Audiences and Users

Throughout the semester, I have thrown these words around carelessly, acting as if one could be replaced with the other. Though they are not interchangeable yet, many of this week’s readings have shown that maybe we are heading in a direction where the two meanings are blended. A direction that will require either A. an evolution of the definition of the terms, or B. a new term all together. Any suggestions?


The term audience is generally used to discuss in-person shows, exhibits, performances, etc. The term user to describe those who “use” Internet sites to discover information. In this day and age, audiences are demanding activity. In Bob Harlow’s work The Road to Results, he discusses a 9-step process that has been implemented by institutions like The Pacific Northwest Ballet d6cb283645ca6dab6db7a1eea6cc3340and Fleisher Art Memorial to increase traffic and participation. This method centers around audience. He states that, “A New Framework put forward the idea of a systematic approach, one based on two ideas: that audience-building efforts need to be aligned with an arts organization’s mission, resources, and work; and that the efforts should focus on removing the particular types of barriers that stood between the organization and specific target audiences.” This approach is all about knowing your audience, similar to dialogic museums.

Throughout the different examples provided throughout the text, it seems clear that what audiences are looking for is a more active role in their experience, whether that is increasing the number of classes offered, like the The Clay Studio in Philadelphia, or providing context and insight\ to performances, like The Minnesota Opera.


Some institutions are seeing a yearning for an interactive experience and have responded by transforming the term audience into a more active meaning.


In a utopian world the Internet would be used as a never-ending flow of information. A place where you could go to for any question and receive the right answer. A grand landscape for researchers to discover whatever it is their heart desires. Too bad. “Can Information Be Unfettered?” by Amy Earhart, and “The Politics of Digitization”, by Misty DeMeo point out glaring errors in what may be a user-friendly world, but is certainly not a user-informed world.

Earhart discusses the inherent problem within the theory behind digital literary archives. These archives seek to make public notable works of literature for wider access. Unfortunately, they often fail to bring to light works by minorities, that should be considered canonical. The Internet could be a place to bring these works the recognition they deserve. imagesUnfortunately, as Earhart states, “Examination of funded projects reveals that the shift toward innovation has focused on technological innovation, not on innovative restructuring of the canon through recovery.” Without a theoretical study of what kinds of academic information websites perpetrate, users will become stuck in a systematically whitewashed rut. “Digital humanists,” Earhart suggests, “are fond of talking about sustainability as a problem for current and future works, but it is clear that we already have sustained a good deal of loss within the broadly defined digital canon.”

DeMeo brings up a different, but no less concerning, observation. DeMeo presents a case study of the national archives of Canada, who in 2012, had to cut down hours and access to its physical archives. The institution explained that with budget cuts, as well as, Internet access, the limited access was necessary and would cause any damage to anyone’s research. DeMeo alternatively points out the alarming disadvantages of limiting archival access and relying on digitization, “Cutting off physical access to records while tying digitization to commemoration has the effect of narrowing the reach of researchers; this especially risks to erase the histories of marginalized groups while privileging well-documented pop history such as wars.” Earhart and DeMeo show the dangers of relying solely on the Internet for research of almost any kind. The Internet often shows what is popular, not necessarily what is correct.

There must be a way to balance theory with technology, or at the very least, educate researchers to be user-informed,


Photograph of James Hemings

like Lauren F. Klein explains in the article, “The Image of Absence: Archival Silence, Data Visualization and James Hemings.” Her work emphasizes the need for Internet users to be informed about how, why, and what gets put on websites. Klein also recommends being aware of the absences. We live in a digital age that allows the flow of information at a second’s notice, literally from our fingertips, but an effort needs to be made to show people the accuracy and kinds of information they’re getting.




Lauren F. Klein, “The Image of Absence: Archival Silence, Data Visualization, and James Hemings,” American Literature. V 85 (4) December 2013. (RL)

Amy Earhart, “Can Information Be Unfettered?: Race and the Digital Humanities Canon,” Debates in the Digital Humanities.

Misty DeMeo, “The Politics of Digitization,” Model View Culture

Bob Harlow, “The Road to Results: Effective Practices for Building Arts Audiences,” Wallace Foundation Report. (download here:

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2 Responses to Audiences and Users

  1. ohh_kei says:

    Lorna, I really appreciate your post because you discuss the proliferation of knowledge through the internet, which I did not consider in my response. I had a different approach to the readings. I felt that the inaccessibility to public archives without digitizing the archives put in danger the stories that remain hidden in those archives. De Meo states that about 3% of the archives are digitized, yet archivists are being laid off and public accessed has decreased. Doesn’t this put into danger what we know and can know? You are right – it is dangerous to onl rely on the internet for our information, especially since, as you mentioned, the internet is proliferated by a myriad of sources- valid and invalid. What do you think the solution is to this ‘problem’ or is it not considered a problem? I’m interested in what you think about how the types of projects take on by the NEH also contribute to our knowledge production and the canonization of the digital and public humanities. I was a bit surprised that the National Enownment of the Humanities didn’t prioritize projects that come from and represent marginalized populations and histories. I think the root problem connects with the lack of digitization of the archives of indigenous groups in Canada because it maybe illuminates a preference for certain projects and stories in our knowledge production.


  2. lornaebner says:

    I completely agree on your point that one of the root problems is that the perpetrated histories that are continually posted, funded, and advertised through the internet tend to be “popular histories,” which in turn leads archivists to prioritize those histories and documents for digitization. It is something that is fundamentally subversive within the system of archives and internet proliferation of the humanities.
    My argument in not depending on the internet for research is based on DeMeo’s statement that a punitive percentage of archives are digitized. It is a rather terrifying realization for anyone who is pursuing research that only a tiny percentage is readily accessible, especially if your research subject is marginalized communities.
    As far as a solution goes to the proliferation of valid and invalid sources, there is no way to police the internet, and there shouldn’t be. It was created as a space to share, (within humane limitations)<(sorry, I know that is problematic within itself.) Ultimately, I think the responsibility for identifying information as valid or invalid, lies with the researcher/user. There should be better efforts to educate internet users as to which websites or what information is reputably sourced. For example, I would never site wikipedia in a paper, though it's a great place to start, all of that information has to be fact-checked with other sources. Thank you for the thoughtful response.


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