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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, 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.

Anacostia Community Museum CDI Blog, Spring 2016

for their CDI blog

Partner: The Smithsonian's Anacostia Community Museum

Student team of Meg Biser, Rebecca Brenner, and Phoebe Sherman wrote twelve blog posts for the Smithsonian Anacostia Community Museum's Community Documentation Initiative (CDI) blog. The blog posts drew upon research in secondary literature and primary newspapers and photographs in order to document the history of neighborhood change in the DC Latino(a) community.

Student Historian Kits: Transportation Station, Spring 2016

participating in our test of the activity

Partner: Historical Society of Washington, D.C.

Student team of Joan Cummins, Samantha Hunter, Matt Wong, and Rebecca Quam created educational programming, aligned with DCPS standards for third grade social studies and geography, for the Historical Society. The program uses the Historical Society's collections to illuminate the history of the streetcar in Washington, DC. and teach students how to examine primary sources, exercise historical thinking, and explore how their own choices shape the history of their city.

Business of Beauty, Spring 2015

2015 Business History of Cosmetic Practicum

Partner: National Museum of American History

Student team of Jen Giambrone, Catherine Schultz, and Alison Jobe photographed around one hundred objects, conducted research, and designed a website that explored the business history of cosmetics.

Made in the USA, Spring 2015

practicum project 2015

Partner: National Museum of American History

Student team of Marga Anderson and Danielle Dulken researched and designed a website on the history of trade in the US and products produced in America. They also modified the project into a physical exhibition for the Kogod Business School at AU. 


How do You Fix a Broken Heart?, Spring 2015

Public History 2015 Practicum

Partner: National Museum of American History

Student team of Chelsea Hansen and Katherine Kitterman researched and scripted a public program exploring the history of innovation through artificial hearts. The program debuted at the NMAH on July 1, 2015 as part of the Wallace Coulter performance stage. In an article on the museum's collection of artificial hearts, Smithsonian Magazine publicized the performance presentation.

Three Stars, Two Bars, One City, Spring 2015

practicum project 2015

Anne McDonough, © Historical Society of Washington, D.C.,

Partner: The Historical Society of Washington, DC

Student team of Zach Klitzman and Sydney Johnson researched and wrote a school program that answered the question: “Who’s a Washingtonian?” for 12th graders. The program introduced students to the history of DC using archival and three-dimensional objects in the Society’s collections. Their introduction video to the program can be found here.

Honey Bee History, Spring 2015

Practicum Project 2015

Partner: Smithsonian Gardens

Student team of Alexandra Erichson, Anna Reiter, and Anna Snyder produced a pop-up exhibit titled “Buzzing Through History” for the Smithsonian Gardens’ Garden Fest on the history of honey bees from the ancient world to modern America.

The Spirits that Linger: Haunted History in Lafayette Square, Spring 2014

Murder in Lafayette Square

Partner: The White House Historical Association

The student team of Maria R. Eipert and Amanda Zimmerman researched the origins of ghost stories and folklore in Washington, DC, specifically around the Decatur House, the White House, and the President's Neighborhood. They created a walking tour that engages visitors in a dialogue about the history behind the stories and wrote short biographies of locations and people involved in the ghost stories and designed wireframes for a self-guided walking app.

District of Columbia War Memorial, Spring 2014

DC War Memorial

Partner: The National Park Service

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 student team of Julie Boser Rogers and Evan Phifer created an interpretive website for the Memorial. It includes primary sources about both the World War I experience in Washington, DC and the conceptualization and dedication of the memorial. Through documents, images, and audio, the website tells stories of individual sacrifice, community mobilization, and the contested national memory of the war. 

Resurrection City, Spring 2014

Resurrection City

Partner: The National Park Service

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. The student team of Joanna Capps, Kristen Horning, and Alex Knabe created an online exhibit that examines the history of Resurrection City and its existence (or erasure) on the National Mall and in American memory. The team was challenged to mark something that no longer exists, but have discovered that people, not buildings, create community.

Decatur House Servant Quarters, Spring 2014

Decatur House Servant Quarters

Partner: The White House Historical Association

Constructed in the early 1820s as a servant hall for the domestic 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 throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Conducting primary source research with special attention to architecture, maps, and images, the student team of Katlyn Burns and Lisa Fthenakis created a web exhibit, ‘filling in’ the empty spaces of the unfurnished servant’s quarters, to explore the daily realities of servant life in Washington DC.

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

Marian Anderson Concert

Partner: The 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? The student team of Donelle Boose, Elise Fariello, and Brianne Roth created a web based audio program which explores 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

Partner: 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.”

Greening America's Cities, Spring 2012

Partner: Smithsonian Gardens

American University students developed 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

Partner: The Menokin Foundation

American University students took on the task of interpreting Menokin, the home of Francis Lightfoot Lee – a signer of the Declaration of Independence. It has partially collapsed and, with a tree growing in it, offers significant challenges. 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

Partner: National Museum of American History

Public History students, working in collaboration with staff from the museum's New Media office, 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

Partner: National Museum of American History, Jerome and Dorothy Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation

Historical interpretation comes in all shapes and sizes, and American University students were given the chance to work in one of its most challenging forms—museum theater. Students developed 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

Partner: The National Park Service

Using 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.

Arlington National Cemetary: Wayside Exhibits, Spring 2009-2010

Arlington House Waysides Team

Partner: The National Park Service

Over the course of two semesters, American University students developed 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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