That is exactly how this seems. Just six short weeks ago I was beginning my adventure in innovating public history through my History and New Media class at American University. Now, I am finishing my class with this final blog post.
As I think back over the past six weeks, I remember the advice I was given by historian James M. Banner, Jr. – “it is of the utmost importance that public historians continually learn and stay up-to-date with the current techniques in the field of history.”
Nothing made this clearer to me than taking Trevor Owen‘s History and New Media class.
I have remained relevant in my field by learning how to use digital tools such as WordPress, Omeka, Wikipedia, Historypin, PhilaPlace, and Wordle. In addition, I learned the historiography surrounding the digital history/digital humanities field. This includes numerous subjects.
First, I learned that the definition of digital history is not explicit. Instead, the field is facing an identity crisis much like in the public history field. It seems that neither field will come to a conclusion on a clear definition any time soon.
Next, not quite different from my last point, I learned how the definition of archives varies as well. While I went into week two thinking I knew what an archive was, I found that I was sorely mistaken. The definition for this field is disputed as well and professionals are working to adjust to the new digital history/digital humanities field and figure out how to work collaboratively with one another.
Third, I began learning some of the nitty gritty of the field. By this I mean that I learned some awesome terms that I never knew before, such as hypertext, hypermedia, and source code. Believe me, after learning what words like these entail, I felt super smart and like I could take on the digital world. Again, I was sorely mistaken. After all, just two weeks before I learned this, I learned how to use WordPress. Let’s be honest, I can barely use Facebook, let alone take on the digital world…
Then our class switched gears to discuss how people interact in the digital world. This week was particularly interesting to me because I learned how the web can be participatory, collaborative, accessible, among other things. These concepts are equally as important to the public history field. I cannot even keep track as to how often the words accessible and collaborative come up in my other classes. This was perhaps the most relevant week for me with regards to expanding my skills within my own field.
Fifth, I learned how the digital world is trying to expand. Through things such as mobile apps and mapping, public historians can reach broader audiences. In fact, at this point the audiences would be unlimited and can be anywhere in the world. They just need to have a mobile device. A requirement that our readings showed the majority of the world’s population meets.
Finally, in this last week of our History and New Media class, I learned the role that video games play with regards to learning and literacy. Specifically, I explored the BBC‘s Who Wants to be a Cotton Millionaire? While I do not think that video games can replace the value of classroom learning, I do think they can supplement classroom learning or serve as an alternative for those who do not learn well in traditional classroom settings.
As you may have guessed, innovating public history has been an adventure. There have been many challenges, but equally as many rewards. As a result of this course, I am able to use the digital tools and historiography I have learned to further the digital presence of any institution for which I work. In the end, not only do I plan to implement these new skills, but per the advice I quoted in the beginning of this post, I plan to continually build upon these skills since they are relevant techniques in the field of public history.