Public History Online

Of all the websites that we examined for this week, I unfortunately have to say that history.com  does the best job at engaging a “general” audience, using new media and getting their message across. As I have mentioned in a previous blog post, the History Channel is a absolute mess. Most of what they present is not actual history but conspiracy theories and science fiction. The history that they do present is oftentimes incorrect, problematic and does not challenge colonial, or other, dangerous narratives. That being said, the History Channel has what many of the other websites do not: a very large budget. Additionally, the History Channel is a corporation. While other websites such as Raid on Deerfield are run by small museums and the Cleveland Historical App is run by a small group of historians, history.com can pay individuals who specialize in technology to maintain a frequently changing website. While many of the other websites still remain functional, they appear extremely outdated simply due to a lack of manpower, time, money and skill to maintain such high caliber, engaging website.

Aside from the actual history presented on history.com, the History Channel does many things well to engage a general audience. The homepage is striking. Currently, the homepage greets the visitor with an intimidating portrait of one of the characters from the show Vikings. Scrolling down, articles about current events and titles such as “Why Catherine the Great’s Enemies Turned Her into a Sex Fiend,” and “The Craziest Titanic Conspiracy Theories, Explained”, urge the readers to  engage with history in an exciting way. To history.com history is meant to be fun and mind blowing. With articles that are quick to read,  visitors are able to skim through many historical eras and topics without deeply engaging with the arguments of the articles and their potential problems. As the History Channel is a television network, the website is overrun with clips from their T.V. shows and videos they easily produce for their website. At the bottom of the homepage there are links to History’s many social media websites. This is another way that History engages with their audience that many of the other websites do not. This is entertainment for a general audience who may wish to engage with the “fun” aspects of history without doing the hard work of research and reading primary and secondary sources.

As I mentioned, history.com does not seriously analyze history and it certainly does not challenge any mainstream narratives or even acknowledge modern scholarship. Of the websites examined I must say that the Raid on Deerfield website does a great job in engaging with modern scholarship and challenging their audiences. For many, the Raid remains a challenging subject that pits different groups against each other and is a very good vs. evil story. The website does a wonderful job presenting the histories and motivations of all of the groups involved in the incident. The tone of the website remains neutral and non-judgmental, which is very difficult to accomplish.  I also enjoy how they include music from the time period and more modern pop culture interpretations of the event. This is a serious engagement with difficult history that makes the users think, provides wonderful context and can be used as an educational tool. It is unfortunate that Pioneer Valley Memorial Association does not have the same notoriety and budget of the History Channel.

3 thoughts on “Public History Online

  1. I agree that History.com is the most fun of the sources, but I don’t think a Buzzfeed style of history is what museums want to put out. However I really don’t know why, or what’s wrong with sensation if it’s true.
    -Renee

  2. I laugh at your first line, where you say “I unfortunately have to say that History.com does the best job”, because it reflects perfectly something I have been questioning recently. As a teaching assistant I have struggled recently to discourage students from turning to this site specifically, frustrated that many younger undergraduates cling to this site whenever directed to find a subject that interests them. However, browsing through the site over the weekend I realized that while as graduate students we recognize that it “does not seriously analyze history and…..challenge any mainstream narratives or even acknowledge modern scholarship,” as you rightly say, for those without a deep understanding of historical analysis, challenged narratives, and modern scholarship the colorful and flashy titles and images can be a strong pull to catch the attention and engage learners of history and to introduce time periods, peoples, and regions that may have otherwise not been understood well by users.

  3. I like how while the question at hand was “Which of these sites most effectively conveys the past to a “general” audience” and yet you could not help yourself from (rightly) bashing History.com. Because here’s the thing: approaching a general audience and communicating historical truths and concepts to them are two separate beasts entirely, and you nailed that in your analysis of what they do right (purely organizational) and wrong (the rest). As historians we simply should learn from the former and curse the latter.

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