Richard Rabinowitz – Extended Bio

Richard Rabinowitz, President

Richard Rabinowitz is one of the leading public historians in the United States, with over 45 years of experience in creating new museums and exhibitions on every aspect of American history and culture.

As founder and president since 1980 of American History Workshop, Dr. Rabinowitz has led the creative work of scholars, curators, educators, artists, architects, designers, and institutional planners in fashioning over 500 successful and innovative history programs at sites like the New-York Historical Society, the Lower East Side Tenement Museum in New York; the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute; the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center in Cincinnati; and state heritage parks and local and regional historical societies in 33 states and the District of Columbia.

He has organized exhibitions and media presentations on immigration and ethnic community histories in Seattle, Tucson, and Wheeling; on urban and suburban development in Boston, Phoenix, Portland, Chicago, and Albany; on legal and constitutional history in Philadelphia; on the encounter of natives and newcomers in Ogallala and Spokane; and on American popular culture in Orlando and New York; among many others. In this work, he has been responsible for researching and arranging the loans of thousands of important historical and art objects, images, and documents; for conceptualizing and overseeing the production of dozens of exhibitions; and for writing award-winning exhibition texts, labels, and scripts for media pieces containing both narrative voiceovers and reconstructions of period historical voices.

From 2004 to 2011, Dr. Rabinowitz served as senior project historian for the New-York Historical Society. In 2005-09, he curated and wrote the pathbreaking blockbuster exhibitions at N-YHS on Slavery in New York, New York Divided: Slavery and the Civil War, French Founding Father: Lafayette Returns to Washington’s America, Grant and Lee (co-curator), and Lincoln and New York. He has recently completed work on a major international traveling exhibition on Revolution! The Atlantic World Reborn. The exhibition interprets the interrelated upheavals in the 18th-century Atlantic world that invented our modern notions of universal human rights, anti-slavery, political equality, and the independent nation-state. After its run at N-YHS in 2011-12, Revolution! is being redesigned to travel to museums in France, Great Britain, Haiti, and the United States. Dr. Rabinowitz co-edited the exhibition catalogue and contributed an essay to that volume.

In addition, Dr. Rabinowitz has also recently completed the content and interpretive development of the “Slavery and Freedom” gallery at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture, to be built on the mall in Washington in 2015.

A scholar of American social and religious history, Dr. Rabinowitz has taught at Harvard, Skidmore, and Scripps colleges. His book, The Spiritual Self in Everyday Life: The Transformation of Personal Religious Experience in Nineteenth- Century New England (Northeastern University Press, 1989), has been recognized as a “subtle and thoughtful analysis of what it has meant to be religious in America.” He has also written historical books and articles for children and for museum professionals. His book Curating America, Journeys through Storyscapes of the American Past, a memoir and analysis of the evolution of public history since the 1960s, was published by the University of North Carolina Press in 2016.

He began his professional career, from 1967 to 1975, at Old Sturbridge Village in Massachusetts, where he led the development of an innovative hands-on learning program that has had enormous influence in the museum education field. From 1977 to 1980 he served as a special assistant to the Chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities on policy and program development.

Dr. Rabinowitz has been active in professional service. For five years, he initiated and directed the New York Institute for Public History Interpretation, a two-week-long seminar on interpretive philosophies and methods for mid-career professionals. He has served on numerous boards and advisory committees and on the editorial boards of The American Quarterly and The Public Historian. He is chairman of the program committee of the board of the Museum at the Eldridge Street Synagogue in New York City. He co-chaired the Working Group on Slavery and Public History at the Gilder Lehrman Center [GLC] for the Study of Slavery, Resistance, and Abolition at Yale. He is currently a Visiting Fellow and Research Scholar at the GLC, and directs its annual Public History Institute, bringing together museum professionals and scholars engaged in interpreting African American history.

He has won awards in museum and exhibit planning from the American Association for State and Local History, the New York City Landmarks Conservancy, the Civil War Roundtable of New York City, and the Victorian Society of New York; for film and multi-image work from the New York Association for Multi-Image and the International Film & TV Festival of New York; for educational media from the Houston International Film Festival; for historical scholarship from the American Society of Church History, the Danforth Foundation, and many others; and for historic preservation work from the American Scenic and Historic Preservation Society and the New York Landmarks Conservancy. His article, “Eavesdropping at the Well: Interpretive Media in the Slavery in New York Exhibition,” in The Public Historian (summer 2013), has been awarded the G. Wesley Johnson Award of the National Council on Public History for 2013.

He was elected a Member of the American Antiquarian Society in 2003, and to the Council of the Society in 2010. Dr. Rabinowitz was awarded the 2012 Herbert Feis Award by the American Historical Association for his distinguished contributions to public history.

A.B., summa cum laude, Harvard College, 1966. Ph.D., History of American Civilization, Harvard University, 1977.