Challenges in Local History

At the outset of this project I wanted to collect stories and images from Hebron’s Christian community. This is easier said than done. Although the church leaders have been wonderful in giving their time and allowing me access to their worship spaces, I have yet to find a parishioner who is as willing. Access to community members is mediated through the minister, my point of the contact. I find myself struggling between the desire to bring the community into my project, and respecting their privacy.

The main way I have tried to solicit community input is e-mail. I drafted a message to the congregations and sent it to the pastors, who said they would send the message on. My first problem is that I don’t know if the pastors ever did extend my message to their communities. Although I am sure they intend to, the task of managing a house of worship is their first concern. My second problem is that if my message was received by the congregation members,  it is easily ignored. Many people probably never looked at the message and even those with the intention of reaching out might have starred it in their inbox and never got around to responding.

All this leads to the question, “How do I better engage my audience?” I have a few ideas, but one was an issue brought up by Lauren Gutterman in her article, “OutHistory.org: An Experiment in LGBTQ History-Making.”1 She discussed the problem of local communities only being asked for documents, rather than being part of the analytical process. Rather than only asking for their stories, what if I asked for their interpretations?

I am now thinking of adding a comments section to the exhibits, preceded by leading questions: “Is this similar to your baptism experiences? Why might there be differences?” I will monitor the comments, but I would like to see what connections users draw to their experiences.  Their analytical work will help me edit the website to better suit the information they want to learn.

1. The Public Historian 32.4 (2010).

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