The field of public history has been developing over the years and, during this time, the concept of public history has acquired numerous definitions. Earlier, it used to be defined with regards to the work of the historians and different public agencies which carried out independent research. Since the 1970s when the field emerged, it has become extremely professionalized, especially in Canada and the United States of America. The settings for this field of study are different sites, museums, national parks, historic buildings, as well as archives and battlefields. Professionals who are working in this field are referred to as public historians. The work of these people consists in incorporating a wide variety of practices and applying them in different settings, as well as in being proficient in historical discipline and utilizing its different methods. The profession of a public historian includes a number of occupations, such as “museum professionals, government and business historians, historical consultants, archivists, teachers, cultural resource managers, curators, film and media producers, policy advisors, oral historians, professors and students with public history interests, and many others.”1 Whereas some time ago public historians aimed to reach academic audience, today their work spread much farther than colleges and universities: “Public historians aim for an out-of-school public audience, which might be officials in the government agency, corporations, union, philanthropic organization, or professional association that employs the historian or the library-using, documentary viewing, museum-going general public.”2 Hence is the influence of public history on the public policies. This paper is going to discuss this influence with regards to a particular country, the United States of America, as well as specific bills aimed at the preservation of natural history passed in the country.
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Influence of the Public History on the Public Policies
The field of public history has a profound influence on the society; in addition to this, it is quite persuasive within the government because it turns attention to the issues of natural history preservation and plays a role of the initiator of a number of public policies. These public policies are proposed by a number of public programs which, in their turn, are suggested by different entities. This paper discusses the effects of public history on the U.S. public policies namely with regards to the benefits which such programs and entities bring to the society. Working with the population comprises the largest part of the public historians’ work. Some part of this work includes carrying out different surveys and interviews in order to identify which historical sites need preservation and which public policies should be adopted to contribute into public history preservation:
When the Washington-based Society for History in the Federal Government conducted a survey, it found oral history projects in al branches of the military, the intelligence agencies, many cabinet departments, Congress, the federal courts, the Smithsonian museums, and independent agencies from NASA to the national Institutes of Health. The National Park Service has the most ongoing oral history projects … collecting interviews for use in documenting the sites and producing visitor orientation materials.3
These materials, as a rule, serve as a firm basis for demanding specific activities from the government. Since public historians work with media, public policy organizations, and historical societies,4 they have an ability to raise public awareness in such issues as natural history preservation. Moreover, their connections with different governmental agencies allow them influencing the adoption of different public policies and emphasizing their necessity through different public programs.
The National Historic Preservation Program
One of such programs is The National Historic Preservation Program initiated by the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation. Lately, historic preservation has attracted much attention on the part of the U.S. citizens. Some of the Americans consider it necessary to preserve the historical heritage of the country in order to maintain the sense of community in the society. The others, in their turn, wish to study American heritage and emphasize its significance for them personally and for the American society in general. The National Historic Preservation Program meets the interests of all these citizens. This program was created by the entity the aim of which is addressing historic preservation issues and ensuring “that private citizens, local communities, and other concerned parties would have a forum for influencing Federal policy, programs, and decisions as they impacted historic properties and their attendant values.”5 The National Historic Preservation Program is based on the National Historic Preservation Act which was passed several decades ago when the field of public history only started its existence. This Act was last amended in 2006 and now serves as a powerful tool of influencing the awareness of the population about the natural history preservation; it turns the attention of the U.S. citizens and governmental organizations to maintaining the historic and prehistoric resources safe and in harmony with the conditions of the modern society. With respect to this issue, the influence of the field of public history on the U.S. public policies consists in providing sufficient grounds as to why these policies should be introduced and raising the interest and awareness of the population in the necessity of natural history preservation.
National Trust for Historic Preservation
Another entity that greatly contributes into the public history’s effect on public policies of the United States is the National Trust for Historic Preservation, an organization that has legal rights to influence the adoption of public policies in the United States. This is the organization of national level which is among only those few national ones that, just like preservation organizations of state and local levels, have the right to hold easements and covenants.6 The primary objective of this organization is to save and protect those places which are of great historical importance for the United States. Apart from organizing programs leading to adoption of certain public policies, the organization engages a number of the U.S. citizens in carrying out different historic preservation projects, such as weatherization, for instance. Thus, the organization significantly increases the influence of the public history on the U.S. public policies.
Bills Benefiting the Preservation of National History
Recently, the U.S. government has passed several bills which were extremely beneficial for the preservation of natural history of the country. For instance, on October 1, 2009 the Senate and the House of Representatives have passed the Community Restoration and Revitalization Act of 2009. According to this Act, the historic tax credit for medium ($5 million and less) projects has been increased, which is expected to make these projects more attractive for the investors. The Act has also set limits for the maximum credit for smaller projects ($1,500,000 and less).7 In addition, the Act has also permitted 10 percent credits for the old buildings rehabilitation provided that these buildings will be further used for rental housing. Finally, the Act encourages those owners who carry out construction and rehabilitation works of historic buildings being aware of energy efficiency. Thus, the significance of this Act consists in making it financially possible to rehabilitate historical buildings, thus, preserving the United States’ natural history.
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Another bill passed by the U.S. government this year is Presidential Historical Records Preservation Act which was adopted on September 26, 2008. According to this Act, non-profit organizations can obtain grants for the promotion of the historical preservation of historical documents and records of the former U.S. presidents who did not have archival depository. The significance of this Act consists in allowing private organizations to be involved with historical preservation owing to the grants which they may obtain in accordance with this new legislation. In this way, the government contributes into the preservation of the natural history, as well as into the increase of the public awareness about the value of the presidential records of the country.
The history of any country is its main asset which keeps the memories of the country’s past and allows using these memories for surviving in future. The United States is a country with rich history this is why historic preservation should be the primary objective of the country. With respect to this objective, the government should develop the field of public history which, through different entities and public programs raises the citizens’ interest in natural history preservation and influences the adoption of such Acts as Community Restoration and Revitalization Act of 2009 and Presidential Historical Records Preservation Act.
Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, “The National Historic Preservation Program: Overview” . Web.
Ritchie, Donald, Doing oral history: a practical guide (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003), 41.
McMordie, Michael and Pannekoek, Frits, Heritage covenants & preservation (Calgary: University of Calgary Press, 2004), 36.
National Council on Public History, “What is Public History?”. Web.
Public History Resource Center, “Public History – What is It?.
The Library of Congress, “Community Restoration and Revitalization Act of 2009 (Introduced in House)”. Web.
- National Council on Public History, “What is Public History?”. Web.
- Donald Ritchie, Doing oral history: a practical guide (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003), 41.
- Ritchie, Doing oral history: a practical guide, 42.
- Public History Resource Center, “Public History – What is It?. Web.
- Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, “The National Historic Preservation Program: Overview”.
- Michael McMordie and Frits Pannekoek, Heritage covenants & preservation (Calgary: University of Calgary Press, 2004), 36.
- The Library of Congress, “Community Restoration and Revitalization Act of 2009 (Introduced in House)”.