If I’ve learned anything from all these readings, it’s that history is not just writing down everything. In a way, we’ve always had to be selective about our history, but the Internet Age has made us think that cataloguing everything is a possibility. However, as the Library of Congress decided with recording all Tweets ever written, some things aren’t worth the time, effort, or money.
I feel that public historians are even more aware of this need to be selective. They’re not preserving history for posterity, for the possibility of a future audience who might care: they need to preserve for audiences who exist now. Public historians have to be more in touch with what people today want from their history, and sometimes that means abandoning or majorly reworking a project that you love dearly. If there is no interest, the public historian has failed. That doesn’t mean, however, the public historian should pander to an audience, should only work with certain topics–that would get boring. No, the public historian can work on the projects that they want, and hopefully they will get to if they are listening to the feedback. More importantly, public historians have to cultivate the right kind of feedback, the kind that doesn’t lean on whether an audience merely “liked” an exhibit but how it helped them learn something new.
For a lot of these assignments, we look at the same digital history websites, but through new lenses. For instance, now the Raid on Deerfield site wasn’t just to be viewed through the lens of reminiscent of a certain Internet era: we had to look at the process of how it was made, and how much of that process is visible in the finished product that you see online. When we first had to review the Deerfield website, I couldn’t get past the clunky Flash videos–but I was supposed to be focusing on design then. Now, I was focusing on the content, and I could see that outside contributors definitely led to the reshaping of the website, as the abundance of information made the site harder to navigate but gave it more credibility as a source.
I still struggle with what kind of audience I’m supposed to reach out to, mostly because the nature of the work I do for this class is so solitary, and I honestly wouldn’t force anyone to visit my website. But I’m realizing that a website without an audience is pointless, like a book without a reader. Maybe I put a lot of work into it, but if it’s not being viewed, that’s a detriment to my lofty goal: to give Gordon’s work the audience it deserves, to not let his story become forgotten. This project isn’t really about me flexing any amazing coding or writing skills; the focus will always be Gordon’s art. Am I now focused on contextualizing Gordon’s art? Yes, because it doesn’t make much sense without explanation, even if my point of view is A) not his and B) distanced by over 70 years. I have to stop thinking that I am central to this process. If the website is a success, it’s because the audience made it so; I’d just be smart enough to listen to what people want, frankly.