The difference between digital history and digital public history is similar to academic history as a discipline and public history in a museum. Much of these differences come down to the audience. Popular histories are written for a more general audience without PhD’s on the subject. Likewise, museum exhibits are often made to engage the casual visitor. Academic press histories often include a much more rigid structure, a well defined argument and many more footnotes. The audience is usually other historians with knowledge of the subject or familiarity with the form.
The role of the audience for digital history projects is everything. The audience heavily determines the content and presentation of your website. Shlomo Goltz’s articles on creating personas made me realize how important it is to visualize who might be using your site before even creating it. After all if you plan to create a digital history project that is accessible to the average high school student, that might look very different from a project geared towards historians. Mia Ridge also noted the importance of analyzing your audience early on. I also thought her advice to incorporate some user testing was really important. It’s important to figure out that your intended audience is getting something out of your project.
There also seems to be a bit of interactive piece that goes along with digital public history. Many of the articles discussed user generated content (UGC) and the place it holds in digital history site or a museum. I think the idea of museums using crowdsourcing technology is pretty incredible. It allows amateur historians to transcribe documents or identify photographs. This gives members of the public a legitimate purpose at a museum or site rather than passive museum-goer or browser.
Yet at the same time, I do wonder if many of these technologies are being used because they are “trendy.” I was really struck by Smithsonian’s American History Museum’s Jim Gardner who cautioned, “While some cultural institutions may not feel there is much risk in embracing radical trust, I know from firsthand experience that the subjects we explore as museums and historical societies sometimes attract individuals with problematic if not offensive opinions, and we cannot allow such individuals to use us for their own purposes.” On some level, despite my excitement over USG and crowdsourcing, I still want the museums and their digital projects to be the experts that I can learn from. That is essentially why I go to those sites.
After reflecting on these audience issues, I did some thinking about my own project. Drafting the personas was very helpful to me. I want my project to be scholarly but accessible. I’m already thinking I may need to re-do my draft exhibit piece if I want to appeal to more of a “general public” audience than scholars. I’m thinking that my current draft is a little lengthy and in-depth for the average browser. So what I could do is an a nested page that will allow those interested to click a link that will bring them to more information on the topic.