Engaging Audiences

In an age of increasing technology-use, public history projects absolutely need to utilize a digital component. Opening up a project to a digital format increases the opportunity for users to access the collections and decide how they want to interact with the history. Some projects allow users to be more interactive, while others simply allow for gallery viewing.

Projects that look to include a lot of public input must gain the trust of the public. Individuals must feel that their opinions and their time are valuable. Several projects exist that look for user experiences, including personal stories, photographs, and videos. For example, the Hurricane Digital Memory Bank asked people living and working in the Gulf Coast during Hurricanes Katrina and Rita to share their personal experiences and histories. This included asking for their pictures, videos, audio, and written stories. The HDMB allowed users to offer their information privately, so that their stories may only be shared with researchers. The HDMB also allowed users to share their stories publicly, so others may learn from them and interact with those stories and images. Baltimore Uprising followed a very similar format, asking individuals who lived and worked in Baltimore during the uprisings to share their images, videos, and stories. These projects are not only seeking to preserve the history, but also to allow communities to come together and interact with one another in a digital space.

Another way to include the public in ownership of digital public history is the projects that ask for crowd-sourced information on tagging, commenting, transcribing, etc., of digitized collections. Flickr Commons and Citizen Archivist exemplify the major institutions of the world looking for the general public to help fill in some of the overwhelming metadata. These types of projects are much more broad in scope than HDMB and Baltimore Uprising, largely due to the large amount of different collections. HDMB and Baltimore Uprising are very focused projects on specific audiences.

A lesson to be learned from all of the digital public history projects is to always plan more time than you think is necessary. The projects all desired more time. The projects also suggested sticking to a common metadata standard, such as Dublin Core. Contributions interfaces should be simple to use and efficient, otherwise users will get frustrated and decide not to contribute or come back. Offering multiple options to users, including anonymity and public versus private submissions allows the users to feel much more comfortable in sharing their stories. Sharing the ownership with the users is key to getting them to participating. Also, projects need to be prepared that not everybody has technological access. In those cases, be prepared to have project members working in the physical world, collecting stories and interviews.

Potentially, for my project, Omeka can serve to have my target audience interact with the past. Using comment features would allow a forum to be created, of former and present rowers, as well as those interested in the history of rowing. They will be able to comment on artifacts and share their own personal stories. Currently, I have images from the Olympic men’s 8+ from 1936, which can start the conversation about this tremendously talented team. I have started adding some information on a few of the men involved in this 8+. I plan to expand more on their individual stories as this project progresses. Hopefully, my target audience will see a bit of themselves in each of the stories of these men, and then feel compelled to add their own stories and thoughts. There is an image I have of one of the men’s 8+’s as it is being built in George Pocock’s shop, which is enticing for current and former rowers. It demonstrates how much and how little rowing shells have changed over the last eighty years. I plan to continue adding stories and images for rowers to interact with and contribute.

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