User-Centered Digital History, an open-access, responsive website, offers a clear introduction for practicing public historians, those who teach public history, and their students, who want to embark on digital work.
Bringing together the core areas of expertise in applied technical skills, targeted engagement strategies, disciplinary-specific ways of knowing, and historical content knowledge, the site is composed of ten web modules that allow the visitor to selectively drill into the topics and issues that are most pertinent for her work. Materials on the site are arranged so that the user quickly can get an overview of the topic and can access the key principles for each module, but then have the ability to proceed to more in-depth discussions of particular approaches, tools, and activities. Where appropriate, the modules include support documents, project case studies, and other associated resources.
The introductory portion of the website frames public history and digital history as fields within the discipline of history. They have distinct genealogies and methods that distinguish them from the larger worlds of both history and the digital humanities, and that are important for the ways that technology is employed in their service. Then, the site zeroes in on the main distinction between public history and other forms of history: it is created with and for a particular audience. This notion of user-centered history is the key factor that makes digital public history stand apart both from academic digital history and other work in digital humanities. As such, it is central to all of the other facets of the work.
The remainder of the site is divided into three sets of modules that address planning, executing, and sustaining digital public history projects. Thus, the first set of modules covers the research, strategy, and infrastructure creation that are necessary to lay the groundwork for successful projects. The second set addresses the practical and theoretical issues involved in executing a wide range of digital public history work, including building digital collections, creating rich interpretive content, and creating engaged communities around that work. The final set treats the need for frequent evaluation, ongoing outreach campaigns, and consistent attention to digital preservation.
Sharon M. Leon is the Director of Public Projects at the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media and Associate Professor of History at George Mason University. Leon received her bachelors of arts degree in American Studies from Georgetown University in 1997, and her doctorate in American Studies from the University of Minnesota in 2004. Her first book, An Image of God: the Catholic Struggle with Eugenics, was published by University of Chicago Press (May 2013). Her work has appeared in Church History, the Journal of the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences, the Public Historian, and a number of edited collections. She is currently doing research on the Catholic Left in the United States after Vatican II. At RRCHNM, Leon oversees collaborations with library, museum, and archive partners from around the country. She directs the Center's digital exhibit and archiving projects, as well as research and tool development for public history, including Omeka and Scripto. Finally, Leon writes and presents on using technology to improve the teaching and learning of historical thinking skills.