Does an increased enthusiasm for publicly engaged scholarship and service learning at many universities translate into a tangible commitment for such projects? How can historians reconcile their participation in public scholarship with trends that promote neoliberal models of university finance and governance, which often put the university at odds with the public outside and inside its walls? In the fall of 2005, a group of history and American Studies PhD students at the University of Minnesota developed a student-created and student-driven seminar titled “Public History and Urban Space.” This article explores the results of this innovative seminar and focuses in depth on two student projects that illustrate the opportunities and challenges of publicly engaged graduate scholarship within the neoliberal university. A public history approach to graduate research forces graduate students to rethink assumptions about the nature and political impact of historical research and scholarship while offering a unique opportunity for methodological training unavailable in many other realms of graduate pedagogy. But as seminar participants confronted theoretical and practical issues involved in creating the proposed projects, they also encountered significant challenges to completing the projects as we had envisioned them. In examining the fate of the projects in this self-designed course, this article grapples with the above questions that are at the heart of both the possibilities of public history and its limitations in the contemporary university.

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