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Concepts and Approaches in Public History - HIS00147M

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  • Department: History
  • Module co-ordinator: Dr. Victoria Hoyle
  • Credit value: 20 credits
  • Credit level: M
  • Academic year of delivery: 2024-25
    • See module specification for other years: 2023-24

Module summary

The core module of the MA in Public History will equip students to think critically about the representation, interpretation and consumption of history across a wide range of contexts and genres, including in communities, museums, archives and heritage places, and on film/TV and social media. They will examine the diverse ways in which historical knowledge and understanding of the past are generated, and the varied political, social and cultural meanings which are produced. It will provide students with a thorough interdisciplinary grounding in the theory and practice of public history, introducing concepts and approaches from history, heritage studies, memory studies, museum studies, and media studies.

We will consider key themes such as power and authority, memory and commemoration, identity, community, and commodification. Throughout we will use case studies of public history practice in institutions (such as museums and archives), in politics and the media, and within communities and families. We will also think about how public history manifests in different national contexts, considering international examples and approaches. Students are encouraged to consume a broad range of public histories during the module.

Module will run

Occurrence Teaching period
A Semester 1 2024-25

Module aims

The aims of this module are:

  • Introduce students to a broad range of conceptual and methodological frameworks for understanding the relationship between the past and its manifestations in contemporary society
  • Explore examples of how the past is represented, constructed, debated and contested in the public sphere
  • Encourage critical and theoretical evaluations of media strategies and cultural heritage public policy
  • Allow the student to marry academic knowledge with a rigorous understanding of specific case-study examples of public policy or representation, obtained through reading and discussion of policy documentation and other source materials
  • Ensure that students are exposed to a broad range of research into media strategy and public heritage.

Module learning outcomes

Students who complete this module successfully will:

  • Possess an understanding of theoretical models for relating the present to the past
  • Be able to assess their relationship to particular and specific examples in the arenas of policy or media
  • Demonstrate an understanding of the relationships between theory and practice in Public History

Module content

Students will attend a 1-hour briefing in week 1. Students will then attend a 2-hour seminar in weeks 2-4, 6-8 and 10-11 of semester 1. Weeks 5 & 9 are Reading and Writing Weeks (RAW) during which there are no seminars. Students prepare for eight 2-hour seminars in all.

Seminar topics are subject to variation, but are likely to include the following:

  1. The Past in the Present: What is Public History?
  2. Internationalising Public History
  3. Whose Past is It: Power, Politics and the Nation
  4. Personal Pasts: Family, Locality and Identity
  5. As Seen On Screen: History and Visual Media
  6. Performing, Playing and Re-enacting the Past
  7. Difficult Pasts and Commemoration
  8. Place-making and History-telling in York


Task Length % of module mark
4,000 word essay
N/A 100

Special assessment rules


Additional assessment information

Students submit a 2,000-word formative essay at the end of the first Reading and Writing week.
A 4,000-word summative essay will be due in the assessment period.


Task Length % of module mark
4,000 word essay
N/A 100

Module feedback

Students will typically receive written feedback on their formative essay within 10 working days of submission.

Work will be returned to students in their seminars and may be supplemented by the tutor giving some oral feedback to the whole group. All students are encouraged, if they wish, to discuss the feedback on their formative essay during their tutor’s student hours—especially during week 11, before, that is, they finalise their plans for the Summative Essay.

For more information, see the Statement on Feedback.

For the summative assessment task, students will receive their provisional mark and written feedback within 25 working days of the submission deadline. The tutor will then be available during student hours for follow-up guidance if required. For more information, see the Statement of Assessment.

Indicative reading

For semester time reading, please refer to the module VLE site. Before the course starts, we encourage you to look at the following items of preliminary reading:

  • Sayer, Faye. Public History: A Practical Guide. (London: Bloomsbury, 2019.)
  • De Groot, Jerome. Consuming History: Historians and Heritage in Contemporary Popular Culture. (2nd edition) (Abingdon: Routledge, 2016.)
  • Kean, Hilda and Paul Martin (eds.). The Public History Reader. (London: Routledge, 2013.)

The information on this page is indicative of the module that is currently on offer. The University is constantly exploring ways to enhance and improve its degree programmes and therefore reserves the right to make variations to the content and method of delivery of modules, and to discontinue modules, if such action is reasonably considered to be necessary by the University. Where appropriate, the University will notify and consult with affected students in advance about any changes that are required in line with the University's policy on the Approval of Modifications to Existing Taught Programmes of Study.