Slavic and Eurasian Studies

Prof. Joan Neuberger Awarded Herbert Feis Award for Distinguished Contributions to Public History

Tue, October 16, 2018
Prof. Joan Neuberger Awarded Herbert Feis Award for Distinguished Contributions to Public History
Prof. Neuberger. Credit: Matt Valentine

Congratulations to Prof. Joan Neuberger for receiving the American Historical Association's Herbert Feis Award for Distinguished Contributions to Public History

~ From the UT History Department's website

The American Historical Association has awarded the 2018 Herbert Feis Award to Dr. Joan Neuberger, Professor of History at the University of Texas at Austin, for distinguished contributions to public history. As the editor of multiple public history websites and professor of innovative digital humanities courses, Dr. Neuberger has been instrumental in both making history scholarship accessible to public audiences and establishing the fields of public and digital history as foundational elements of history education at the University of Texas at Austin.

“From Not Even Past to Thinking in Public, The Public Archive, and Behind the Tower, as well as the 15 Minute History podcast series and her Public and Digital History courses, Joan has worked tirelessly over the years to bring history to a larger public. The Feis award recognizes the creativity, hard work, and technological sophistication she brings to all these efforts," said Dr. Jacqueline Jones, Professor and Chair of the History Department, Ellen C. Temple Chair in Women’s History and Mastin Gentry White Professor of Southern History, at UT Austin. "Congratulations to Joan on this well-deserved award!“

The innovative website Not Even Past (NEP), launched in 2011, uses the latest information technology to present history to a wide audience both in and outside the academy. The site has proven a training ground for graduate students who seek to write in an accessible way, and a useful resource and pedagogical tool for history faculty looking for engaging assignments for their undergraduates. In addition, NEP makes great history writing available and accessible to the public through monthly features on faculty research, book recommendations, film and television reviews, and stories about archival, visual, aural, and other historical documents that illuminate intriguing corners of the past for its readers.

The title of the website (from the William Faulkner quote, “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”) reflects Dr. Neuberger’s commitment to an understanding of history as a public conversation that holds critical importance for the present and future. Because of Dr. Neuberger’s vision and ongoing search for new content, the site remains fresh and lively. NEP highlights the significance of the humanities generally, and history specifically, and the site has become a major tool for departmental outreach to K-12 teachers throughout the state of Texas. To date, NEP has reached close to 1 million visitors representing every U.S. state and over 200 countries.

“As historians, we combine the insights of anthropologists, literary scholars, economists, sociologists, political scientists, and psychologists to consider the past in all its glorious, messy complexity,” Jones added. “NEP reminds us of the varied nature of the past—of the role of individuals, groups, and larger historical forces in shaping the world today."

This is further echoed in the work of 15 Minute History (15MH) and Thinking in Public15MH broadcasts short, accessible podcast discussions on a variety of U.S. and global topics available to teachers, students, and anyone interested in history. The podcasts provide overviews of key events and themes in history accurately and succinctly.

15MH, co-founded, co-produced, and co-hosted by history doctoral candidate Christopher Rose (M.A., Middle Eastern Studies, University of Texas at Austin), seeks to provide short accessible podcasts on a variety of historical subjects. Mr. Rose, who served as Outreach Director at UT’s Center for Middle Eastern Studies (2000-2016) and is currently President of the Middle East Outreach Council, also serves as the technical editor for the series. The podcasts appeal to a wide audience of K-12 teachers and students, as well as history buffs who want to get accurate information presented in a succinct way from an expert in the field. Visitors can explore over 100 episodes covering a range of geographically and thematically rich and diverse content, across centuries.

Thinking in Public is a website that brings together public scholarship projects by UT faculty and students across disciplines. The site serves not only as a repository for these projects, but also as a platform to learn about and experiment with a variety of disciplinary methods and approaches to bringing world class scholarship to wider audiences. For example, the site recently featured a project called Front Porch Gatherings, which connects members of the Austin community with faculty, students, nonprofit organizations, community leaders, and others to discuss the pressing issues faced by Austin’s historically underserved communities.

Dr. Neuberger has also led cross-disciplinary conversations and collaborations around public scholarship at UT Austin. Her "Public and Digital History" course introduces students to digital collections and draws students not only from history but many other humanities fields, which allows for a fruitful cross-discipline discussion of the methods and modes of public scholarship. Overall, Dr. Neuberger has facilitated partnerships and collaborations that only enhance the ways that scholars engage with the public.

In her Spring 2016 public history course, each student conducted original research on a topic that is relevant to everyone at this university and the city of Austin itself - the 1966 tower shootings. In working on these projects, students learned how to conduct archival research (a fundamental skill, but one that few history departments around the country teach), engage with researchers and institutions outside of our university, and bridge the gap between academia and local community. All the while, students in this course experienced first-hand the level of responsibility and accountability that public history requires. The final projects remain accessible online at Behind the Tower, a lasting benefit both to the greater Austin community and to participant students in their professional endeavors. (See also: Dr. Neuberger talks about Behind the Tower with Humanities Media Project.)

In Spring 2018, graduate students in the Public and Digital History Seminar at UT Austin experimented with ways to make interesting archival materials available and useful to the public; to anyone with access to a computer. They built these digital, public projects in four main steps. With the help of UT librarians, students identified collections (not yet available to the public) related to their research from the many wonderful archives on UT campus, and digitized them. Students wrote a series of blog-essays to share these archival finds with the public. Each blog shows something historically significant about the documents, opening them up in ways that any curious reader, without any background in the subject, can understand and appreciate. They wrote lesson plans based on these documents to allow educators at the K-12 and college levels to bring archives into their classrooms, and they built a website called The Public Archive to introduce their topics, to share digitized documents, and to make blogs and lesson plans openly available.

“Dr. Neuberger is truly dedicated to sharing and defending the value of the Humanities beyond the university,” writes Zoya Brumberg, doctoral student in American Studies, University of Texas at Austin. “Her love for history melds with her passions for community-building and social justice. She is enthusiastic about the value of the University as a resource and meeting ground for diverse communities during a time when the value of universities and higher education—particularly in the Humanities—is overly questioned and quantified. Each of Professor Neuberger’s public scholarship projects shed light on the ways that education improves human connections. History, literature, science, and art give us the tools to understand ourselves and the world around us. Dr. Neuberger makes it her mission to entice as many people as possible with intellectual explorations that they can relate to without compromising the integrity of their academic groundings.”

Today, when the humanities are under siege—derided as soft, or frivolous, or irrelevant to modern-day life—Dr. Neuberger’s work with public scholarship is a beacon of humanistic inquiry for experts and non-experts alike. Subscribers to NEP and 15 Minute History come from all walks of life. To give a sample of some listeners’ self-reported occupations: real estate agent, pharmacist, marketing director, firefighter, coffee control manager (manufacturing), registered nurse, waitress, computer scientist, school bus driver, city planner, folklorist, lawyer, interpretive park ranger, U. S. army logistics officer, priest, physician, journalist, homemaker, and Linux system administrator, not to mention the many K-12 teachers, college history majors, graduate students, and faculty, and independent scholars.

It is her tireless enthusiasm, creativity, and commitment to her work that make Dr. Neuberger a deserving recipient of the AHA's Feis award. The prize, awarded last year to Founding Director of the the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of African American History and Culture Lonnie G. Bunch III, is named in memory of Herbert Feis (1893–1972), public servant and historian of recent American foreign policy, with an initial endowment from the Rockefeller Foundation.

Thanks to Zoya BrumbergNatalie R. Cincotta, Rebecca Johnston, and Jacqueline Jones, for contributions to this article.


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