Technologies of public history facilitate the creation of a greater variety of types of digital public history and make them broadly available. Technology allows historians working in different geographic locations to share knowledge and collaborate on digital public history projects. It enables historical research to reach a wider audience and engage them on their own terms on their personal devices.
When learning about community history sites and community engagement, I noticed that although most of the contributors to the low-country history site were in the Carolinas, some were in the UK. Using a digital platform allowed them to connect with historians researching regional history who did not live in that region. As a result, it created a more comprehensive project than if they used only local resources. Furthermore, a physical history site would have limited the dissemination of information to people living in or visiting Charleston. For example, I have never been to South Carolina, but I feel knowledgeable about its history from learning about it through a digital public history website.
Technology also creates the opportunity for crowd-sourced public history. Sites like Clio and HistoryPin allow users to find and learn about historic buildings and events nearby. There are also self-guided walking tours that users go on. These crowd-sourced public history articles and tours can sometimes be more informative than the official ones. For example, I live in Alexandria and used Clio to go on a walking tour about the Black history of Alexandria. Until recent years, Alexandria’s historical markers tended to tell the same popular stories about Colonial America, the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, and the Lee Family. So it was enlightening to learn about the lesser-known Black history of Old Town in this increasingly gentrified community. However, I also experienced the limitation of crowd-sourced digital public history. Users have no obligation to update it, so some information had not been updated in over five years and was no longer accurate.
In addition, OMHS provides a valuable resource to make oral histories easier to access and utilize. Unfortunately, the option to annotate no longer seems to work. It looks like the platform is no longer being updated and maintained. The experience of learning about and then trying to use OHMS shows the potential pitfalls of using technology in public history. Digital technologies like maintaining a web platform are expensive. Most digital public history projects appear to be grant-funded. When the money runs out, what happens to the project? Many resources disappear when universities and organizations no longer want to pay for hosting. Like OHMS, some remain as a resource or repository despite the lack of support. Oral history is my favorite kind of public history. I hope someday something like OHMS can be created at Mason, so I can listen to our collection of oral histories after I leave SCRC.
I must admit that I did not previously understand or listen to podcasts. They remind me of AM talk radio. With that example in mind, I also thought of Paul Harvey’s “The Rest of the Story” as an early precursor to public history podcasts. Podcasts make history entertaining. Since many people multitask while listening to podcasts, they present a passive way to learn about public history. However, professors are increasingly using podcasts as educational tools in formal settings. In this course and a recent curating course, the professors assigned podcasts as part of our readings. A potential downside to podcasts as part of digital public history is the algorithms platforms like Spotify use. How can excellent and informative podcasts get past algorithmic bias? Still, there is a podcast for nearly every possible subject and interest, no matter how niche, so their appeal is easy to understand.
Technology enhances public history. It makes stories easier to tell and accessible to broader audiences. It helps engage people who might otherwise not be interested in history or may be limited by geography. Technology puts history and museums in the palms of our hands through apps and mobile-friendly digital public sites. Finally, technology increases the variety of devices and platforms through which users experience digital public history today.