In 1980 an Office of Public and Academic Programs was established at the National Museum of History and Technology (NMHT), subsequently the National Museum of American History (NMAH). Josiah O. Hatch, a Special Assistant to the Director of the Museum, was assigned as Director of the Office. Hatch submitted reports for Public and Academic Programs to Douglas E. Evelyn, Deputy Director of NMAH.
When the Smithsonian Institution's Division of Performing Arts became defunct in 1983, part of its staff was reassigned to the Office of Public and Academic Programs. In 1984, the Office was reorganized as the Department of Public Programs. It included sections of production, education, the Program in Black American History, performances, publications, and the Office of Public Affairs. Hatch became its head as the Assistant Director for Public Programs. The next year, Lonn W. Taylor succeeded Hatch.
The Department of Public Programs is responsible for a variety of tasks associated with providing the public with opportunities for learning. It works with the Museum's other departments to produce educational materials such as scholarly publications, kits and guides, and information on various topics of interest that interpret NMAH exhibitions. The Department also sponsors or coordinates programs and performances using Museum collections; presents special programs on important aspects of American life and culture that cannot be exhibited through artifacts alone; and organizes colloquia, symposia, and lectures. Staff has included Josiah O. Hatch, Director of the Department of Public Programs, 1980-1983, and Assistant Director for Public Programs, 1984; Lonn Taylor, Deputy Assistant Director for Public Programs, 1984, and Assistant Director, 1985- ; Harold A. Closter, Production Director, 1983-1986, Program Manager, 1987-1990, and Deputy Assistant Director, 1991- ; Bernice Johnson Reagon, Director of the Program in Black American History, 1983-1987; James M. Weaver, Director of Performance Programs, 1983-1986; Shirley E. Cherkasky, Coordinator of Museum Programs, 1983- ; Elizabeth M. Sharpe, Education Specialist, 1985-1986, and Deputy Assistant Director for Public Programs, 1987- ; and Manuel J. Melendez, Performing Arts Production Specialist, 1984-1991.