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Public History

Museums, films, television, novels, urban walks and genealogical research all introduce a wider public to history.

Vikings fighting in the Historical Open Air Museum, Eindhoven.

Public History explores this non-academic way of dealing with the past within a broad cultural context. What is the best way of imparting historical knowledge to an ahistorical public, and how does the latter deal with said knowledge?
The UvA is the only Dutch university offering a Master’s in Public History. This programme combines theory and practice thanks to joint partnerships with Amsterdam public history institutes, and a rich research tradition in heritage, memory and identity. Over the last few years Master’s students of Public History have been widely reported on in the national media as a result of their endeavours. An example of this is the book Meerstemming verleden, which focuses on the public remembrance of slavery. 


Public History researches the many ways of dealing with the past, such as living history, historical exhibitions, family histories, commemorations and monuments, historical documentaries and ‘places of remembrance’. Public History research at the UvA emphasises:

  • the functioning of museums
  • the public role of historians
  • the ways in which the public deals with human rights, medical and ethical issues
  • interpretations of the Golden Age in public discourse

Special attention is also given to the ways of dealing with the history of South Africa. Research into the unresolved past offers insight into the meaning and workings of historical culture, as well as the mechanisms of what is generally known as vergangenheitsbewälting.


  • A public historian is skilled in combining theoretical knowledge and historical method with practical execution.
  • The compulsory course ‘The World of Public History’ (De wereld van de Publieksgeschiedenis) combines practical applications with the philosophy of history, historiography, and the historical method. For example, students write texts for a historical website, make an historical film under the supervision of experienced television producers such as Ad van Liempt and Marc Josten, or contribute to an ongoing oral history project.
  • An intensive internship during the second semester thoroughly introduces students to the work of a public historian.
  • The concluding Master’s thesis is meant for academic reflection, whereby a public history subject is studied from an historical perspective.