Gardens Site continues to generate interest

shakespearegardenToday, I received a notice that in its City Guide to Cleveland, the webzine, “VenusZine: Emerging Creativity” pointed to a number of sites around town, in its VZ City Guides: Cleveland Ohio,  including the Cleveland Cultural Gardens and our site about the Gardens, CulturalGardens.Org. This email made me wonder who else has linked to the CulturalGardens.Org and how our visitorship has fared.

I checked our CulturalGardens.Org visitation for the past 8 weeks and discovered that we’d been featured on the website, Offbeat Travel, among many others. In fact, CulturalGardens.Org has had nearly 2000 visitors in that time, with a full 75% of those visits being new visitors.  Of those visitors, about half arrived through search engines (Google and Yahoo), about 15% came directly to us by entering the URL into their browser.  The other 35% came from over 100 sites that now link to CulturalGardens.Org.  Among the most prominent of these are University Circle Incorporated; Lolly the Trolley; Cleveland Memory;  The Cultural Gardens site on Facebook; Slovak Institute; Downtown Cleveland Alliance; Hungarian Association; Coastal Ohio. But our links are also international, including sites in the UK and Finland.

CulturalGardens.Org has now been active for just over 2 years, with 11,904 unique visitors (unique IP addresses) and over 16,000 visits. The vast majority of our visitors have come from North America, about 85%, including all 50 states. And, yet, about 15% of the visitors have come from 101 countries worldwide. The average visitor explores about 6 pages on the site, and spends about 4 minutes with us. I am not at all sure what those numbers mean in comparison, but broadly I have been amazed by the depth and breadth of our reach.

Given that CulturalGardens.Org was our my first major web project, as well as the Center’s, I am not sure what my expectations really were. Also, given that I have devoted way too much time to the project, at the expense of a host of professional obligations, working on my own scholarship (including the book I’ve nearly finished writing in which the Gardens are a central character), and spending time with my family, I have wondered if it is worthwhile. More to the point, is something like this scholarship? It certainly is an example of various Cleveland State mottoes, from the “City is our Campus” to “Engaged Learning.”

My book, Eating Smoke: Fire in Urban America has sold several hundred copies, which is good, though pretty typical of academic books. And, my edited US History text (with Tom Hartshorne and Bob Wheeler), The Social Fabric, is a text that sells well.

Still, in the larger sense, the Cultural Gardens Site has probably reached the widest audience of all my work. It also has certainly helped to revive interest in the Gardens, accentuating the work of the Cultural Gardens Federation and the various Garden delegations.

So, as I take a diversion and check out the analytics, which I also realize are not that spectacular, especially compared to some other active history sites, I am pausing to consider what it means to engage in this sort of engaged teaching and public history. As I write, I also realize that the point of the site was never entirely academic. It exists in that empty space between the ivory tower, the classroom, the community, and cultural institutions that is too frequently empty in an increasingly specialized society.

Our goal was to help to recover a place, to fully historicize it and help regenerate it. I think that we have met those goals, probably more successfully than I would have guessed when the entire project began so falteringly in 2001.

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Mark Tebeau is a co-founder of the Center for Public History + Digital Humanities at Cleveland State University and currently serves as a Professor of History at Arizona State University.