4 Ways My Digital History Experience Prepares Me for My Communications Career

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When entering HIST 306 at Liberty University, I was originally a history major. When I switched to communications, I began to wonder if the class I had invested in was worth the while—and it was. Here are 4 ways my HIST 306 course has better prepared me for my future career,

1. Social Media Experience

This year I ran the Liberty University Public History Instagram account with my dear friend Bailey Knotts. This introduced me to the world of copy rights and how much time and energy goes into research before posting. We were able to post extensive archeology and history posts and navigated what our audience responded to the most. We handled both positive and negative responses from users and studied immensely on social media etiquette and statistics to further improve our content. Social media experience looks great on resumes for all types of career paths in both the history and communications field.

2. Wikipedia, CLIO, and Blogging Digital History

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Whether working with a historical society or a non-profit, academic writing for all three of these platforms is great experience on resumes and in the workplace. As someone who was originally interested in becoming a public historian, being able to write for online encyclopedias like wikipedia and blogging digital history is a very large aspect of the career. It could lead to writing content for museums and historical societies such as Monticello, Colonial Williamsburg, the National Picture Gallery, and so much more. For a communications degree, it provides experience with writing that can be useful for writing for company blogs and websites. There are so many ways to utilize this experience when applying it to future careers.

3. Content DM

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Programs such as Content DM are great tools to help organize documents, files and more for museums, non-profits, archives, universities, you name it! It is versatile and most every type of business and is a skill not everyone has been taught or exposed to. Each program looks different whether it be Past Perfect or Content DM, but once you understand the idea of a controlled vocabulary and how to enter in the proper information, each program should be similar to each other. Even Liberty University has its own archive that uses similar programs!

4. Final Digital Project

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Brian Quinn and I decided to team up and created a promotional video for New London Day for our final digital project. By working together, I was able to write a script, produce the content and do the voiceover for our trailer. This is important on a resume as I have had experience with advertisement and design, as well as teamwork skills. Together we produced a two minute trailer that the University can use every year to promote the annual New London Day celebration.

Whether it be writing, archiving, or social media experience, learning about the world of digital history not only helped me build a portfolio that appeals to an array of employers in many career fields, but enables both history students and non-history students with important skills that can be used across the board. The skills I learned have pushed me to better facilitate group work, navigate technology, and become more comfortable with web design.

How GIS And Mapping Digital History Changes The Way We View The Past.

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When standing at the National Mall in Washington D.C., there are historical monuments, markers and museums everywhere you turn. The underlying history of that one area can be overwhelming, but what if you had access to history that is not able to be seen with the naked eye? This is when map-based applications and digital history blend together, creating accessible information within the simple search of a smart phone.

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The Building Histories of the National Mall project is a great example of one of many digital map projects which provide itself to historians, students and researchers alike. More often than not, there is usually more to history than what meets the eye. When public historians and these digital history projects collide, the opportunities are endless. For example, behind the seemingly finished and well put together National Mall are the dreams of many other plans that were never brought to life. So, the Center for History and New Media created a way for visitors to get the inside scoop on some of those forgotten parts of history that make up what the National Mall is today.

Mead’s Tavern page on Clio

Clio is a free mobile app and website that provides geographic information system (GIS) services to find historical places, markers, and museums closest to your current location. It has a summary and back story of the historic significance, pictures, related links and even uses Google street view. Specific sites can also be searched without location services by using coordinates, an address, or the name of the place itself. The app is designed for the general public and is user friendly.

Not all digital history projects are meant for the public’s enjoyment and personal inquiries. In fact, most are put together specifically for researchers. A great example of a project for an audience of a select few is Placing Segregation. The digital mapping of segregation and racism takes a closer look at the different written records of the mid-19th century in different American cities. This technique has been used by countless African American historical figures and activists. A key part of digital humanities is visual representations of archived records, especially in light of the racial injustice towards African Americans during that time. This helps researchers properly understand fragments of history that were not discarded. It helps put together the missing pieces of history that give a glimpse of what it was like for those effected by segregation and hate crimes during that time.

Another project that students and researches can utilize, is Anne Kelly Knowles’ interactive GIS of the Battle of Gettysburg. The niche topic was created for the use of a few historians in order to understand part of Lee’s downfall, as well as many other factors within those few days. The topic is now more common amongst historians and students, but still was not made for the average tourist.

Digital and public history come together in many ways, GIS being one of them. It can be used by researchers, historians, students and occasionally the public as well. GIS lets us take a look into the past and find out more details through specialized documents, statistics, and forgotten history.

Utilizing Social Media for Public & Digital History

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When thinking about history, the first things that come to mind might be museums, artifacts and maybe archeological sites where you can go and visit in person. There is a new realm of history, however, that has started to better connect the public to history in a more innovative and relevant way––social media. 

How can historian’s use social media for public and digital history? 

Social media is used among millions of people to share photos, videos, and links to friends all across the world. So why not take advantage of this platform to promote public and digital history? Historical societies and museums such as Monticello, Colonial Williamsburg, Mount Vernon and so many others are utilizing social media to engage the public daily through live videos, virtual tours and promotional posts for upcoming events. A great example of this is how Colonial Williamsburg has been partaking in live Q&A Instagram videos with actors who portray a historical figure such as Thomas Jefferson. It connects a wide range of people from children to adults to a source where they can learn more of what they want to know about certain person or event.  

How is using this new platform relevant today? 

This connection between the public and historians is especially important in our society today with the COVID-19 global pandemic. People are remaining at home and cannot access historical sites and activities, so how do historians respond to this issue? This is where those live videos, virtual tours, and informational posts come in handy. People are going to social media for entertainment more than ever, so providing historical content might interest large groups of people who might not have accessed this information previously, but have started a long-term interest in a historical society or museum. 

What is brand loyalty? 

In chapter two of The Beginners Guide to Social Media, it refers to brand loyalty. This idea is that if the audience feels like they have created a bond with a specific organization, it can create this idea of brand loyalty. If a museum is constantly coming up with new ways to put out fun and interactive content that gets the audience involved, the audience will most likely begin to invest more time into that organization while looking forward to the next interaction. The key is to leave the audience feeling like they are involved. For example, when running a public history page, our team tags different societies and museums in our posts to draw attention to our organization, while also sharing their information to our audience. If that museum we tagged decides to repost our post, we are more likely to both interact with them more frequently, and promote their page as well. Another example is when an individual tags our organization in a photo of them exploring local history, we repost it to our story. The individual has received recognition and feels like they have made a contribution to our brand. This creates a form of free advertisement. 

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How do I choose the proper social media platform(s) knowing this information? 

Social media comes in many shapes and sizes. For instance, Instagram and Twitter are two very different platforms. Instagram provides access to live videos, stories, posts, and even IG TV which mimics Youtube by allowing users to upload longer videos that would not normally fit into a normal post on a user’s feed. Twitter on the other hand supports quicker and smaller interactions, which may not support how a museum’s wants to promote themselves unless updating the public on closures, upcoming events, or new discoveries. A social media platform like Facebook may provide more exposure to an older audience and allow you to post longer and more substantial content. There are many more platforms that were not mentioned in this post, but remember to a platform that will best support a specific organization’s needs. 

Understanding Wikipedia as Digital History

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According to National Geographic, Wikipedia is the number one online encyclopedia in history. With over 6,000,000 articles and 38,000,000 users as of February 2020, it is one of the most accessible Public History sites in the world. People of all ages and lifestyles across the globe gather to access, edit, and contribute to Wikipedia, averaging out to around 572 new articles per day. Combining the accessibility of the encyclopedia online and the opportunity to utilize it for the use of Public History, it is the perfect example of Digital History. The article What is Digital History by Douglas Seefeldt and William G. Thomas states, “Digital history is an open arena of scholarly production and communication, encompassing the development of new course materials and scholarly data collection efforts.” This perfectly represents the format and concept of Wikipedia, showing how Public and Digital History overlap. It provides a user-friendly space where both Scholars and the general public can interact.

Photo by Luke Chesser

For the first time, the public can be a part of contributing to Public History. Wikipedia’s easy to use publishing site allows for people to contribute to Anything from a large article about World War II to an article about a local church in a small town. This allows for a greater diversity of subjects and ensures that all history, well known or not, will never be lost and is accessible to all. For example, I am currently editing the Saint Stephens Episcopal Church page, which is a local church in Forest, Virginia, nearby my University. Most people are unaware of the building’s historical significance, and I have been able to contribute several sources to the project. It is a great example of Wikipedia providing a platform for lesser known aspects of history. Wikipedia is a significant resource that is fairly new in terms of historical conservation, acting as a digital library of information instead of having to travel to access whatever document or source one is in search of.

While it serves as a great resource, it still has its flukes. Relatively anyone can edit the live pages, though it is heavily monitored and filtered, sometimes invalid information, sources and plagiarism may slip through the cracks. For instance, my classmate found a page where someone cited Wikipedia as a source for Wikipedia, not even a page from Wikipedia, but literally Wikipedia as a whole. It was an unfortunate mistake, later fixed. Unfortunately, these instances can be quite common, luckily the mistakes are usually addressed in a timely manner on a talk page and are later revised by other Wikipedians.

In closing, Wikipedia is an incredible resource and platform for Public and Digital history. The interactive and accessible aspects create a welcoming space for people from all backgrounds despite some of the inconsistencies, which are a result of the layout of the site. Take the opportunity to check out your local history, as well as historical interests on Wikipedia to see how you can utilize and even contribute to the wonderful program that it is.

Digital & Public History, What’s the Difference?

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While discerning the difference between public and digital history it is important to keep in mind that though they work well together, they are not the same. As the great author Stephen King once said, “Books and movies are like apples and oranges. They both are fruit but taste completely different.” I find that this quote perfectly sums up my view between public and digital history.

When history is presented in a relevant and practical way that is accessible to the general public or specific audience, it is considered public history, or often referred to as applied history. Though the title may be misleading, public history is not always intended for educational realm or for museums, but it can also be used by large corporations, or even for environmental purposes. If you are interested in reading more about careers and specific details pertaining to Public History from one of our class assigned article readings, click here.

Digital history on the other hand is where documents, photographs, letters, and other forms of media from the past have become easily accessible and interactive through software, social media, or the internet to the general public. The earliest forms of digital history were considered to be email and the internet. Today, it is one of the fastest growing platforms for communicating history and will continue to grow as new technology and software is developed. Now imagine all of the technology that we have access to today. Almost everyone now carries one of the most powerful tools for digital history in their back pocket—a smart phone. One specific example of a digital history tool that can be accessed at any time on any mobile device in many places, this app is called Clio. By using this mobile app, you are able to look for nearby historical sites and landmarks based on your current location while also providing information, photographs, and sometimes even virtual reality tours about each location with just the tap of your phone screen.

When put together, public and digital history create engaging and interactive platforms that are easily accessible to a wide range of people groups. This opens a whole new world for the general public whether it be through a virtual reality tour of a historical site located on the other side of the globe, digitized copies of documents that were nearly inaccessible in the past, or computer games and programs to educate children on historical events. When the two come together, it creates endless opportunities for both the educational and professional realm.

With this information in mind, this History 306 course at Liberty University will help discern both the differences of public and digital history, as well as how the two seamlessly blend together to create many opportunities for both historians and the general public. By updating Wikipedia articles, interacting with history through various social media platforms and mobile apps, and writing these blog posts, it will help build a strong foundation for my future as a historian living in a primarily digital age that will continue to grow.

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