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In their article, “Digital Storytelling in Museums: Observations and Best Practices” Bruce Wyman, Scott Smith, et.al. ask, “But how can museums design an experience that will not only capture attention and convey complex information, but also use modes of interaction that will not seem outmoded next Thursday?”[i] I found myself asking the same question as it relates to my digital public history project ‘African Development Schemes.’ In the online space where it seems everyone suffers from attention deficit disorder as so much information competes for their attention, how can I get the attention of the visitors to my project website and keep them?

It starts with knowing and understanding my audience. Knowing my audience means that I can develop content that they would be interested in. I cannot just dump plenty of content on the website and assume that they would be interested in it. It is very easy for people to get bored and move on to the next thing that is seeking their attention. As Angela Colter has advised, “Test your content at any point in your site development process. As long as you have content to test, you can test it. … Focus on tasks that are critical to your users and your business. …Test the content to find out if and where the site falls short.”[ii] What I plan to do with my project site is to test some of the content with small groups of people within my project’s targeted audience.

My project attempts to give voice to the perspectives of the ordinary Africans who are affected by development schemes. The archival records show the perspectives of the expatriates who are often behind these schemes or the elites who facilitate them. The question then is, how may I get these target audience engaged in the project. Here I found insights from Richard Rabinowitz’s article, “Eavesdropping at the Well: Interpretive media in the Slavery in New York Exhibition.” Rabinowitz writes: “The driving impulse of our story telling in Slavery in New York was ‘breaking the silence.’… First, our visitors would glimpse these people only from a distance, as parts of an Atlantic economic system. They seem to be figures from a remote and inaccessible past. Gradually, gently, we would bring visitors closer to the lives of the enslaved, transforming them from objects to subjects. Then we would follow these black New Yorkers, the first generation born in freedom, as they achieved visibility and voice, with all its dangers, in the early nineteenth century. We would conclude by celebrating the New York emancipation day in 1827. By that time, we hoped that visitors would recognize them as fellow-citizens, deserving of our empathy.”[iii] What a moving experience it would be to draw my visitors into an online interactive exhibit on development that they can become immersed in the experience and at the end want to share their own stories. I still have to figure out how to do this.

What I am learning is that I need to know my audience, present them with the right information in ways that they can easily understand it. The process must be interactive and engaging for them and their contributions become part of the storytelling.

 

[i] Bruce Wyman, Scott Smith, et.al “Digital Storytelling in Museums: Observations and Best Practices” The Museum Journal:462

[ii] Angela Colter, Testing Content, Blog Post. December 14, 2010.

[iii] Richard Rabinowitz, “Eavesdropping at the Well: Interpretive Media in the Slavery in New York Exhibition” The Public Historian 35::3 (August 2013):14.