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Public Media Meets Public History: CSM at the Organization of American Historians meeting

Public history is a practice in which "historians and their various publics collaborate in trying to make the past useful to the public.” It happens in places where academic expertise meets public engagement: museums, archives, and media spaces, and shares many of the tools, concerns and aims of public media production.

Earlier this month, Center for Social Media Director Pat Aufderheide and I were delighted to be invited by our American University colleague Kathleen Franz to present at the Organization of American Historians annual meeting at a workshop titled "New Media, Old Media: Historians and the Media." There, we discussed a series of case studies and scenarios designed to help public historians use social media for participatory research and collaborative production.


In my talk (see slides above), I highlighted examples of how historians might use social media tools to spur conversation and storytelling about historical moments, as in the Veterans' History Project; to use interactive maps as curation tools to track historic events, as in the Water Conflict Chronology Map, and to collaborate with both users and cultural institutions to collect and archive archival images, as in the Digital Diaspora Family Reunion project. Each of these public history projects also serves as a public media 2.0 project—providing users with content and contexts to help them make sense of complex issues.

I also offered a caveat about the fragility of digital data on commercial platforms, as demonstrated by Twitter's weak archiving and search tools. Coincidentally, not long after that, Twitter announced that it would be donating its public archives to the Library of Congress for research purposes. I spoke more about the implications of this unusual acquisition with Matt Raymond of the Library of Congress on the April 20 episode of Wisconsin Public Radio's "At Issue with Ben Merens": Listen here.

Pat provided the public historians in the crowd with a few scenarios to test their understanding of fair use as it relates to social media production and education. CSM has produced a number of relevant codes of best practice that historians can adapt to their own uses, including codes for online video producers and media literacy educators. Want to learn more? Check out her slideshow:


We were also intrigued to learn more about BackStory, a public radio program dedicated to bringing a historical perspective to current events. As this show demonstrates, there are many creative ways to bring public history into public media, and we hope to hear more soon from practitioners in this field.