Category Archives: Digital History

The End (Or Project Reflections and Defending the Contract)

As I sit here typing this, I’m in the middle of making some edits on our site and I can’t believe my Century America experience is almost over. I’m graduating in a little over a week and soon I will be on to my next adventure. For now though, I have some school work to attend to and finish up.

Everytime I go onto our site to correct errors and make changes to our content, I feel extremely proud of the work Colm and I have accomplished this semester. It’s been stressful and frustrating at times, but it’s also been an incredibly rewarding experience and I’ve learned a lot about the world of digital history. It was great to get back into the archives and do hands on research, too.

When it all comes down to it, this journey was a trial and error process. I’m incredibly pleased with the way our site turned out, but the journey to get to this point involved straying from the contract and ultimately figuring out what do with the website that was in our best interest as a team with the amount of time we had. Initially, we were going have a “Highlights” and “Full Report” page. The home page would provide links to both pages and it would be the first thing viewers would see when they came to the site.

The “Highlights” page was initially meant to be a platform for people interested in learning about our research without having to read through the full report. It was going to allow people a quick run down of the material that wouldn’t necessarily be as enriching, but would be just as interesting. That page ended up involving into what we called our “Getting Started” page in our first website draft. All it had on it was a few key points from both the Stevens County section and the West Central School of Agriculture section, and a map. It transformed from a run down of the material to an introduction, and it was not being used effectively at all. With more time and a better understanding of digital technologies, I think we could have made an effective use of the “Highlights” page. However, after negative feedback from Drs. McClurken and Pearson and the rest of the class, we decided to scrape the page all together. The “Highlights” and “Full Report” pages were completely taken out and visitors are now immediately greeted with links to the Stevens County section and the West Central School section on the home page.

All in all, this makes much more sense and makes the whole website more accessible to viewers. I’m happy with the way it looks. It would have been neat to integrate a successful highlights page, but Colm and I may have been a bit in over our heads when we included that in the contract initially.

When it comes down to research, I felt like I got started on it later than I would have liked and I ended up having some setbacks along the way–my car wouldn’t start because of the cold here in Minnesota and I was unable to make it to the museum for a couple weeks, which I was worried would set my research back a lot. Fortunately, despite my worries, everything turned out okay. I am proud of all the sources I’ve gathered at both the Stevens County Historical Museum and the on- campus archives at UMM. We had put March 20 as the date that all research was to be completed, and I made sure to be done by then. That said, an opportunity–when the archivist on campus ended up coming across some relevant Morris Tribune articles from the time period–came up later. I took advantage of that opportunity because I wanted to see if there was any more useful information I could garner–which there was–and it was a rather small stack of newspaper copies in the first place.

In terms of general timeline things, I can’t speak for Colm on his research, since we did much of it separately, but I believe I upheld everything on the timeline quite well.

Division of labor remained the same, except Colm and I ended up working on the home page together–it was initially given to Colm as a task, but it just ended up working as a team effort. Colm chose, edited, and uploaded the pictures and I wrote the text.

Much of our project contract is built off of our idea of the “Highlights” and “Full Reports” pages, so it does look much different from what eventually resulted in the final project. Other than that, I believe I’ve upheld my side of the contract rather well. All the pages I said would be created for the WCSA side of the site were created and I’m really proud of the way they turned out. We did say we were going to use a commenting tool, however that didn’t happen–which I think is for the best, as I really like the way the site looks as it is and I fear comments would detract from that.

This project was quite the journey. It was an adventure to utilize digital media in class and in video conferencing into class every week. Technology glitches happened more than occasionally and they were just something we had to accept as a class–it always made for a much more interesting hour and fifteen minutes, that’s for sure! I had so much fun learning about the West Central School of Agriculture and I truly feel a stronger appreciation for UMM’s campus history now that I have all this knowledge about it from the Great War period. This journey wasn’t always easy and mistakes were made, but I’m incredibly proud of the website Colm and I have put together and I hope the citizens of Stevens County, as well as anyone who stumbles across it on the web, enjoys it too.


Errors Caught and Lessons Learned

Earlier today, when I came into work, my boss at the archives gave me some copies of old articles of the Morris Tribune from 1917-1919 that he had recently come across.

Although I’ve considered myself formally done with my research for a few weeks now–I mean, our website is due next week–I was grateful that he thought of the project. I decided they might have some nice information in them to beef up my existing pages on the website. I never got around to looking at the newspapers when I did my initial research, though it probably would have been a good idea.

Good thing I decided to take a look, too: as I was looking through the articles related to the West Central School of Agriculture, I came across a glaring error in my research.

One of the articles reported that in 1917, 150 students were enrolled in the school, a thirty-five student increase from the previous year.

This was all fine and dandy until I realized I had documented and included on one of my website pages that there were 500 students by 1914. This could not be correct! The math did not add up. 500 in 1914 and 150 in 1917? No, that was impossible! The source I got the 500 number from was The Great War documentary created by the Stevens County Historical Society. I’m not sure if I wrote down the numbers wrong when I was watching the movie or if they reported inaccurate information in the film.

Regardless, I found myself freaking out because I didn’t want to be responsible for shoddy historical research! As I thought about it more, I realized that the small size of the campus couldn’t have even supported 500 students in 1914. The two residents halls weren’t big enough  (The Boys Dormitory, which is currently known as the upper-class residence hall, Spooner Hall, only houses up to 90 students today) and the few other ill-equipped buildings on campus in 1914 couldn’t have sustained such large numbers. As I found out by looking through more of the articles, by the 1918 school year, the school was in dire need of overflow housing with close to 200 students. Furthermore, the 1914 Moccasin, which I did look through early on in my research, had relatively small class sizes with nowhere near 500 students in the whole school. I should have been skeptical of the 500 number from the start.

I’m so glad I was able to look through these articles and catch this mistake. I haven’t changed it on the website yet, but I will soon.

I’m taking this as a lesson–to be more careful with my source information in the future and to question information that doesn’t seem right from the beginning. After all, this is a learning experience. Although I’ve done historical research before, I’m still learning. We all make mistakes and this is one I’m definitely going to keep in mind for the future.



Working Towards the Finish Line

Well, hey there! It’s been a while.

I didn’t really have anything new to blog about last week since we weren’t supposed to be doing any work on our websites while waiting for them the be reviewed. Since presenting and receiving feedback, I have a bit more to say that I can actually turn into a successfulish blog post.

As the semester is coming to a close, I’ve been thinking a lot about how I’m going to get everything done in these next few weeks. I’m presenting research I did for my comp studies class last semester at Morris’ Undergraduate Research Symposium next weekend, so I need to finish up and prepare for that presentation.  I have to finish writing my English senior thesis paper and then prepare to present that, which is going to take up a lot of time–I mean, this is the only class I actually need to graduate and it’s necessary for receiving my English degree…so it’s kind of a big deal. I have responsibilities to attend to for my one other class here on campus and I have to finish this website…and then promote it to the community. I also have Hall Director stuff to get done, as we near move out and hall closing for the year.

Okay, so it’s no that much. I only have twelve credits this semester and it could be way worse. I’ve experienced way worse. But I just worry about getting things done by nature so, naturally, I’m worrying.

My main concern with our website right now is the layout. Colm and I realized how utterly useless our “Getting Started” page is and we are seriously considering getting rid of it. We probably will. Rearranging our menu so that the Stevens County and WCSA pages are more accessible is a top priority, too. I also didn’t consider how clinical “Full Report” sounds until it was pointed out during our presentation, so Colm and I will definitely be changing that, too.

Overall, I’m super thrilled with how our site looks and the Nirvana theme has been pretty good to us…but let’s be real–webpage accessibility, which was important to us from the beginning, is actually pretty crappy at the moment.

I have some work on my own pages, which I was aware of. Lots of proofreading needs to happen plus a few small things that will make a huge difference.

Our “About” and “Resources” page needs work too.

I’m eager to complete our site and show off the finished product around the community, but I’m not gonna lie–I’m also really nervous. The first version, though it was supposed to be as complete as possible, had some leeway because it was the first version. Turning in the finished product, though? That’s going to be a different story. I’m going to want everything to be perfect and, of course, I’ll worry that it’s not, that’s it’s really super crappy and shouldn’t even see the light of day.

Colm and I still have a lot to do about it.

I guess instead of blogging about how worried I am, I should actually do something about it and get to work!

Best of luck to everyone else as you all finish your sites up, too!

Business as Usual

Well, yeah, I guess.

Today I went to the museum in town to watch the World War I documentary that they made last year. Colm told me about it ages ago, though I forgot about it; he reminded me that it existed when we were both doing research over there on Friday.

I decided I might as well get around to watching it. Even though I’m focusing on the WCSA specifically, I figured it was a good idea to know what was going on in the county during the Great War period. I mean, the WCSA is apart of Stevens County…also, I figured I might find some useful information.

A lot of the information presented in the documentary was as I expected, just from my general knowledge of Minnesota history during the war and what I’ve been hearing from Colm about his research. I did find out a few useful things to add to my portion of the site. For one, the WCSA hosted a HUGE patriotic rally in August 1917 after the U.S. joined the war. There was a huge push for patriotism through Minnesota specifically with the Commission of Public safety, and a few local names associated with the Commission also had connections at the school. People from all over the county came and it was a big deal. Furthermore, I was made aware of Florence Hulett, the registered nurse at the WCSA before the war. A graduate of the University of Minnesota School of Nursing, she enlisted to serve overseas as a nurse once the U.S. joined the war. I’m going to get in touch with museum to see if they have a picture I could use for her on the site, since I would like to insert a little bit about her into the War narrative since she was a WCSA staff member.

Generally speaking, I’m glad I went to watch the documentary today. It gave me a bit more confidence as I dive into more writing tonight and I did discover some useful information. Really, I should have gone to watch it ages ago!

Now, on to more writing…

Research and Website Update

Hey all,

Since I wasn’t in class last week, I thought I’d take some time to update you on where the Morris group is on our site.

I admit that I haven’t done a whole lot lately. I went on a really amazing spring break trip and let me tell you, it was much needed. I was definitely feeling the mid-semester slump (especially because it’s senior year) and my road trip was a fantastic refresher. However, road trip with friends meant little time for school work. I didn’t bring my computer with me to keep my travel load lighter, so therefore didn’t have access to my school e-mail. I naturally didn’t get any research done.

Never fear, though! The museum has been yielding some wonderful sources for me in regards to the WCSA and I’m going to be finishing up research there this week. I’m excited for the last minute resources that I’ll be able to find and I’m confident I’ll have plenty of information to fill up my portion of the site.

Our site doesn’t have a whole lot on it yet, but the skeleton will be completed in the next couple days. I’m going to start writing up some text for the site this week and Colm and I will have all of our images uploaded to a shared online drive by Friday.

Spring break caused a bit of a delay for the Morris group and I do have a lot to catch up on, but now that I’m refreshed and ready to tackle the rest of the semester, I’m confident everything will work out smoothly and as planned.

Stay tuned for more soon!

Timeline Time!

Well, I successfully figured out how to make a timeline after a bit of a strugglefest. When I realized the step-by-step process on the KnightLab website was actually useful, it went a lot smoother. Who’d a thunk that directions can actually help you out? Apparently I didn’t.

So, I’d say the timeline is definitely a useful feature–something I’ll probably look into for the website Colm and I will be creating eventually. I chose the timeline since I thought it was probably more relevant for the history here in Morris, though I guess the map could be useful too.

I did my timeline on my experience as a D.C. intern this summer. I spent all this time creating a bit of a lengthy timeline (it was a good way to be nostalgic while also being productive homework-wise), but only half the timeline is showing up. I have no idea what’s wrong! There are six more dates that are supposed to show up, but they’re not.

Well, at least I know how to work the technology; hopefully this wont happen if I use this feature on my website!




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!

Impact of Digital History

The first article I read about the impact of digital history on the field of history was by none other than our very own Dr. McClurken. The first thing that struck me from this article was how much digital history, and digitization in general, has changed classroom teaching. Without the perspective of more than 21 years, all I have ever known in conducting serious archival research is having many materials available online, searchable catalogues, and occasionally photocopies or reproductions. I kid you not, my mouth dropped to the floor when I read that he used transparencies to show students nineteenth-century handwriting. Transparencies!!! That just boggles my mind, and I think really highlights how much digital history has changed the classroom. I also didn’t realize how much a dependency on digital history and its materials can cripple a class, if user interfaces, urls, or accessibility change. I definitely have to agree with Dr. McClurken that the relationship between the college classroom, and I would even say academia in general, and archives is mostly Web 1.0. From what I have seen with the digitization projects I’ve worked on, right now it’s all about actually just getting everything digitized and putting it up online, making it accessible. Oftentimes, little to no thought is given to how the accessibility of these great collections will be promoted. However, I would say that some institutions are definitely taking the dive into the ocean of social media and handling it pretty well! I am most familiar with the Smithsonian Institution Archives, and I know that SIA has a pretty active Facebook page, which can be found here. SIA makes at least one post a day, that highlights an item or items in its collections, and they usually try to make it relevant to current events. SIA’s blog, The Bigger Picture, also updates at least once a day with relevant content–right now SIA is posting a lot of content about collections related to women in science, in honor of Women’s History Month. Beyond Facebook, though, SIA isn’t really present on other social media platforms, and I hope that this fact will soon change. As much as some people look down on social media, there is no denying that Facebook, Twitter, etc. reach an incredible number of people, and institutions could reach a much wider audience if they embraced social media more. (I do realize that the issue is not that simple–there are many other things to consider when getting involved in social media, like Who tweets? Do they have to be approved by someone? Do you follow back people? Are you endorsing the people who follow you? Etc.) Part of Dr. McClurken’s point, though, is that this relationship is between the classroom/academia and the archives, and as we all (hopefully) know, a healthy relationship is a two-way street. So it can’t just be the archives who are embracing the social media and putting themselves out there. The classroom and academia must also embrace these social media platforms, which I think is part of the problem, particularly for the older, more “traditional” members of this field. Some historians cannot see past the social “mob” aspect of social media and cannot grant the platforms value. My own advisor seemed incredulous to discover that students use Twitter for classes. For a young person like myself, social media makes sense as a vehicle for establishing a relationship between archives and classrooms, but for someone who didn’t grow up with social media, I can understand how it can be overlooked.

Dr. McClurken also mentioned crowdsourcing, which I won’t go into detail explaining–rather, I will link to a current example of a digital history crowdsourcing project: the Smithsonian Transcription Center. Many of the SI museums/archives have contributed digitized materials to this project for the general public to transcribe. You can browse by theme or museum. (Dr. McClurken, there is a Civil War diary in there if you haven’t seen it yet! I haven’t looked at it, but I know it is a popular project.)

The second article I read was from the crowsourcing chapter in Writing History in the Digital Age (2011), and it is about digital history and black Confederate soldiers. I really like the article’s emphasis on using digital history to help democratize the discipline, without sacrificing accuracy. For many people history is an almost esoteric discipline–they can’t grasp its functions and advantages, how it works, what is “true,” etc. (For the record, I believe there is no such thing as historical truth.) I think using the internet for displaying historical materials and research is a great step towards involving more people in history and expanding historical knowledge. And, like all good historians, Madsen-Brooks emphasizes that we still have to be critical of the information we find online. She delves into a discussion about “historians” and who historians are, which I think is an interesting consideration but somewhat of a moot point. Just because you aren’t a certified, PhD in history doesn’t mean you can’t make a valuable contribution of knowledge to the field. History isn’t limited to one discipline–it is interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary at its best. Anyways, Madsen-Brooks’ cautionary tale against content on the internet is great, because it truly is something that we have to take into careful consideration–and the same goes for print sources as well. I think her analogy at the end of the article is a nice description of where the digital history field should go/is going: historians are the “guide[s] on the side,” helping to guide others engaging in history, teaching them how to think critically about their sources and analyze their information.1 Nevertheless, I see no problem with historians also taking center stage and making their own significant contributions, which can help guide and further inspire those engaging in history. The lesson for me from this article was that “the masses” are slowly infiltrating the field of history–which I don’t think is a bad thing–and that now more than ever, we need to be critical of our sources and information. The crowd can make valuable contributions to history. Maybe they can do simple things like transcribing, or maybe they can do analysis, who knows. Even if the analysis is inaccurate, we can still learn valuable lessons from them. For example, the Confederate records that Madsen-Brooks discusses highlight the difficulty of interpreting some primary sources and the different definitions of “soldier” that people hold today and held during the Civil War. Inaccuracies may bring to light new angles of a topic to consider. I’m not trying to say we should all go out and write wildly inaccurate pieces about history with reckless abandon–I am simply stating that there is a silver lining to this dark cloud of inaccuracies in democratized history that seems to be looming over some historians’ heads.

Also, here is a paragraph about the value of crowdsource projects like Wikipedia from my other digital history blog: “I also have another comment to add to our conversation about Wiki and its validity/usefulness.  Because Wiki is such a high-traffic site, the Smithsonian museums are making an effort to contribute to Wikipedia, by editing pages related to Smithsonian museums and collections, or creating the pages, adding links that will direct visitors to the appropriate SI site, thus increasing traffic to their own websites.  I attended an SI meeting that talked extensively about this process, and I found it fascinating!  It really is a great way to increase site traffic, because Wikipedia is such a popular site, and it’s also just a great way to get the word out about things and contribute to public knowledge.  It’s also really cool, because I think it shows how the perception of Wikipedia has evolved over time, and people are slowly beginning to realize that maybe it isn’t so bad after all.  It can be a source of valuable information, if the “right” people are creating and editing the pages.  A leading research and museum institution, the Smithsonian, hires what they call Wikipedians-in-Residence to create and improve SI-related content!  The Wikipedians-in-Residence and their associated SI units also occasionally host edit-a-thons, where they marathon-edit pages on a given subject to improve content and link to SI sites/collections.  Really cool concept!  You can read more about one specific WIR here!”

Disclaimer: The featured image from this blog post is from Virginia Tech’s Digital History Reader, which can be found here


1. Leslie Madsen-Brooks, “‘I nevertheless am a historian’: Digital Historical Practice and Malpractice around Black Confederate Soldiers” in Writing History in the Digital Age: A Born-Digital, Open Review Volume, edited by Jack Dougherty and Kristen Nawrotzki, (accessed March 5, 2014).

Maps and Timelines

After a bit of a struggle, I successfully created my first Google Map!  The tutorial page was extremely helpful, and the bit that Ryan told us about south and west coordinates definitely saved me a lot of frustration. My struggles didn’t originate from using the spreadsheet and filling out each pertinent cell–they actually came from the apparent speed at which I was editing the sheet. I personally don’t think I was moving too quickly, but apparently the spreadsheet did. I kept receiving error messages about the script, and I had no idea what it was talking about until I read Jessica’s post and saw that she had encountered the same problem. I ended up removing almost all of the rows that I wasn’t using (the spreadsheet gives you 1,000 to begin with…why someone would need that many, I do not know). That way there was less for myself and for the spreadsheet to deal with. I tried entering information less rapidly and giving the sheet more time to update. Finally, when the KML was ready, I again encountered a problem. Even though the KML was ready, the first tab (“start here”) would not give me a link to go view my map. I got pretty frustrated, and ended up just closing the tabs and my laptop and taking a shower. When I came back and opened up my Google Drive, the spreadsheet was ready for me, this time with a link. Finally, my map was done!

Lessons learned: Do not rapidly edit the spreadsheet. (And if you do, give the sheet a few minutes to update itself and catch up with you). Once the KML is ready and you’ve published the sheet, be patient. It may not give you the link to view the map. Try waiting a few minutes, and if it still won’t reveal its secrets, then just close the tabs and come back a little while later.

I just finished my timeline, which I had immense amounts of fun making. The timeline was so much simpler to create than a Google map, and I think it would be a great resource for our project. We have already discussed using it in a number of different ways, such as for general WWI events or for specific events in Fredericksburg or at UMW. It will be a great way to aid our viewers in keeping track of everything! Enjoy my love story of Brick Tamland and Lamp (from Anchorman).

What’s Out There?: Digital History on the Web

Effectively constructing a digital history website is based, at least in part, on an understanding of what has already been done by others. This week I spent a few hours analyzing a selection of digital history websites to see how effectively others have utilized digital media to advance historical research, presentation, and pedagogy. This blog post will focus on three websites, in particular:

1. Gilded Age Plains City (

2. Liberty, Equality, Fraternity: Exploring the French Revolution (

3. Virtual Paul’s Cross Project (

Gilded Age Plains City: The Great Sheedy Murder Trial and the Booster Ethos of Lincoln, Nebraska, a digital history website affiliated with the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, examines the murder of John Sheedy in the late nineteenth century and the subsequent, much-publicized, murder trial as a method of understanding urban development in the “Great Plains” of the United States ( This website has a number of positive qualities, both in terms of aesthetics and content, that I believe help to further the author’s narrative. In my opinion, the greatest strengths of the website are its strong narrative and its use of a number of interactive or descriptive tools to help explain this narrative to the reader. Since the concept of space is so central to the story of John Sheedy’s murder, the architect(s) of this website deemed it important to include a “spatial narrative” section dedicated to rooting the reader in nineteenth-century Lincoln, Nebraska. This section covers the interconnected social, cultural, racial, and economic contexts of the burgeoning city, allowing the reader to develop a more meaningful connection to Sheedy’s story. The website also includes a timeline, an interactive map, a glossary of unfamiliar terms used throughout the website, and a page of brief biographies about the major players in both the murder story and in the history of Lincoln. The website’s strong focus on explaining background and contextual information makes the site accessible to a larger population of readers and researchers, which I believe is one of the main benefits of digital history.

From a visual standpoint, the website’s organized and well-labeled appearance gives the reader the impression that the site is managed by professional, historical scholars. Links to individual pages within the website are well marked, and I found it quite easy to navigate between the various sections of the website. As I searched through each page and followed the narrative, it seemed to me that the authors were mindful of the way in which digital presentations almost inherently lead to a fragmented narrative. Despite the fact that the information was arranged over numerous webpages, much of the story was still arranged in a conventional, chronological format, which made it easy to stay immersed in the story. Another aspect that I particularly liked was the website’s inclusion of primary source documents, including photographs and items from newspapers, in its archive; in my opinion, the inclusion of these materials helped to ground me within the minds and experiences of Lincoln’s residents.

The Gilded Age Plains City website showcases a number of features that I think, if included, would strengthen the Century America project. I liked that the website’s author(s) included the scope and goals of the project on the site’s first page. Having essentially read their thesis, I was able to focus in on the subjects that the author(s) seemed to find most meaningful. I also liked the website’s incorporation of descriptive elements and interactive technologies into the narrative; in particular, I liked the incorporation of biographical information, the timeline, and the map of Lincoln, Nebraska. Because of its strong narrative, useful, explanatory tools, and appealing visual elements, I think the Gilded Age Plains City website is a prime example of an effective synthesis of digital media and historical scholarship.

The second digital history website that I examined this week was Liberty, Equality, Fraternity: Exploring the French Revolution ( The first thing that struck me upon examining this website was the apparent lack of emphasis placed on visual aesthetics. This website sticks out in my mind as a prime example of how poor website design can detract from both the authority of a website’s information and a website’s ability to convey this information. As I read through the main text on various webpages (under the “Explore” option), I found that I was distracted by numerous, oddly-organized links placed along the left-hand side of the text. I wasn’t exactly sure whether I was supposed to access these links as I read through the passages, or whether they just contained superfluous information. I’m sure that some of these links contained valuable maps, text, and other tools, but their organization and appearance deterred me from accessing many of them. On a more positive note, under the “Browse” option, the website showcased a wealth of documents, images, and other materials, all of which were laid out in a more accessible format. It also included sections dedicated to a timeline and a glossary, which, as stated above in the section on Gilded Age Plains City, I believe are valuable resources for any digital history website. In short, I think the use of a browsing option (for images, documents, etc.) is a great resource for a digital history project, and I hope to include such a feature in my Century America website. However, this website has also impressed upon me the need to focus on making my website visually appealing. I am certain that Liberty, Equality, Fraternity has wonderful information and documentary evidence about the French Revolution, but the design of the site discouraged me from pursuing any of this information.

The third, digital history website that I examined was one for the Virtual Paul’s Cross Project ( This digital website focuses on providing a dynamic recreation of a 1622 sermon given by John Donne on Gunpowder Day. Upon first examination, I noticed that the site’s homepage was cleanly organized and labeled, with a link to an overview about the project, which I always consider to be a plus. However, the introductory information under the overview tab, including the project’s purpose, framework, and outcomes, was not smoothly integrated. While all of the information necessary to explain the project was present, it did not flow logically, and I found it very difficult to stay engaged in the text. In addition, the Virtual Paul’s Cross Project website has several visual elements that are not pleasing to the eye or useful in serving the website’s goals. The website’s author(s) highlight(s) a number of terms in the site’s text in bold without an apparent reason for doing so, other than to draw attention to the terms themselves. On the homepage, links to other pages within the website are highlighted in bright, red text, which I found to be distracting and unappealing. The website utilizes a number of attractive, color images and artistic, visual models, which help to break up the text very nicely. However, while visually appealing, some of the images seemed to be placed arbitrarily throughout the webpages, which, in my opinion, added nothing to my understanding or appreciation of the project. Furthermore, the site seemed to draw excessive attention to various visual models created for the project; these diagrams and images appeared so frequently that they became redundant and lost much of their effectiveness. The same can be said for much of the information about the acoustic modeling portion of the project, the detailing of which I found to be overly-descriptive and uninteresting. In my opinion, the Virtual Paul’s Cross Project suffers from a case of misplaced priorities. It focuses too much on detailing the project’s methodology and descriptive information, including sections about the physical conditions of the churchyard in which the speech was given, the weather, acoustics and ambient noise, Donne’s style of preaching, and other factors. I am certain that all of these factors were important to the completeness and success of the project, but I wish that they had spent more time and space on the website arguing about why any of it, including the speech itself, matters historically (although I have no doubt it does matter). If I can say anything about the Virtual Paul’s Cross Project, it is that it sounds absolutely fascinating, and I think it deserves an equally-fascinating website.