All posts by Britta

Exploring!

And by that, I mean meandering around on digital history sites!

I did, however, take some time to explore (and get a little bit of research done) in the archives today too…yay for successes!

The three sites I chose to look at for this assignment were The Tran Atlantic Slave Trade Database, Gilded Age Plains City, and Mapping the Republic of Letters.

As an English major, choosing Mapping the Republic Letters was a given. I actually feel like I’ve seen this site before…maybe for the letter-based research project that I did last year? Well, it doesn’t really matter for the purposes of this blog post anyhow. The other two were random selections that just kind of happened.

So, here’s the verdict on each of these here sites…

Upon entering The Trans Atlantic Slave Trade Database, I had high hopes. I’m a bit of a sucker for aesthetics and have the tendency to judge a book (or in this case, a website) by its cover. Of course, I know that a pretty cover doesn’t equal stellar content, but it’s still something I’m very aware of. I have a personal blog and try to be active in the WordPress community (yes, that’s a thing); the overall design of the site is the first thing I notice when I visit a blog for the first time. So, I thought The Trans Atlantic Slave Trade Database looked nice…nice colors, over all nice design. Furthermore, everything on the homepage seemed easily accessible with the click of a button.

to the map on the left side of the page and immediately tried to click on one of the areas, in the hopes that it would bring me to a full page of sources/information about that area. Alas, it did not. I love that the  map is there…it’s really useful for seeing the geographical areas of focus for this site. However, I personally think it would be even more useful if it provided links to pages devoted to information and sources about teach area in question.

I am trying to come up with more critiques of this site as I continue to look through it, but I really can’t. It’s really, quite easy to use. All the pages are set up with easily accessible information and links. The “African Names Database” page on the site even provides links to another site–the African-Origins Record–in order to provide further information about individual slaves, which I found to be rather impressive.

Overall, this is a great site. It’s looks nice, it’s easily accessible, and it’s just super interesting. I could spend hours on here just looking through everything. There’s even a downloadable PDF guide on how to navigate the website. It’s an easily navigable, professional-looking, and overall well-done site.

Next up is Gilded Age Plains City. Again–looks nice, is pretty easily navigable, and the interactive map is super cool! I love that they provide a document archive in a separate location from the story of the murder itself. The document archive is also easy to navigate and there is a lot there! I guess my one critique (and this is really nit picky) is that much of the site is really wordy. This is great in that it allows for the full story to be completely fleshed out; however, other than the interactive map, it doesn’t offer many opportunities for people who just want to quickly browse around. I mean, I love words…I’ve spent 75% of my college career reading them because that’s practically all I do as a history and English major (besides paper writing). However, some people want to be able to go to a site and come away feeling like they’ve learned something without having to read paragraph upon paragraph of text (including myself sometimes).

And of course, last but not least, Mapping the Republic of Letters. The home page is really beautiful in its design. The narrative panorama, which is pretty much the first thing one sees upon entering the page, is really neat and extremely detailed. However, it’s also really, really busy and even though it is possible to click on the picture to make it larger, there is no way to zoom in to the visible, but extremely small timeline at the bottom of the image. The “About” section is right below this panorama image, which is great…but I nearly missed it because the text almost blends in with the background of the page. Okay, so maybe that’s an exaggeration, but it still could be a bit brighter. The introduction video next to the “About” is nice, though.

Navigation is pretty easy on this site, though two of the links are broken–the link to the blog and the link to the contact information. Clearly, this site hasn’t been maintained very well if those two pieces, which have visible links at the very top of the page, are no longer accessible.  I was about to call this site a dud…until I went to the Case Studies page. OMG! So much information! So cool! This is what this site is all about, and it did not disappoint. The letters of prominent historical thinkers have been examined in detail–from Voltaire to Ben Franklin–and each thinker has a page devoted to those letters. There are lots of visuals on these pages of where these letters were dispersed to (so cool!) and there are a few interactive options, which make the experience really enriching. Overall, Mapping the Republic of Letters has some issues–including the fact that it almost seems as if some of the smaller projects have been left at a standstill…some of the pages have an extensive amount of information while others have almost nothing. Despite the issues this site has, it also has made available some really fascinating information that this English major loved.

So, this sums up my experience exploring these three digital history sites.

I would say this was definitely useful in getting a better understanding of what digital history sites look like and in regards to what works and what doesn’t. Accessibility and navigation are extremely important–something to keep in mind when Colm and I get to the designing of our own site part. Although I place a high value on aesthetics, I worry that I wont have the technological expertise to make my site look as nice as the ones that I just looked at. However, I’m not going to worry about that too much right now, as I have a heck of a ton of research and planning to accomplish before that step!

Because all Research Begins Somewhere…

I admit that I feel a little behind in my research.

As I was browsing through some of my fellow classmates’ blogs, I was astounded by how much some of them have already done. I was getting a little down on myself for not having done even have of that research.

Truthfully, I’ve been quite busy. I work for the Office of Residential Life as a student hall director here at Morris and in the week before classes started, I was busy with winter training. Since classes started, I’ve been trying to figure out my schedule and how to make everything work this semester. I haven’t had the opportunity to spend an extensive
amount of time researching as I would have liked.

That being said, I do consider myself quite fortunate. I am a student worker at my campus archives so I already have quite a bit of knowledge of what is available there. I have had the opportunity to talk to the archivist–who also happens to be my boss–about what’s available and he has given me some tips in moving forward with my research. I intend to really dive into some research at the archives later this week, and when I do, I’ll know where to look.

I also know that I have easy access to pretty much everything in the archives. Generally speaking, our campus archives doesn’t have a whole lot of constrictions in gaining access to the archival materials; as a student worker, I also have an upper hand in knowing the archives and having connections to the archivist. I just received permission
from my boss to go in there after hours when other researchers wouldn’t be allowed, since I work there…so thankful I am able to do that!

I am eager to get my hands on the WCSA yearbooks from the World War I era. Our archives have a plethora of old yearbooks, particularly from the WCSA era, and I want to see if there is any commentary on the war from the student perspectives inside the yearbooks. I also have some fantastic resources on the Non Partisan League–an active political organization in the upper Midwest that exhibited anti-war sentiments during the period–that I am excited to look further into. I know the archives has materials. It’s just a question of getting in there and really looking.

The Stevens County Museum in town also has a lot of information. The employees there already know me from a local research project I did last spring in my completion of the honors program here at Morris. I know they have newspapers dating back to the early years of Morris and I know they allow researchers to look at them–because I utilized them from my honors project. I also know they have a lot of materials relating to World War I.

Unfortunately, the museum isn’t open during the weekends, so Colm and I must juggle our schedules during the week with getting over there to research. In an ideal world, it would have weekend hours and I would have spent half of this last weekend getting acquainted with all the materials.

Thank goodness Colm was able to get in there today. I couldn’t join him because I have class for the majority of the afternoon.  When I got done with class, we were Facebook messaging for a little bit while he was still there, and he told me was looking through so much stuff and that he’s been photocopying a lot of documents. Look for more information on that in his own post.

I need to get into the Museum at some point soon, but first I want to tackle to archives on campus.

Colm and I have so many resources at our fingertips. We are lucky to have such a plethora of resources in town.

I still feel a little behind right now, but I’m not going to worry too much.

Together, we have a lot to look at and we will certainly be able to put together a well-thought out and well-constructed project with everything we’ll find.

It’s still the early days of the semester and we have so many materials to look through.

We’ve got this. It’ll just take some time.