Public History Practicum

Every spring, as part of the public history practicum (HIST-730), students and faculty work alongside American University’s partner institutions to develop new educational programs, future exhibits, and other interpretive works. These projects provide students opportunities to learn public history in the field, hone project management skills, and practice working as a team. With every project, AU’s partners benefit from the valuable, professional assistance of talented scholars trained in the best practices of the field.

Projects require students to work in teams of two to four people and spend about 100 to 150 hours apiece researching and developing the final product. Through the process of creating these projects, students learn best practices in interpretive planning, visitor evaluation, writing for public audiences, and working with new media. Students are required to build digital portfolios and present their work to a gathering of partners and faculty at the end of the semester.

Featured Practicum Projects

Collaborations

Collaborations can range from small class projects to internships to ongoing partnerships.

Please check out previous projects and partners on this page. If you are an individual, organization, or group looking for help with a public history project please send us your information to set up a conferral:
Collaboration Info & Form

Our New Ideal Model Home in Breuninger's Shepherd Park

Shepherd Park: Cultivating the “Garden of Diversity” (2019)

Partner: Shepherd Park Citizens Association
On April 14, 2019, neighbors gathered outside the neighborhood library to explore Shepherd Park’s activist history and share their individual experiences. They mapped their neighborhood memories on the side of the Humanities Truck, told their stories through oral histories, and reminisced on their common past through an exhibit. Moving forward, Shepherd Park residents are committed to building on their activist legacy and using the lessons of the past to shape their future. Check out this time-lapse of the event!

Mapping Whiteness in Late 1960s Washington, DC (2018)

Partner: DC 1968
Working with DC 1968 Project Public History Practicum students studied the presence, practice, and projection of whiteness in Washington, DC during the late 1960s and created a website to share their project with the public. This practicum project helped to expand on  DC 1968 Project’s goal to amplify the art, activism, architecture & everyday life that made 1968 an extraordinary year in DC.

Reno City: Finding Reno (2019)

Partner: Neil Flanagan
Tenleytown’s Fort Reno Park was once home to Reno City, a thriving African American community. Finding Reno explored the story of Reno City and the daily lives of its residents. On the evening of April 27th, the public was invited to participate in the remembrance of the community by investigating historic images from the town and contributing to a conversation about the history and legacy of Reno City.

Visit this site to learn more about these two projects (plus others!), read students’ reflections working on them, and more.

2020 Practicum Projects

Documenting the Schools and People of Education Hill

Partner: Sumner Museum and Archives
AU Public History students worked with the Sumner Museum and Archives to document the history of schools on “Education Hill” (Young, Browne, Spingarn, and Phelps.)

Urban Planning in Chinatown and the 1882 Foundation

Partner: 1882 Foundation
For this project students documented the history of urban planning, community resilience, and resistance in DC’s Chinatown neighbourhood.

African Liberation Day (ALD) and Pan-African Roots

Partner: Pan-African Roots
Students partnered with Pan-African Roots to further document the history of African Liberation Day and its connection to DC’s Malcom X Park which became a global epicentre for ALD celebration, protest, and march.

Select Past Projects

Cleveland Park: Site of Imagination (2019)

Partner: Cleveland Park Historical Society
In Spring 2019 Public History grads joined the Cleveland Park Farmers Market and gave visitors an opportunity to learn about the history of the Park & Shop and development in Cleveland Park.

American University Archives: An Activist Tradition: AU and WCL’s Founding Women (2019)

Partner: American University Archives
AU Public History grads invited the American University community to meet AU and WCL’s founding women and to discover how their tradition of activism continues.

Building Cleveland Park(2018)

Partner: Cleveland Park Historical Society
AU Public History Grads worked alongside the Cleveland Park Historical Society to produce videos about the Cleveland Park neighborhood's unique architectural history. The Society now features their videos online.

Unreeling NPR History (2018)

Partner: National Public Radio Research, Archives, and Data Strategy
In partnership with AU Public History alumna and NPR Public Historian Julie Rogers, Public History Practicum students worked to preserve and increase educational access to NPR's audio shows, creating a project and presentation for National History Day.

Sharing History at Dupont Underground (2018)

Partner: Dupont Underground
Public History Practicum students designed and constructed a website, brochure, and onsite panel to share this nonprofit arts and cultural organization’s history.

Treasures of the Smithsonian, Spring 2017

Partner: National Museum of American History
Public history students produced a set of 17 large flashcards for the National Museum of American History , which highlight 10 famous artifacts and link them to less familiar artifacts in the museum. Volunteers use these flashcards to engage museum visitors in historical thinking and to orient them in the museum to encourage exploration.

The Bill of Rights and National Parks (2017)

Partner: National Park Service
Working with the National Park Service practicum students designed and implemented a website connecting various National Park sites to the amendments of the Bill of Rights. By drawing connections between each amendment and specific sites, the team worked to help navigation and to allow for the public to better understand the parks.

Community Documentation Initiative Blog (2016)

Partner: Smithsonian Anacostia Community Museum
Students collaborated with the Anacostia Community Museum to write twelve blog posts for the Smithsonian Anacostia Community Museum’s Community Documentation Initiative blog. The blog posts drew upon research in newspapers, photographs, and secondary literature in order to document the history of neighborhood change in DC's Latinx community.

Three Stars, Two Bars, One City (2015)

Partner: Historical Society of Washington
Partnering with the Historical Society of Washington this practicum team researched and wrote a school program for 12th graders answering the question: “Who’s a Washingtonian?” The program introduced students to the history of DC using archival and three-dimensional objects in the Society’s collections, and incorporated multimedia elements, such as this introduction video.

How Do You Fix a Broken Heart? (2015)

Partner: National Museum of American History
For this project, students researched and scripted a public program exploring the history of innovation through artificial hearts. Their program debuted at the National Museum of American History on July 1, 2015 as part of the Wallace Coulter performance stage, and the presentation was publicized in a Smithsonian Magazine article on the museum's collection of artificial hearts.

Marian Anderson, The Lincoln Memorial, and Constitution Hall (2014)

Partner: National Park Service
What can we understand about race relations in World War II-era America from Marian Anderson's Lincoln Memorial concert and the surrounding controversy? For this project students developed a web-based audio program exploring how Anderson's concert and the people behind it challenged American conventions about race and acted as an important precursor to the Civil Rights Movement.

Arlington National Cemetery: Wayside Exhibits (2009-2010)

Partner: National Park Service
Over the course of two semesters, AU Public History students helped the National Park Service to develop an interpretive plan for Arlington National Cemetery. Combining archival research with lessons in graphic design, students designed a series of wayside exhibits to educate visitors about the important, though often unmarked, sites and memorials scattered across the cemetery's 624 acres.