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Program in Material Culture & Public History

The National Institute of American History & Democracy (NIAHD), a partnership between William & Mary and the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, operates the Program in Material Culture & Public History. This program is open to all William & Mary undergraduates in any major as well as graduate students.  

NIAHD instructors teach classes that challenge students to think deeply about the ways in which scholars from many disciplines study historic events and peoples, landscapes, and material objects, and the equally diverse ways in which they communicate their ideas to public and academic audiences through different media including print, film, exhibits, and museum interpretations. Students receive the NIAHD Certificate in Material Culture & Public History when they complete the program requirements.

Each semester students in NIAHD classes spend time studying and learning about history where it happened when they visit Colonial Williamsburg. NIAHD works with Stephen Seals and Jack Gary, its liaisons at Colonial Williamsburg, to connect students to opportunities to engage with history in the Historic Area and to gain hands-on experience in Public History through internships.

HIST 212-08 Students at Colonial Williamsburg
Students in Dr. Sarah McCartney's History 212-08 class "History of Garbage" visited the Custis Square Archaeology Project to learn about the work being done by the archaeology department at Colonial Williamsburg. As long as people have been making things, people have been throwing things away. "History of Garbage" is sponsored by NIAHD, and engages with the theme of “Sustainability” in both the past and present. Students examine, compare, and critique historical treatments of material waste and the repurposing of discarded materials on a local and global level with particular attention to the Americas and the Atlantic World.
Williamsburg as a Research Center

William & Mary has a strong national reputation for the study of early America in all its dimensions, with distinguished faculty in History, American Studies, and Anthropology. The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation is the largest outdoor history museum in the United States and possesses one of the world's finest collections of early American objects. Its curators, historians, archaeologists, and interpreters have wide-ranging interests and have a deep commitment to public education. A number of members in the research and curatorial departments command national attention in their fields and provide scholarly knowledge in specialties such as architectural history, museum education, and decorative arts. The program takes advantage of the strengths of both parent institutions to provide an educational experience that has no equal at any other university or historical site.