Public history
in The houses of history
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This chapter explores the contemporary uses of history in the public sphere. It focuses on collective relationships with the past. The chapter briefly outlines what is included under the rubric of public history and heritage. It also explores how the concepts of 'imagined community', 'collective memory', 'historical consciousness' and 'performativity' help us understand popular engagement with the past. Public history is important because it fulfils the responsibility of historians to engage society in understanding the past. The chapter presents two case studies to demonstrate the connections in public history between imagined national communities, the processes of collective memory, and historical consciousness. The first case study is Yael Zerubavel's exploration of Israeli 'collective memory', described by Sander Gilman as 'the story of an "imagined community" writ large. The second case study is Annie Coombes' comparison of two museums in South Africa: Robben Island Museum and the District Six Museum in Capetown.

The houses of history

A critical reader in history and theory, second edition


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