What is Public History and Ancient Public History?
Public History is a diverse and all-encompassing field. It is a discipline unto itself that intersects with many other disciplines. Rather than just focusing on general history or one specific point in history, it can span all periods in history.
In my time as a graduate student, I have assessed that there are certain aspects of this field that are overarching themes. In large part, we focus on preserving history. From saving old buildings to rescuing sacred sites from antiquity to honoring sites of current events that changed humanity, we seek to preserve as much history as possible in a myriad of ways. And, it is about the interpretation of history and it has room for many different interpretations of history. Some of these are at odds, but vigorous discussion and controversy are part of the territory. But in general, we don't just look at history as it has been stated we look at the deeper meaning, as well as the culture, beliefs, politics, practices, and events of any particular era, from the most ancient times to modern life.
I am using the term "Ancient Public History" in this exhibit not because it is an official category but because it is my interpretation of how public history and ancient history can intersect.
For example: Ancient sites often become protected grounds, by law or through preservation policies, and are often turned into museums, like so many of the temples in Egypt. Historical statues, arts, artifacts, and items find protected homes in museums, like so many of the items found in archeological digs in Egypt. Information, research, writing, manuscripts, scrolls, ancient writing tablets, and all aspects of historical documents and related items are organized in archives, like so many of the existing treasures from Egypt's history. Books are collected, preserved, and shared in libraries, including the Library of Alexandria in Egypt. The ancient Library of Alexandria was part of ancient history, but the modern library that is there now is part of Egypt's public history, and yet it is also connected in spirit to the library of the distant past.
The National Council on Public History describes this profession as a vast field that has many forms of expression. "Public historians come in all shapes and sizes. They call themselves historical consultants, museum professionals, government historians, archivists, oral historians, cultural resource managers, curators, film and media producers, historical interpreters, historic preservationists, policy advisers, local historians, and community activists, among many many other job descriptions. All share an interest and commitment to making history relevant and useful in the public sphere."
Public history is based on good scholarship and this applies to researching the history of the Goddess. She can be found in many different aspects of public history, including in archives, libraries, and museums. She also is found in so many related fields. In my experience, academic study, discoveries, and discourse in many areas feed into public history. It makes information on goddesses in public spaces even more accessible. These areas include:
The possibilities for connecting to other disciplines are endless!
Another important aspect of public history that relates to Ancient Public History is that this is a field that also looks at memory and how memory is preserved.
This may relate to the public memory of events, nostalgia, personal experiences of events, personal involvement in events, and recorded history in books, videos, TV, radio, and historic places. It may be interpreted through museums, art, dance, music, and folklore. Memory is also interpreted and relayed in certain ways historically and memories can be conflicted or challenged by people who have different memories, or beliefs.
So when it comes to Ancient Public History, it can be complex because we cannot go back in time to get into the heads of ancient ancestors. So we have to rely on the memories they recorded, shared, wrote on temple walls, and shared in art, steles, clay tablets, scrolls, books, letters, and whatever artifacts we can find. But along the way it could be that the early truths historically documented memories of one culture may be revised by cultures that followed, so the memories may also be altered.
A case in point: The earliest cultures worshipped the Divine Feminine, along with the Divine Male. But somehow, over time, our memory of God, Goddess, All There Is was lost in some cultures and the Male Divine dominated public memory.
The reason I mention this here is that Seshat, in some writings, was called "The Original." And some Egyptologists believe that she had a far greater role in the Old Kingdom and that her presence was reduced as time went on as Thoth (her historically documented scribal partner) became the greater god.
It is hoped that in sharing this history and interpretation of Goddess Seshat and Ancient Public History I can help show how important she was in ancient history and how she is so much a part of public history today.
In interpreting this wonderful divine figure and archetype for modern times, I believe she may also be a Patron of Public Historians who deal every day with some of the areas of expertise that fall under her divine providence.