Author Archive for Michele Brewster

Into the field

I am already busy, working on research for the museum exhibition here in Southern California. I do feel much more prepared. The MOU process was especially helpful and productive, so I am grateful that assignment was in place. I am using in order to organize my tasks (Thank you, Cleve Justis!). That tool is pretty amazing. I’m also experimenting with Google Keep, to see which tool I will stick with.

I would like to touch base with everyone at the end of the summer to see how everyone’s project went. I think the blog would be the ideal place to communicate.

Thanks a lot, everyone!


Communication is key!

I have been learning a lot by interacting with my community partner organization over the past few weeks. The most important lessons have been to communicate as much as possible, to be generous with as much knowledge as I can possibly share, and to cultivate trust as the basis for the working partnership.

My work for the museum has already taken on a life of its own. Each relationship and each discussion helps me to shape my next step. New approaches and new ideas are always coming to me. I knew this project would show me new ways of thinking about my work and I was right. I only hope to continue cultivating a positive working atmosphere and to do the work that I hope will penetrate the pseudo in the pseudo environment.

I am excited to be writing a lesson plan for K-12 teachers that incorporates new ways of understanding 19th century California. This is one of the main goals of my summer hours. I also plan help the museum’s education department by helping to create new and innovative materials for student and school visits.

I know I will learn more about effective public engagement.  For me, the most important part will be to cultivate relationships and to communicate more — and not less, as I reach out to many different people. I hope I will get to see what everyone else is doing over the summer via this blog!



Part of my own “public” sphere

The public I will address are those whom I can predict such as K-12 instructors and visitors to the Laguna Art Museum. The public I work with also includes those whom I cannot predict or know about at this time. I hope that my future work will do that which Walter Lippman describes as “an intelligent direction of social life,” that is, “the union of social science, access to facts and the art of literary presentation.”


I have learned that writing for the public sphere is therapeutic for me, as well as it is the application of academic knowledge to the real world. I stay in academia in order to contribute to the effort by universities to “make sense of difference,” as I have a personal as well as professional stake in this problem. Though I believe that as a woman of color I have been unjustly “presumed incompetent” at times, I seek to become a positive influence for others in having the strength and courage to work through this historically significant period of time. I am not separate from, but I am a part of the public I seek to reach. I see our societal problems as common to all and that gives me the inspiration to keep my academic work deeply anchored in the public sphere.


To learn from others, and to teach

After completing my master’s degree, I taught World History at a community college in southern California. I was dismayed that I could say very little about how California history fit into larger world history paradigms and global trade networks of the nineteenth-century. I felt I should be able to do better, especially given that most of us had grown up in California. Solving this conundrum became the focus of my current dissertation research.

My goals for public scholarship are the same as they were in my classroom: thinking about the global context of nineteenth-century California history, with a wider, lay audience. I seek to go beyond the “missions and gold rush” formula asking, “how should we place ourselves in a broader and more complicated history of California?”

My current project at the Laguna Art Museum allows me to parlay scholarly studies of nineteenth-century California history into the public realm of museum exhibition and K-12 outreach. Contributing to specific curatorial imperatives expands the scope of my own dissertation research. At the same time, I believe my studies benefit the Laguna Art Museum staff as they conceptualize their own vision of the upcoming exhibition: Mexico/LA: History into Art, 1821-1930.

Engaging, informing, listening to and learning from the public are the greatest and most rewarding challenges in the humanities. This bears a strong relationship to engaging individual students in our classrooms. Becoming a specialist in the intricacies of an academic field takes a certain set of skills, not to mention perseverance and individual discipline. However, forming meaningful relationships with community organizations and non-specialists is recalling the “human” in humanities in more concrete and embodied ways. I knew that through dialogue with community members, my isolated research and writing would take on a new vitality. This has proved absolutely true and I am very fortunate to take part in a sustained exploration of the public engagement with the UC Davis Humanities Institute.