The May 2017 issue of The Public Historian, the journal of the National Council on Public History (NCPH), takes a look at how women’s history is represented in public with a number of essays and reviews that look at international women’s history. Perhaps not surprisingly, the inclusion of women in public interpretations of the past—particularly of ordinary women—lags behind that of men. The essays in this issue discuss some recent progress—and failures.
The issue opens with two essays on the significance of the apparently simple act of naming in bringing the stories of women’s lives to the fore. Maeve Casserly and Ciaran O’Neill discuss the intertwined relationship of women’s history and public history in the Republic of Ireland. They point to some recent projects and exhibits that have brought women’s history into the mainstream of public understandings of Ireland’s history, ranging from physical exhibits, tours, a new virtual museum, collection-building “history harvesting” events, and official recognition of women’s significance to Irish history through the naming of public spacing, including naming of a new bridge for trade unionist and republican revolutionary Rosie Hackett. Turning to the other side of the globe, Natasha Erlank examines the politics of memory in South Africa through a study of street naming in the post-apartheid era. Since 1994, towns and cities across South Africa have renamed places to commemorate the anti-apartheid struggle. She finds that the African National Congress, as demonstrated through its choice of names, has chosen to memorialize particular masculine and feminine virtues and recognizes “safe” women performing ancillary roles. The individuality of these women is lost. That individuality is also hard to find in the Jack the Ripper Museum in London’s East End—proposed as “the first women’s museum in the UK—according to Claire Hayward, in her review essay on the new museum.
The issue also includes an article on recent community efforts to preserve the long-neglected King Records recording studio in Cincinnati, Ohio, which launched many country, R&B, jazz, gospel, and other recording artists from the 1940s into the 1970s. Charles Lester tells of public historians and preservationists who have worked to preserve the site in recognition of the studio’s impact on American culture. As with many historic preservation efforts, this one has faced opposition and indifference from those who are unaware of the significant history that took place at the site. Its future currently is in the hands of the courts.
The issue’s Reviews section includes a loving review of the Smithsonian’s new National Museum of African American History and Culture (pictured on the cover), as well as reviews of recent movies on race: Free State of Jones and The Birth of a Nation. These, along with the many other exhibit, film, digital, and book reviews, will give readers a good sense of the variety of public history practice around the world and should provide plenty of reading until publication of the August issue.