JAHA played a key role in Dr. Paul Newman’s Introduction to Public History course, which was offered for the first time last semester at the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown. As Dr. Newman’s syllabus stated, “The course will introduce students to the themes, subjects, purposes, practices, and controversies related to the profession of Public History. We will discover museums both real and virtual, historical societies, national and state historic parks, archives both brick and mortar and digital, oral history, radio, TV, documentary film making, writing, advertising, public relations, and collection management.”
Richard Burkert, JAHA president; Kaytlin Sumner, curator; and Shelley Johansson, director of communications were guest speakers in the classroom, speaking about subjects pertinent to their roles at JAHA, and conducting a lab activity.
Each student was required to spend 10 hours over the course of the semester working at JAHA under Kaytlin’s supervision, helping to complete curatorial work. Specifically, Kaytlin had the students digitize handwritten remembrances from survivors of the 1889 and 1936 floods (she is shown above with one of the students, Mitchell Leach.)
As one of the accounts notes, “There are about as many different experiences [of the 1936 flood] as there are people in Johnstown,” and thanks to the history students at Pitt-Johnstown, the public can now read some of them online. A portion of their work has been posted in the Archives & Research section of this website, under Collections: 1936 Flood Accounts. Scanned copies of the original documents, which are largely letters and student essays about that fateful day, accompany a typewritten version of the contents.
These accounts will also be useful in the new exhibits being developed for the refurbished Johnstown Flood Museum.
The public history course will be offered again at Pitt-Johnstown in the spring semester of this academic year, and Dr. Newman is cooperating with other UPJ departments in social sciences, humanities, and business to develop a public history minor. We look forward to continuing to participate with Dr. Newman and his students to further the work of both UPJ and JAHA.