I have great experience and progress in this digital public history course. Before the course, I barely have any idea of public history and at the end of the course, I have good knowledge of public history including genre, audience, design, evaluation, collection and evaluation. While learning these things, I was gaining hands-on experience by building my own public history project—The Chinese At America’s Gate—by Omeka. It is such great public history experience that I not only gained knowledge of public history but also some technological knowledge such as writing a source code.
I was impressed with the difference between a physical exhibition and an online exhibition on the same topic. I used to visit a small museum which also had online presentation. Both physical and online presentations have their advantages but for the museum I visited, I prefered the physical site. This sparked my thought over how to make the best of the advantages of virtual presentation so that it can attract people, at least as many as, the physical exhibitions in the museums.
To find your target audience is important before starting a public history project. To take my Chinese immigration project as an example. My target audience is the general public, most of who may not have any knowledge of the Chinese immigrants in the U.S. I looked around, found randomly a few common people, and built personas for them. These personas are used to remind me all the time what my project is for and what goal of the project is. This is important because it decides the language and design of the project, the strategy to promote the project and the improvement I will make of the project. Sometime this is not easy because as I built the project along, I unconsciously followed my own interest and my own profession (historian) rather than think from the perspective of my target audience. I think this is why it is very useful to do the paper prototyping and evaluation. This can save a lot of time in a way because it is challenging to select material such as how much should you get, what types of information should you include and how to write interestingly so that it attracts people to read on. With so many decisions to make, it’s important to keep who is your audience in mind first because it takes quite some time to rebuild the project.
A great advantage of digital public history is it can reach a wider public, with unlimited amount of information. So I have been very excited and hopeful to build my Chinese immigration history project by Omeka. There are a few things I gained by building this project:
First, it expands and deepens my understanding of Chinese immigration to the U.S. I have read a lot, by books and on the Internet before I decided what to put on the website. This selection of information accumulated my knowledge of Chinese immigration history and exercised my skill to prepare public history for the targeted audience. In short, as a historian, I gained more professional knowledge when I tried to disseminate knowledge to others.
Second, by exploring Omeka, I gained great skills of web design. Sometimes it takes time to figure out how to add a background picture or adjust the font and type of letters as you wish. But this was fun exploration though sometimes it was frustrating when you failed many times. Overall, I gained great digital skills to build an Omeka project. I can write the source code, embed pictures and Kepler gl. maps, and make “exhibits.” I especially enjoy the source coding because it is very interesting for me, if I know how to write a source code and therefore change the outlook of the things such as font and or embed maps. These skills will help me in any project I want to present to the public.
Third, get feedback from target audience from time to time to check that you are on the “right track”. This can help you succeed after completing the project. The feedback is very useful. For example, it tells me not to overcrowd the web pages so as to keep the audience interested in further exploration of the project. It tells me to mind my language because I may not notice it when some words and passages are for history processionals rather than the general public.
Due to the limit of time and strength, my Chinese immigration project in this semester focuses on the Chinese Exclusion Act period. I will continue to build the website bit by bit as I collected more material on other periods and I have more time.
I owe many thanks to the instructor of the course, Dr.Kelly, for his timely reply to my questions and to my classmates who gave me constructive suggestions on my project. With them, I have very fruitful semester learning digital public history and gaining interesting and useful knowledge.