How our expectations of interaction design impact our delivery as historians

Posted on August 31, 2010 by


I don’t think you see it on a massive scale at this time, but I think the historical author… the historical deliverer… is going to be challenged in times to come (if not already). We are trained, more or less, in a traditional style, centered mostly around print media. There is a certain way that we set-up the “delivery” of information in print. Obviously, we can only hope that what we write does effectively “interact” with the reader. The interaction is dependent on two things… how good our delivery is, and how the reader digests that information…  and stirs that delivered history in his/her own imagination. The problem is, I think, that the interaction is limited… one-way the part of the author, and one-way on the part of the reader. How is it possible to, as the author, remain behind the scenes, not necessarily interacting one-on-one with the reader, but still interacting with the reader/consumer? If we do not do this, are we limited in our ability to reach a larger audience and make a greater amount of people interested in history?  I believe that we fail as historians if we cannot engage the larger audience.In fact, in some ways, we have been failing for a long time, as so many people are left with the concept that history is little more than learning dates and names of people… and blah, blah, blah.

So, what is our future? In the expanding social Web, I think we see where we have to go. There are buzzwords like interactive and dynamic that are setting the course for us. What’s it going to take for us, not only to retain the audience that we already have, but also gain a larger audience that is less compelled by the written word in print media, and more electrified by the dynamic word in electronic media such as on the Web? The effectiveness of historians in the future, I believe, is in our ability to become historical curators… to some degree, display builders. We need to become more aware of how our content interacts with the reader… and not simply in the architecture of the written word.