NCPH Panel: “Reaching the Public through the Web: The Practice of Digital Active History”

Screen Shot 2013-04-17 at 2.13.06 PMOn Friday morning at 8:30am (!), I’m looking forward to giving brief presentation alongside several of my colleagues at the NCPH annual meeting. In our panel, “Reaching the Public through the Web: The Practice of Digital Active History,” we will be providing several different perspectives on, well, how to reach the public through the Internet. Our session abstract puts it eloquently (I didn’t write it):

Active history is history that listens, is responsive and encourages a broad range of forms of public engagement. As the accessibility and volume of digital content increases, so do possibilities for digital outreach activities. These opportunities bring challenges, benefits, and new methods of approaching the past. This panel focuses on the intersection of active history and digital technologies; with an emphasis on community involvement, alternate reality games, digital vs. physical engagement, and the possibilities of engaging disparate audiences.

What will we be talking about?

I may be kicking things off with an introduction to the website, highlighting some of our successes, challenges, and the errors we made along the way. Engaging with the public isn’t just as simple as throwing up your shingle. I’m going to argue that “blogging can and needs to be considered a central component of a university-based historian who wants to engage the public.” We’ll see if I’m preaching to the crowd.

Things will get more interesting as others move beyond my often utopian visions of the Internet and provide their perspectives from perspectives of very involved public historians! Krista McCracken (an editor at is going to be drawing on a case study from some very moving residential school photographs, talking about the shift from the “real world” to “digital space.” What challenges are presented? How can you engage with communities digitally? The question of audience?

Devon Elliott, of DH Maker Bus fame :), is looking at DIY in the sense of all the making he does! What does it mean to make objects that speak to the past? What do they do at the Fab Lab at Western? How can there be an Active History beyond text? Devon came to speak to my class at Waterloo, and I’m not sucking up to him when I note that it was an overwhelming favourite ‘hit’ of the course.

And then Tom Peace – who helped come up with the original Active History idea with Jim Clifford and a few others way back in 2008 – highlights the issue with just relying on the web. As an engaged community member, leading Jane’s Walks, grasping the socio-economic complexities of cities like his hometown of Hamilton, Ontario, Tom brings a good cautionary note. Whenever I’m getting too utopian, he’s usually there to bring reality to bear.

All of this is moderated by Nathan Smith from the University of Northern British Columbia, who co-leads the Active History Canadian Historical Association group and is a really engaged scholar who brings it together.

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