A year and a half ago my understanding of public history was exceptionally limited. Considering its name, I first assumed that this branch of history focused primarily on professional historians sharing their knowledge in nonacademic settings. I believed that public history was the medium through which people who share similar characteristics (e.g., nationality) came to understand their collective past. Although the latter is partially true (sort of), in the last several months I have come to realize that public history comprises much more than that. Through collaboration, inclusion, and shared authority, this field allows people from different socioeconomic and professional backgrounds the opportunity to contribute as well. As a result, these dynamics provide diverse audiences with the tools necessary to engage in substantive dialog and analysis. It also provides a channel where various aspects of the collective past (particularly the most controversial) are carefully disseminated to create a better understanding. Similarly, public history offers a voice to the neglected segments of society. In particular, those whose accounts have been distorted or dismissed deliberately by people who prefer to highlight the less contentious narratives of the past. With that in mind, I would tentatively describe public history as an interdisciplinary social discipline that analyzes and combines the various narratives surrounding a particular event, place, or person. This field provides a more inclusive interpretation of the past to close historical gaps, connect individual narratives to broader movements, and elevate the voices of the forgotten. But more importantly, in my view, public history affords professional historians the unique opportunity to engage in the often-controversial practice of academic activism.
After reading The Presence of the Past by Roy Rosenzweig and David Thelen, it became apparent to me that public history is actually innate in us all. This field of study is not necessarily exclusive to those who have become professional historians by trade. Actually, popular historians (i.e., everyday individuals) have the potential to construct, record, and conserve the past while contributing to a larger understanding of history as well. These objectives may be achieved by taking photos, sharing experiences, investigating family histories, working on hobbies or collections, or by merely taking part in groups interested in the past.  This excellent book and study exemplifies the notion that people from different backgrounds also have an affinity for learning about and preserving history. It also shows that people tend to be more aware and interested in historical events when they have closer connections to them (e.g., family and friends). In fact, I would argue that the closer people are to historical events, the higher the likelihood that they become more interested in preserving its history. Evidence of the latter is the growing number of individuals and organizations in Maryland that are collaborating in preserving the narratives surrounding the Baltimore Uprising.
Another book that captured some of the important aspects of the influence of public history is From Storefront to Monument by Andrea A. Burns. Although the book also sheds light on some of the problems that arise when museums professionalize, the author demonstrates just how important people from the community are in the process of creating spaces of identity and self-worth. Focusing on the history of the Anacostia Neighborhood Museum, for instance, the author explains how this museum provided members of the African American community with a venue to highlight the group’s experiences and history. John Kinard (director of the museum at the time) perceived neighborhood institutions “as entit[ies] that encompass the life of the people of the neighborhood.”  Undoubtedly, Kinard was making the argument that people in overlooked communities “are vitally concerned about who they are, where they came from, what they have accomplished, their values and their most pressing needs.”  Through collaboration and shared authority, public history serves as an instrument to empower “forgotten” communities while instilling a sense of self-sufficiency. Similarly, what Andrea Burns demonstrates in her book is that activism plays a key role in the development and interpretation of collective narratives.
Because of the educational value and social responsibility that public history has with the audience, it is often challenging to create meaningful narratives without being bias. During the semester-long project, which focused on the examination of the history of UMBC in the past 50 years, I found it somewhat tricky to craft the stories of different pieces of art on campus. The difficulty arose not because of a lack of research or a lack of existing literature on the two sites (although there was not a lot). Instead, it was the often-natural instinct to wanting to tell people how to perceive the sites and emphasize why it is important to learn about them. These challenges are what made me understand even further what renowned interpreters like Freeman Tilden have indicated: The chief aim of Interpretation is not instruction, but provocation. It became evident to me that the primary objective of public history is not to define what is significant or to tell people how to understand history. Instead, the central purpose is to identify the different narratives about the past and bring them together in a collaborative and inclusive manner.
Overall, my understanding about this still evolving field has developed considerably since I first showed up to History 300 – Introduction to Public History in 2014. In fact, throughout this semester, I had a chance to experience some of the many difficulties and advantages of this fascinating branch of history. It is truly a rewarding, yet complicated field where people can contribute to the community as a whole. More importantly, public historians (particularly those who focus on social issues) have the ability to induce social change.
 Rosenzweig, Roy, and David Paul Thelen. The presence of the past: Popular uses of history in American life. Vol. 2. Columbia University Press, 1998
 Ibid, 23
 Burns, Andrea A. 2013. From storefront to monument: tracing the public history of the Black museum movement. (Boston: University of Massachusetts Press, 2013), 15.
 Ibid, 16
 My research focused primarily on the Mnemonic sculpture (1976) by the Arts Building and the Bio Mural (2013) by the Biological Sciences Department. Fellow UMBC students produced these two pieces of art, which contributed to providing the University with a sense of relative uniqueness.
 Tilden, Freeman. Interpreting our heritage: Principles and practices for visitor services in parks, museums, and historic places. (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1957), 9.