History for All the People: 100 Years of Public History in North Carolina. By Ansley Herring Wegner. (Raleigh: Office of Archives and History, North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources, 2003.Pp.118;$14.70, paper.)
Anniversary and commemorative histories are a significant part of public history because anniversaries galvanize the attention of the public, and histories, or historical narratives, fill some of the needs that attention demands. Anniversaries are a time to reflect on what has happened and to celebrate accomplishments, to be sure. They are also a time to reflect on how the subject has dealt with the challenges it faced during its history. The best of these anniversary histories are as reflective as they are celebratory.
History for All the People, an anniversary history of the work of the North Carolina Office of Archives and History, is both timely and appropriate. It is also reflective and balanced. It celebrates that which merits celebration without passing over those instances where another course might have been followed had individuals taken a broader view or society a different outlook. That ability to be critical in the larger scholarly sense of assessing the history of the agency and the contributions of individuals is one of the great strengths and attractions of the book. Hence, in addition to recording the history of an important state public-history program, History for All the People helps begin a much-needed analysis and critique of what has been done, and is being done, in the field of public history. In much of public history, there is limited opportunity for peer review prior to implementation of a program, installation of an exhibit, etcetera. The profession needs a forum for critical discourse. This is beginning with the publication of reviews of exhibits and programs and other public-history projects. Ashley Herring Wegner and all of those involved in this book have made a real contribution on several levels to this emerging discourse and deserve the thanks of the profession for a job well done. This book is a sound model for future books to follow.
The history of the North Carolina Office of Archives and History is not remarkable, really. There are many similar stories across the country. Even more reason, I think, to study what happened with public history in North Carolina and try to understand it. People are important in developing public-history programs and agencies. Starting new programs that depend …