I’ve reached the end of the spring semester of my first year of graduate school. And what a trip! Over the past couple of months, I have been formulating thoughts on my final paper for digital history. Which issue in digital history interested me enough to devote a final essay? Interestingly (or, perhaps, not interestingly), this reminds me of a discussion I have had with people about why I am entering the field of public history and museum studies. I am fascinated by how museums and other historical institutions create engagement for their visitors, whether in-house or on the web. I also love technology. Therefore, I decided that at some point, at some dream job in the future, I’d like to fuse these two interests together…
…which brings me to my final paper. My final paper for my digital history class discusses how museums, libraries, and other historical, cultural, or heritage institutions utilize technology to engage their end-users. These may include visitors, researchers, potential donors, and other entities. As I explained in my presentation in class, I will be using participatory design as a backdrop for my discussion and assessment of engagement in digital history projects. I looked at four websites, two crowdsourced projects and two institution-driven ones, all of which had some participatory element that allowed users to share their experiences, whether via social media or submitting their own stories.
So, what did I learn from writing this paper? Overall, I think people do not actually hate history. People are excited by things that have happened in the past, particularly where they can engage in sources and creating their own conclusions. Where the issue lies is ensuring that people have the chance to make history applicable for them. I am sure people are more likely to retain information when they have a chance to interact with digital collections whether through games, virtual exhibits, visual tours, being able to submit stories, or simply sharing their favorite items on Facebook or Twitter.
And these conclusions strike at me particularly because I want to get into public history and museum studies for the purpose of making history interesting to people. It does not have to be some big elaborate project; even something as simple as having someone start a discourse with an object because he or she finds it relevant to his or her own life. And really, does it matter if it is online or in an exhibit?