Wrapping Up Digital Public History Course

My experiences this semester have been overwhelmingly positive. Like any moment of growth and learning, however, there have also been moments of struggle (social media is not my forte, so module 9 was particularly painful for me). I am surprised by how time consuming and how energy-sapping the development of my prototype has been. At the same time, I am also looking forward to  continuing work on the website beyond this class. It’s a project that I am very passionate about and I am excited by the prospect of further collaboration in order to better create a piece of digital history that exists for and with the public.

Much of what I learned this semester felt like a reinforcement of what I know from working in the physical public history space. I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that digital public history projects have to work just as hard (if not harder) to captivate audiences. In my time as a museum employee, I have witnessed many a family double down on an outing that has lost its enjoyment simply because they had already invested a significant amount into the experience (the drive, parking, paying admission). From my limited experience, once a visitor is on-site, they will want to get their money’s worth and stick it out. If the  experience is unenjoyable, they probably won’t return, but it’s unlikely they will immediately head for the exits at the first sign of boredom.

With most digital history projects, the opposite is true — no time or monetary investment is required to partake. If nothing is at stake, users can jump ship at the first sign of discomfort, frustration, or distraction. Therefore the content, methods, and overall projects produced by digital historians seeking to engage the wider public must exceed user expectations within the first three seconds of the experience. What a tall order! With this in mind, I feel like I am now constantly on the lookout for extraordinary examples of digital public history projects.

I can’t resist including a few more words about the future of my project. Since the content matter is so lacking in audio and visual, I’d love to collaborate with a law school or mock trial group to reenact testimony from the Joint Committee Investigation; I was really inspired by the “Eavesdropping at the Well” piece we read by Richard Rabinowicz. Despite my aversion to social media, I want to implement a campaign to solicit community contributions to post on the website. Finally, I want to dive deeper into the historical content in order to expand the existing exhibit and create new ones (what role did WWI and German propaganda play in Florencio’s lynching?).

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