For the final project for the direct readings in digital public history, we were asked to create a response to the answer “What difference does digital work make for Public History?” I think digital work allows us to add layers to public history and make it easier for the public to pull back the layers to look at them individually or see how they all work together.
The idea of layering is something I first consciously encountered when I attended as session at the annual meeting of the Virginia Association of Museum and attended a session given by the creators of the digital comic book “The Secret in the Cellar,” part of the Smithsonian exhibit Written in Bone. At the bottom of most pages of the comic, there are links to articles and other websites with contextual information. The speakers talked about providing these links for people who wanted to ‘dig down’ into the information.
During this past semester we’ve talked about the challenge of not only conveying history in an interesting fashion but also teaching people about historical thinking, about how historians get from a whole mess of documents in archives and books on shelves to a 20 minute tour or a 100 word label on your smartphone. You can show the process in real life, to be sure, but digital makes it possible to pack a lot of information into very little physical space. Moreover, it makes it possible for someone to go from the 100 word interpretation to the vast array of primary sources very easily and quickly. Rather than leaving the historic site, finding a library, finding books, maybe trying to locate an archive, it can be as easy as following a series of breadcrumbs which go deeper into the past with every click.
It is not that I think the only differences that digital makes for public history is to add complexity to layering and make primary sources easier to reach. These are, however, the aspects which caught my attention and I thought I could work with. Which leads me to the concrete example: the project.