Reimagening a Project with Survey Results

The original proposal from my Digital Public History project was to create a website, in the form of an online exhibit, of Baptism in Hebron, CT Christian churches and relating them to ancient early Christian baptisms. I wanted to inform the Christian public of the common thread of Baptism and how it has been interpreted. I didn’t want to bias my selection of Christian faith traditions by what I unconsciously consider valid or invalid traditions, and main-stream  or fringe. To limit these concerns, I chose to focus on my hometown and to represent all six churches.

I have conducted two end-user interviews- one from a Congregationalist and one from a Roman Catholic, to begin to understand how this project might be received and how the resource I’m creating might be used. Having completed these interviews, I’ve confirmed my primary concern- that in my attempt to make this a relatable public project, I’ve sacrificed much of my expertise in history.

I wrote my Master’s thesis about incense use in the early church, and my degree course work focused on early Christian archaeology. I realize that while most Americans I encounter get very excited about my work and want to ask me all sorts of questions, it doesn’t always relate to their lives. I wanted this project to relate the ancient past with modern Christian experiences. But rather than putting the ancient narrative first, I placed the modern narrative in its place. Although well intentioned, I see that I’m essentially creating faith formation material, rather than historical research.

I realized this as I asked my informants about their experiences with Baptism, which I do think is important for any manifestation of this project, but I only asked them one question about their exposure to Christian history.  In reviewing the responses, I see that I need to set this project more firmly in a historical approach.  My preliminary thought about  the design of the website literally put the modern churches and baptismal experiences first, with the ancient examples second. I would now like to reverse that. I think I would like to highlight elements of ancient baptisms and relate them to current rituals, rather than the other way around. Additionally, I want to discuss Hebron’s baptisms historically. By this I mean talk about when the first baptisms occurred in the town, baptisms of famous Hebronites, and how Christians of Hebron’s past have linked their rituals with the ancient past (part of our town is called Gilead, so that linkage was directly manifest). The last piece of the website will focus on current baptisms and baptism experiences.

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