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Using the Past: Learning Histories, Public Histories and Possibilities

This thesis explores the contemporary meaning of history and the relevance of history, historical knowledge and historical methodology for organisations. This research does so through a novel adaptation of a consulting methodology, the ‘Learning History Approach’, to understand what individuals and communities say and do about history. Using the Past addresses two interconnected questions: how have the organisations selected for study utilised their pasts; and what can the learning history approach bring to the historical discipline? Through those questions this research explores historical consciousness at three New Zealand organisations and evaluates the potential of a new method of public history. This thesis sits at the intersection of interdisciplinary research on historical consciousness, public history and ‘learning histories’ from organisational studies. This research shows how an adaptation of the original learning history methodology can both fit within and challenge the conceptual frameworks of public history. Raising historical consciousness and engaging more people with the historical discipline is vital for the health of the historical discipline. Work by researchers such as Wineburg has shown that while ‘historical thinking’ is beneficial, it is also difficult, ‘unnatural’ and uncommon – therefore new ways to disseminate such thinking and expand participatory historical culture must be developed. This research shows the learning history approach to be an effective means of expanding participatory historical culture. This is because the approach draws participants into reflective and often transformational conversations about historiographical issues such as historical community and heritage. This study finds organisational uses of history to be strongly associated with the performance and maintenance of identity. The research also reveals evidence that the past is still with us and that heritage and history are entangled. This research demonstrates the continuity of history and the utility of history for organisations, as well as the potential of the learning history approach. Ultimately, this work reflects the need to build a more participatory historical culture and the active role of academic, professional historians in realising that culture.
Type of thesis
Smith, M. S. (2016). Using the Past: Learning Histories, Public Histories and Possibilities (Thesis, Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)). University of Waikato, Hamilton, New Zealand. Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10289/9936
University of Waikato
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