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New Graduate Program in Heritage Studies and Public History Launches

March 8, 2017

Next fall marks the start of a new program for the College of Liberal Arts, the masters in heritage studies and public history (HSPH). In partnership with the College of Design and the Minnesota Historical Society (MNHS), HSPH combines hands-on professional development with rigorous scholarly training.

At its core, the HSPH program is built on interdisciplinary work. The faculty who spearheaded the program, Associate Professor Greg Donofrio (architecture), Associate Professor Katherine Hayes (anthropology), and Professor Kevin Murphy (history and American studies) all work with heritage studies and public history, but from different points of views.

“Across the University there are people doing amazing heritage-related work,” said Hayes. “The Institute for Advanced Study (IAS) supported our focused explorations on how to bring all of this expertise into teaching and training the next generation.”

With IAS’ support, they found other interested faculty members, developed curriculum, and worked to build partnerships with heritage agencies and organizations outside of the University, including the Minnesota Historical Society.

“Initially we planned to start modestly with the creation of a graduate minor in heritage studies,” Donofrio said. But, after approaching the MNHS to discuss a partnership, their idea grew larger. “Stephen Elliott, director of MNHS, liked our idea of a partnership but encouraged us to think much bigger, to not just create a graduate minor, but to establish an entirely new graduate program.”

Program fills curriculum gaps

The HSPH program fills several gaps in the U’s curriculum. “The first gap we see this program filling is the gap that brought us all together in the first place, teaching individuals how to really DO interdisciplinary work,” explained Hayes. “This university has tremendous opportunities to work across fields, but we felt that students need a more solid platform to find these opportunities so they don’t spend years exploring who they could work with.”

Another primary focus of the program is to diversify the academic and professional fields connected with heritage studies and public history. “In working together, and with our partner Chris Taylor who directs inclusion efforts at MNHS, we realized just how profoundly these fields have been limited by a lack of engagement with a multiplicity of perspectives and histories,” said Murphy. “We became convinced that a broader range of people working in the field will encourage a richer interpretation of struggles over power, belonging, and sovereignty in our past.” Attention to difference as well as inclusion will broaden the range of histories represented in museums, the types of landmarks designated as historic sites, and the number of communities that engage with this work.

HSPH students will also develop methods for collaborating with community members to collect and share knowledge and interpretations of the past. “Heritage professionals can no longer operate as scientists, connoisseurs, and academics who tell communities what is important about the places where they live and work,” said Donofrio.

Finally, the program’s partnership with the Minnesota Historical Society provides tremendous opportunities for hands-on learning, “University graduate students will gain experience and knowledge by working in professional internships at museums and historical organizations throughout Minnesota,” explained Donofrio.

“We’re not interested in replicating the heritage field as it exists today, we want our graduates to change it. The world is changing, demographically our country and state are changing, and we want our students to be way out in front of that change,” concluded Hayes.