Loyola University Chicago

College of Arts & Sciences

Spotlight On: Theodore J. Karamanski, Professor of History

Leading public history: a new book, a pioneering program

History professor Theodore (Ted) Karamanski’s book, Mastering the Inland Seas: How Lighthouses, Navigational Aids, and Harbors Transformed the Great Lakes and America, is a compelling social, economic and ecological history of the Great Lakes and the maritime infrastructure that shaped the region. Published in 2020 by the University of Wisconsin Press, the book began as a public history project when Karamanski was commissioned by the National Park Service to inventory and do historical analysis of 263 still existing historic lighthouses on the American side of the Great Lakes.

Part of an evaluative project for National Historic Landmark status, it typifies some of the work performed by public historians. Through op-eds in the Chicago Sun-Times and Chicago Tribune, Karamanski leveraged his book research and expertise to make the case for greater federal investment in the historical and contemporary infrastructure of the Lakes.

Karamanski is a leading national figure in the emergence of public history as an academic discipline. He is the founder and later director of Loyola’s Public History graduate program, which is marking its 40th anniversary during 2020-21. The program was the first of its kind in the Midwest and one of the first in the nation to offer a PhD in the field. A founding director of the National Council on Public History (NCPH), Karamanski was later elected president of the body. Over the course of his career at Loyola, he has been named Graduate Faculty Member of the Year and Faculty Member of the Year.

Karamanski is a prolific scholar, with numerous publications in American Indian, Great Lakes, Civil War, and 19th century American history. His books include Civil War Chicago: Eyewitness to History; Blackbird’s Song: Andrew Blackbird and Odawa Survival; and North Woods River: The St. Croix River in Upper Midwest History, co-authored with Eileen McMahon.

“Public history is the application of the historical method outside of academia in the public and private sphere," said Karamanski. "Academic historians work in their own specialties, and their scholarship is for other historians and students of history. Public history aligns with Jesuit values in its external focus and its service to communities to advance the greater good."

Public historians pursue a wide variety of career options—curating museums, national monuments and parks, documenting the life and history of communities are just a few examples. Public historians answer questions posed by an audience that exists outside of the historical profession and present their work in a way that their target audience can readily use and understand.

In 2020-2021, Loyola Public History students have collaborated with the Center for Textual Studies and Digital Humanities (CTSDH) and the University Libraries to create “Then and Now: 150 Years at Loyola University Chicago” to document Loyola history and mark its Sesquicentennial.