Portfolio Blog Post 1

What is the relationship between the audience and content in public history projects? Public historians should help the public understand history and their role in it.[1] They should keep this goal in mind while developing content for their projects. Because of technological advances in the 21st century, public history projects are accessible to a broader audience. This audience primarily accesses digital public history projects via search engines. It can help to use words that audiences might search for in the content so that they can easily find relevant public history projects in their search results. In addition, audiences want functionality across devices. Making digital public history projects usable and viewable on mobile browsers without downloading an app is vital.[2] While apps can be great, not everyone’s mobile plans have adequate bandwidth to download them when wifi is unavailable. Furthermore, apps often ask for many permissions on users’ devices, which may make some users uncomfortable and reluctant to use them. Finally, content in public history projects should be compelling or novel, but ideally both.

How can public historians create compelling content that will stimulate audiences and keep them engaged with the public history project? First, it helps to consider the intended users of the public history project. If the public history project deals with local or community history or traditionally marginalized groups, public historians should include these populations in the projects’ intended audiences. Public historians should engage in dialogues with members of the public who will benefit from or be represented by the public history projects’ content. As John Kuo Wei Tchen found in his work with the Chinatown History Museum, “If an exhibition or public program is resonant with individuals’ personal experiences, they begin to identify actively with the exhibition.”[3] To reach this objective, Serge Noiret proposes the democratic concept of shared authority, “Giving voice to individual and community memories, looking at traditions and at the history of minorities the way communities themselves wanted to focus on writing their history, can be accomplished better through a shared process of history-making.”[4] It is beneficial to get their feedback in the early phases of the project to avoid offending or alienating segments of the audience that the public history project intended to engage.[5] However, shared authority still requires that public historians maintain ownership of their projects and use their critical thinking skills when engaging with personal and community histories to keep the project’s scholarly integrity. Although the audience does not have authority over the content, the audience informs the content of a public history project to an extent. Without an audience, a public history project cannot succeed.

[1] Ronald J. Grele, “Whose Public? Whose History? What Is the Goal of a Public Historian?,” The Public Historian 3, no. 1 (1981): 47–48.

[2] Sheila Brennan and Sharon Leon, “Building Histories of the National Mall: A Guide to Creating a Digital Public History Project,” Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media. October 2015: 6-7.

[3] John Kuo Wei Tchen, “Creating a Dialogic Museum: The Chinatown History Museum Experiment.” In Museums and Communities: The Politics of Public Culture, edited by Ivan Karp, Christine Mullen Kreamer, and Steven D. Lavine, 285-326, Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1992: 292.

[4] Serge Noiret, “Sharing Authority in Online Collaborative Public History Practices” in Handbook of Digital Public History, edited by Serge Noiret, Mark Tebeau and Gerben Zaagsma, Berlin, Boston: De Gruyter Oldenbourg (2022): 52.

[5] See Katharine T. Corbett and Howard S. (Dick) Miller. “A Shared Inquiry into Shared Inquiry.” The Public Historian 28.1 (2006): 28-29.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *