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Public History | Student Projects

American University Students Research the Veterans History Project collections at the Library of Congress

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, honing 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.

Historic Hauntings Ghost Tour of Lafayette Square, Spring 2014

Murder in Lafayette Square

There are many ghostly tales associated with Decatur House, the White House, and the President’s Neighborhood; inquiring minds want to know what’s behind these stories – truth or fiction? Students at American University are researching the origins of the ghost stories and creating a tour that engages visitors in a dialogue about the history behind the stories. Even historical fictions can tell us something about the people who created and circulated them. 

District of Columbia War Memorial, Spring 2014

DC War Memorial

The District of Columbia War Memorial is a unique memorial on the National Mall that commemorates the local men and women who died in service during World War I. The American University team will work with the National Park Service to create an interpretive website for the Memorial including primary sources about both the World War I experience in Washington D.C. and the conceptualization and dedication of the memorial. Through documents, images, and audio, the website will tell stories of individual sacrifice, community mobilization, and the contested national memory of the war. 

Resurrection City, Spring 2014

Resurrection City

For six weeks in 1968, the National Mall was home to Resurrection City. Part of the Poor People’s Campaign, the community was motivated by a desire for economic justice. American University students will create an online exhibit that considers the history of Resurrection City and its existence (or erasure) on the National Mall and in American memory. The AU team is challenged to mark something that no longer exists, but they have discovered that people, not buildings, create community.

Decatur House Servant Quarters, Spring 2014

Decatur House Servant Quarters

Constructed in the early 1820s as a servant hall for the residence staff of diplomats, the wing at the back of Decatur House became the quarters for enslaved and free people who served the various families living in the house through the nineteenth century and twentieth centuries. American University students are conducting primary source research with special attention to architecture, maps, and images. The AU team will create a web exhibit, ‘filling’ the empty spaces of the unfurnished servant’s quarters, to explore the daily realities of servant life in Washington D.C.

Marian Anderson, The Lincoln Memorial, and Constitution Hall, Spring 2014

Marian Anderson Concert

What can we understand about race relations in World War II era America from Marian Anderson's Lincoln Memorial concert and the surrounding controversy? The AU group is working with the National Park Service to create 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. 

C&O Canal National Historic Park, Spring 2012

Working under the direction of the National Park Service, American University students overhauled the self-guided interpretive resources in the park’s Lockhouse 6. This historic structure is part of the innovative Canal Quarters Program, an initiative that allows visitors to spend the night in lockhouses throughout the park. The AU team developed a scrapbook, selected wall photos from the parks archives, wrote labels to supplement the photos, and produced audio clips from oral histories to tell the story of the “Development of a Sanctuary: From Canal to National Park.”

Smithsonian Gardens, Spring 2012

American University students worked with Smithsonian Gardens to develop the framework for an interactive, user-driven, educational website about America’s history of urban community gardening. Their project, “Greening America’s Cities: A Timeline of Community Gardens,” highlights the role of community gardens in alleviating socioeconomic challenges, notably in relation to the experience of immigrants, low-income families, and inner city children. The group developed the themes that will structure the website, produced interpretive content, and gathered photographs and videos from community gardens across the country to initially seed the site.

The Menokin Foundation, Spring 2012

Menokin, the home of Francis Lightfoot Lee – a signer of the Declaration of Independence, has partially collapsed and has a tree growing in it.  offers significant challenges.  American University students took on the task of interpreting this ruin and its surrounding landscape.  Drawing on themes that highlight the social and environmental history of the site, the students produced an interpretive prospectus as well as three wayside signs. The prospectus will serve as a guide for the foundation’s future interpretive work.  It capitalizes on the resources offered by Menokin’s landscape, is designed to work well with a small staff size, and incorporates state-of-the-art interactives that draw on new media technology.

American Enterprise Pre-Exhibition Website, 2010-2011

Public history students at AU recently collaborated with curators at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History museum to build the institution’s first pre-exhibition website. Working in collaboration with staff from the museum's New Media office, the students launched their website in January of 2011, complete with a curator blog, visitor surveys, and a tour of the possible objects featured in the upcoming exhibition. Learn more about their work here, or visit the American Enterprise site.

Museum Theater, Spring 2011

Historical interpretation comes in all shapes and sizes, and in the spring of 2010, American University students were given the chance to work in one of its most challenging forms—museum theater. Students worked alongside the staff of the Jerome and Dorothy Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation and the National Museums of American History to develop two original pieces of museum theater based on the lives of two path-breaking women inventors—Margaret E. Knight and Marion O’Brien Donovan. With the help and guidance of faculty and actors from American University’s own Performing Arts Department, students wrote scripts based on original research into these inventors' lives.

Arlington House: Interpretive Furnishing Plan, Spring 2010

Utilizing contemporary readings on historical interpretation, exhibit design, and African American studies, American University students developed a comprehensive furnishing plan for Arlington House, The Robert E. Lee Memorial’s north slave quarters and winter kitchen. The plan broadened the popular site’s historical narrative to include free and enslaved people of color, emphasizing themes of enslaved resistance, contested living spaces, and local, regional, and international mobility. Visit the website students developed to accompany the proposed furnishing plan.

Arlington National Cemetary: Wayside Exhibits, Spring 2009-2010

Arlington House Waysides Team

Over the course of two semesters, American University students partnered with the National Park Service to develop an interpretive plan for Arlington National Cemetery. Combining archival research with lessons in graphic design, students created a series of wayside exhibits that educate visitors about the important, though often unmarked, sites and memorials scattered across the cemetery’s 624-acre campus. Learn more about the Arlington Waysides project here.




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