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Public History at LBI

Author
Dr. William H. Weitzer
Date
Tue, Mar 1, 2022

Over the last ten years, the role of LBI in relationship to public audiences has changed. While LBI continues our important work in support of scholarship, we have examined our efforts to bring the stories of German-speaking Jews to a wide range of audiences around the world. Thanks to a gift from the Charles E. Scheidt Family Foundation (see p. 7), we will expand this vital work in “Public History.”

LBI collects, preserves, and makes available the papers, photographs, artistic expression, and ephemera that document and animate the history and legacy of German-speaking Jewry. From the beginning, the scholarly community was the natural recipient of our services, and LBI built our archives and library to serve those who have so ably chronicled and interpreted this important history for decades.

The interested public traditionally had access to LBI’s rich resources through the writings and lectures of the scholars who labored in LBI’s research rooms and benefited from the expert guidance of our archivists and librarians. Recently and increasingly, though, LBI has sought to make its resources available more directly to the public through programmatic efforts that fall under the rubric of “Public History.”

Public historians have stepped away from specialized academic settings to engage the public through history museums, programs, blogs, podcasts, and social media. LBI has increasingly provided Public History services for both targeted groups and the general public. Through expanded programming, and large curated projects like the 1938Projekt and the Shared History Project, we are fulfilling LBI’s mission to preserve and promote German-Jewish history by making this history more broadly available to the public.

With the changes brought by DigiBaeck, LBI’s digital archives, the Institute has a new responsibility and a corresponding opportunity. Specifically, now that members of the public have digital access to historical documents, books, and objects, our materials require more explanation and contextualization. Without supplementary information, interpretation, and in many cases transcription or translation, untrained viewers may not comprehend the meaning or the importance of what they are seeing.

LBI has seized the opportunity to increase online interaction with our users and to bring our holdings closer to a wider, non-academic audience. In addition, our digital, public-facing work allows us more opportunities to provide digital visitors with lessons on how our collections might shed light on contemporary issues.

As a part of the gift from the Charles E. Scheidt Family Foundation, we have created a Public History team to be headed by David Brown, who has been involved in LBI’s programming and communications for over 10 years. In the coming years, LBI will continue to expand our interaction with the public through programs, lectures, publications, and projects like the 1938Projekt and the Shared History Project by integrating our source materials into podcasts, essays, social media channels, digital exhibitions, and more. Stay tuned!

From LBI News 113

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