Imagining New Careers in Public History

A working group

Digital Historians

Digital humanities projects have spread like wildfire over the past decade, with training programs and centers popping up in institutions across the country. Inclusions and exclusions of the past in the digital sphere happen every day, and public historians are ideal candidates to lead this revolution.

As public historians, we do not bring only our knowledge of research and writing to these efforts. Our public history training provides us with great familiarity with the history of preservation efforts and an understanding of the importance of funding, authority, audience and stakeholders in historical work. Finally, we bring our commitments to community engagement and shared authority which are particularly important in the new field of digital history which is fraught with questions of costs, expertise and access.

 

What specific jobs do I mean?

–Digital history project managers and staff who create, construct and maintain innovative work.

–Archives and special collections staff positions in digital preservation and web-based digital humanities projects.

–Digital humanities center staff jobs, as they are created in colleges and universities.

–Faculty jobs in which professors both teach digital history and engage in the theoretical issues that the new field raises.

~Anne

 

P.S. The website http://www.versatilephd.com/ is a great resource for us as we continue this conversation. While the website’s name focuses on the Ph.D., the site is in reality a clearinghouse of information for people with training in the humanities, easily encompassing historians who have strengths in public education, research and writing, and organizational skills. The site is now available to both individual members who can sign up for free, and to institutional college and university members.

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One thought on “Digital Historians

  1. I agree that digital history projects can offer many opportunities to engage in public history activities–from project planning with individual and community stakeholders, to conducting video oral histories, to the creation of digital archives, to final documentary productions/exhibits and public events. In fact, in my experience, most stakeholders want a digital outcome–be it a website with digitized photos/documents, or video excerpts, or a full fledged documentary. These are end products that communities use for their own purposes from community gathering events to grant proposals. Digital technology can make the processes of history-making more accessible for both the producers and consumers of history.

    However, something to keep in mind is that we have to keep up with all aspects of digital technology (new cameras to new editing software) and that can be a challenging and expensive requirement for conducting public history today. How can public historians, especially public history students, keep up their digital technology skills? How can we mitigate the expenses involved with digital technology for ourselves and for the communities we work with?

    An important part of my digital public history practice is making all aspects of digital technology (from cameras to editing software) accessible and usable by the communities, individuals and stakeholders that are involved in a project. Thus, not only do I need to keep up with the technology but I also need to be able to teach others how to use this. How can we train public historians to be experts in digital technology and at the same time be able to teach others how to use it?

    A helpful resource for me in thinking about using and teaching with digital technology has been the Center for Digital Storytelling (http://www.storycenter.org/).

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