Tag Archives: Digital Public History

Contextualizing Baptism Personas

To help me create a scholarly and relevant product that will be useful to people who might want to use the material, I’ve created two personas. One is a retiree using her free time to explore her interests. The second is a faith formation teacher looking for engaging class material.

Name: Maggie Jones

Demographic: 65, Female, White, Catholic (28% of Tolland County- citydata.com), Retired, Parishioner, Married
Descriptive Title: The Life-Long Learner
End Goals: Maggie wants to learn more about Christian history and stay connected with her community.
Quote: “Now that I’m retired, I can learn all the things I’ve always wanted to!”
A Day in a Life Narrative:

Maggie’s an early riser, waking up with the sun. After she’s eaten breakfast she logs onto her computer to check her e-mail, and skims through her inbox, looking through the subject headings of several list serves she’s subscribed to (27% of Religious Web Users subscribe to a list serve, and it’s more likely that people actively seeking out religious information will subscribe- Rainie, CyberFaith, Pew, 2001). She then checks Facebook for updates from her friends and family (40-49% of Boomers use social networks- Zickuhr, “Generations 2010”, Pew). She follows several organizations, one of which is her home Parish and a few other religious pages, on Facebook, and likes to read through their daily posts on her wall.

She occasionally volunteers for with her church (retirees volunteer an average of 30min a day- Brandon, “How Retirees Spend Their Time,” U.S. News and World Report.com, 8 July, 2013), like decorating for Christmas. Most of her involvement is going to Sunday services. She considers religion very important (43% of Boomers consider themselves strong members of the faith communities- Cohn and Taylor, “Baby Boomers Approach 65-Glumly,” Pew, 2010) in her life.

Now that she’s retired, she’s taken up learning about things she’s always wanted to, but never had the time for. She’s always wanted to visit the Holy Land, and has been reading up on Church History. One of her Facebook groups posted a link to “Contextualizing Baptism” and she started exploring the website. She enjoys exploring the ancient house church and imagines herself visiting one. She feels connect to other Christians of her community by reading their Baptism experiences (Religious Web Users use the internet to connect with their community- Rainie, CyberFaith, Pew, 2001)

End Goals: Maggie wants to learn more about Christian history and stay connected with her community.
Name: Lauren Kellogg
Demographic: 23, White, Protestant, Young Professional, Single, Volunteer Faith Formation Teacher
Descriptive Title: The Millennial Bible Study Leader
Quote: “I want to engage my Bible Study.”
A Day in a Life Narrative:

Lauren just graduated college. She’s moved back home (32.1% of 18-34 year-olds live with their parents- Fry “For the First Time in the Modern Era, Living With Parents Edges Out Other Living Arrangements for 18-34 Year-Olds”, Pew, 24 May, 2014) and just started her first professional job. Having just left her vibrant campus Christian community, she’s looking for community in her small town. She wakes up just in time to dress and eat before leaving for work. In her spare time she uses Facebook (where she often sees her friends share their faith and occasionally posts about it herself [46% of social media users see other share their faith and 20% share their faith- Cooperman, “Religion and Electronic Media, Pew, 6 Nov, 2014]), Instagram, and follows a few blogs (80-89% of Millennials use social media- Zickuhr, “Generations 2010”, Pew, 2010). When she comes home she eats with her family and preps for the small Bible study she started running at her local church.

Lauren often surfs the web looking for engaging material for her Bible study group (62% of spiritual leaders use the internet to find educational material- Larson, “Wired Churches, Wired Temples,” Pew, 20 Dec, 2000). The parish provides some materials (44% of churches post online youth material- Larson, “Wired Churches, Wired Temples,” Pew, 20 Dec, 2000), but Lauren wants to bring in more interactive elements to her meetings. She wants something interactive and informative.

Lauren mostly uses her congregation’s page on “Contextualizing Baptism” to discuss Baptism with her study group. They also love the interactive house church and the ruins capture their imagination.

End Goals: Lauren needs a website that young people with a variety of education can engage with. The writing needs to be accessible and navigation easy.

Project Proposal: Contextualizing Baptism

Since 33AD there have been countless people who have identified as followers of Jesus Christ. Throughout both time and location the meaning of that identity has changed radically, yet all call themselves Jesus-believers. One of the few rituals that has been maintained across centuries and territories is Baptism, yet even this fundamental Christian practice has not gone unchanged.  This project seeks to explore the changes in practice and interpretation Baptism has undergone by focusing in on one town, Hebron, CT, which is home to five churches: Lutheran, Roman Catholic, Episcopalian, Congregational and Non-denominational.

The project seeks to describe Baptismal practices leading up to the Lutheran, Roman Catholic, Episcopalian, Congregational and Non-denominatinal traditions. This will be accomplished by showing Baptismal material culture from the earliest known Bapistry (Dura-Europos, Syria, 2nd century), then from churches I will select that were the first (or nearly the first) built after a schism, and lastly from Hebron churches. The website will then draw comparisions and contrasts between the traditions and between periods.

The second part of the website will explore how Christians have interpreted Baptism as part of their lives.  I will select a representative sample of accounts from past churches (again, I will need to develope a methdology, but I will likely select the voices of authority (clergy) and of parishioners (where possible) of the specific buildings I discussed in the first part).  I will then supply responses of Hebron residents, both church leaders and layity.

Part One of the project will use digital photographs as the main body if evidence. These photographs will be organized in an Omeka exhibit, and hopfully in an interactive image-map. Part Two will use mp3 files for recorded interviews and text organized as an archive. I will also use a comment box for users to submit their Baptism stories  and comments to be vetted by me before being posted.

I chose Hebron because I live here and will have consistent access to my audience. My primary audience consists of the approximately 2,300 Christians living in Hebron, CT.  Of that 2,300, I am targetting an even smaller subset- those active Christians who are interested in church history and interdenominational communication. I anticipate my users can be divided into two main categories: life-long learners and faith formation educators.

Life-long learners are induviduals 50+ who are active members of their congregations and, most importantly, interested in expanding their own education independantly. I am thinking of retirees, filling  their time with learning and community involvement. Many 50+ adults use the internet for religious purposes and would find my project personally enriching.

Faith formation educators are church leaders engaged in teaching catecism, CCD, RCIA, and Sunday school, as well as adult programming. This is primarily a female audience, with a wide age range.  Many of these educators seek out engaging resources on-line for their classes. I want to provide them tools they can utilize to teach their students about Baptism in their specific community and where the tradition comes from.

A third group, which I think will mostly be composed of members from the other two, is people interested in interdenominational dialog. The town of Hebron, CT already has an Interfaith Human Services, and interfaith events; this project will hopefully serve to fascilitate continuing interdenominational coversations and events. Through the contribute function if the website, I hope members of the five faith communities will learn about each other and open up to conversation.

A secondary audience are people engageed with religious studies, including religious seekers. My website will provide case-studies of modern American Baptismal practices that scholars and interested public can draw from to inform their research.

Digital Collections in Public History

Base digital collections seem to inherently allow for richer, more rigorous public history engagement. Any history endeavor needs a foundation of solid primary sources to build analysis upon.  In a public history project, however, simply providing digital resources does not ensure that the audience will be able to engage with history any more effectively. Project designers need to consider the needs and wants of their audience when they build their digital collection.

Mitchell Whitelaw, in his essay “Generous Interfaces for Digital Cultural Collections,”1 discusses how one of the greatest challenges project designers face is communicating to the audience what resources are available. His solution presents as much of the collection as possible from the home page. I like that this method provides users with an idea of the breadth and scope of the collection. For my project, however, I don’t think such an approach would be appropriate. My base collection, images of the churches and material culture of Baptism, are not particularly meaningful as stand-alone images. I want my audience to engage in the full context of baptism, for which a single image or object is insufficient.

I do plan to provide a browse/search images page in my website, but I don’t think that will be the primary way my audience will want to engage with my collection- nor the way I want them to. To build up context for the collection of images, I want users to feel that they have entered a room, rather than a gallery. In a room the viewer can see how objects are related to one another. In a gallery (although carefully selected and curated with a particular argument), viewers often encounter the images as stand alone objects removed from the world. At this point in development, I intend to provide my users with pathways of exploration, rather than shove a box of photographs in their hands. The two paths I am currently working out is a timeline approach and a denominational approach. The time line will take the user through the collection by church construction date. The denominational approach will allow the user to view the collection by faith tradition.

My project is built off material culture and the object is my central focus. My digital collection is the crux of my work.  Coming from archaeology, context is the keystone to any interpretive work. I want my audience to engage with the history of Baptism through putting material culture in context. Specifically, I want my audience to understand how those objects functioned together at particular times and particular places, and by particular people. This kind of engagement is only possible with a rich digital image collection and with a structured discovery design- as opposed to expecting the audience to draw meaning from search results.


1. Whitelaw, Mitchell. “Generous Interfaces for Digital Cultural Collections.” Digital Humanities Quarterly 9.1 (2015).

Audience, Engagement and Co-Creation in Digital Public History

When I started thinking about Digital Public History in regards to my final project for class, I kept coming back to the question of “What is this project for? Why do it?” Although that sound awfully nihilistic, the question was very useful. As I’ve progressed through my academic career, I’ve often found myself wondering why academics labor for years over a project when the product will only be view by an insanely small audience and realistically have little impact on society. The readings of my class gave words to my rather amorphous thoughts- what I was contemplating were the issues of audience, engagement and co-creation in scholarly work.  I found I wanted to take on a Digital Public History project in order to meet the needs of a public.

Any scholarly project must be delivered with audience in mind. In my career, that has mostly been a professor or TA grading a mass of final papers. I’d like to think that some things I’ve argued are worth the attention of a wider audience. Public History implies an audience in its name- the public. The particular publics that projects cater to is crucially important to success. I am trying to create my project with my audience front-and-center. My chosen audience, Christians of Hebron, CT, is one that I’ve never written for before. I think my greatest obstacle will be creating accessible text. I struggle with conciseness and writing clearly. My audience won’t be able, much less want, to use my website if the text is filled with jargon and muddied with clumsy prose.

Additionally, I have found through interviews and research that people who use websites about religion are often looking not for a single answer, but want to explore a topic.  They seek an engaging experience. I don’t want people to just visit my website, I want them to use it as a resource. Therefore, I want make the resources I will draw from cornerstones of my project. Not only will highlighting sources frame the website concretely as a scholarly project, but users will have a wealth of additional information to sate their curiosities. I don’t want to merely provide a bibliography, but somehow integrate my sources into the engaging elements of my project.

I would like to engage my audience by soliciting their help. Co-creation is the most exciting concept I’ve learned thus far from class. I’ve always felt that the work of archaeologists or historians have limited impact without public involvement. For me, that means making the public stake-holders in the project and, harkening to Michael Fisch, sharing authority. In the case of my project, my public won’t be involved in the construction of the ancient history side, but when I approach church members for their expertise on Hebron’s Baptism traditions, I want them to feel they are part of a continuing story that started over one thousand years ago and that I am coming to them as an eager student.

I want my project to make the residents of Hebron, CT feel part of a long history of Christian Baptismal traditions. I want them to come away from my project with an understanding that the history of Christianity lives in their parishes and congregations, and they can engage with that ancient past in their own churches, without traveling to the Holy Land. Most importantly I want my audience to see that they are part of a complex history of interpretation that has never been monolithic. Although Baptism is perhaps the only universal Christian ritual, users of my website will understand that the practice has never been uniform and in co-creating the project, they will see in microcosm how congregations recreate and reinterpret the ancient rite of Baptism every time they observe it.