Relationship Between Audience and Content in Public Digital History Projects

The relationship between audience and content in public digital history projects is a personal one. People tend to base their behavior on their experience. Many times, we base it on our personal experience. But our personal experience is short and limited. So, history is a way of expanding experience and making our behavior comport better with what lots of people have done in lots of situations, over a long period of time. In our own personal experience, we do not have too good an idea of what people might do or what the range of human behavior is. We have not met with lots of situations. We have not been, maybe, in World War II, ourselves for example. But we need to know how human beings act in those situations. And so, we assume that people, always, have been the same. But their cultures are different. And their situations are different. And by studying those, we learn more about people. That is why history is a humanity. It is not vocational, exactly. Most people who study it do not become historians, professionally. They just become people. So, people are people. Just situations change. And history is about different people’s experiences.

An experience can be enhanced by storytelling. It’s a method of sharing information with an audience by conveying emotions, experiences, and perspectives to address a core message. Digital History can embrace storytelling with content to convey valuable information to their audience to attract and engage them on the topics they care about. A call to action is primarily driven by storytelling, as it is a distinct way for historians to connect with their audience and connect disparate archival items. To produce meaningful content that builds interest and trust with your audience, it is worth embracing.

Author Ronald J Grele, in Whose Public? Whose History? What Is the Goal of a Public Historian? Really nails it with this. “In addition, what we know about public historical activities as they now exist points to a similar correctness in Carl Becker s view that every man can become his own historian; that relatively ordinary people can seek and find knowledge of the world they have made or that was made for them, and that since history always has a social purpose —explicitly or implicitly — such knowledge shapes the way the present is viewed. Thus, the task of the public historian, broadly defined, should be to help members of the public do their own history and to aid them in understanding their role in shaping and interpreting events. Sometimes this merely means helping to bring to the front the information, understanding, and consciousness that is already there. More often it means a much more painstaking process of confronting old interpretations, removing layer upon layer of ideology and obfuscation, and countering the effects of spectacularized media-made instant history.”

Any great story has these three elements at its foundation. What those three elements translate into is a relatable main character facing a relevant challenge and an honest struggle between them. A fourth element is that the audience learns a worthy lesson from it. In fact, that is the first element you should consider in choosing a story, the lesson it teaches. In my experience, many people significantly underestimate the importance of the lesson in the story selection process. Stories should be like every other set of words that come out of your mouth – intentional and productive.

The most compelling character for a story does not have to be an individual. The obstacle could be an entire group. Your audience can identify with the subject when they can either imagine themselves in the same position or connect with the similar experience even if not directly affected. That means a challenge your audience is likely to run into themselves. When it is an obstacle, the challenge plays the role of the villain in the story. Without a proper villain, it is hard for the audience to care about the hero or her struggle. The struggle between the hero and the villain is the heart of storytelling. If there is no struggle, there is no story.

As an example, I plan on creating an ArcGIS Storymap or Experience Builder interface telling the story of Tribes and the public lidar data sets released by USGS. The core message is that there’s a lesser-known consequence to using high resolution remote sensing technology on sacred lands to account for. The core message will guide the rest of the details of the larger background facts.

An educational story would effectively convey the topic, and the core message behind it. In my case, I might highlight a partnership between Tribes and the Department of Interior. After that, it is time to think about the content structure, as the story you plan to tell needs to have a defined beginning, middle, and end to ensure it all makes sense. And sometimes, the journey a person experiences with content, when there is a defined starting and stopping point, can even lead to an emotional response. And lastly, always include characters to add a human element and showcase different experiences and perspectives within your content. Whether interviewing or some other form, showcase people as the characters in your content to make it more relatable.

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