Sharing Lessons Learned in Digital Public History Work

If you are a member of the National Council on Public History, you might have noticed that RRCHNM’s project Histories of the National Mall has been named the 2015 Outstanding Public History Project (pdf).

As co-directors of the project, Sheila Brennan and I are really very honored by the award. The folks at NCPH are our people and understand the importance of our project goals and objectives in a way that non-public historians often do not.

As a result of the award, we’ve had the opportunity to write up the project:

Both of these posts make clear the degree to which the project’s design and implementation were shaped by the content and the needs of our users.

We’re also committed to helping other public historians embark upon similar kinds of projects. Sheila wrote a very helpful “How did they do that?” post when the site launched last year.

The next step in our work on the project is to publish a more formal guide to doing similar kinds of sites. Writing these kinds of guides has been standard practice with RRCHNM’s public history work for a long time now. For instance in 2008 when we finished the live events that accompanied the Object of History project, we produced a document for public history organizations who might want to create similar object-centric learning experiences (pdf). Next, we moved on to the Bracero History Archive, which won the NCPH Outstanding Public History Project award in 2010. That site also includes a guide to doing collaborative documentation (pdf).

All of these materials make clear that the planning and execution of successful digital public history work is equal parts technical and social. The nuts and bolts of how to set-up and shape a site are one thing–a thing that lots of people need help with. But, it seems to me that the more important thing is always the social–the testing, the collaboration, the outreach, the evaluation, and the sharing of the lessons learned.

As more public historians do this work, I’d love to see a growing library of guides and reflections. Perhaps something for History@Work to aggregate in the library?