Reading Response: Landscape & Mobile

In some ways, I think that doing digital public history that is specifically tied to place offers a sort of viscerality that other types of digital public history might not. Digital public history sites that are intended to or can be used in specific physical spaces transcend their digital nature; they force some sort of engagement with the physical world. Sites like PhillyHistory or Histories of the National Mall that specifically draw connections between what currently occupies a space and what occupied that space in the past also seem to push users to engage with and think about historical change (and in the case of PhillyHistory, maybe even see that historical change reenacted). Digital public history sites also feel visceral in a different way. There’s something about living in a particular place that is powerful and that really interests people. Boyer and Marcus point this out in their discussion of PhillyHistory’s popularity, but it also comes through in a lot of these projects. PhillyHistory, Cleveland Historical, Spokane Historical and even the WWI exhibit at the Museum Victoria all deal with with the local histories of regular people, and there is something about that that seems to draw users in, especially if they have ties to the place.

Tebeau notes that the place-based digital public history tends to privilege sight and that is definitely the case in many of these examples that ask users to interact with the physical environment. He also notes that sometimes tying an historical event with a specific location can be limiting, and I think his interest in experiencing place through aurality is interesting, particularly in urban environments (and this is one of the things the Cultural Tourism DC mobile walking tour site does well, since music is central to the history it is trying to relate).

My own project is also place-based, in that it focuses on a specific neighborhood. I recently added the geolocation plug-in so that users will be able to map their contributions to a specific place. Although I do take Tebeau’s criticism to heart, I think this will be especially useful for user-contributed materials like photos that can be tied to a single location. Given the way the built environment of Detroit has changed so dramatically since 1945, I can also see how PhillyHistory’s augmented reality could enhance this project, if I could somehow make it happen on my own. It’s not specifically related to place, but I also liked how the “Explorations” in the Histories of the National Mall site ask a question and then kind of answers it with primary sources, but also leaves some room for interpretation and engagement by users. This is definitely an approach I’m trying to take with the exhibition piece of my project; it seems like a good way of “sharing authority” while teaching historical thinking.

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