Each month, The Center for Public Humanities will interview a humanities scholar or community member and ask them everything from why they believe the humanities are important to what they're currently binge-watching. We hope that our new blog series, Coffee & Questions, will inspire you, introduce you to a variety of people and fields, as well as create new conversations.
Our guest this month is Denise Meringolo, a scholar-practitioner in the field of public history. She teaches courses in community-based public history practice, material culture, and visual culture. Her book Museums, Monuments, and National Parks: Toward a New Genealogy of Public History (University of Massachusetts, 2012) won the 2013 National Council on Public History prize for the best book in the field. Dr. Meringolo partners with Baltimore Heritage, a local preservation advocacy organization, to develop content for the app Explore Baltimore Heritage, which allows users to take self-guided walking tours of Baltimore neighborhoods. Prior to joining the Department of History faculty at the University of Maryland, Dr. Meringolo worked in numerous public history institutions, including the National Museum of American History, the Jewish Historical Society of Greater Washington and the Accokeek Foundation at Piscataway Park. She is a member of the Board of Directors of the National Council on Public History and chair of local arrangements for the organization’s 2016 Annual Meeting in Baltimore.
What work experiences (past or present) have been the most educational for you, and why?
I probably tell this story too often, but my tenure as the Curator of the Jewish Historical Society of Greater Washington was pivotal for me. I am not a native Washingtonian. I am not Jewish. This was my first experience with community based public history practice, and I found myself wondering, "What exactly am I supposed to be doing here? Am I supposed to tell people what their past means? Am I supposed to "correct" their interpretations? What is the function and value of public history in this space?" I am still always trying to answer those questions.
What project(s) are you currently working on?
I am working with a large group of scholars on a research project designed to identify historical connections between social justice activism and public history practice. The origins of our field are rooted in efforts to dampen change and control national identity. We are tracking an alternative genealogy for the field.
What's a book you've always wanted to read but haven't gotten around to?
Barack Obama's Dreams of My Father has been sitting in my night stand for YEARS. I swear every summer that I'm going to read it, but then I turn to fluffier fiction.
What is something that people might be surprised to learn about you (hobby, skill, interesting story)?
I'm a bit of an open book, so I'm not sure this is much of a secret, but I was very involved in musical theater at my high school, Shore Regional in West Long Branch, NJ. I played "the teacher" in a production of Working and General Cartwright in a production of Guys and Dolls. I also tried my hand at comedy, playing Norma Hubley, in a production of Plaza Suite. I gave up my Broadway pipe dream a long time --I wasn't that good-- I sometimes think of "Dr. Meringolo" as just another character I am playing!
What is the worst job that you had while working through your degree and what would you tell your past self now?
After I finished my MA degree, I wasn't quite sure what I wanted to do next, so I signed on to a temp agency and I got a long term temporary gig at a huge business consulting firm. The program managers would email calls for proposals to me, have me retype them and send them around to others in the office. That job was exactly the kick in the pants that I needed. I was NOT cut out for that job. I simply could not hide my disdain: "Um. Why can't I just forward the CFP that you sent to me?" Never did get a good answer....
Check back next month for more Coffee & Questions. In case you missed Kristen Baldwin Deathridge's interview last month, click here.
Want to be interviewed? Contact us.
Our vision is to create a community of learners enriched, engaged and enlightened through the humanities.