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Past and Present

WSU Public History Shifts Focus

Fletcher Powell

Next year, the Public History Program at Wichita State University will officially become the Local and Community History Program.

Like Public History, Local and Community History will consist of a collection of courses that form a track within the Department of History master’s program. What is different is the focus. Public History emphasized presenting history to audiences in non-academic settings. Local and Community History is about the subject matter: the local area and the various communities within it as sources of study.

Many local and community historians work with and for museums, architectural consulting firms, libraries and public agencies. Others are classroom teachers who use local examples as education tools. Some efforts are very academic, appearing in peer-reviewed works that illustrate how local stories are part of larger national and even global trends.

In some ways, very little will change. There will be an introductory methods course, as well as classes in topics such as museum methods and options for internships. Students will still do a thesis, take comprehensive exams, and take a full array of classes on historical subjects. Now, though, they’ll also take classes in the History of Kansas and the History of Wichita. Their research will involve projects in the community, such as the recent photo history of Wichita’s African Americans, cemetery tours, or the study of Wichita’s Rock and Roll scene.

Universities today are called upon to be "Stewards of Place," and the program in Local and Community History will be well positioned to help WSU be a steward of the many dynamic, conflicting, meaningful and influential stories that have made Wichita and Kansas what they are.