History on the Go: Maintaining the Public’s Connection to Place and Location

This week’s readings for History and New Media touch on a subject to which many people can relate – cell phones and other mobile devices.  mobiledevices

According to Trevor Owens:

Increasingly, the screens people are turning their attention to are in their hands and their pockets. In this vein, there is tremendous potential for mobile media and mobile media has a direct and clear connection to place and location.

For me, this “direct and clear connection to place and location” is a familiar theory.  During my first semester as a graduate student at American University, I took a course called Public History Seminar.  This course introduced me to the origins and definitions of the Public History field and the relevant literature about its current practices.  From this course, I clearly remember one reading – David Glassberg‘s Sense of History: The Place of Past American Lifesense-of-history

In his book, Glassberg argues that everyone has a sense of history or as Glassberg puts it:

the intersection of the intimate and the historical—the way that past events of a personal and public nature are intertwined, so that public histories often forcefully, and surprisingly, hit home”

As Anna Snyder so thoughtfully explained:

What he means is that people allow their own personalities and pasts to infiltrate their understanding of history so… that sense of history equates to “a sense of locatedness and belonging”

In other words, history, specifically public history, offers people a personal and clear connection to place, location, and time.

With an increasingly changing environment, how can institutions maintain this clear connection to place and location? What is something that many people have in common that keep them connected to other people, places, and things?

The answer… cellphones and other mobile devices.

According to historian Mark Tebeau:

Nearly 90 percent of Americans own cell phones and approximately 50 percent use smart phones, with high ownership rates among poor and minority populations, for whom cell phones have replaced landlines and perhaps even desktop computing.1 Presently, as much as 20 percent of all Internet traffic occurs on mobile devices (a number expected to grow dramatically), and it has been predicted that by 2015 some 80 percent of all Internet calls will originate on mobile devices

What better way is there for institutions to connect visitors to place and location and reach broader audience than to use the cell phones and other mobile devices in the pockets of 90% of the population?

Public historians have done surprisingly well at maintaining the public’s connection to place and location via mobile devices.

According to Sharon Leon, Sheila Brennan, and Dave Lester:

A recent survey of museum professionals conducted by the Center for History and New Media (CHNM)… found 67 percent of respondents, predominantly representing the history and art fields, have implemented or are in the process of implementing a mobile content delivery project.

This surprises me since it seems that our field is always playing the game of “catch up with the times.”

Some of the most successful institutions in maintaining the connection include the Smithsonian Institution’s Will to Adorn App,  Museum on Main Street’s App Stories from Main Street, Cleveland State University’s Cleveland Historical App, and the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media’s Histories of the National Mall.

But, historians can always do better.  If the goal is to reach broader audiences then mobile historical content, or history on the go as I call it, may be the tool to achieve that.

Ultimately, if more institutions follow the lead of those mentioned above and tackle the challenge of creating history on the go, they will be more more successful in connecting visitors with not only a sense of history, but also a sense of place and location.

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3 thoughts on “History on the Go: Maintaining the Public’s Connection to Place and Location

  1. ​Hey Anna,
    First off, thanks for the shout out, appreciate it!

    I really liked your post, particularly how you brought in Glassberg. His “sense of history” idea seems perfectly aligned with this trend towards apps. You summed that up well when you said, “In other words, history, specifically public history, offers people a personal and clear connection to place, location, and time.”

    I think we’re at a point in time when the technology us changing so rapidly that it’s hard to keep up, but museums are doing surprisingly well, and apps are a big part of that. I agree with you that these history on the go apps have the potential to reach broader audiences in more effective and engaging ways. I look forward to seeing how this all plays out.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for your comment, Anna! I agree, I look forward to seeing how all of these new and exciting things play out as well.

      You really picked up on my point about how museums have remarkably kept up with the changing times.

      Like

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