Syllabus, Spring 2017

HIST 502: Applied Historical Research – Spring 2017

Mondays, 4:30 to 7:15 p.m.

Instructor: Leslie Madsen-Brooks
Twitter: lesliemb
Office phone: (208) 426-1700
Office hours: 3:00-4:30 p.m. Tuesdays, 9:00-10:30 a.m. Fridays. Also available by appointment.
Course website:


What is public history, and in what ways does it differ from academic history? Should “the public” be the audience for, participants in, or creators of programs and projects that fall under the banner of “public history”? What role should—and do—professional historians take in public history? How do historians working outside the academy make a living? How do they fund their projects?

These are but a few of the questions we will address in this course.

This is a course about methods, controversies, ideas and ideologies, and the ways history gets deployed in everyday life in the United States. We’ll learn from changing cultural landscapes, consider the politics of museum practice, and survey the pleasures and perils of historic preservation in the U.S. We’ll also plan our own digital public history project.  Along the way, we will meet practicing historians and think through what it means to practice and preserve history in an increasingly digital world.

Learning objectives

By the end of the course, students will be able to:

  • identify significant contemporary projects in public history practice
  • identify contemporary issues in, and explain several major methods of, historic preservation
  • articulate and address the necessity of considering identity politics in public history
  • plan, and make the case for funding, digital history projects
  • make an argument about the place of “the public” in public history
  • determine a path toward a public history career

Course materials (available at the campus bookstore, via online bookstores, and in several cases via Albertsons Library’s ebook platform):

  • Bill Adair, Benjamin Filene, and Laura Koloski, eds. Letting Go? Sharing Historical Authority in a User-Generated World
  • Thomas King, Our Unprotected Heritage: Whitewashing the Destruction of Our Cultural and Natural Environment
  • James Oliver Horton and Lois E. Horton, eds. Slavery and Public History: The Tough Stuff of American Memory
  • Nina Simon, The Participatory Museum (read it free online)
  • Norman Tyler, Ted Ligibel, and Ilene Tyler, Historic Preservation: An Introduction to Its History, Principles, and Practice


The day-to-day requirements of this class are simple: do the required reading, reflect on it, and come to class prepared to engage in thoughtful discussion.  (I promise to do the same.)

Your presence in class is very important.  Participation in course discussions constitutes a significant portion of your grade (10%).  To receive an A for your participation, you must participate meaningfully in class just about every day.  Merely attending class will earn you a C- for participation.

A note about digital devices: In most courses, I ask students to turn off digital devices during class, unless they need to use them as an accommodation for a disability. In this seminar, however, on several days we’ll be exploring digital history, so in many cases you’ll find a laptop, a tablet, or other wireless-enabled mobile device useful or even necessary. That said, I prefer that when we meet for our seminar, students use their computers and phones only for course-related activities. Using them for outside activities—e.g. checking e-mail, updating Facebook, or texting—tends to divide our attention, so I appreciate your restraint.


The quality of your writing—both its clarity and the depth of thought expressed in it—contributes significantly to your final grade in this course. It is imperative, then, that you schedule sufficient time to conduct the research required for each project, write a solid first draft, and conduct several revisions. I recommend you form a writing group with two or three other students to swap papers or projects at least a few days before they are due.

Late assignment policy

In the historical professions, deadlines matter. Exhibitions must open on time. Grant proposal deadlines aren’t negotiable. Collaborative public history endeavors—like building digital tools and organizing festivals—require everyone to contribute in a timely manner so that work may proceed on schedule.  The same holds true for this class. Assignments must be turned in at the beginning of class on the day they are due. Late assignments will be penalized 1/3 of a grade (e.g. a B becomes a B-) after the beginning of class, and I will deduct an additional 1/3 grade for each 24 hours that pass before you turn in the paper.

That said, I’m not heartless.  If you have an emergency or anticipate not being able to turn in your paper on time, come see me and we’ll see if we can work something out.

Please note: Technological failure does not constitute an emergency.  Hard drives fail, servers go down, file transfers time out, and files get corrupted. You must plan for such contingencies: keep backups of your files (preferably in the cloud, e.g. Dropbox or Google Drive), have extra ink cartridges handy, know where the local wifi hotspots are in case your home internet connection goes down. Technological issues are not excuses for late work. Please protect yourself (and your grades) by managing your time and backing up your work.

Grade distribution

  • Class participation: 10%
  • Public history career introduction (blog post): 15%
  • Blog posts: reflections on assigned readings and responses to other prompts, plus comments on others’ reflections: 25%
  • Digital public history project proposal: 30%
  • Major grant proposal to fund digital public history project: 20%

Grading scale 

At the end of the course, I enter letter grades into Blackboard, and Blackboard converts letter grades into percentages (so, for example, a student who received a B- on every assignment would end the course with a final percentage of 81%). Students with the following cumulative percentages will receive the associated final course grades:

A+: 97-100 A: 93-96 A-: 90-92
B+: 87-89 B: 83-86 B-: 80-82
C+: 77-79 C: 73-76 C-: 70-72
D+: 67-69 D: 63-66 D-: 60-62
F: 59 and below


A student commits plagiarism not only if she turns in someone else’s work as her own, but also if she borrows others’ ideas or phrases without giving them credit. We can discuss this in class if anyone has any questions. Any student who plagiarizes or cheats on any assignment may receive a grade of zero on the assignment and an F in the course and may be subject to academic discipline by the university.

I am interested in your thoughts and your creative and analytical work.  Please share them with me!


I want and need to hear from anyone who has a disability that may require some modification of seating, assignments, or other class requirements so that appropriate arrangements may be made.  Please see me after class or during my office hours. 

Talk to me

I will be available during my office hours to address your concerns with the class and assignments.  I encourage you to come see me if you feel you have not been offered a chance to participate in class discussion, you are troubled by a particular assignment, you would like to talk more with me about an issue raised in class, or you have concerns about your performance in the course.



Please complete each set of readings before class on the date shown.

January 9: Introduction

January 16: Class does not meet–campus closed in observance of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day

January 23:  Shifting paradigms

  • Letting Go, pp. 7 – 155

January 30: Shifting paradigms, continued

  • Letting Go, pp. 156 – 321

February 6: Difficult topics in public history

Slavery and Public History

February 13: Museums as social institutions

We will spend the week doing this activity.

  • The Participatory Museum: Read pp. i – 126 (through the end of chapter 3); skim the rest, focusing on topics or case studies of interest to you.
  • During the week, visit one of Boise’s museums and identify (a) existing participatory elements of its exhibits or programming and (b) opportunities to further integrate participatory elements. (Note: most museums are closed on Mondays.)

Public history career introduction due (post on blog by Monday 2/13 at noon)

February 20: Class does not meet–campus closed in honor of Presidents Day.

February 27: Difficult topics + museums as social institutions = Museums address #BlackLivesMatter and refugees/migrants

March 6: Historic Preservation, part I

  • Tyler et. al., Historic Preservation chapters 1, 2, 3 (in chapter 3, skim pp. 63-102 and read pp. 103-119).
  • Preservation Idaho, “Threatened Sites”

March 13: Historic Preservation, part II

March 20: Class does not meet–spring break.

March 27: The public’s practice of history, analog and digital

April 3: Careers and entrepreneurialism

Explore some of the following pages and sites, according to your interests:

Bring your group’s Public History Project Proposal summary to share with the class.

April 10: Grant and proposal writing

Additional optional resources for this week

April 17: Ethical dilemmas

  • King, Our Unprotected Heritage
  • Glenn C. Sutter. Review of The Future of Heritage as Climates Change: Loss, Adaptation, and Creativity by David C. Harvey and Jim Perry, eds. Museum Management and Curatorship 30 (2015): 359-61. (available via Albertsons Library database)
  • Optional: Browse Tom King’s blog, CRM Plus.

April 19-22: National Council on Public History conference.  Watch social media (especially Twitter and blogs) to find current issues in public history.

April 24: Dark Tourism

NOTE: To access the following articles from these links, you need to be on the university network. If elsewhere, search for it in the Albertsons Library catalog and use your credentials to log in.

  • Digital public history project plan (or project of similar scope) due

Monday, May 1: Final exam (5:30-7:30 p.m.)

  • Digital public history project presentations
  • Group-authored reflection paper (from Public History Project Proposal) due
  • Grant application due