The term “Public Humanities” is used by universities, and by federal, state, and community funding agencies, to characterize projects that make specialist knowledge accessible to a general public. Projects in Public Humanities take as one goal the translation of humanities research findings or theoretical concepts into everyday language that all of us can understand. The idea is to bring people together for engaged public discussion on topics of significance to everyone – like democracy, security, technology, well-being, sustainability, sovereignty, cultural heritage.
Public Humanities also can be a way to innovate research. Oftentimes the experts in significant topic areas are not researchers or “official knowledge producers” but community people, activists, artists, workers, or family leaders. What that means, in terms of changing research practices, is that Public Humanities work often takes its cues about what needs to be researched, and who knows about a topic, from community authorities. Research becomes a collaborative exchange and process of mutual learning. Local “informants” can become researchers, professional research “experts” can become students. Taking seriously the expertise of those on the ground, consulting with communities about the kinds of research useful to their goals, produces new, more socially relevant and democratic forms of knowledge.