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.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *