All posts by Candice Roland:

A Review of Existing Digital History

Though a fairly new endeavor, digital history sites have already populated the internet, some better than others. There appears to be a learning curve with these projects, with the more recent examples significantly improved from some of the first attempts. Overall, I believe that a good digital history project must be at least on some level interactive. The traditional panel model for museums does not translate well when the exhibit is behind a glowing screen- when a visitor drives to view an exhibit, he or she will stand and read, but on the internet, where impatience seems to be the M.O., reading times must be interspersed with options that require visitor participation.

1. Gilded Age Plains City, University of Nebraska Lincoln

gildedage1

The Good:

  • The page begins at a strong, clear introduction page, with the title and subpages clearly displayed. The visitor know not only what the project is but what to expect and how to navigate as they move deeper into the site.
  • Consistent, thoughtful typography and color schemes are used throughout.
  • Though the page includes large bodies of text, it is always divided with bold subheadings that allow the visitor to scroll to the information that interests them.
  • Dividing the story of the city into “Spatial” and “Narrative” sections prevents the visitor from being overwhelmed by information on a single page, and to progress through the website logically, building on the understanding developed in previous sections.gildedage2
  • The spatial elements are my favorite part of this site. I am particularly interested in applications of GIS to telling historical narratives, and the interactive mapping portions of this site are done nicely. First, the concept of a “spatial narrative” is explained in an introductory page. Then, the map allows visitors to zoom in to an area of the city of their choosing, which gives them an image of the building and a link to the narrative of that particular place.

The Bad:

  • The logo remains at the top of the page as visitors navigate through the site, but clicking it does not return the visitor to the home page. (Picky, I know, but navigability is an critical element of any good website.)
  • Text areas, though subdivided clearly, are lengthy at times for a digital project. The use of images beyond the interactive map is very limited, and more pictures could have improved the readability as well as the overall experience with the website.
  • More information on the murder trial from the beginning would have been helpful. The narrative of the town was clearly communicated, but the framework of the murder was unclear at times.

The Take-Away:

Interactive elements are the core of the successful digital history site, and I absolutely want to include as much interaction in our final project as possible. This site excels because it allows the visitor to explore the town in the order of their choosing, while still maintaining clarity and order throughout. The site also reminds me of the importance of images. I want to incorporate as many multimedia elements as possible in the final Century America project, using text in more spaced-out formats so that no one page is dominated by either words or images.

2. Mapping the Republic of the Letters, from Stanford University

The Good:

  • The homepage is a very unique, intriguing timeline/image compilation that grabs the visitor’s attention from the beginning and gives context for the rest of the site.
  • A welcome video is included on the homepage, a multimedia element that is more exciting and interesting than text explaining the same subject matter.
  • Easy to use tabs on a top menu make navigation back to the home page or to a particular section simple.
  • Instead of simply listing the authors’ names, each letter compilation uses a linked image, giving the page more visual interest and increasing the likelihood that visitors will actually click to read the document.
  • Visually interesting flow maps draw connections between the letters and the spatial relationships between the writers and the recipients. Because of this, the site is not just a digital archive of letters but a unique piece of scholarship bringing new understanding to the documents.

The Bad:

  • Though the homepage timeline is intriguing, it is not interactive and clicking it simply enlarges the image, though not enough to actually read the text at the bottom.
  • Several sections, like “Teaching” and “Publication” are unclear.
  • The page in general could benefit from more explicit, clear explanations throughout. At times I was left asking, “Why?” when viewing a new section.

The Take-Away:

This website again encourages me to incorporate mapping or spatial elements into our final Century America project. The flow maps are particularly interesting in their ability to show movement and change over time. Beginning with a timeline also seems to me an effective introductory tool, though an interactive timeline would be even more likely to grab visitors’ attention, and we should ensure that the image is at least large enough to be easily read. I also definitely want to use multimedia elements, especially video in the final project. Jack had already mentioned using small documentary videos put together in the digital media lab for our project, and I think videos could serve as exciting introductions for each section or theme of our website.

Above all, the project reiterates for me the importance of over-clarifying on digital history sites. Unlike papers, where a thesis stated clearly at the beginning is sufficient, the general message and topic of a web-based project must be repeated over and over again, because digital media is not consumed linearly. For our final project, it will be important to consider the “flow” of the webpage, or the order and manner in which the visitor will navigate the site.

3. Virtual Paul’s Cross Project, NC State University

The Good:

  • From the homepage, I was drawn in to this project, and impressed with the graphic design, typography, and overall “feel” of the site. The design is professional, clean, modern, and easy to read and navigate.
  • The premise of the project, a virtual recreation of Jonn Donne’s Gunpowder Day sermon, is interdisciplinary and extremely innovative. The project feels new and original.
  • Easy-to-read tabs at the top menu clearly categorize the work of the project so that the visitor knows exactly what to expect within each division. The sections “Churchyard,” “Acoustics,” “Preacher,” “Occasion,” and “Sermon” break down the recreations of the various elements of the speech, giving a deeper picture of the day than reading the document ever could.
  • The layout of the page is simple but effective. Large, high quality images of the recreations dominate the page.

 

The Bad:

  • I have a hard time finding faults with this project, but some pages, especially under the “Preacher” tab, have too much uninterrupted text.

The Take-Away:

In the end, this website is so effective because it accomplishes digitally what could not be done with paper or spoken word. The use of audio and visual elements, not just as supplement but as innovative ways to understand a point in history, makes the project a powerful, encompassing experience that yields a deeper understanding of the narrative than a paper could provide. Ultimately, this is what I hope to accomplish with the Century America project for UMW. A digital history project should do what can only be done digitally; it cannot be simply a digitized paper with a few extra images.

Preliminary Survey of Sources

I. Academic Catalogs and Bulletins

We are fortunate to have a digitized collection of course catalogs and bulletins from the State Normal School from 1914 and forward. Many references to clubs, like the YWMC and the Red Cross Club, will provide us a start for further research. Some of these have particularly interesting information with regards to the war and the homefront experience.

  • October 1917: addressed the school’s plan to support the war effort, and references President Russell’s speeches across the region concerning the war.
  • April 1918: lists a special course offered on food conservation for the war effort
  • October 1918: a literature course compares classical texts with the current war, asking questions like, “How would a soldier read this today?”
  • January 1919: discusses war gardens
  • April 1919: addresses the effects of the war on the State Normal School
  • October 1919: “War Activities”: this short bulletin discusses the school’s involvement in World War I, including the service of two faculty members: Gunyon M. Harris (Assistant in Mathematics) and Roy S. Cook (postmaster.)

II. President Russell’s Papers

The archive of the letters, speeches, and other documents President Russell, who served the State Normal School during the war years. We will particularly seek his speeches on the war effort, referenced in the October 1917 catalog.

III. Student Scrapbooks

The Special Collections of the UMW Library houses a collection of scrapbooks made by women at the State Normal School during the war years. These could be an especially valuable resource for a visual element in our final digital project. Some early discoveries include pictures of students dresses as nurses, some standing with member of the military. This also includes the Hamilton Eckenrode scrapbook collection of newspaper clippings from 1914-1915. All of the articles appear to be military in nature, regarding the war in Europe; however, they are indicative of the area’s awareness and interest in the war prior to American involvement.

IV. Battlefield Yearbooks

Many yearbooks from the State Normal School are digitized online, and available in original format from the Central Rappahannock Heritage Center. These are an especially valuable resource for understanding student life during this era, and the ways the war may have impacted their college experience. Information on clubs and events relating to the war effort will be used.

V. War Posters

Also available through Special Collections, these posters are war propaganda, many in French. They are not specific the Fredericksburg area. Accompanying the posters is a senior thesis on the collection written by Paloma Bolasny in 2006.

VI. Administrative Records

The papers of the Board for the State Normal School, including minutes from meetings, is available, though not easily searchable. In the coming weeks, we will develop specific times and topics to investigate in this archive, which will provide further information on the school’s positions and decisions during this era.

VII. Goolrick Family Papers

The Virginia Historical Society holds the papers of this influential Fredericksburg family from 1896 to 1927. Some relevant portions may include:

  • Section 8: discusses the rebuilding of the Mary Washington monument, and local historic preservation efforts

VIII. Oral Histories and Personal Accounts

Several transcribed oral histories exist at the Central Rappahannock Heritage Center which are relevant to the time period and tagged as war-related. The heritage center also has archived two diaries recounting homefront experiences, along with several photographs from the time.

IX. The Postcard Collection

The Central Rappahannock Regional Library has a valuable postcard collection, digitized and easily available for research via Flickr. Many of the postcards feature images of the early campus of UMW, which could be very useful for the final project.

X. Histories of Fredericksburg and UMW

Several books have been written over Fredericksburg’s long history, several of which are useful for our project.

  • Alvey, Edward Jr. History of Mary Washington College. 1976. (Alvey was also a dean at MWC.)
  • Crawley, William Bryan. University of Mary Washington: A Centennial History. Fredericksburg, VA: University of Mary Washington, 2008.
  • Fitzgerald, Ruth Coder: A Different Story: A Black History of Fredericksburg, Stafford, and Spotsylvania, Virginia. New York: Unicorn Publishing, 1979.
  • Images of America series: these books on Fredericksburg, Spotsylvania, and Stafford are essentially a collection of captioned images from the history of the region.
  • Embrey, Alvin T. History of Fredericksburg, Virginia. 1937.

XI. Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania Circuit Courts

We will be utilizing the tax, land deed, and court records available at two regional circuit courts to fill in details about particular people and places we find in our other research. With information about the way the physical town changed over time, including local commercial and residential trends, we could create an interactive mapping element in our final project which would allow visitors to visualize the way the war impacted the town economically, socially, or otherwise. A list of Fredericksburg locals who served in the war overseas is also available from the CRHC.

XII. Other Local Documents

Thanks to the thorough and long-going research of Prof. Gary Stanton in the Historic Preservation department at UMW, a great number of local resources are digitized and available online. Any number of these could be useful to our broad understanding of the town during this era, or to specific ways the homefront experience played out in Fredericksburg.

  • Business Directories: a list of local businesses, their owners and operators, and their locations in town.
  • Census Records: These are available elsewhere, specifically through Ancestory.com at the local library, but here only relevant information is provided.
  • Plats and maps

XIII. Google News Archives

The complete archive of the local Fredericksburg newspaper, then called the Daily Star, is available digitally via Google News. Though not keyword searchable, this provides a valuable look into the homefront experience of the town. We will be looking for references to a local recruitment station, rallies, and other war-related ads, rather than the readily-avaiable articles on the larger military events abroad.

XIV: Further Research Plans

Our group is seeking to contact other local institutions we feel may have archives or relevant sources from this era. These include:

  • The Fredericksburg Area Museum and Cultural Center: which has a small exhibit on World War I and the town, and likely has collections from the era
  • The National Museum of the Marine Corp: located in Quantico, VA not far from Fredericksburg, officers from the marine base frequently visited girls at the State Normal School. The museum has a large archive and may have pictures, letters, or other documents related to the school.
  • The Fire Department
  • The Masonic Lodge
  • The Women’s Army Museum
  • Kenmore (George Washington Foundation)

We will also be looking into the vast resources at the Library of Virginia, many of which are digitized. We have yet to determine the resources which may be available there.

 

–Candice, Jack, Julia, and Leah

Week One

Classes at the University of Mary Washington are back in swing, and the Century America project is now officially underway. Along with my colleagues Leah, Jack, and Julia, I am beginning the first stage of the process: inventorying potential resources for our research.

We are fortunate to have an abundance of local resources available both from the University’s  special collections and from Fredericksburg locations, like the Virginiana Room at the downtown library, the Central Rappahannock Heritage Center, and the archives located at the Circuit Court. Some interesting findings so far are a digitized collection of course catalogs from the school’s beginnings in 1908, Battlefield yearbooks, and a collections of wartime posters. I am excited to beginning uncovering the stories hidden in less obvious sources, like local plats, business directories, and Census records to see what trends appear.

We are currently gathering some of these sources and determining which will provide us with the best picture of UMW and Fredericksburg during the Great War. A preliminary inventory is coming soon!