Denise Meringolo is a public history scholar-practitioner. She teaches courses in community-based public history practice, material culture, and digital public history at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. Meringolo is the author of Museums, Monuments, and National Parks: Toward a New Genealogy of Public History (2012), which won the National Council on Public History Book Award. She is the primary investigator and editor of a collaborative study, "Radical Roots: Civic Engagement, Public History, and a Tradition of Social Justice Activism," which aims to identify historical precedents of the core values and practices that define the field and to advance critical perspectives on how public history has served social justice in the past and today. It will be published in an open source digital format by Amherst College Press in 2021. In addition, Meringolo has established a digital collection project, Baltimore Uprising 2015, that allows individuals to preserve images, videos, and stories about the protests that erupted after Freddie Gray's death in police custody in April 2015. She received a Whiting Foundation Public Engagement Fellowship in 2018 to activate the collection as a platform for community-based inquiry and interpretation. Meringolo also has partnered with Baltimore Heritage, a local preservation advocacy organization, to develop content for the Explore Baltimore Heritage app, which outlines self-guided walking tours of the city's neighborhoods. Prior to joining the faculty at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, she worked at numerous public history institutions, including the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of American History and the Jewish Historical Society of Greater Washington. She served on the board of directors of the National Council on Public History from 2013 to 2016 and is currently a member of advisory committees for both the Patapsco Heritage Greenway and the Capital Jewish Museum.
Historic sites, museums, archives, and monuments are neither neutral nor objective. Many were established to strengthen tradition, reinforce the cultural authority of elites, and inhibit change. Today, these sites have become the focal point of protest, symbols in a larger fight for inclusiveness and equality. In this talk, Dr. Denise Meringolo identifies different, less well-documented forms of public history practice. She draws attention to individuals who understood collecting, preserving, analyzing, and interpreting the past as entirely compatible with –even necessary for—productive political discourse, and embraced the potential of their work to promote social justice. She raises important questions about the nature, limitations, and conditions of social justice oriented historical work. And, she asks us to consider the ways in which the invisibility of this form of public history practice has prevented us from fully theorizing civic engagement as a core practice of historical professionalism.