Digital Public History: More Than Interpretation

Digital public history is taking the interpretive elements of digital history and building on them through community outreach. By taking advantage of the virtual landscape, a museum pushes their educational boundaries beyond the scope of a gallery. History is framed by questions, but more often than not those inquiries are asked by scholars and curators – leaving the public with a stunted view and unanswered questions. One way to alleviate this disparity is to include the public in the creative process. By listening to the community, an exhibit could become more diverse and well-rounded. The great thing about digital public history is its flexibility. Once a physical exhibit is built it is very difficult to update, but its online counterpart could be seen more as a prototype. The exhibit can be updated once  visitor input and contributions are received from the online community. By acknowledging the community you can empower people to participate in documenting history and create a larger history minded public through transparency.

The possibility for online engagement is a wonderful tool but can be very labor and time intensive. As the museum professionals in “Grappling with the Concept of Radical Trust,” point out there are many things to consider before allowing users to add content.  A museum is trusted as an authority on their subject matter, therefore to protect the brand, a certain level of staffing is needed to police incoming materials to ensure historical accuracy.

As internet usage continues its meteoric rise, virtual tourism is an obvious step to reach visitors across the globe. Drawing in the remote access visitor is a study in recognizing potential audiences. Creating our own personas for possible website visitors helped me form the basis of my design. I learned that a critical potential audience would be lost if I dove straight into the newest tools and non-linear navigation.  To reach the next generation and gain new audiences, the conversation needs to expand to multiple web platforms and be available in mobile format. The ability for users to create content interactions and build their own version of the narrative can serve as a gateway to visitation. Since my project is an extension of a physical place, there needs to be visitation information in addition to the primary education elements. Additionally, my interpretive narrative, and the mission need to mirror the physical location.

The readings this week helped me realize that our museum’s website has a long way to go. We do the best we can, but we are constrained by the host network and a small (mostly computer novice) staff. Our class interpretive projects websites are great options to link to and help start the conversation.

Here is the link to my draft exhibit: Naval Academy Class Rings



2 thoughts on “Digital Public History: More Than Interpretation

  1. You bring up a very important point regarding our embracing of “the newest tools and non-linear navigation.” Although these tools may be interesting and useful to us, it does not mean that they will be or are useful to the public. I think we must be careful to use challenging technology only when it is appropriate and/or necessary (or at least provide a more traditional alternative). If we are to focused on the technology, we may lose sight of the content that brought our audience to our project/site to begin with. However, we cannot be afraid to promote new technologies and innovation.

  2. I think you make some great points on how this week’s readings and websites can change our understanding of design. You’re right that in designing our sites we need to keep in mind how it will look on mobile devices. Even if you don’t build it completely to be a mobile platform, using simple and clean design will look better on a smaller device. Thinking through personas also had an impact on my design. Initially I was only thinking of my primary audience, but several of the sites caused me to consider creating a page for secondary teachers who might find my site helpful. So much to think about!

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