Digital Frontiers: Public History Breakout Session

Our public history breakout group was a modest but generous band of contributors who shared a surprising array of tools and resources with each other.  Not surprisingly, one of the themes to emerge from our discussion was how the enormous number of resources available and their ever-changing nature pose a challenge not simply with how we stay current with trends, but might ever hope to find the most relevant resources for our needs.

I began with a brief discussion of the resources the vast genealogical community has created and how some of those material might be used in teaching and research. Frankly, I was intent on playing with the notion of “public history” by offering resources derived by a popular avocation that has created a truly staggering body of digital resources. Many of those resources — indexes, guides, abstracts, transcriptions — themselves derive from public records of birth, marriage, taxation, death, and probate. And in particular it was a pleasure to demonstrate a little of the Colorado Genealogical Society‘s remarkable Colorado Marriages, 1858-1939, which I described in an earlier post.  The result is a 23,417-page alphabetical index to marriages, which I think is simply waiting to support studies of marriage and community.

After my brief discussion — which also saw the patience and good humor of those present as we briefly grappled with the inevitable display issues whenever laptop, projector, and audience come together! — we heard from group members about their particular interests and  projects they especially admired or with which they’ve been associated, including:

And as we discussed these and other projects, including the Plateau Peoples’ Portal, the Bureau of Land Management’s Government Land Office records, FamilySearch, and the Wyoming Newspaper Project, the question arose as to how we learn and share these resources, as well as make them more user friendly in form. In some respects, it was a familiar topic for most of us gathered together, but it nevertheless reflects real challenges.

For my part, I think the fragmentary nature of information has long been with us, and that the very nature of our session and the continuation of this blog offers part of the solution. And I also think we may want to give users more credit for their ability to use new and challenging tools and resources — and even recognize that such a process is a part of information literacy! — rather than strive for an elusive and ultimately futile simplicity that neglects the complexity of the past and the sources we use to explore and understand it.


Share Your Blogs, Digital Projects, Twitter handles, etc.

One way for those of us working on the Digital Frontier to get to know one another might be to share some links. Do you blog? Work on a digital project? Tweet? If you have a digital presence please share it in the comments.

Welcome Public Historians! Please Introduce Yourselves.

Are you a public historian, employed at a museum or archive or government office? Are you using digital technologies to help yo do your work and reach the public? Or are you “digital curious?”

One of our break-out sessions will be about Public History at the Digital Frontier. Our hope is to create a discussion where public historians can share their ideas, questions, and tips. It all starts here–so please tell us about yourself in the comments. I’ll go first!


We are pleased to welcome you to a new blog created to support the Western History Association’s Digital History Workshop, planned for Thursday, October 14, 2010 (3:00-4:30) at Lake Tahoe.

The workshop is an opportunity for WHA members interested in the ways digital technologies can be (and are being) used in the classroom, in public history, and in research to gather virtually here on the blog and in person at the WHA Conference to discuss interests, concerns, and ideas. Whether tech guru or newbie, anyone interested in hearing about/discussing the increasingly significant roles digital technologies play in contemporary scholarship, teaching, and public history is welcome.

This blog is a place for potential attendees to begin the conversations and exchanges of ideas that they hope to continue in the workshop; we also ask contributors to share those resources, tools, examples of digital scholarship, online exhibits,  etc., that they have found noteworthy or helpful in their own work.