This issue brings another roundtable discussion to our readers. These essays, like those featured in issue 98.1, emerged from a panel that took place at the 2011 Biennial Scholars Conference held at the American Jewish Historical Society in New York City. This issue's contributors are four public historians who work in different venues and media, but who share a common goal--to make the concepts and knowledge of American Jewish history accessible to the general public.
The convener of that panel, historian Joyce Antler, opens by framing several questions whose answers, provided by our panelists, help us to understand the work of public historians. Annie Polland, vice president for programs and education at the Tenement Museum in Manhattan's Lower East Side, provides a vivid example of the ongoing process by which she and her co-workers at the museum develop their exhibits--by listening to visitors' responses, by reaching out to historians, and by identifying and obtaining evocative objects to display. At each step in that process, there are variables to be weighed and decisions to be made. Polland shares the nuances of that process with us.
Documentary filmmaker Suzanne Wasserman describes for us the process by which she turns her "passion for the past" into award-winning films. Wasserman finds topics for her films close at hand--including her cousin, a Jewish woman who became president of Guyana; a subway buff in New York who built a life-size replica of a 1930s motorman's cab in his small apartment and a local kosher butcher. Wasserman credits her mother with instilling in her a love of storytelling, but her latest project, about the children of psychoanalysts (like herself), suggests an additional source for her own sense of the power of narrative.
Judith Rosenbaum serves as the director of public history at the Jewish Women's Archive (JWA), and she views herself as "an evangelist for the field of history." The JWA is a web-based resource "devoted to uncovering, chronicling, and transmitting to a broad public the rich history of American Jewish women." Rosenbaum feels a strong commitment to "scholarship that engages more than the expert few,"...