The Changing Face of Public History: The Chicago Historical Society and the Transformation of an American Museum


History and Philosophy

Document Type


Publication Date



Spurred first by the civil rights debates of the 1960s and '70s 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 US 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