OAH Distinguished Lecturer Profile

OAH Distinguished Lectureship program 40 years 1981-2021

Denise Meringolo

Portrait of Denise Meringolo
Image Credit: Marlayna Demond ’11 for UMBC

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.

Featured Lecture

OAH Lectures

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.
The American Civilization Institute of Morristown was an experiment in community based teaching and learning. As a case study, it suggests that teaching beyond the test and beyond the classroom can have a meaningful impact not only on students’ intellectual achievement, but also on the life of the local community. The idea for ACIM was hatched in the spring and summer of 1964. Morristown School District superintendent Harry Wenner, Morristown High School social studies teacher Jack Stewart, and Morristown school board member Dorothy Harvey, developed a plan for using the Timothy Mills House, a mid-eighteenth century structure adjacent to Morristown High School, as a multi-disciplinary laboratory. To help them shape a program, they turned to anthropologist Gene Weltfish at Fairleigh Dickinson University. For the duration of the program—which ran from 1965 until 1969—Weltfish and Wenner served as co-directors. The ACIM engaged faculty and students from Morristown High School and Fairleigh Dickinson University in a multi-faceted, multi-disciplinary, broadly collaborative, community focused experiential learning program. During the life of the project, high school and college educators provided students with vocational training in material culture research, collections management, and public program development. But their work was also intellectual. They encouraged students to explore and challenge prevailing ideas about the history, composition, and nature of community.
Public Historians strive to be both responsible and responsive. As scholars, we are responsible for upholding the highest standards of intellectual inquiry. As public servants, we are committed to responding to the needs, interests, and desires of our audiences and stakeholders. Sometimes it is difficult to balance these two demands. In this talk, Dr. Meringolo describes the processes, values, and ethical considerations underlying the creation of Preserve the Baltimore Uprising, a crowd-sourced digital collection.