Public History and the Academy

Fishel, Leslie H., Jr. “Public History and the Academy.” In Public History: An Introduction, edited by Barbara J. Howe and Emory L. Kemp. Malabar, Florida: Krieger, 1986.

The first sentence identifies the article’s title, the author’s full name, and an interpretive statement about the reading that identifies the author’s thesis or argument, which usually incorporates both an obvious idea within the reading and a less obvious, but equally important idea (using an adjective like “important,” or “interesting” or “significant”).
Example: In “Public History and the Academy” Leslie H. Fishel, Jr. argues that public history is a thriving, adaptable profession, but Fishel also suggests another significant idea by stating that the field risks losing its current popularity as it matures.

2. The second sentence describes the sort of evidence the author uses to support the thesis, providing a specific example of the sort of evidence the author uses placing the pages cited in parentheses.

Example: Fishel supports his argument that the field’s “wide range of potential activity might be considered a weakness” (12); with evidence from interviews with practitioners such as Hal Rothman of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas (17) and Roger Kennedy, former Chief of the National Park Service (22).

3. The third sentence offers a statement of the article’s significance. The third sentence answers the question, “So What?” and ideally places the article or chapter into a larger context, including that of related readings.

Example: Fishel discusses some of the differences between public history and academic history in order to define public history; one contribution public historians make to the larger discipline of history is reaching out to communities beyond academia.

Writing annotations provides a way to hone your analytic reading skills as well as a means to increase your concision and clarity in writing. They also provide research notes for your own use.

Here’s an example of a completed annotation:

Johnson, Stephen. “Night Soilmen” in The Ghost Map. York, 2007. Johnson argues that it required a combination of both local knowledge and first-rate medical expertise to solve the cholera epidemic confronting London in the 1850s. He critically reassesses primary sources from London, including maps, newspaper stories, and original publications of the main characters in his story, such as John Snow, as well as synthesizing the latest research in information sciences and the application of a two-way communication and GIS system in NYC to support his argument. The significance of the book goes far beyond public health and historical studies in that he provides the basis for making cities today and in the future more livable as well as safer and more efficient.

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