The Relationship Between Audience and Content

According to Ronald Grele, the role of the public historian is “to help members of the public do their own history and to aid them in understanding their role in shaping and interpreting events.”[1] This definition already establishes the important relationship between audience and content. It also outlines the importance of the public historian as the middleman who exhibits the information in a clear and engaging way for their audience. Grele’s article tackles a lot of issues that stand in the face of public historians, however with modern technology things are beginning to change rapidly.

The relationship between the audience and content is very important in public history projects. It is crucial that the public historian identities their audience before publishing content. By exploring one’s potential audience, you learn what type of content is needed, appropriate, etc. Once you have your audience established, you are then able to plan which content to display and how it will benefit them the most. In order to figure out how the information will benefit the audience; the public historian must decipher their audiences’ wants and needs. Public historians tackle this obstacle by creating personas. Personas are imaginary people who are ideally in the target demographic for public history projects. They are used to understand the audiences’ wants and needs. “Personas are an essential part of what constitutes the goal-directed process.”[2] The creation of personas allows for public historians to have an idea of what their audience is looking for within their content.

One of the most important aspects of a public historian to display the information in such a way that any would be able to read and understand its purpose. Many public historians are taking steps to further connect their content with the audience. An example of this would be the creation of the Histories of the National Mall. In order to engage their audience with their content, they created a mobile web for the National Mall. During the creation of this project, an app was considered but they decided to go in a different direction. “We did not want to require users to download material, and we wanted all of the content discoverable and accessible through common web browsers.”[3] The public historians that worked on the creation of this project value their audience and their information. Displaying their information in a common web browser makes their material more accessible to all persons, not just tourists.

[1]Ronald Grele, “Whose Public? Whose History? What is the Goal of Public History?” The Public Historian 3.1 (Winter 1981), pg 49

[2] Schlomo. Goltz, “A Closer Look At Personas: What They Are And How They Work (Part 1).” Smashing Magazine. August 6, 2014.

[3] Sheila Brennan, and Leon Sharon “Building Histories of the National Mall: A Guide to Creating a Digital Public History Project.” Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media. October 2015, pg 7