The Place of the Urban Past before “Public History,” 1850-1960
September 1, 2021 @ 8:00 am - September 4, 2021 @ 5:00 pm
Historians that have studied the experience of modernity have often looked to periods of industrialisation and urbanisation in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Many approaches and definitions of modernity co-exist, but, in general, an element of rupture – a distinctive and often conscious break with the past – has dominated. Yet ‘the past’ did not necessarily disappear with urban transformations. Both the historic environment, and civic understandings of history within that space, could be used as a way to anchor urban populations at a time of rapid change. In a sense, then, public history as a phenomenon thus has a much longer trajectory than contemporary negotiations over meanings of the past in society, or as a recent product of postmodern economic and societal changes. Before the 1960s and 1970s, considered as the formative period of public history and heritage in Western societies, cites engaged with the past in multiple ways. Historical knowledge has been shaped by not just professional historians but a whole range of groups – from antiquarians and folk enthusiasts to city councils and local associations.
This session invites urban historians to critically examine the past of public history in urban settings between 1850 and 1960. We invite papers that focus especially on how public history in the past was centered on urban space in ways that have not always been recognised.