Internship Reflection #7

One of the most interesting aspects of my internship and my experience with the DPH Certificate Program has been the emphasis on creating digital projects for the public. As someone with public history experience, I’m already familiar with the unique challenges that come with creating exhibits and programs for the public — it can be quite difficult crafting something that appeals to people from a wide variety of backgrounds, abilities, and education levels. That being said, once a visitor has made it to a museum or historic site, the odds of them quickly changing their mind is slim; even if the experience is unengaging or generally not what the visitor had in mind, visitors are unlikely to end the visit prematurely because of the time and resources they have already dedicated to the experience.

That’s not the case for online visitors to digital public history sites! As discussed in our Digital Public History course last year, online users can quickly assess a home page or other elements within a project and make a judgement call about whether or not they want to stick around. The time and resources invested in navigating to a DPH site likely amounts to only a few clicks and at most an extensive Google search. The window where a user’s attention can be captured is much smaller, and if it is captured, it must be consistently maintained. At any point in this process, a user may choose to navigate away from the experience by hitting the “back” or “close” button on their browser. This is quite different from the experience of a visitor to a physical site, where visitors would need to gather their things, navigate to the exit, then sort out their transportation home.

It’s been fascinating to see how deeply these concepts permeate the work of digital public historians. In discussions on object metadata for the HCAC project, the question about how the average visitor to the site will perceive the metadata schema has continued to be front of mind. Something as simple as the “date” field requires an extensive amount of consideration: should the format for dates follow the ISO standard? If so, what about when the date field contains a date range? Would something like “1949/1953-01-01” be too confusing or off putting for users? Fields like “description” and “subject,” meanwhile, require a multitude of meetings and extensive research to establish format standards that will be moderate enough not to scare users away but still communicate vital information and maximize discoverability.

I know that standards exist for museum signage, things like exhibit labels and wayfinding signs, but what resources exist for digital public history projects? Is that an unresearched topic that is in need of further development?


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