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Public History and Audience

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  • 3 minutes read
  • Feb 02, 2022

For the first unit of the course Digital Public History, we focused on public history as a field and audiences for public history. Public history can come in a variety of shapes and sizes so to speak. Before working in the public history field I thought this term “public history” was meant exclusively for museums, but rather have learned it can mean various types of places including archives, universities, government agencies, and so on. The demographics for those who work in public history that was recorded in the ‘results from the 2008 survey of public history professionals’ conducted by AASLH were not too surprising to me as I have noticed these trends while working in the field, however I did find the amount of people engaging with public history content surprising. People engage with public history in various forms and there is a pretty comprehensive list of the types of digital history projects that can be viewed on The Journal of American History‘s page about Digital History Reviews.  Some of the examples include; an archive, teaching resource, podcast, games, data sets, etc. These different types of digital public history projects will attract different audiences based off the format and content of the project. This unit spent a significant portion of time discusses the relationship between audiences and these public history projects.

One key aspect of this relationship is knowing one’s primary and secondary audiences is essential in creating and maintaining public history projects, such as digital projects or exhibits. By knowing who the target group is for that particular project will aid in driving certain features over other features that may not be as helpful to the target audience. For example, in module #2 we took a look at several digital history projects and the project titled The Raid On Deerfield: the Many Stories of 1704 is a digital teaching resource and the primary audience for this public history project would be teachers. The design of this project is geared towards teachers and students and may not be suited for another audience. If the target audience had been another group the design for the project would have surely been different. Knowing the target audience and being able to tailor the design of the project to that group is an essential part to the digital public history project creation process.

To get to know your target audience and hear directly from them what they wish to see and what would be useful for them, author Erika Hall suggests interviewing members of those audiences. Interviewing those members of the primary and secondary audience groups can help the creator of the digital project figure out which aspects will be effective for these groups and if the content is right for the target groups. Using this interview research can lead to creating something called a ‘persona‘ that can further aid the creator in staying on track with the project and staying focused on those target audiences. Creating these personas and taking the research the creator has learned from the members of their target audiences will help the creator better connect the audience to their public history content.

Works Cited:

Dichtl, John and Robert Townsend. “A Picture of Public History: Preliminary Results from the 2008 Survey of Public History Professionals.”Perspectives on History, September 2009.

Hall, Erika. “Interviewing Humans.” A List Apart. Published on September 10, 2013. Published in Just Enough Research. A Book Apart, (2013).

Goltz, Schlomo. “A Closer Look At Personas: What They Are And How They Work (Part 1).” Smashing Magazine. August 6, 2014.

McClurken, Jeffrey. “The Journal of American History.” The Organization of American Historians, (September 2013).

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