Contested Pasts: History in the Public Sphere (HISM037)

StaffDr Richard Ward - Lecturer
Dr Tawny Paul - Convenor
Credit Value30
ECTS Value15
NQF Level7
Duration of Module Term 2: 11 weeks;

Module aims

This module examines the nature of public history, examining what it consists of and why it matters. It covers the wide variety of ways that public history is presented, including in museums, heritage sites, exhibitions, film, fiction and the recent rapid growth in digital sources. It also explores the politics and practicalities of representing history in these spheres, and how history is often contested in the public sphere. In doing so, the module provides a mix of theoretical and practical experiences, ranging from reading around the subjects and investigating particular case studies to practical, project-based work.

ILO: Module-specific skills

  • 1. Locate and evaluate critically the relevant primary and secondary source materials required to investigate a specific historical or methodological question within the scope of public history
  • 2. Demonstrate a detailed knowledge of key themes and approaches in the study of public history

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

  • 3. Demonstrate the ability to analyse and synthesise widely different types of historical material and evidence
  • 4. Identify and understand the nature of original sources
  • 5. Demonstrate a critical understanding of key historical concepts and debates
  • 6. Research independently and present independent accounts and interpretations of different historical issues

ILO: Personal and key skills

  • 7. Develop the capacity for independent critical study and thought
  • 8. Apply key bibliographical skills (including the use of on-line finding aids)
  • 9. Construct and defend a sustained argument, both in written form and orally, using primary and secondary materials
  • 10. Work as an individual and with a tutor and peers in an independent, constructive and responsive way (e.g. lead a group discussion or task)

Syllabus plan

The exact syllabus may vary year to year but the module will examine topics such as:

  • Public History: Theory and Practice (and relevance for academia – Impact)
  • Museums
  • History and Public Policy
  • Living History
  • Art and Public History
  • Genealogy
  • Sites of Memory
  • History and Fiction

Learning activities and teaching methods (given in hours of study time)

Scheduled Learning and Teaching ActivitiesGuided independent studyPlacement / study abroad

Details of learning activities and teaching methods

CategoryHours of study timeDescription
Scheduled learning and teaching2211 x 2-hour seminars.
Guided independent study278Preparation for seminars, essays and presentations

Formative assessment

Form of assessmentSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Seminar discussionOngoing through module1-10Oral through discussion with peers and tutor
Proposal for Public History project1000 words1-10Oral through discussion with peers and tutor

Summative assessment (% of credit)

CourseworkWritten examsPractical exams

Details of summative assessment

Form of assessment% of creditSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Essay403000 words1-9Oral and written
Public History project301500 words1-10Oral and written
Presentation (reflecting on public history project)3020 minutes1-10Oral and written

Details of re-assessment (where required by referral or deferral)

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
EssayEssay1-9Referral/deferral period.
Public History projectPublic History project1-10Referral/deferral period.
PresentationScript as for 20 minute presentation1-10Referral/deferral period

Re-assessment notes

The re-assessment consists of one 3,000 word essay and the Wiki project, as in the original assessment, but replaces the individual presentation with a written script and accompanying visual aids that could be delivered in such a presentation and which is the equivalent of 20 minutes of speech.

Indicative learning resources - Basic reading

Basic Reading:

  •  Arnold, J. et al. (eds.), History and Heritage (1998)
  • Ashton, P. and H. Kean (eds.), People and their Pasts (2009)
  • Black, J., Contesting History: Narratives of Public History (2014)
  • Corsane, G. (ed.), Heritage, Museums and Galleries. An Introductory Reader (2005)
  • Dicks, B., Culture on Display. The Production of Contemporary Visitability (2003)
  • Finn, M. and K. Smith, New Paths to Public History (2015)
  • Groot, J. de., Consuming History. Historians and heritage in contemporary popular culture (2009)
  • Harrison, R. (ed.), Understanding the politics of heritage (2010)
  • Karp, I. and S. D. Lavine, Exhibiting cultures (1991)
  • Knell, S.J., S. MacLeod and S. Watson (eds.), Museum Revolutions (2007)
  • Marstine, J. (ed.), The Routledge Companion to Museum Ethics (2011)
  • Sayer, F., Public History: A Practical Guide (2015)
  • Walkowitz, D. et al. (eds.), Contested Histories in Public Space (2009)     
  • Watson, S. (ed.), Museums and their communities (2007)

Module has an active ELE page?


Indicative learning resources - Web based and electronic resources

Available as distance learning?


Origin date


Last revision date


Key words search

Public history, museums, heritage, digital humanities