Welcome to Explore History!
This website aims to provide innovative ways to connect the global community with history, which belongs to the public. Because we live in an exciting age of digital innovation, we can share knowledge gained through traditional historical methods (by reviewing manuscripts, books, and artifacts) with the world. At Christopher Newport’s Public History Center (PHC), we use virtual exhibitions and other cutting-edge tools to communicate historical findings. PHC students create service-learning projects with our community partners that feature artifacts and/or archival collections that either have not been seen by a large audience or have been tucked away for safekeeping.
Students become investigators, searching for unique or special historical items that peak their interest in the hope of sparking yours as well. They research the history behind objects, letters, places, and so much more. And then we tell their stories, making a lasting, meaningful contribution to the Hampton Roads community and beyond. It is a true honor and pleasure to work with these talented individuals and the community every semester. Our public history students have a true passion for making a difference and bringing history to life. We hope you enjoy Explore History!
We would like to thank all of our community partners who have provided such amazing opportunities for our public history students over the decades! Check them out on our website: cnu.edu/publichistorycenter/partners/
Dr. Sheri Shuck-Hall, Director of the Public History Center, Professor of History, and Editor of Explore History at Christopher Newport University.
What is Public History?
Public History is an action or approach that allows historical knowledge to reach the public.
Many historians spend time conducting research and generating key findings about the past. The purpose of public history is to communicate these results and insights to the public at large in meaningful and inspiring ways. The following types of organizations are considered public history agencies:
- History museums
- Living history museums
- Archives and libraries
- Historic parks, landmarks, and battlefields
- Archaeological projects and sites
- Oral history projects
- Historical societies
For a full list of the PHC’s partners, visit our Partners.
Museums are the most common institutions created to educate the public about history. The local region of Hampton Roads has a unique abundance of museums with a historical focus. These include The Mariners’ Museum, the Hampton History Museum, DeWitt Wallace Decorative Arts Museum and Bassett Hall at Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia War Museum, Jamestown Settlement, Yorktown Victory Center, Lee Hall Mansion, Endview Plantation, US Army Transportation Museum, Casemate Museum at Fort Monroe, Newsome House Museum and Cultural Center, Waterman’s Museum, Hampton Roads Naval Museum, and many more.
Living History Museums
First developed by the Scandinavians in the 1880’s (Norsk Folkemuseum and Skansen), open-air museums centered on a collection of historic buildings (restored and replicas) and the people who lived and worked in them. Colonial Williamsburg (ca. 1934) developed out of this trend; it is considered the first living history museum in the United States. Part of its mission is to create a memorable experience for visitors, focusing on early American culture and historical interpretation. The nearby Jamestown Settlement also contains a large living history component in addition to its state-of-the-art museum.
Archives and Libraries
Many public historians find job opportunities in historical archives and libraries. Archival collections are not only vital for historians and historical researchers, but also for members of the public who are investigating family history or local history. The Mariners’ Museum Library and Archives offers a world-class collection of maritime-related documents. Many Christopher Newport students have assisted archivists in digitizing collections so that the public can access documents on the Internet. Other local libraries working on online collections can be found at the John D. Rockefeller, Jr. Library (supported by the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation) and the Library of Virginia in Richmond, where researchers can access rare books and manuscripts.
Historic Parks, Landmarks, and Battlefields
Throughout the world, government agencies at the national, state, and local levels avidly protect historical sties in order to preserve the heritage of a nation or people. In the United States, the National Park Services (NPS) operates many historical places, such as the Colonial Williamsburg National Historical Park that includes Historic Jamestowne, the Yorktown Battlefield, Cape Henry, and the Colonial Parkway. Fort Monroe, a landmark of great historical significance over the centuries, recently obtained national monument status in 2011. Fort Monroe is currently developing public programs to highlight its rich history.
Archaeological Projects and Sites
Historical archaeology has long been considered an exciting facet of public history. Who would not want to dig up artifacts and discover a piece of history? Archaeological evidence often fills in the gaps when the written record or oral history is lost. Hampton Roads is rich in history and the accumulation of buried artifacts. The Nathalie P. and Alan M. Voorhees Archaearium is interactive and unique to the US. It is housed at Historic Jamestowne. Christopher Newport students have conducted numerous archaeological digs at various sites around historic Jamestown and Fort Eustis and assisted in the interpretation of artifacts from the past. Article: Scientific storytelling: Eustis archaeologists preserve ‘American experience.’
Oral History Projects
Oral history is a growing field within public history, especially with the popularity of social media and the ease of digitization. It consists of the compilation of recorded interviews of individuals who have a unique perspective on an historical event, experience, or culture. Many Christopher Newport students have documented the recollections of local residents during the Civil Rights movement of the 1960’s in Hampton Roads Oral History Project.
In Virginia, historic preservation is an essential, time-honored tradition. Historical societies help promote, interpret, and preserve historic places or collections (documents, artifacts, etc.), usually focused on a local setting. Some societies own and manage historic homes, while others help maintain the integrity of historical districts. More information here on a complete listing of Historical and Genealogical Societies in Virginia.