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Helping students make history: Public history program welcomes new director

This fall, the history department of Weber State will welcome Leah LaGrone as assistant professor of public history, borderlands and gender. She will be taking over as the director of the public history program, a minor offered by the history department.

Photo credit: Leah LaGrone

LaGrone graduated with a Ph.D. from Texas Christian University, and she moved from Fort Worth, Texas, to Utah over the summer.

According to LaGrone, public history is a field that seeks to interpret and present history to those outside of academia.

“It’s teaching students how to interpret and create history that is engaging to the public, that is public-facing, that the public can interact with,” LaGrone said. “Anytime you go to a museum or online and interact with any kind of history, that’s public history.”

One part of the public history program involves sending interns to different nearby museums, such as Hill Aerospace Museum in Ogden. There, one of the WSU interns is creating a virtual tour for one of the aircraft that the public can experience, complete with clickable information.

“My job will be to teach them how to do this kind of thing digitally, but also in the brick and mortar space as well,” LaGrone said.

WSU’s public history program will also be working with the Union Station Museum in Ogden, sharing projects through the museum’s app. Apart from designing visual galleries, students in the public history program will also create blogs, podcasts and digital maps of historic locations.

LaGrone also hopes to develop a class that will cover another of her areas of expertise: borderlands, especially the Southwest.

“The border is different than the interior of Mexico and the interior of the United States,” LaGrone said. “It’s a culture unto itself, and so it is really interesting to see how people within that border interact with both countries.”

LaGrone has researched a specific history of women’s labor in the Southwest. Her dissertation examined how historic laws of Texas affected women along the border, especially minimum wage legislation.

In addition to public history, LaGrone will also teach History 1700 in the fall.

“I just want my students to be appreciative and cognizant of the history that surrounds them, how it has made them who they are and made the place that they live,” LaGrone said. “It’s really about making those connections between the past and present.”

Students interested in more information about the public history program can visit the history department page of the WSU website.

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