Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Taking the plunge

Here it is. My first ever blog post. Shouldn't really be so intimidating, should it? But for someone whose academic career up to this point has consisted entirely of submitting papers which were most likely only ever seen by one person, the idea that anyone at all can read this is somewhat disconcerting.

But then again this is Public History, isn't it. And what we are trying to do, after all, is communicate with people outside our sheltered little academic world, a world in which people already understand the importance of what we are trying to do without being convinced.

This is in fact what I have been doing for some years, although never on the internet, a medium with which I have never felt entirely comfortable. I have spent a good part of the past five years on the front lines of this effort to bring something of our past to the general public, as a tour guide and costumed interpreter, and this has led to a lot of thinking about exactly why it is we do it. Is it truly possible to justify the money and effort spent? Who exactly is benefitting? And does it really make a difference? There have been days when I wondered if the little reconstruction of a furtrading fort on the banks of the Red River where I spent my days was nothing more than a playground for re-enactors or a pretty backdrop for wedding photos. I'm not suggesting that it is -- places like that mean a lot to me. But sometimes I wonder whether the lives of the people who visited us there were really improved by talking to me. And if they weren't, shouldn't I be doing something else with my time?

I'm only just beginning to figure out what public history is all about. I have a feeling the coming months will bring more questions than they do answers. But I'm pretty sure, even if I can't articulate yet exactly why, that what I want to do -- as vaguely definied as it currently is -- is actually pretty important. Here's hoping.

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