Guide to Writing a Public History Thesis with a Public History Component
Nancy K. Berlage
Section 1: Public History Components
- B. Component Option: Illuminates the ways in which the public comes to understand historical information or interacts with the past
Section 1: Public History Components
The thesis/article should incorporate a public history component. Types of components are categorized and described below, with accompanying examples.
The thesis should do at least one of the following:
- Demonstrate good knowledge and use of a particular methodology, public history practice area, or topic inherent to public history.
- Show evidence of knowledge of best practices as identified by methods course and/or professional organization.
- Discuss (briefly) the methodology used or practice area drawn upon to accomplish the aim of the thesis. Discussion might include the importance, history, legitimacy, or purpose of the methodology. This discussion is typically situated in the introduction. Discussion can also occur in the chapter or section that uses the methodology.)
A: Component Option: Uses a Particular Methodology or Addresses a Public History Practice Area
The public history program offers methods and practice field courses that can provide a frame for the thesis. The methods and practice areas can shape the whole thesis or chapters and sections can focus on application of the method to the topic.
The entire thesis/article does not need to be grounded in the methodology. For example, a thesis might draw on material culture or oral history methods in only one chapter/section.
Suggested Methods & Practice Areas
- Architectural History
- Community Engagement Cultural Landscapes
- Cultural Resource Management
- Digital History
- Heritage Tourism
- Immediacy of Topic that has contemporary resonance and has potential for current impact Interpretation and Public Programming
- Local and Community History Material Culture
- Memory Studies Museum Practice Oral History Preservation
- Public History Administration of Historical or non-profit entities
- Diversity and Inclusion
B: Component Option: Illuminates the ways in which the public comes to understand historical information or interacts with the past
The thesis helps illuminate the ways in which a public comes to understand historical information or interacts with the past.
- Analysis of a park’s public programming on a particular topic and change over time.
- Analysis of the development of a local history society and what it chose to include or exclude from the narratives it promoted.
C: Component Option: Application of research or begins to develop application of research
Keeping questions about interpretation and ideas about practical applications of thesis research at the forefront can help develop competency in practice areas. It can open doors to careers and professional contacts. And it can provide a set of skills and knowledge that can be listed on the resume.
- Makes recommendations (typically in the last chapter or section), on how to engage the public on the historical findings of the thesis. Or, how to improve an existing presentation, e.g., at a park, museum, or site, on the topic examined by the thesis.
- Discusses specific suggestions for public outreach on the topic, perhaps through digital exhibit, museum, signage, community meetings, etc.
- Prepares pop-up exhibit and describes the process in a chapter or section.
- Develops suggestions for a preservation plan.
- Suggestions for future public programming and interpretive practices.
- Analyzes or develops a new interpretation of a landscape following appropriate methodology.
- Writes a grant proposal related to thesis findings –as a chapter or appendix.
- Writes text of an exhibit related to thesis findings—as a chapter.
- Suggests archival or records management practices in creating a new physical or on-line collection related to the topic and discussed the methodology and problems for doing so in the practice area.
D: Component Option: Internship Continuation
The topic and approach can develop out of an internship or project with a constituency, stakeholder, or community beyond the academy. The student continues and expands the project on their own, or they work with the organization to develop a product—to the extent the chair advises.
- A student who worked at a National Battlefield writes a thesis on how the National Park Service has interpreted that battle, paying attention to change over time.
- A student who helped collect oral histories for a site continues and elaborates the project in conducting, analyzing, curating additional oral histories.
- A student who assisted with an exhibit on the history of education at a local museum writes a thesis on how museums nationwide or locally interpret the history of education and then gives suggestions for improvement.
- A student who worked for a history museum in Austin writes about how the museum handled a controversy.
- A student who interned on the preservation of an adobe building writes a history of how Portland cement came to replace lime plaster as an outer coating on adobe buildings in the 1930s.
- A student who interned at a historic site conducts research and writes a comprehensive guide for new interpretations of subjects previously ignored by the site.
- A student who worked at a national historic site that included a Civil War battlefield writes on the significance of women soldiers in the Civil War and suggests public interpretation and/or programming.
- I student who interned at an archive writes a history of a topic based on an archival collection they processed.
- A student who wrote a history of a site for the National Park Service turns one chapter— based on original research on a hitherto unknown part of that history—into an article.
Section 2: Sample Theses and Approaches by Practice or Methods or Topica Area
- Interpretation & Public Programming
- Local History and Community History
- Material Culture
- Memory and Film
- Military and Public History
- Military History and Cultural Landscape & CRM
- Museums: Pop-up Exhibit
Section II: Sample Theses and Approaches by Practice or Methods or Topic Area
Theses were completed at leading public history programs and incorporate a public history component. Abstracts and hyperlinks.
- Martin, Katherine Anne. “Decadent amusements: Islamic revival architecture in American leisure places, 1871-1929.” IUPUI, MA Thesis, 1993.
- Mosley, Keneisha Diane. “Volunteer Traditions: Neoclassical Architecture and Its Racial Impact on Fraternity and Sorority Houses at the University of Tennessee,” 2021.
- Crosby, Christine. "The Crossroads of the Air": Boosterism and the Development of the Indianapolis Municipal Airport, 1925-1939." IUPUI, MA Thesis, 2015.
- Curtin, Abby. “Rethinking Landscape Interpretation: Form, Function, and Meaning of the Garfield Farm, 1876-1905.” IUPUI, MA Thesis, 2014.
- Gamble, Bonnie L. "The Nashville and Chattanooga and St. Louis Railroad 1845-1880: preservation of a railroad landscape.” MTSU MA Thesis, 1993.
Cultural Resource Management
- Fredericks, Katelyn V. "Back to the land and all its beauty": managing cultural resources, natural resources, and wilderness on North Manitou Island, Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, Michigan." MA Thesis, IUPUI, 2014.
- Ramsey, Ginger. "Cedars of Lebanon State Park: a preservation plan." MA Thesis, MTSU,1999.
- Schneider, Sarah. “Searching for Home at Château de la Guette and Beyond: Social and Spatial Dimensions of Jewish German and Austrian Children's and Spatial Dimensions of Jewish German and Austrian Children's Journey to Flee Nazi Persecution via Children's Homes in France.” MA Thesis, University of Central Florida, 2018.
- Laney, Mackenzie Elizabeth. “Doing Digital History as a Public Historian: The Implications and Uses of the Growing Digital History Field For Public History.” BA Thesis, Central Florida University, 2018.
- Bailey, Heather. Hillbilly skits to Buford sticks: sustainable heritage tourism in Tennessee. MA Thesis, MTSU.
- McMahan, Andrew Wayne. “Urgent and Necessary”: Tennesseans and Their Competing Visions of the Interstate System.
- Morrill, Benjamin. Public History and America's Pastime: The Use of History and Sports Heritage in Marketing and Community Relations in Minor League Baseball in Tennessee.
- O'Dell, Joey Lena. VULNERABILTY DURING COVID-19: AN ORAL HISTORY PROJECT.
- Stringer, Mary Kate. Enriching the Public History Dialogue: Effective Museum Education Programs for Audiences with Special Needs. MA Thesis, MTSU.
Interpretation & Public Programming
- Allison, David B. “Entertaining the Public to Educate the Public at Conner Prairie: Prairietown 1975- 2006." IUPUI, MA Thesis, 2010.
- Akins, Martha D. "Implementation of heritage education at Historic Carnton Plantation." MTSU MA Thesis, 2000.
- Highfield, Elaura. Public History and the Fractured Past: Colonial Williamsburg, the Usable Past, and the Concept of an American Identity. MA Thesis, MTSU, 2014.
- Andrews, Jenny. Public History to Public Policy: Using Historic Resources to Inform Park Interpretation and Community Preservation. MA Thesis, MTSU.
Local History and Community History
- Bailey, Heather L. “Conflict and tension: saving the history of Middle Tennessee villages.” MTSU MA Thesis, 2005.
- Knight, Callie. Nashville Copts: Cultural Identity, Community Collaboration, and Cultural Institutions.
- Receveur, Garrett Wayne. “Commemorating Indiana at the 1916 Statehood Centennial Celebrations: An Examination of the Memory of Colonization and its Lingering Effects on the Indiana State Park System.” IUPUI, MA Thesis, 2021.
- Wernicke, Rose. "The Farmland Opera House: culture, identity, and the corn contest." IUPUI, MA Thesis, 2013.
- Badgley, Benjamin Joseph. "The making of a historical consciousness in Henry County, Indiana: a case study of the Henry County Historical Society, 1887-1950.” IUPUI, MA Thesis.
- Abdallah, Jaryn Elizabeth. More to the Story: Historical Narratives and the African American Past in Maury County, Tennessee.
- Rainesalo, Timothy C. “Senator Oliver P. Morton and Historical Memory of the Civil War and Reconstruction in Indiana.” IUPUI, MA Thesis.
- Kane, Alissa. “Countering the Lost Cause: Examining Civil War Commemoration in Murfreesboro, Tennessee.” MA Thesis, MTSU.
- Haire, Stefanie Morgan. “Memorialization of Forgotten Steps: Native American Participation in the American Civil War.” MA Thesis, MTSU.
- Jackson, Danielle. “REPRESENTATIONS OF GENOCIDE: A CRITICAL EXAMINATION OF THE SCHOLARLY AND PUBLIC INTERPRETATIONS OF THE CONESTOGA MASSACRE.” MA Thesis, MTSU.
- Born, Jennifer D. “A Survey of Indiana Military Monuments.” MA Thesis, IUPUI, 2000.
- Seager, Brenda Mary. “Memory Retrieved: The Memorial for the Murdered Jews of Europe.” MA Thesis, IUPUI, 2004.
- Rainesalo, Timothy C. “Senator Oliver P. Morton and Historical Memory of the Civil War and Reconstruction in Indiana.” MA Thesis, IUPUI.
- Rippel, Elena Marie. “Festive expressions of ethnicity: national German-American festivals in Indianapolis at the turn of the twentieth century.” MA Thesis, IUPUI, 2014.
- Abercrombie, Brent S. "How America Remembers: Analysis of the Academic Interpretation and Public Memory of the Battle of Tippecanoe." MA Thesis, IUPUI, 2011.
- Receveur, Garrett Wayne. “Commemorating Indiana at the 1916 Statehood Centennial Celebrations: An Examination of the Memory of Colonization and its Lingering Effects on the Indiana State Park System.” MA Thesis, IUPUI, 2021.
- May, Cinda Ann. “On Becoming a Valued Member of Society: The Childhood of Famous Americans Series and the Transmission of Americanism, 1932-1958.” MA Thesis, IUPUI, 2005.
Memory and Film
- Johnson, Nicholas K. “HBO and the Holocaust: conspiracy, the historical film, and public history at Wannsee.” MA Thesis, IUPUI, 2016.
- Mitchell, Amber N. "Playing patsy: film as public history and the image of enslaved African American women in post-civil rights era cinema.” IUPUI, MA Thesis, 2017.
- Savarino, Malia Dorothy. “Historical Film and the Assassination of President Lincoln: The Prisoner of Shark Island (1936) and The Lincoln Conspiracy (1977).” IUPUI, MA Thesis.
Military and Public History
- Pfeiffer, David Michael. "From Revolutionary War heroes to navy cruisers: the role of public history and military history in Vincennes, Indiana." MA Thesis, IUPUI, 2012.
- Hankins, Melanie Barbara. "Fort Benjamin Harrison: From Military Base to Indiana State Park." MA Thesis, IUPUI, 2020.
- Jones, Amanda Christine. “The Greatest Outrage: Military Park, Long Hospital, and Progressive Era Notions of Urban Space.” MA Thesis, IUPUI.
- Lynch, Doria Marie. “The Labor Branch of the Office of Strategic Services: An Academic Study from a Public History Perspective.” MA Thesis, IUPUI.
Military History and Cultural Landscape & CRM
Museums: Pop-up Exhibit
- Wilson, Morgan Lee. "Threshing the Grain: Revealing the Lived Experience of a Late Nineteenth Century Hoosier Farm Woman to an Early Twenty First Century Audience." MA Thesis IUPUI.
- Sproul, Kate. “Interpreting Grassmere's Enslaved Community: Archaeological Approaches to Public History at the Nashville Zoo.” MA thesis, MTSU.
Music and Application
- Crawford-Lackey, Katherine. “PUBLIC PROTEST AS A CLAIM TO CITIZENSHIP: TWENTIETH-CENTURY OCCUPATIONS OF WASHINGTON, D.C. AND THEIR ROLE IN PUBLIC MEMORY.” MA Thesis, MTSU.
- Cole, Ashley Daniel. “I WANTED TO BE JUST WHAT I WAS:” DOCUMENTING QUEER VOICES IN THE SOUTH.” MA Thesis, MTSU.
- Alley, Jesse L. "Buffalo Valley School: preservation and adaptive reuse in a rural Tennessee community. MTSU MA Thesis, 2011.
- Benac, David. “Hoosiers, Timber, and Conservation: The Timber Industry's Role in Indiana's Conservation Movement, 1890 to 1920.” IUPUI, MA Thesis
- Brady, Carolyn M. “The Transformation of a Neighborhood: Ransom Place Historic District, Indianapolis, 1900-1920.” MA Thesis, IUPUI .
- Holder, Laura Stewart. "Natchez Street then and now: the evolution and preservation of Franklin's historic African American neighborhood." MTSU MA Thesis, 2005.
- Price, David L. "City planning and historic preservation in Nashville, Tennessee, 1931-1985." MTSU MA Thesis, 2005.
- Reichard, Ruth Diane. “Infrastructure, Separation, and Inequality: The Streets of Indianapolis Between 1890 and 1930.” IUPUI, MA Thesis.
- Ryan, Jordan B. "How Others Have Built": A Sketch of Indianapolis Construction and Demolition Patterns." IUPUI, MA Thesis, 2018.
- Stewart, Taylor. True to Small Town Roots: A Case Study of Adaptive Reuse in Prattville, Alabama.