borona

I am currently attending the National Council for Public History Conference in Indianapolis, Indiana and many of the sessions have been grappling with the same themes we have in our Public Scholars class. How do we privilege communities without sacrificing academic integrity? Should that be the concern of an activist scholar? What do we call this work anyway: public history, public scholarship or something else? And the most important question (to me at least) why so much anxiety between public and “academic” scholarship? All of these questions have been at the forefront of the conference discussions without real answers but many lively and engaging ideas. This week’s readings came at a perfect time for me because they help to frame some of those discussions into a theoretical context.

As Hale notes in his introduction, activist research can be seen as the “praxis” side of the theory-and-praxis combination and that underlying political alignments do not undermine scholarly rigor. I find in my own research that my political and cultural understanding through indigenous and environmental justice advocacy makes my scholarship more rigorous because of the responsibility I feel toward the community I am working with and for. As an academic and community scholar, I echo the sentiment of Sudbury and Okazawa-Rey who wish to make activist scholarship as a viable model for both intellectual inquiry and pedagogical praxis (Sudbury and Okazawa-Rey, 3). As they also note, education for social justice is not a new practice. It has played a central role for social change and the departments that have come out of this social change, such as women’s studies, queer studies and Native American studies. I continuously think about whom we are writing for a why. Who is the public? What is the point of academia if it is not to be accessible to people outside of it? It has taken me coming to UC Davis to see that there is this anxiety (perhaps I have put myself in the bubble of public history) between the public and the academic. For example, the University of Utah: American West Center engages in public history, academic and public scholarship, and openly works with communities to help with cultural projects. As far as I can tell there is very little anxiety about their methodologies  within the wider university.

So the anxiety question still haunts me. Why is the dynamic between public scholarship and academic scholarship so tenuous? There is a whole group of academics (public historians, ethnic studies scholars, etc.) that have embraced this model of scholarship as both necessary and important to understanding the communities we write about. I’m still curious about this anxiety, the history of it, the discussion of it, the theory around it, because it is not my own.