Tuesday, April 7, 2020

The Inclusive Historian's Handbook - Review

One of the things I appreciate most about our community is the level of engagement and excitement around creating and promoting history. Members of our community participate in historical work in a variety of ways: writing and presenting new research on our area’s history, working with schools and students, collecting artifacts and archives, and advocating for history education and preservation.

There are a number of resources for individuals and organizations doing historical work. For the history practitioners in our community, I recommend checking out The Inclusive Historian’s Handbook, a digital resource that seeks to help anyone doing history to center inclusivity and diversity. Robert Weible, SCHS Board President and State Historian of New York Emeritus, co-edits the handbook with Modupe Labode (National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution) and William S. Walker (Cooperstown Graduate Program, SUNY Oneonta). The Inclusive Historian’s Handbook is co-sponsored by the American Association for State and Local History (AASLH) and the National Council on Public History (NCPH). It aligns with AASLH’s and NCPH’s goals of building diversity and inclusion across the historical community.

What is inclusivity and why does it matter to public historians?People are generally familiar with the concept of diversity and the importance of recognizing the ways race, class, gender, sexuality, religion, and other differences inform our experiences. A diverse historical record includes perspectives from members of all of the various groups that make up a community. Historically, the study of history has focused heavily on the experiences of white, literate, upper class men, but in recent decades, historians have moved to creating narratives that represent all groups within our society. Inclusivity and inclusion go beyond representation to emphasizing "whether members of diverse groups feel valued and respected within an organization, project, or social system" (Chris Taylor, "Diversity and Inclusion," The Inclusive Historian's Handbook, 2019). Practicing inclusion in public history helps us reach more of our community and, frankly, makes the historical narratives we create more interesting. Inclusive practices and philosophies give us more tools for documenting our communities, interpreting historical sources, engaging our communities, and preserving the historical record. According to Taylor, "Whether we focus these efforts outside our organizations and institutions or we look to reinvent our organizations and institutions from the inside out, inclusion is the common thread that continues to create increased levels of relevancy for the work of public historians."

The Inclusive Historian's Handbook is a collection of articles written by experienced historians on a variety of topics relevant to doing historical work in public settings like museums, archives, and historical societies. The articles combine practical advice with critical reflections and comprehensive bibliographies, and are designed to be accessible to anyone engaging with historical work. Unlike printed resources, the handbook is still growing. The website was launched in 2019 with a core set of articles on topics like accessibility, digital history, plantations, sexuality, and monuments. New articles are added regularly and the 'About' page contains a call for proposals of new content. According to the editors, "The advantage of a digital resource is that the Handbook can be both iterative and responsive. As the field changes and more practitioners are identified, the Handbook will be transformed" ("About," The Inclusive Historian's Handbook, 2019). One of the other key advantages is the ability to link to other resources. The handbook's bibliography and article citations are valuable to practitioners who need a thorough understanding of a topic or more details and examples of projects and practices in the field. As the handbook grows, I'm looking forward to more "View from the Field" articles, like Marian Carpenter's "The Challenges to Being Inclusive in Museum Collections."

This post was written by Marietta Carr, the SCHS Librarian and Archivist.

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