Back to previous page

Challenging History

Race, Equity, and the Practice of Public History

edited by Leah Worthington, Rachel Clare Donaldson, and John W. White



Published: Jul 22 2021


Published: Jul 22 2021

OA Ebook
Published: Jul 22 2021


The inclusion of this book in the Open Carolina collection is made possible by the generous funding of

A collection of essays that examine how the history of slavery and race in the United States has been interpreted and inserted at public historic sites

For decades racism and social inequity have stayed at the center of the national conversation in the United States, sustaining the debate around public historic places and monuments and what they represent. These conversations are a reminder of the crucial role that public history professionals play in engaging public audiences on subjects of race and slavery. This "difficult history" has often remained un- or underexplored in our public discourse, hidden from view by the tourism industry, or even by public history professionals themselves, as they created historic sites, museums, and public squares based on white-centric interpretations of history and heritage.

Challenging History, through a collection of essays by a diverse group of scholars and practitioners, examines how difficult histories, specifically those of slavery and race in the United States, are being interpreted and inserted at public history sites and in public history work. Several essays explore the successes and challenges of recent projects, while others discuss gaps that public historians can fill at sites where Black history took place but is absent in the interpretation. Through case studies, the contributors reveal the entrenched false narratives that public history workers are countering in established public history spaces and the work they are conducting to reorient our collective understanding of the past.

History practitioners help the public better understand the world. Their choices help to shape ideas about heritage and historical remembrances and can reform, even transform, worldviews through more inclusive and ethically narrated histories. Challenging History invites public historians to consider the ethical implications of the narratives they choose to share and makes the case that an inclusive, honest, and complete portrayal of the past has the potential to reshape collective memory and ideas about the meaning of American history and citizenship.

Leah Worthington is co-director of the Lowcountry Digital History Initiative and associate director of the Lowcountry Digital Library at the College of Charleston.

Rachel Clare Donaldson is an assistant professor of public history at the College of Charleston and author of "I Hear America Singing": Folk Music and National Identity.

John W. White, founding director of the Lowcountry Digital History Initiative and dean of libraries at the College of Charleston, is coeditor of Laying the Foundation: Digital Humanities in Academic Libraries.

"Much of the history we need is hidden in plain sight, but these essays open the research and results of the hard–working stewards of the raw material of history—archivists, archaeologists, architectural historians, and historic site administrators—who are creating the broader, more inclusive history our times need."—Carter L. Hudgins, Director Emeritus, Clemson University / College of Charleston Graduate Program in Historic Preservation

"Challenging History is a refreshing addition to conversations about Black history in the public history sphere. It challenges us to move beyond simply highlighting deficiencies and inspires solutions. It elevates significant stories, illustrates "real-world" improvements, and makes unflinching assessments—marking where we have been, have yet to go, and how we might get there."—Shawn Halifax, Public History Practitioner, McLeod Plantation Historic Site

"Challenging History is a book for our times. Creatively weaving together diverse case studies, it shows how southern public history is enriched by including the African American experience. In demonstrating how "imagined heritages" frequently distort historical understanding, it insightfully shows the challenges and opportunities public historians face reshaping our collective memory of the past."—Bernard Powers, Professor emeritus of history and founding director of the Center for the Study of Slavery at the College of Charleston

"[T]hese essays suggest the potential of public history to challenge restrictive narratives and preconceptions. All of the projects discussed here center marginalized histories. In learning about this work, the reader is reminded of the importance of a broader conceptualization and understanding of the African American experience within public history."—Journal of Southern History

"Historians, docents, professors, activists, or anyone looking for models on how to better do public histories of "lesser-known historical actors" (17) should read this interdisciplinary volume. Challenging History: Race, Equity, and the Practice of Public History manages to bind together conceptual analysis and practical application while detailing how the experience of African Americans has or has not been centered in public history."—Scott Hancock, Gettysburg College, American Historical Review

"Faber tells Stinney's story with passion and restraint. He worked on the book for a decade but died before he was able to complete it. Before he died, he asked the historian Carol Berkin, a friend since they were in graduate school together in the 1960s, to pick up where he left off. Berkin finished the last chapter, edited the manuscript, wrote a forward explaining all this, and saw the book through to publication. Her contribution is a lovely tribute to Faber, just as Faber's book is a fitting tribute to George Stinney and the wretched experience, past and present, of which his story is a part."—James Goodman, Rutgers University-Newark, American Historical Review

Books, News & Resources!

Sign up to receive updates on new books, promotions, and USC Press news.