Center for Public History opening this Fall at SSU

Staff report

PORTSMOUTH — This fall Shawnee State University will open physical and virtual doors on the SSU Center for Public History. Located in the Clark Memorial Library, the new center’s mission is to advance the field of public history, provide SSU students with hands-on experience working on real-world projects, and help preserve the Portsmouth area’s history for generations to come.

SSU Provost Sunil Ahuja has appointed Dr. Andrew Feight, Professor of American History, to serve as the Center’s new Director. Through the Center’s initiatives and community partnerships, SSU students will have the opportunity to use the latest technologies and methods in support of local historic preservation efforts.

“The future of the past is digital, mobile, and public,” Dr. Feight explained. “The new center will facilitate undergraduate research projects, internships, and public programming.”

Public history differs from traditional academic history by being focused on a non-academic audience – the general public. Rather than producing costly or hard-to-access journal articles and books, which reach only a handful of specialists, public history engages much larger audiences outside the classroom and library.

“Here in Portsmouth, public history is found in our museums, like the new Scioto County Heritage Museum, on the city’s floodwall murals, and in historic homes, like the 1810 House,” Dr. Feight explained.

The Center is focusing on three key public history initiatives that will preserve and promote local history and cultural heritage tourism: 1) the Historic Portsmouth Newspaper Digitization Project; 2) the Scioto Historical mobile app and website project; and 3) the Vern Riffe Papers Project. All three of these initiatives will transform the study of the past and increase public access to local historical records.

Retired physician and SSU Board Trustee Dr. George White has provided a major donation to kickstart the Historic Portsmouth Newspaper Digitization Project. This project seeks to preserve more than 120 years of local newspapers by converting their contents into a digital format that will be keyword searchable and open to the public.

The Center will also serve as the host-sponsor of the Scioto Historical mobile app and website (, which explores the history of Portsmouth and the surrounding Appalachian region. The Center, with grant funding from the Ohio Humanities Council and the SSU Development Foundation, will support the creation of Version 4.0 of Scioto Historical, which will include new content and historical tours of local history.

The Center will also be launching the Vern Riffe Papers Project, which is made possible by a recent donation from Verna Riffe Biemel, daughter of late Ohio House Speaker and SSU Founder Vernal G. Riffe Jr. The donated papers, which include speeches, correspondence, photographs and other records from his decades-long life of public service, will be conserved and processed for digitization. This invaluable collection will be the basis for undergraduate research in political science, communications, rhetoric and local history. More will be announced about the Riffe Paper Project in the near future.

To learn more about the SSU Center for Public History, please contact Center Director, Dr. Feight, at [email protected]

Staff report