Category Archives: tools

Update on Century America Project: Sources and Preliminary Site Outline

Today Jack, Leah, Candice, and I met up and discussed the primary resources that we have already collected, assessed the gaps in our research that we needed to fill with more sources, and began to think about how we wanted our final site to be set up. The first two goals regarding sources were pretty easy to complete since we knew what sources we had access to and what more we would like to find; the difficult part emerged when we started discussing the potential layout and design of our website.

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As someone who isn’t very familiar with website tools and is just now becoming familiar with the benefits and negatives of working with both WordPress and Omeka, I had no idea where to begin other than that I thought the website should be easy to navigate so that the visitors wouldn’t get overwhelmed and discouraged when exploring the content. In order to figure out how to divide our sources and informations, like all OCD kids we color-coded our site using post-it notes. Yes, we did lay out these post-its across the chalkboard in the library study room and by the end of it I’m sure it looked more like a football game plan than the outline of a website (but they’re really not all that different in purpose now, are they?). By categorizing and color-coding the information, we were able to distinguish the hierarchy of the site and establish that we would divide the majority of the information we have collected through that on the State Normal School and the greater Fredericksburg community itself. Within each of these menu pages, we would provide links to several main narratives and documents via pictures so that the visitors could easily choose what area they would like to explore in detail without the site becoming too overwhelming. It’s hard to describe since we don’t actually have an image to show of what our proposed site will look like, but here is the “blueprint” or “game plan”, so to speak:

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The page about the State Normal School would contain four main links:  Administration, Academics, Student Life, and Influenza.  Within this section, the sources we currently have are President Russell’s papers, yearbooks, scrapbooks, and school catalogs and bulletins.  These sources would be categorized under the appropriate sections within the State Normal School page, and we would include images and timelines as appropriate.

The page for the Fredericksburg community would also contain four main links:  the Eastburn War Diaries, the Knox Family, the Rowe Family, and Influenza.  For the community, the current sources we have correspond to the families whose narratives we will be exploring; we will reference the Eastburn Diaries, letters from the Knox family, and letters from the Rowe family.  We will also be using articles and information from The Daily Star.  Again, timelines would probably be used to show what was happening within the individual narratives.

On the main home page, we have discussed creating a map of important locations on campus and in the community to give viewers an idea of what the area looked like between 1914 and 1918; hopefully we can use GIS software and export the map as an image (since most of us in the group were not fans of Google Maps).  We have also discussed perhaps having a timeline of national events, or one with three different colors corresponding to national, Fredericksburg, and State Normal School events.  As for the actual website, right now we are considering using Omeka rather than WordPress since it allows for many more interactive features.

All in all, we are quite excited to be starting to conceptualize our site – here’s hoping the journey won’t be paralyzing from here on out!

Home is where the Navy sends you: Explorations of Maps and Timelines

Last Tuesday, we learned how to create maps and timelines, both of which would be useful for our websites.  In particular, the creation of the maps interested me since I do GIS, but the process and end result was quite different between Google Maps and ArcMap (the ESRI GIS software that we use here at Mary Wash).  The timeline option looked fascinating, since information and pictures could be added to the feature making it both informative and visually appealing.

I would be lying if I said creating the map was really fun or interesting.  After spending the past three years working with GIS software and creating maps with multiple sets of data, the oversimplified Google Map just annoyed me.  I felt so limited, and thought that my map wasn’t showcasing everything that it could potentially display.  I guess for its easy and accessible interface the map served its purpose and can be used to visually aid an argument or a website.  I definitely think our group will include a map (of campus and the Fredericksburg community) but if I have any say in the matter I would gladly prefer a more intricate and appealing map created through the GIS software I use rather than Google Maps.


View Larger Map

Fortunately, I was much more pleased with the process and the outcome of the timeline.  Not only was it simple to use and easy to add media and credits to, but the result was a clean timeline with all of the necessary information.  The user could put as little or as much information as he or she desired, but for me the purpose of the timeline was to show location, date, and an image.  Again, I think our group will definitely be using a timeline, or several (so it doesn’t become too overwhelming), to assist in informing our audience of events occurring on the home front during WWI.  We also might contribute to an overall Century America timeline showing events happening nationally and locally at our school’s campuses.  Overall, both the map (preferably ArcMap based) and the timeline will greatly assist in our online archive and exhibit.

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).

All websites are not created equal…

These first two weeks of Adventures in Digital History have been extremely informational regarding the many tools available to students and scholars of history.  We’ve worked through WordPress and its uses not only as a blog but as a website on its own.  The technology is pretty user-friendly, but considering that I’ve been  trying to assemble my site for over a week now is proof that some of us might still find it a bit challenging.  Luckily, however, there are many tutorials online to help those like me figure out how to operate WordPress to our best abilities.

In contrast to WordPress, Omeka fulfills similar functions but operates a bit differently.  It is not as user-friendly but can do some things that WordPress cannot, such as working much better with media forms other than text and simple images.  Omeka also offers a variety of interactive tools that might aid in website aesthetics, which is visible in the “Great Molasses Flood” website, which I will discuss in further detail later.  I think that our group should definitely consider both WordPress and Omeka as options for our site, especially because Omeka can be used to store collections that are private in addition to providing a public site.

I really enjoyed learning about Zotero!  The whole time Peter was talking I was thinking “now where was this while I was doing my thesis last semester…”  At least now I’ll have it in my arsenal though!  It isn’t 100% accurate but it is definitely much more reliable than any of the other citation tools that I’ve tried in the past.

Viewing the websites for today’s class was extremely useful in gaining insight into how I would like to set up my own website for this class.  I had assumed that most of the digital archival sites would appear vaguely similar, with links leading to primary sources and documents concerning the time period/area of study in question.  Now, I completely understand why aesthetics and design are so important; some of the sites were visually appealing while others’ appearance made me disinterested even if the topic itself piqued my interest.

I really liked the “Valley of the Shadow” website; although the topic initially was not very interesting to me, I loved the layout and design.  The website was extremely open and bright, which made it uncluttered and easy to navigate.  All of the links made it clear where you were headed, and it was easy to find the link back to the home page if you ever wanted to view other links.  I also thought the color scheme and floor plan appearance of the links for each time period studied was unique and also helpful because it was clear exactly where each link would bring you.  I would really like to follow the example set by this website because its clear and open appearance made it appealing and easy to navigate, especially for someone who usually gets overwhelmed by websites.

On the flip side, the “French Revolution” website bothered me almost immediately; I don’t know if it was my browser or what, but the formatting was off from the get-go and all of the information appeared on the left-hand side rather than evenly centered.  Not only did this make it off balance, but it made the information appear smaller than it probably should have if only everything had been centered and at an appropriate scale.  The home page was busy and overwhelming, and the links got lost on top of the images, making it much harder to navigate.  Even once a link was chosen, the viewer had to choose from a small drop-down menu which source he/she wanted.  Once a source was chosen, the site brought the viewer to a page that was full of description and lacked many visuals.  Even when I chose “Images” under the “Browse” option, I was given links to images so I had no preview of what image I was viewing.  All in all, this website was a bit busy and cluttered for my liking, and when I design my own website I want each link to bring the viewer to a new, clean page rather than making the home page even more confusing.

I really liked the “Emile Davis Diaries” website- it was so neat that there were pages instead of links to click on, since the viewer was looking at diary entries!  It wasn’t the most exciting in layout since every page looked the same, but I kind of liked the monotony of it because the design worked, so there was no need to alter it in my opinion.  It also made it clear to the viewer exactly what he/she was getting into, so that there was no confusion when a link was chosen.  I think I would like to try a similar layout for my own site, but perhaps be a bit more creative so the viewer doesn’t get bored.  I do think the design was successful, because it was clean and made sure that the viewer was able to navigate to the exact location that was desired.

Finally, I checked out the “Great Molasses Flood” website to see how Omeka operates in action.  It was definitely very different than the other sites I visited!  Although extremely neat in layout and how it presented the available information, the site used too many interactive features on the home page making it appear chaotic.  The different colors used were extremely distracting, as was the information that popped up after scrolling across the page.  Despite its busyness and over-enthusiasm with the interactive features, all of the files were easy to access and the overall topic was interesting and one that is not as well-known in American history.  I think the site does offer insight into some of the many awesome features that Omeka has to offer, and I’m sure my group and I will consider the pros and cons of using some of these features when it comes to constructing our own site.

Viewing these sites gave me an idea of what I want to include in my own; layout and color choice were the biggest things I noticed, since if a site was too busy I became disinterested quickly, whereas if a website was brighter and less cluttered I felt like I could tackle the information given.  I definitely want links to be clear as to where they are going, since sometimes the sites offered links that brought to a page with description and more links, and I was no longer interested.  I hope that I will be able to break through my lack of technological experience and create a website where not only digitally-challenged folks like myself will find it appealing but those with more expertise might still find it enjoyable and interactive.