Digital Public History and Place


As technology has continued to evolve, it has allowed for public history and the approaches taken to do digital public history to change as well. Often times projects are seeking to tell the story of a particular person, event, or even location. Those projects concerned with location in particular have the ability to provide a unique user experience through the use of GIS software and mobile applications.

The use of such technologies have allowed projects like the World War I: Love and Sorrow exhibit, to provide users with a unique experience. The use of mobile apps and Bluetooth technology allows users to walk through a location and listen to text or view images and audio discussing information about a particular place. This can gives users multiple layers of interpretative storytelling. These layers can help to better illustrate a personal experience by incorporating audio and visuals or primary source documents, while a users is standing in a specific spot or inside a particular building. They can also be animations illustrating how the space a user is standing may have physically changed over time. While the information is relevant to a particular location, projects can also opt to allow their users to continue to access this information outside of the physical exhibit.

While technology has helped to significantly change digital public history and how it deals with location, there are some downsides. For example, how does one represent events that affected multiple areas? With mapping software, it is possible to use multiple points to illustrate this, but how is it accomplished through the use of a mobile app? Additionally, project team members may not always be able to accurately identify the exact spot of a demolished building or of a particular event. Furthermore, viewing a location or building out context of the time period and the things that would have been near it could prove problematic. And with too much emphasis on viewing digital objects, users may forget to use their other senses: touch and smell in particular. How does this all affect the overall story that is being told? Lastly, how do you provide a similar experience for those who are unable to use the mobile app?

As with any innovation, there are pros and cons. However, in this case, I believe the pros far out weigh the cons. One issue that I have had with my personal project, is how do I make the information more relevant to my target audience. Major topics revolving around American spirits include the Whiskey Rebellion and Whiskey Ring, however political cartoons, advertisements, and documents, centering around these topics may not be appealing to users by themselves. Because of this, I have begun to add in some mapping sections, exposing additional information relevant to the different exhibits. In particular to the Whiskey Ring, I have done some additional research to identify some of the distilleries that were accused and convicted of being a part of ring, and have begun placing some of them on a map using city directories. To do this, I used CartoDB.

Additionally, I am in the process of working on another exhibit that provides a story map of the American Whiskey Trail. Created by the Distilled Spirits Council, the trail consists of historic sites and operating distilleries that provide background into the historical and cultural heritage of American spirits. Several of the historic sites can be related and linked back to the Whiskey Rebellion exhibit, while also providing my target audience with something maybe more appealing to them. This is being done using ArcGIS Online.

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