Letters to the Editor

Letter to the Editor: Defining a Public Historian

Robert W. Passfield, September 2016

To the editor:

While engaged in an Internet search for a precise definition of the term "public historian," I was struck by the wide diversity of views that were expressed concerning the function of a public historian, the purpose of public history, the subject matter of public history, its audience, its utility, and the requisite qualifications of its practitioners. Given that there is no widely accepted or completely satisfactory definition of the term "public historian," the definition below is offered for consideration. It is based on the author's 30 years of experience working as a public historian in the employ of the Parks Canada Agency of the Canadian federal government.

"A public historian is an academically trained historian who is employed, by a government agency or historical organization dedicated to heritage preservation, to apply historical methodologies and analysis in researching, recording, and evaluating the historic significance of the cultural and built heritage of the nation and the local community."

Robert W. Passfield
Senior Historian (retired)
Parks Canada Agency


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