Recently I attended the OAH conference in Houston. One of the sessions, “Texas Textbook Controversy” (which I live-tweeted: twitter.com/#!/search/txtxtbk) continually returned to the topic of engaging the public in what historians do.
Engaging the public.
My idea for a session proposal would be to have an open dialogue about how we can use public-friendly digital technology – ie, twitter, tumblr, etc. to engage the public in what we do professionally. This could involve lots of different methods. Something that would coincide with the OAH session’s emphasis on interaction between higher education (historians specifically) and the elementary and secondary teachers might involve integrating lesson plans (and educational standards) into a department’s current research projects and vice versa. Several museums and websites do a great job of this by presenting information for teachers to use in creating lessons, however, there is very little interaction taking place – and therefore – very little exchange of ideas or engagement with the public.
I admit that I only have a few ideas about implementing this. And, even fewer specific goals that would be considered measurable objectives. However, I think this is a worthwhile discussion to have, and that I, and others, could learn from the exchange.
A final thought: considering the challenges facing many departments with funding, I think we miss a great opportunity to gain public support for our profession (including missing an opportunity to encourage future scholars into our fields) by failing to engage the public. Considering the ease of many sites online, and considering that many of these sites are free, it appears a real waste for departments (and professionals) to not take advantage of them. While this may seem obvious to those of us that applied to THAT Camp (we are likely to be biased towards using digital means already), perhaps we can gain further insight from one another about how to engage the public and which methods are most advantageous.