Clickbait History

The issues raised this week are really interesting to me and I think they encapsulate a lot of our discussions this semester.  I went to the history alum panel last week and one of them was a Park Ranger. She talked about having essentially two minutes to make an intervention and teach a visitor about American history.  She said that her goal as a result was to just spark interest in a facet of American history not commonly taught in American public schools.

I was reminded of this comment while doing the readings for this week’s class in that most of the history I encounter on the internet has all the qualities of a clickbait article–something catchy and sensational with little substance that will attract interest.  I started thinking about it and realized that in many ways, this approach isn’t that different from most other approaches to history that we’ve studied and discussed this semester.  History and the stories that we tell do not exist in a vacuum and as a result, they have to be marketed and made accessible for our audiences.

What the BMC alum-now Park Ranger is doing every day with history, what Rebecca Onion does, and what happens with grant-writing all have the same basis in making history pertinent and interesting to the public (whoever that is).  The difference is that they don’t stop after hooking their audience and do offer substantive, historical work.  While I agree that the internet does have a habit of decontextualizing and taking things out of context, that isn’t really that different from how non-historians treat interesting historical facts, pictures, or artifacts.  As a result, blaming the internet for this decontextualization isn’t necessarily very helpful.  It is instead a symptom of a wider, more pervasive problem with how history is viewed.  I think that its great that there are people like Rebecca Onion and public archives online like that can be more legitimate resources that can intervene and help introduce people to cool history and to the historian’s craft.

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