narratives are powerful cultural, social, and political tools. The way we talk (or do not talk) about the past or selectively remember our history directly informs our beliefs and policies. As a public historian, I believe that my primary role is to do research and facilitate work for communities whose stories have been silenced as they seek to preserve and interpret their cultural heritage. This work benefits communities and often leads to valuable scholarly insight that strengthens both public history and history as a whole.
I am currently working on an oral history project dedicated to recording the narratives of people who were students during the Selma Voting Rights Campaign and an article related to this material.
I am also turning my dissertation into a manuscript. My dissertation examines heritage creation as a political act for both communities and heritage professionals and identifies ways that being cognizant of this process can improve preservation and interpretation outcomes for communities. Much of the history and heritage interpreted for the public seeks to be apolitical and in doing so reinforces hegemonic political and cultural values such as white supremacy, patriarchy, and heteronormativity. By directly engaging the political and cultural contexts in which historic sites operate, preservationists and public historians demonstrate their relevance and are better equipped to facilitate civic engagement. I argue that the solution to this problem is to emphasize the process rather than product, and focus on creating a positive collaboration with the community. Because these challenges are not unique to the American context, my dissertation draws on case studies developed from fieldwork in Selma, Alabama and Johannesburg and Cape Town, South Africa. As I develop the dissertation into a publishable form, I plan to expand on the South African examples and possibly add a third case study on the ongoing controversy over the Red Location Museum in Port Elizabeth, South Africa.