You say Digital History, I say Digital Public History- let’s call the whole thing off. 1

It is starting to sound like a math problem:

If public history is for the consumption of the  public.

Then history is for the consumption of?

History? Historians? No.

The public is almost always the end user.

What is the difference between digital public history and digital history? Should there be a difference? Is there a difference between history and public history? How are we defining these differences?

Based on the sites this week we are defining the term based on who created the site. While I fully understand the concern over misinformation being generated by allowing ‘the public’ to create historical sites, I also understand the need for context, sources and transparency. Wikipedia is not evil. If anything it is a valuable resource to quickly find out information and other sources on a topic. Wikipedia is almost 100% transparent. If you know how to look at who made edits, uploads, or cited sources as well as their credibility among the wiki community, there is a lot less fear in using it as a source.  For sites like HistoryPin (which I love) there is a sense of self policing, that makes me feel a little more secure in using the site as a source.

If we as historians are using these “public history” sites, we know we have to research them a little more but does it matter to the hobby historian? To someone just looking for a quick answer based on a google search? Will it lead them to another link somewhere with more academic information? Can they even access that academic information? If we are offering links to JSTOR what good is that to the hobby historian if they can’t get to it?



Name: Henry Historian

Demographic: Age 67, recently retired from finance, non history background.

Quote: “I want to learn more about ‘The Greatest Generation’ and my father’s experience in WWII.”

Microbio: Henry has basic knowledge of web functionality, and learns new processes quickly, however he stumbles when terms become too technical. He often relies on his children to help him navigate new programs or processes until he is comfortable with them. He enjoys reading and does not want to just jump in to searching by a word. For Henry, narratives work best to describe historical events, he is not a get in and get out kind of user.

End Goal: He would like to share the letters his parents sent to each other during WWII with researchers but is reluctant to release the originals to a stranger. He feels the letters tell an important part of American History, but because of the personal nature and connection he wants to retain ownership.

Persona 2:

Name: Dr. Louis G. Puggsworth III

Demographic: Psychologist

Quote:”PTSD isn’t new, but openly discussing it is. It is a plague on our returning veterans.”

Microbio: Dr. Puggsworth has been working on a book about psychological history of soldiers. Utilizing correspondence between soldiers and their family members he hypothesizes there a a turning point in a tour a of duty. He hopes by finding trends in the correspondence that will help create guidelines for future military actions that will limit the time soldiers are deployed. He is having a problem tracking down sources and has found they are still scattered among family members who do not understand the value of the documents.

End Goal: Find a single repository where he can search many similar documents for key words in an efficient manner.

Persona 3:

Name:Daisy Buchanan

Demographic: History Student.
Quote: “Everyone has a story to tell, I want to tell ours”

Microbio: Daisy is an undergrad student looking to incorporate her personal interest in genealogy with projects for school. She remembers her grandfather telling her stories of his years of service and how the letters to and from her grandmother helped get him through months of battle. From the stories she knows they would send correspondence via “some sort of film” but is not sure of the details. She does no know where to start to look other than google search. She is looking for a quick fix to a complex research project.

End Goal: Daisy would like to find a repository where she can quickly find out how mail was sent to and from soldiers. While it may not have the exact letters she is looking for perhaps narrowing down what she is looking for can help point her in the right direction and use the correct terms in her searches.

One thought on “You say Digital History, I say Digital Public History- let’s call the whole thing off.

  • Justin Broubalow

    Regarding your comments about “hobby historians”: It seems that the concern of public historians is not necessarily directing the hobby historian to some scholarly article but rather to enhance or enrich the narrative if what the hobby historian might be able to find through a Google search. I think there’s considerable distance between those poles.

    On Wikipedia, I find the authority of it to be fascinating. I recall seeing a study somewhere within the past few years that Wikipedia is more accurate than the Encylopedia Britannica because of the ability to instantly update Wikipedia. I also am really interested by the the people who devote a majority of their free time to editing entries. One guy’s sole mission is to change every instance of “comprised of” to “composed of,” going so far as to write software that alerts him of each instance.

Comments are closed.