Doing Local History

Doing local history can be challenging in many ways. While focusing on one area, region, or town, it may seem easier to do this type of historical work. In a local history project, any information one might need to complete a history project will most likely be located within one area. This makes a historians job easier: less travel and less searching endless archives for information.

However, there are many challenges to doing local history work. Often the historical work is focused on nostalgia and memory. While these topics are important, it can be difficult to complete historical work with a local population because of their memory of specific events. Often local history projects might have to defer to the local community. This could make expansion of the project more difficult.

Digital history provides a platform for local history projects. The goal of digital local history is to share the history of a town, region, area, or people, with a greater audience. Since digital platforms allow for greater expansion of history projects, it can be difficult for a digital local history project to stay within the bounds of “local.”

This module’s readings helped me when thinking about my own project, as my project is a digital local history project. After going through this module, I want my project to:

  • Stay within the bounds of Warsaw history
  • Be as encompassing as possible with Warsaw history, without going outside of the project’s goals
  • Have balance in terms of resources and data and the ways they are interpreted
  • Engage in some way with the current Warsaw community


Setting Up a Digital Project

In Modules 4 and 5, we have read about the importance of planning. I have learned from the past few weeks that planning for a digital project is a crucial step in the process of building the site.

Content mapping and building a map for your digital project are important, early steps to take. When I first read about the content mapping and site planning, I thought that it was something I would not be able to accomplish at this early stage. I thought, “how can I draw out a map of my project if I’m not even sure what my project will turn out to be like?” But it turns out that this step is crucial.

Even at this early stage of my project, building a map of my project helped me visualize the steps I would need to take to physically build the website. It helped to piece together the data I had and how they could interact in my project.

Now, as I work through building exhibits, and the rest of my project, I have a plan and goal in mind for this project because I have already created a map for and designed my project.

Project Proposal

The Jewish history of Poland is often hidden within the Polish landscape. Nazi destruction of Jewish sites, World War II and its destruction of Poland, post-war anti-Semitic destruction, have all contributed to a lack of pre-war Jewish sites remaining in Poland. Another reason for the lack of Jewish sites in Poland today, is the Polish collective memory about the Jewish population and the Holocaust. Though many Jewish sites in Poland were destroyed, the Jewish history in Poland remains. Visitors to Poland will most likely interact with Polish-Jewish history through monuments and memorials than physical historical sites in their travels. And most of the Jewish history still standing in Poland are remnants of the Holocaust: concentration camps, ghetto walls, and death camps.

This project, with the help of the digital world, will aim to make Polish-Jewish history more visible. This project will focus on the capital of Poland, Warsaw, and its Jewish past. In its end, it will be an interactive map of Jewish locations within Warsaw. The user can visit this site to use the map and discover images and more information about these Jewish sites. Users will engage with this project in order to learn more about the Jewish past in Poland. Images of the Jewish sites will show the changes that have occurred to Warsaw and users will witness how the landscape has changed. Information from images will give users information about the changing landscape. Hopefully, this project will bring up the following questions:

  1. How have Jewish sites in Warsaw changed over time?
  2. Why have Jewish sites in Warsaw changed in such a way?
  3. What types of Jewish sites exist in Warsaw today? And why?
  4. How would travelling to Warsaw be different than experiencing it through this site?
  5. Without this digital tool, how would people experience Warsaw?
  6. Is Jewish history in Warsaw remembered? If so, how is it being remembered?

In order to complete this project, various digital technologies will be used. First, Omeka will be used as a base site through which the project will function. Omeka will contain the digital collection, images (and their subsequent) information. From there, I will use various plugins, such as Curatescape, in order to create a mapping template for the site.

The goal of this project is to engage with the public about the Jewish history of Poland. The hope is that users will utilize this project to either help them do research or aide them when visiting Poland. The target audience for this project is anyone in the public who is interested in Polish-Jewish history. Many of those that will use this project will have family that were Polish-Jews. This project is also geared towards anyone interested in travel, especially travel to Poland. While this project is specifically focused on Poland’s history, it aims to help the public to not travel “blindly,” to ascertain knowledge and questions about a place’s history before visiting.

Personas Updated

Name: David
Demographic: 20s, academic (graduate school), middle class, white, Jewish
Descriptive Title: Traveling Academic
End Goals: Fulfilling a graduate degree. Discovering unbiased information. Genuine travel experiences.
Quote: “I want to understand as much as I can about life and human behavior – to do that, I need to understand the past.
A Day in a Life Narrative: My name is David and I am currently a graduate student at Duke University. A normal day for me consists of reading and writing, graduate school is my life. I want to know as much as possible in my field and I do so by researching and traveling. I don’t trust everything I read or hear, and I am critical of much information presented to me, particularly on the internet. That is why I love to travel, I can see and understand the world for myself, rather than learning about it through someone else.
End Goals: Fulfilling a graduate degree. Discovering unbiased information. Genuine travel experiences.
Name: Sue
Demographic: 60s, Event designer, upper-middle class, Jewish, white
Descriptive Title: Inquisitive Professional
Quote: “My life is wonderful – but I yearn to learn more about my past.”
A Day in a Life Narrative: My name is Sue and I have been an event designer for almost twenty years now. I am very passionate about my job, but my family comes first. I have a great husband and wonderful children. But ever since my mother’s death, I have wanted to know more about my family history. Recently, I have been considering traveling in order to discover information about my past, but I have realized that it might be too hard on me to travel. I am looking into other ways to discover information on my family’s past. I am fairly technology-literate, although I do not know how to use technology and the internet to its fullest.
End Goals: Discover information on family’s past. Learn how to better use technology.

Digital Collections

Digital collections allow for a wide array of public history activities. Digital collections can be large or small, contain documents, photographs, oral records, material culture, etc. Often, the public views a digital collection to view or utilize the “artifacts” for their own purpose. However, public history digital collections often also allow for the public to contribute to the site.

There are many public history digital collections that utilize the public in order to add to their collections. The Hurricane Digital Memory Bank and Baltimore Uprising both rely on public contribution to add to their collections. In this way, digital collections can help the public be a part of the history.

It seems that basic digital collections allow for the public to do their own research, contribute to public history projects, and interact with history. These could be used for practical purposes, whether the users are amateur historians or merely want to connect with history.

I hope to use Omeka, with various plugins, so that users can connect to the Polish-Jewish past through historical understanding. I want to showcase places/sites in Warsaw that contain Jewish history in some way. While I think of this as a travel tool, it will also be a learning tool. One goal of my project is to compile images of the sites from the past alongside images of the site currently. I want users to question how these sites have changed and why the sites appear this way today. Hopefully, they will gain a historical understanding of Warsaw through this site that contains commentary from both the past and the present.

Audiences and Engagement: Digital Public History Projects

This module explored the importance of understanding audience when designing a digital public history project.

Audience seems to be a key difference between general digital humanities projects and digital public history projects. Digital humanities projects seem to be by academics, often for academics (not always true, but many are). Though digital humanists make sure to know their audience and who their projects are focused towards, digital public historians need to understand their audience even more. When the public is the audience, designers of digital public history projects must spend a good deal of project planning time in attempting to understand all aspects of their audience.

Understanding the audience of your project will help you provide the best user experience possible in your project. Ultimately these projects are for the public and the better tuned they can be towards the public, the better.

Some of the best ways to learn about your audience is through interviews. Interviews, if they use appropriate questions, can highlight trends in potential users and what they are looking for in digital projects. They can even help elucidate parts of your own project that you had not considered, or help you decide on an aspect of your project. Some digital designers also choose to create personas for their project. Often based off of interviews with their target audience, personas help designers synthesize their audience and keep in sight the goals of their project.

By utilizing interviews and personas, the designer of a digital project will be more “in tune” with their audience and will create a better project in the end.

Project: User Research

Before actually completing any user research, I needed to flesh out my project and all ideas for my project. After much more thought, and guidance from my professor, I have decided that I will work on a website that would help serve people that want to visit Poland to learn about its Jewish past. This project will focus on one town or region, where much of the Jewish history of the town is hidden or no longer exists. This tool could be used by anyone who wants to learn about this history, not just people who want to actually visit these sites.

In order to help narrow down my focus on this project, I conducted interviews with two people that are in my target audience for this project: members of the general public who are Jewish or have some connection to Polish Jewish history and want to visit Poland with the hopes of learning about its Jewish past. I had two main goals in these interviews. First, I wanted to make sure that there was a need or want for this type of project. The entire goal of a project such as this is so that the public will interact with it and learn from it. Second, I wanted help with figuring out which town or region to focus on in Poland. Personally, I was torn between a few and hoped these interviews would help me decide.

The user interviews did confirm a few things for me about the project. From the people I interviewed, I learned that there are people that would be interested in this type of project and felt that this project was a great idea. I learned a few things from these interviews as well. The interviewees emphasized the want for not only a geographic reference, but also for the geography to be tied to information. Simply, they want to learn. They want to be able to take information from the website and actually learn from it and be able to use it in person during travel.

They also had some suggestions on which town or region I should focus on. Although their thoughts did not make my decision much easier. One user suggested Warsaw, a town that I had been considering heavily. They have not been to Poland, but figured that if they were to go, they would most likely go to Warsaw. They concluded that Warsaw’s size would make it difficult to know where to start when first visiting, therefore a website to aid people traveling to this town would be helpful. I had considered Warsaw for similar reasons. Another reason I had considered Warsaw was because it was decimated during the war and much of its Jewish history no longer stands in the town and is difficult to find.

The other user suggested Lublin. They have been to Poland before, but has not been to Lublin. They have heard much about Lublin, however, and felt as though there is a lot of Jewish history there to uncover. They suggested that it might be a good town to start with, since it is a medium-sized town. Lublin is a good suggestion because it, like Warsaw, has very little physical presence left of its Jewish population. It could potentially be easier to make a project on since it is smaller and more succinct than Warsaw.

After conducting these user interviews, I am more confident about my project. I will focus on Warsaw, Poland, because it is more likely traveled by people traveling to Poland. It is a good town for this type of project because so much of the Jewish history in this town is no longer standing. I also know that my project will have geographic elements along with information and pictures of the sites mentioned.

Historic St. Mary’s City: Site Review

Review of Historic St. Mary’s City, MD.

I attended St. Mary’s College of Maryland for my undergraduate education. This school was not only a wonderful institution with a focus on tolerance and the liberal arts, but the school itself was surrounded by history. St. Mary’s College of Maryland is located in the vicinity of St. Mary’s City, the first capital of the state of Maryland. Along the banks of the St. Mary’s River, intermixed with the boundaries of the college, lies Historic St. Mary’s City (HSMC), a living history site and museum. I might have a bit of a bias when it comes to Historic St. Mary’s City, as I grew to love this place as an extension of my own beloved institution. But I have visited “Historic,” as St. Mary’s College students like to call it, many times. As a student of history and anthropology, I feel as though I can make thoughtful judgments about this site and its purpose as a public history institution.

Historical Background

St. Mary’s City was the location of the landing of settlers, under the direction of Leonard Calvert, on the Ark and the Dove in 1634. These settlers founded the first successful non-native settlement in Maryland, a town that would come to be the first capital of Maryland.

Physical Site

In total, the land of HSMC takes up about 800 acres but it feels intimate, with many various small “sites” on HSMC property. As a living public history museum, HSMC attempts to recreate the first capital of Maryland. The center of the historic town has been “rebuilt” as it might have looked in the past. Other vestiges from the original town remain as well. The first statehouse of Maryland has also been rebuilt and stands on this site as a symbol of the importance of justice and what has become the United States of America’s judicial system. In stark contrast, directly across from the Statehouse, is the Brick Chapel, also a reconstruction, that stands as a symbol of the importance of religion and religious freedom. These two sites that lie on the same road yet stand hundreds of yards apart, were meant to symbolize the separation of religion and the state and the balance between the two that the settlers sought after.

Brick Chapel (Image 1)

Within this narrative lies the argument this site attempts to communicate to those that visit: St. Mary’s City was the beginning of the great American ideals we honor today. The fights for religious freedom, separation of church and state, and equal rights all began in St. Mary’s City. This is what the site tries to communicate to its visitors.

Anyone can visit this site and not only learn much about Maryland history but they will also enjoy the site. As is, this site is aimed for the general population. When walking the grounds, you are likely to run into families, large student groups, and locals that use the site to walk their dogs or exercise.

As a visitor, one can take part in a group tour of the site or check out the site on your own. Either way works, however, I believe you get the most out of this site by taking a tour of it. It is not so easy to figure out your way around the site without some guidance. There is not one clear path that one should take and it would be easy to miss important sites or features of HSMC. However, along your journey at HSMC you will find a few interpreters, dressed in period costumes, that tell the stories of St. Mary’s City residents. There are very few actual interpreters at the site, though. So when walking through the site, it is likely that you may not run into any interpreters at all. The interpreters can provide fascinating information about the history of St. Mary’s City, though their use seems to be directed towards children and school groups.

Interpreters at the Dove (Image 2)

Though HSMC is situated on a lot of land, the land remains mostly empty. Archaeological digs, which have been ongoing at the site for the past forty years or more, have proven the location of many original buildings from the first capital city. HSMC has taken information from archaeological digs to “rebuild” the town, most notably by using “ghost” houses. These houses are merely the outlines of structures, but mark where actual houses or buildings from the original town once stood and what they might have looked like.

Ghost houses (Image 3)

You can also take a trip down to the waterfront, where the reconstructed ship from the settling voyage, the Dove, sits today. Visitors to HSMC can get a tour of the reconstructed ship, which to me is one of the most interesting parts of the entire site. Also featured at HSMC is an Indian Hamlet, somewhat hidden in the woods, that attempts to portray what the site might have looked like before settlers from Europe arrived. Here, you can learn about Indian modes of subsistence, how they built their own canoes, and how to make an arrowhead. Another interesting part of HSMC is the St. John’s Site Museum. This museum is situated on the grounds of the college, where archaeologists uncovered the foundation of an early English home along with a wealth of archaeological finds. This museum is worth the trip to HSMC over any of the other aspects of this site. The museum is one of the most interesting archaeological museums that I have ever been to. Unfortunately, this museum is “off the beaten path” of HSMC, so many visitors may not make it over to this part of the site.

Overall, HSMC is a great example of a living public history museum. The archaeological work that has allowed for the site’s existence has successfully articulated the history and the lives of the various types of individuals that used to call St. Mary’s City home. Though there is not one path to follow throughout the site, visitors can either take a tour of the site or follow the maps to find each educational experience at HSMC. However, having clearer signage and more directive maps would help visitors get the best experience from HSMC.

Digital Site

The digital site for HSMC is The opening page reads, “Experience life in 17th century Maryland!” At first glance, visitors to the digital site understand that HSMC aims to be a recreation of life from seventeenth century St. Mary’s City. The opening page also discusses St. Mary’s City’s “legacy of democracy and toleration,” hinting at the site’s argument that HSMC was a building block for modern America.

This website is aimed for those interested in visiting the site. There are many tabs on the page for users to view, but the first two tabs include information about visiting the site and the various programs and tours the site offers. Other tabs on the HSMC website include, “Support,” “Private Events,” “The Shop,” and “The Inn.” Besides being aimed at potential visitors, the HSMC website is aimed at those interested in financially supporting the institution. Finally, the site is geared towards those interested in the history of the site and the various research opportunities that are ongoing at HSMC. This website gives out a lot of information about HSMC. In this way, I think they cover a variety of information that anyone visiting their website might in search of.

Home page of HSMC’s digital site (Image 4)

The most interesting component of the website is a Museum Map, an interactive digital map of HSMC. By including this map on the website, potential visitors can not only get a grasp of the site before they go, but they might be able to gain any information they are looking for on the site without needing to physically visit. The interactive map works by the website user clicking on the various buildings or monuments on the map. Small windows will appear with a picture of the building and some brief historical information. The only downside to the map is that it seems to be a work in progress. Each of the small information windows that pop up include a link for visitors to “Dig Deeper,” suggesting that a new window will appear with even more information on the site. But when clicked on, the page brought up has an error message. Despite this, the interactive map on HSMC’s website a great tool for visitors to use and brings the website into a more interactive sphere.

HSMC’s Interactive Map (Image 5)

Overall, the digital site for HSMC has a simple layout, yet contains a large amount of information on this site. There is only one interactive aspect of the website, the museum map. Though it is the sole interactive element, it is visually engaging and could be very helpful to visitors to the page. The website could be improved by streamlining much of the information on the site and ensuring that various links on the site work.


The physical site and digital site make similar arguments about the history of St. Mary’s City. However, the visitor to the digital site might gain more information on the formation of the site and the archaeology that preceded the site’s creation. It might be beneficial for those that aim to visit the physical site, to take time to visit the digital site beforehand. The digital site would help visitors make sense of the site, even before their actual visit.


Image Citations:

Image 1:

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Image 3:

Image 4: Screenshot,

Image 5: Screenshot,

The History of Digital Public History

The genre of Digital Public History seems to have changed much over time, especially as digital technologies became better and as audience engagement became more important.

Early digital public history projects were focused mostly on presenting historical information. These projects were usually some sort of collection or grouping of historical sources/information portrayed through a website page. One very early site on the infamous blackouts of NYC aimed to be a collection of audience memory of these blackouts, and therefore was an early example of a future goal of digital public history: audience assistance and engagement. These early projects were limited in design and content (the internet was still quite limited in the late 1990s/early 2000s).

By the second phase of digital public history, the presentation of historical information became the most important feature of these sites. The audience could interact minimally with these sites, usually just to move to the next section of information or view a different section of the page. These sites highly valued education, seemingly hoping to educate the general public about more extensive issues in history, often lesser-known historical events, such as the Holocaust in Croatia and slavery in NYC.

The third and most recent phase of digital public history attempted to balance the need to present historical knowledge and the want to engage the public. Most sites of this more recent time period (2010s) focused on portraying history for the masses, but one site asked the audience for help indexing pages of war diaries from WWI. These sites show the increase in technology that occurred in more recent years and how these improvements also improve the audience experience with the sites. Now, users can truly interact with history and help digital projects make historic documents useful to a wider audience.

I feel as though this is where digital humanities, and in particular, digital public history is heading – towards the balance of presenting the public with historical information and getting the public involved in the study of history. As technology gets better and better, the types of actions and assistance the audience can provide to history projects will increase and become more sophisticated and easier to use.

What is Public History?

Defining public history is complicated, as the field itself has been somewhat undefined, or has lacked definition. As historian Ronald Grele puts it, “those of us who currently work in the field have not clearly defined what it is we do, why we do it, and why it is an alternative to other forms of historical effort” (Grele 41). In order to attempt to define public history for this blog post, I will try to answer the questions Grele asks in the article title: “Whose Public? Whose History? What is the goal of a public historian?”

Whose Public?

Grele begins to answer this question by examining who “the public” has been to historians in the past. He claims first that historians have always had a public, even from the earliest point in history (Grele 41). But from the mid-nineteenth century to today, historians have generally addressed “the literate middle class” (42). Then, as the profession of the historian expanded in the recent centuries, this definition narrowed to historian’s peers: other academics and students (42).

The study of history was once again altered, as historians began to encounter the local history movement (Grele 42). By working within the bounds of local history, the historian’s “public” was finally beyond the bounds of the classroom. Ultimately, I believe this is the “public” that is in the definition of public history: it is the non-academic world, the general public.

Whose History?

If, for so long, historians worked for other historians,  then it is fair to say that history was purely for academics. However, the public history movement suggests that history does not purely belong to the historians. It suggests that history belongs to everyone and that everyone has a right to understand and interact with history.

What is the goal of a public historian?

Grill suggests that the field of public history has changed the definition of the role of the historian (48). Public history, according to Grele, “promises us a society in which a broad public participates in the construction of its own history” (48).

I believe the goal of the public historian is to engage with the general public on history projects, and to help the general public become engaged with history.


Though I can create a very broad definition of public history, it is also true that there is not a generally agreed upon definition of this field. As Dichtl and Townsend (2009) note, when surveying historians about whether they consider themselves public historians, many noted that they did not feel comfortable confining themselves to such a label, or noted that they had no official training in public history. So, in many cases, even public historians are unsure of a clear definition for public history.

However, because the definition of public history tends to be very broad, so is the variety of work public historians do. Public historians are often museum professionals, archivists, preservationists, cultural resource managers, curators, historical interpreters, and much more (National Council on Public History).


Dichtl, John and Robert B. Townsend. “A Picture of Public History: Preliminary Results from the 2008 Survey of Public History Professionals.” American Historical Association (2009)<>

Grele, Ronald J. “Whose Public? Whose History? What Is the Goal of a Public Historian?” The Public Historian,  3  (1981): 40-48.

National Council on Public History. “About the Field.” Indiana University-Purdue University. <>