Schlomo Goltz, author of “A Closer Look at Personas Part I,” quotes entrepreneur and public speaker Seth Godin, “Treat different people differently. Anything else is a compromise.” This statement can be used to inform the public historian’s quest to appropriately address audience, engagement, and the process of co-creation.
Understanding the audience for any public history project, digital or not, is essential to the exhibit’s effectiveness. John Kuo Wei Tchen in “Creating a Dialogic Museum: The Chinatown History Museum Experiment” notes that the quest to determine audience should be determined by a fluid and dialogue-driven approach involving all parties connected to the history being presented. In other words, multi-cultural concerns should be considered so that projects do not alienate or segregate patron groups. Public historians must strive to reach all communities as they present and interpret historical narratives to the public. Such narratives and exhibitions must possess both scholarly integrity and engaging content. Kuo Wei Tchen summarizes this balance: “At their best, public humanities programs should create expansive, convivial places in which social problems are pried open for critical examination. Such programs should make a special effort to include those who have not been a part of the traditional groups of our public culture,” (320).
The engagement piece of public history connects audience with co-creation. Two of our readings dealt with the relationship between these three important elements. Katharine T. Corbett and Dick Miller’s article “A Shared Inquiry into Shared Inquiry” and Michael Frisch’s essay “From A Shared Authority to the Digital Kitchen, and Back” from the text Letting Go? make several significant points. For example, there is a difference between experience versus expertise, knowledge creation versus knowledge consumption, and the responsibility of sharing authority in the digital age. The authors argue that the digital age and the new software tools that accompany this new era have drastically shifted the ways in which primary sources are published, interpreted, organized, and presented to the public. I particularly enjoyed thinking about the differences between “raw” and “cooked” sources. Traditionally, raw data gathered through research and collation led to a finished “cooked” product or analysis produced by public historians. Frisch concludes that the murkiness created by published metadata and crowdsourcing has led to “a more creative, more open-ended, less linear, and hence more sharable space,” (129-130). I agree with this conclusion but find myself a bit resistant in my perceived role as a trained historian. This will no doubt be a challenge for me moving forward in future digital public history projects.
Finally, creating and understanding the role of creating personas as part of the project design process is a new concept for me. However, after our readings I feel quite enlightened. Metaphorically speaking, it is as if I’ve just discovered a box hidden under the bed, and its contents contain answers to questions I had never before considered. Creating personas in the design and planning phases of nashvillesites.org will be essential in the effective implementation of my project. Personas can and will make me more aware of audience, more focused on engagement, and more willing to co-create and share authority.