A recap of the 2018 Florida Conference of Historians.
I gave this presentation a long time ago. The fact I got asked to do it represents a unique set of concerns for me as a working academic. The academic and entrepreneur language that you can find on the web is perhaps too simplistic, but important to note. I do not believe or support the ideas that traditional academic production is not useful. Academic write journal articles, monographs, and reviews of academic material. The nature of academic production has evolved to sustained the kind of careful examination of complex problems that private or commercial institutions either cannot or will not pursue. The fact it takes a long time doesn't mean it is not important. I tend to approach my social media work as another form of scholarly narrative. I'm talking about ideas interlocked with my teaching, research, and service activities.
The idea of communicating academic ideas to a non-academic audience has value, but the nature of academic narrative causes the public audience to struggle at some level. As I survey my work, community engagement is part of my job and explaining what we do in the classroom is key. Many of my projects are generative scholarship with students as co-investigators. Yes, they are doing an assignment, but the nature of the assignment is informed by the goal of exploring, presenting, and preserving the history of the local community. No one project is the final project, the process creates a capacity for public knowledge. As we do the classroom becomes a platform to extend academic discussions into the public sphere.
Regardless of the class focus, the at least one assignment is designed with community engagement in mind. This engagement has a positive community impact, but community engagement is not the same as a journal article or a book. This is my problem, but it is not an uncommon problem. I see my work with the community as important, but my projects represent a spectrum of scholarly narratives where the audience can engage with ideas across platforms. If the goal is to educate, students are one audience, but not the only audience. Indeed, the world students enter has too much information that challenges the meaning of fact and the justification of authority for information only achieved through careful argument. This is important because education institutions want to justify costs. As states pull back from supporting education, the humanities are under pressure to justify the critical inquiry at the core of scholarly work. As a teacher/scholar, I need to create some sense of how historical thinking learned in my classroom translates into this broader discussion.
File this one under "work in progress" and current events.
The Black Gotham Experience is a multimedia interdisciplinary exploration of the black experience in New York City. If you have not heard of it, you should consider checking it out. The mix of performance, photography, and history to uncover the forgotten complexity of the black experience in New York City is worth your time.
Public scholarship, community-based research, or generative scholarship are all labels that have been applied to me. My narrative about my work has evolved as I've sought to balance academic modes with community expectations. What the community is seeking is to have their narratives understood and validated in official spaces. Academics are often offered the opportunity to be the conduit for community voices if they can balance that responsibility with the demands of tenure and promotion. This balance is not easy to achieve. As I move into the position as full professor (basically I can't be promoted anymore), I'm thinking about ways to help make this process easier for my junior colleagues. Identifying the peer-reviewed publications that support public scholarship in each discipline is an important first step. These institutional discussions play in the background as I share the video below. As a historian of the urban history and development, I see the transformation of the African-American community in Winter Park as a wider framework. By sharing that framework, I can clarify the frustration articulated by the black community and perhaps aide in the creation of a context that fosters better policy that honors the cultural significance of the black community. This is the always the long term goal, but first historians always want to tell stories.