Lately I’ve been thinking about digital history as process. That is to say, it’s the journey as much as the end that makes digital history exciting to me. For heritage professionals working on digital projects, there are plenty of opportunities to engage with the wider public before producing that final deliverable.
With all of that in mind, I want to use this week’s post to talk more about the benefits of sharing digital works-in-progress. In terms of process, I can think of a few particularly good reasons for doing so.
- Sharing project updates with a public audience is an effective way to give definition to loose thoughts and brainstorms. It also illuminates the distance between where you are and where you’d like to be, making that next step easier to identify. Later, such updates enable individuals to look back at a given project’s development, making it easier to identity what worked (and what didn’t) along the way.
- Making a work-in-progress public exposes your work to a wide audience that can provide comments, criticism and suggestions. Soliciting outside opinions can help a project receive enlightening feedback from individuals with novel perspectives and different expertise. While exposing a project’s weaknesses and uncertainties isn’t always flattering, doing so may help resolve outstanding dilemmas before that pending deadline. (For instance, check out The Historian’s Macrosope, a book being written in public by the captain of the HMS Hist5702x and his cohort.)
- On a more philosophical note, exposing the development of a digital history project is one way of fostering transparency in the heritage field. Heritage organizations, from the museum to the archive, conservancies to historic sites, are important democratic institutions that encourage and inform conversations about the past. As such we tend to value public access to the services they provide. Perhaps we should also consider what it means to encourage public engagement within the heritage process.
Undoubtedly, there are many other reasons. I’ve only touched upon the idea of encouraging public engagement (it probably merits its own post). I am a newcomer to the world of digital history, and these thoughts are undoubtedly thoughts-in-progress.
Whether you are a #hist5702x follower or just happened upon us, I would encourage you to engage with what you see. Peruse other posts; follow the conversation on Twitter (#hist5702x). Comment. Criticize. Encourage. Participate.