Northern Illinois University Press

The Changing Face of Public History

The Chicago Historical Society and the Transformation of an American Museum

Catherine M. Lewis

"This book will prove useful to public history students and practitioners, especially museum professionals and those interested in museum studies."—The Public Historian

"Readable and useful.... One of the first full-length case studies of an institution engaged in the process of transformation over the course of a number of years."—Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society

"A major contribution to the museum field."—Indiana Magazine of History

Spurred first by the civil rights debates of the 1960s and 1970s, then by the culture wars of the following decades, the Chicago Historical Society (CHS) increasingly sought to give visitors and patrons a voice in retelling the city's history. In response to debates over the authority to interpret the past, CHS engaged in community outreach and sponsored multicultural exhibits and programs. Yet, in this analysis of the society's evolving relationship with its diverse constituencies, Catherine M. Lewis finds that prevailing assumptions about the museum as a commemorative site dedicated to civic pride undermined CHS's bold attempts to create a public forum.

Based on more than 250 interviews with staff at CHS and museums around the country, as well as research into formerly inaccessible public and private papers, The Changing Face of Public History offers a behind-the-scenes look at the ways in which one of the most innovative museums in the United States has continually grappled with issues confronting not only museum professionals but all those concerned about the role history plays in the lives of American citizens.

(2005) 184 pp., illus.
ISBN: 978-0-87580-602-0
paper $24.50s

Catherine M. Lewis is Special Projects Coordinator at the Atlanta History Center and Associate Professor of History and Women's Studies at Kennesaw State University.

Table of Contents

Introduction—From Temple to Forum
1 Decades of Change
2 The First Act
3 We the People as an Agent of Change
4 The Transition Years, 1987-1993
5 The Neighborhoods Project
6 Unfinished Business
Works Cited

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ISBN: 978-0-87580-602-0
paper $24.50