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Benjamin Filene

Dr. Benjamin Filene
Director of Public History/Professor of History

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/Professor, University of North Carolina at Greensboro, 2015-
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

I am developing an exhibition called Reading, Writing, and Race: One Children's Book and the Power of Stories, scheduled to open in fall 2018 at Levine Museum of the New South in Charlotte and then to travel. The exhibition takes a "micro-history" approach, using the rich story of a single children's book--Tobe: A Six-Year-Old Farmer, published in 1939--to open up timely questions about race and representation. Planning for this project was supported by Institute for Museum and Library Services grant (2014-15).

On campus, I am working with my Museum Studies graduate students to lead a project exploring the legacy of Governor Charles B. Aycock, the decision to remove his name from UNCG's auditorium, and the history of race and commemoration.

Courses Taught

  • Museum and Historic Site Interpretation
  • The Practice of Public History
  • Community History Practicum
  • Public History Capstones
  • American Popular Music and Social Change
  • 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).
  • "History Museums and Identity: Finding 'Them,' 'Me,' and 'Us' in the Gallery." In Oxford Handbook on Public History, James Gardner and Paula Hamilton, eds. (2016)
  • "Power in Limits: Narrow Frames Open Up African American Public History." In Interpreting African American History and Culture at Historic Sites and in History Museums, Max van Balgooy, ed. (2014)
  • "Passionate Histories: 'Outsider' History-Makers and What They Teach Us." Public Historian (winter 2012).
  • Romancing the Folk: Public Memory and American Roots Music, University of North Carolina Press (2000)
  • Other publications listed on Vitae.

Recent Exhibitions

  • Where Is Tobe? Unfolding Stories of Childhood, Race, and Rural Life, North Carolina Collection Gallery, UNC-Chapel Hill (October 2014-February 2015)
  • Down Home: Jewish Life in North Carolina, North Carolina Museum of History (2010); traveled (2010-2012) to Levine Museum of the New South (Charlotte), Greensboro Historical Museum, UNC-Asheville Art Gallery, and Cape Fear Museum of History and Science (Wilmington)

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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