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Benjamin Filene

Dr. Benjamin Filene
Director of Public History/Associate Professor

Contact Information

Email: bpfilene@uncg.edu
Office: 2137 MHRA
Office Phone: 336-334-5645


Ph.D., Yale University, 1994 
B.A., Brown University, 1987

Teaching/Professional Experience

Director of Public History/Associate Professor, University of North Carolina at Greensboro, 2006-
Senior Exhibit Developer, Minnesota Historical Society, 2004-2006
Exhibit Developer, Minnesota Historical Society, 1997-2004
Visiting Professor, University of Minnesota, 1999
Exhibit Curator, Outagamie County Historical Society, 1994-1997

Research Interests

  • public memory and popular historical consciousness
  • storytelling through museum exhibition
  • museums and civic engagement
  • exhibit-development and informal learning in museums
  • American vernacular music

Current Projects

In fall 2011 I published Letting Go? Historical Authority in a User-Generated World (Pew Charitable Trusts/Left Coast Press), a collection of essays that I co-edited. I myself wrote two essays about how showcasing personal voices can change how we hear history: one looked at StoryCorps, the national interviewing project, and another focused on an exhibition that I developed at the Minnesota Historical Society, Open House: If These Walls Could Talk.

I recently completed an article called "Passionate Histories: Renegade History-Makers and What They Teach Us." It sets out to understand where history thriving beyond the domains of universities and museums - in the work of genealogists, heritage tourism developers, re-enactors, collectors, bloggers, scrapbookers, and artists. What does history look like in the hands of these passionate amateurs? Can their approach translate into good work inside museums? And if so, why hasn't it taken hold within the museum world?

Courses Taught

  • Museum and Historic Site Interpretation
  • The Practice of Public History
  • Community History Practicum
  • Freshman Seminar: "Meaning and Memory in American Popular Music"

Selected Publications

  • Letting Go? Historical Authority in a User-Generated World, Pew Charitable Trusts/Left Coast Press (2011).
  • "Are We There Yet? Children and Sense of Place in History Museums." In Connecting Kids to History with Museum Exhibitions (Russick and McRainey, eds.). Left Coast Press (fall 2009).
  • "Helping Students Uncover Their Inner Archivist." Journal of the Society of North Carolina Archivists 6 (winter 2009): 44-52.
  • "Training Public Historians: Academy and Reality." History News 61 (winter 2006): 13-15.
  • Romancing the Folk: Public Memory and American Roots Music, University of North Carolina Press (2000)

Awards and Honors

  • My exhibit Open House: If These Walls Could Talk at the Minnesota Historical Society won an Award of Merit and a WOW! award from the American Association for State and Local History (2007). As well, it was cited by the American Association of Museums for "innovative new directions" (2007).
  • Romancing the Folk: Public Memory and American Roots Music was
    • named "Notable Book of 2001" by New York Times Book Review (Dec. 2001)
    • recipient of Herbert Feis Award from American Historical Association for best work by an independent scholar
    • recipient of ASCAP-Deems Taylor award for outstanding writing about popular music
    • recipient of Association for Recorded Sound Collections award for Best Research in the Field of Recorded Folk or Ethnic Music
    • writing supported by NEH Fellowship for Independent Scholars (1996)
  • My essay "Searching for Florence" [Minnesota History 57 (fall 2000)] about the power of a photograph to conjure stories, was named a "notable essay" in the Best American Essays of 2000 collection.
  • The "Open House Journal," a 5-part series of essays in Minnesota History magazine about the making of the exhibit, was awarded the Minnesota Historical Society's Theodore C. Blegen award for excellence and creativity in research and writing (2005)
  • "O Brother, What Next?: Making Sense of the Folk Fad" was anthologized in Music City Reader 2005: Great Writing on Country & Bluegrass Music

Curriculum Vitae 

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