Digital History Projects Review

I found many of the digital projects I browsed through had very intriguing subjects, but when it came to actually imparting information or a narrative, their attempts were quite muddled.  The Great Molasses Flood Project had an incredibly interesting layout, using a newspaper, and highlighting various sections to click on making pieces of the story visible.  However, I found it difficult to know where to turn for a substantial linear narrative of exactly what the Great Molasses Flood was.

Similarly, Gilded Age Plains City centered on the The Great Sheedy Murder Trial, but I had to wade through the website to find out anything about the murder, Sheedy, why I should care about the trial, or why it was so important to the town of Lincoln, Nebraska, which I had just spent 15 minutes reading about.

Other websites, like Going to the Show, while very simplistic in their design, had much clearer purposes and were much easier to navigate. Similarly, I found the website for the Marshall M. Fredericks Sculpture Museum to be plain and simple in its design, but well organized and simple to use. 

Mapping the Republic of Letters, while quite sightly, had no search option, and seemed a website where it was easier to play around and fish for information, rather than find directly what you were looking for.  The final website I examine, Wearing Gay History, a digital archive of LGBT t-shirts, had a clearly delineated mission statement, and was well designed.  It was easy to browse through the t-shirts, or search for a specific one.

By looking through these websites, I was particularly struck by the necessity of having a visible and specific goal for our digital project, and making that the central feature of the site.  Keeping our goal in mind, and laying out the site well will facilitate visitors’ navigation and understanding.  Though I’m tempted to spend time transcribing the grave records and photographing the 3000 tombstones, this review proved helpful in reminding me that the map of the cemetery, and all the difficulties it presents, are the most important things to work out, and should be the central aspect of the project.

Initial Thoughts

I am taking this class because it sounded intriguing.  I don’t consider myself to be technologically savvy at all, and though I doubt this class can change that fundamental aspect of my nature, I hope to increase my knowledge of the various possibilities the practice of digital history offers.  In the last few years, I’ve increasingly come in contact with various digital systems used to streamline the process of documenting and accessing history.  My transcription job with the Papers of James Monroe uses dropbox, a file sharing tool completely unavailable to them at the beginning of the project in the 90s.  This same reliance on modern technology is evidenced in the National Museum of American History’s use of a large online database to keep tabs on every item in their vast collection.  Because the general trend indicates that historians rely more and more heavily on technology, I hope to become more comfortable implementing various forms of digital history.  I realized how woefully little I knew about digital history when I completed an online exhibit in an internship last semester for the Papers of James Monroe.  I used Timeline JS to chart Monroe’s daily progress through the Chesapeake on a tour to ascertain the strength of the area’s naval fortifications.  I hope I will come away from this class with an increased understanding of exactly what digital history is, and how I can use it to my advantage.