Done. Finished. Completed. A sigh of relief! My project, an online exhibit about the history of Christian Baptism is up and running. I’m really proud of what I was able to accomplish this semester and look forward to extending my work in the future. What follows is a brief reflection on the long process.
I love thinking through a problem, and this semester I had no shortage of obstacles to scale. My first was making my research interests relevant to “the public.” I think my greatest take-away this semester was learning what “the public” is. For “Five Baptism Traditions” it was 3,000 Christian residents of Hebron, CT. The idea of this very specific public guided the rest of my work. Christians in Hebron are well educated, but diverse in beliefs. They tend to stick very closely to their own churches and not venture far from their pews. I had to create a website that not only interested, but welcomed, a group of people who might never talk to one another about Baptism.
Creating personas was certainly helpful, but limited. I was thinking of my ideal audience, and not real people. What helped me the most was interviewing local church leaders. I came to realize that they are gatekeepers. My website would be an utter failure without their support. They knew my public far better than me. They told me about life in their congregations that I couldn’t glean from reading their websites and imagining. This translated into a nueanced understanding of the material culture my project centered on. I hope the personality of each community is visible in the exhibit.
Unfortunately I only spoke to two church members, and I think that has limited my project. In future projects, and further developments of this one, I want to have more contact with real individuals my website is trying to serve, rather than imagining what they want. With this in mind, I tried to leave communication open between myself and the audience. I also e-mailed each church leader asking for this input. Only one responded.
Although I learned a great deal about coding, Omeka, and other technical details, by far I learned the greatest lessons in the public side of public history. I’ve been doing academic work for eight years, but public relations is all new to me. I often found myself bumbling about, but I hope in the end I’ve created something useful to people other than myself. I don’t think I’m truly done with this project. I’ve got so many ideas about how to improve! But I do think I’ve accomplished a great deal already.
Just see for yourself!