My PhD research

Making Digital History: the impact of digitality on public participation and scholarly practices in historical research

Submitted June 2015. Examined November 2015. Degree awarded 2016.

Now available online at, DOI 10.21954/ or via the British Library's EThOS

[tl;dr – my thesis looked at the impact of digital technologies on historians' research practices and on public participation in heritage crowdsourcing/citizen history.]

Thesis structure

Following a broad overview of participatory digital history, this thesis moves from a review of public history projects focused on crowdsourcing, to a smaller sub-set of projects related to citizen history, and then focuses on the research practices of faculty and community historians. The Conclusion draws together the various models for 'making history' discussed, and teases out the ways in which they have been affected by digital methods, tools and resources.

Supporting material is provided in three Appendices. Appendix A, Websites reviewed, lists the titles and URLs for the websites I reviewed for my research. Appendix B, Interview participants, contains a summary of interview participants, including relevant demographic information. Appendix C, Interview and survey questions, provides the interview scripts used in the semi-structured interviews with family, local and faculty historians, a script written for interviews with project stakeholders, and survey text.

Chapter 1: An overview of participatory, digital history projects provides an overview of over 400 digital history projects that aim to engage the public and/or collect, create or enhance records about historical materials for scholarly and general audiences. This overview supplies context for the analysis of projects examined in greater detail in later chapters, and gives an indication of emerging norms or patterns of presenting and interacting with historical materials. Projects are grouped by their main tangible outputs, supporting a more nuanced understanding of the impact of different design choices.

Chapter 2: History with the public: crowdsourcing discusses several design factors that may influence the success of crowdsourcing projects, including task design, the potential participant's initial experience of a site, and the role of project marketing and communications in connecting to potential motivations for participation. It also analyses the role of participant forums and the provision of more complex tasks in keeping participants interested in a project.

Following this, Chapter 3: History with the public: from microtasker to historian? explores how some crowdsourcing projects encourage deeper engagement with history or science. It investigates the project attributes that may help people learn historical skills, or even begin to 'become historians', through their participation in historical crowdsourcing projects. It suggests that there are three types of citizen history projects: crowdsourcing projects that accidentally support citizen history; crowdsourcing projects that hope for citizen history but are not built around it; and citizen history projects that can succeed only if participants are able to learn or bring some disciplinary skills to the more complex tasks that contribute to the projects' goals. Projects that support citizen history do so by providing: opportunities for participants to actively engage with historical materials while undertaking meaningful tasks; access to both the historical materials and project data; access to a community similarly engaged with the meaningful goals of the wider project; and a visible and accessible expert presence.

Chapter 4: Historians' working practices and digital tools, resources and methods shifts our focus from public participation to scholarly practices in historical research. It presents the results of 29 interviews conducted in 2012 with faculty and community historians. It contributes empirical data on how faculty, family and local historians evaluate, use and contribute to 'traditional' and participative digital resources. It finds that community historians are generally more likely than faculty historians to engage in sharing data, but they are also still likely to be selective about the information they share publically. These interviews show the impact that digital tools, resources and methods have had on the processes of discovering, evaluating, gathering, creating, and sharing information for historical research.

Finally, in Conclusion: The impact of digitality on public participation and scholarly practices in history, I consider the impact of the digital projects, platforms and paradigms discussed in previous chapters on public participation and scholarly practices in historical research. Through an examination of the results of the interviews and analyses of participatory history projects, I argue that digitality has already enhanced many historical practices and has increased the number of those engaged in making history.


Keywords: digital history, historiography, crowdsourcing, citizen history, public participation, research practices, human-computer interaction.

While my core concerns have always been the digital humanities (or more specifically, digital history), crowdsourcing, geo-location and design for participatory digital history you can also amuse yourself by watching my understanding of the topic and the scope of my PhD change over time in various blog posts and publications:


Boudreau, Christian, and Daniel J. Caron. ‘Mise en valeur des archives au Québec : expérimentation d’une plateforme participative en ligne’. Québec: Fonds de recherche du Québec. Accessed 18 September 2021.

Decker, Michael J. ‘The Finger of God Is Here! Past, Present, and Future of Digital History’. The Historian 82, no. 1 (2 January 2020): 7–21.

20 Replies to “My PhD research”

  1. Mia,

    you do not seem to have explored the literature on community archives. You are probably familiar with Andrew Flinn and Anne Gilliland?

    1. Hi Graeme,

      thanks for getting in touch. This page was first written before I started the PhD and the main text has been barely updated since then, so your comment was a useful reminder to add a line about how out of date it now is. You'll be glad to know I'd discovered the literature on community archives during the course of my research.

      Best regards, Mia

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *