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The University of Southampton

HIST6082 Public History

Module Overview

This module aims to enhance your understanding of how history is communicated and consumed by the general public outside academe, through such institutions as museums, archives and heritage sites. It will encourage you to both engage with the theoretical issues surrounding ‘public history’ and observe delivery of ‘public history’ in the field, learning how its practitioners approach it and how the public consumes it.

Aims and Objectives

Learning Outcomes

Knowledge and Understanding

Having successfully completed this module, you will be able to demonstrate knowledge and understanding of:

  • Of the aims of bodies outside academe in delivering public history
  • Of the methods and techniques used by these bodies to fulfil these aims
  • Of the potential audiences for and their reception of public history
Subject Specific Intellectual and Research Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • evaluate critically the communication of historical knowledge and understanding by bodies outside academe
  • identify the aims of these bodies in delivering public history and assess their success in attaining these
  • compare and contrast public and academic history in terms of methodology and audience
Transferable and Generic Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • Understand how the content and communication of knowledge can be adapted to meet the needs of a popular audience
  • Carry out research into the efficacy of a public service by interviewing both those delivering and receiving that service
Subject Specific Practical Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • Critique the delivery of history by bodies outside academe, including the media
  • Locate academic history in the broader context of popular reception of the past


Public history means history which is designed for and consumed by a popular audience as opposed to the academic history taught and written by professional historians in universities. The first half of this module will offer a broad overview of the history of public history, examining the development of the statutory and institutional frameworks within which it is delivered and the particular challenges faced by practitioners working in the field. The approach will be both theoretical, requiring critical engagement with scholarship on such themes, but also ‘hands-on’, involving student interaction with practitioners of public history and their observation of the delivery and reception of public history in the field. The second half of the module sees each student conduct a self-directed investigation of an institution engaged in the delivery of public history. Students will be expected to make contact with appropriate representatives of the institution, conduct at least one site visit, and gather relevant materials. They will be expected to assess the institution’s declared mission and the effectiveness of its implementation, as well as the stakeholder and financial environment the institution has to work within.

Learning and Teaching

Teaching and learning methods

During the first half of the module, the content will be delivered through a combination of university-based seminars and a visit to an external institution engaged in public history, either a museum or a heritage site. The seminars will be team-taught, with staff contributing seminars reflecting their specialised knowledge and engagement with public history. The visits will involve interviewing those delivering public history and the audience receiving it in order to assess how far public history is achieving what it sets out to do, and independent critical observation of delivery of public history through exhibitions or historical reconstructions. During the second half of the module, you will have the opportunity to attend two workshops designed to allow you to develop a self-directed study. These sessions will be designed to encourage you to share ideas and experience, learning from your fellow students and bringing a degree of collaboration to your work.

Independent Study130
Total study time150

Resources & Reading list

J. Tosh (2008). Why History Matters. 

Seacity Museum.

J. Arnold et al (1998). History and Heritage. 

D. Lowenthal (1997). The Heritage Crusade and the Spoils of History. 

R. Samuel (1994). Theatres of Memory. 


Assessment Strategy

Formative assessment at end of module (summative is given through feedback in the two workshops mentioned above). The aggregate pass mark is 50%.


MethodPercentage contribution
Portfolio 100%


MethodPercentage contribution
Resubmit assessments 100%

Repeat Information

Repeat type: Internal & External

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