Category Archives: Websites

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!

Website Feedback (plus issues with the internets)

When I first began this post, I was sitting in beautiful Tampa at the AAG (Association of American Geographers) conference, and it was a fantastic experience!  Unfortunately it also meant that I missed our weekly sessions, which was kind of a bummer.  More of a bummer was the fact that the internet at the convention center did not seem to like me much, and I couldn’t seem to play the video recordings of this week’s classes without it taking five minutes to load about two seconds of the video.  I guess that’s what happens when you offer wi-fi to about 25,000 people…

Anyhow, I am now back in lovely Fredericksburg, and once again have internet connection!  Unfortunately, for some reason the website of the recordings is down…so although I have internet, I still cannot watch the video recordings.  Sadness.  However, even though I cannot watch the video recording or hear feedback from the other students, I am still going to post about what I thought about everyone’s websites, and the progress that we have all made thus far.

Chris – Montevallo, 1914-1919

First off, I think the theme that Chris is using is spectacular, I love that it almost reads as if it is a newspaper, which I think really fits our project of discussing the Great War.  I also really like his background – I’m a huge fan of setting a single, faded image as a background to presentations, and I really love the effect that this has on Chris’s pages, making them appear simple yet crisp and not boring like if the page had been left black and white.

As for particular pages, I like that Chris named his citations as “Bibliography and Further Reading” since I think this encourages others to conduct some of their own research and read the primary documents that he consulted.  I’m not sure how I feel about the way he broke up the citations, however; on the one hand, I think that his separation of works based on type helps the reader easily locate the sources, but on the other it doesn’t specify where he referenced each source.  So both ways make sense, I’m just not sure which way would be easier for the viewer to navigate.  I know he specifies on the individual pages where exactly the information comes from, so maybe the way he has it set up on the bibliography page offers an alternative of finding the original sources.  All in all, I think Chris’s website is looking terrific!

Jen – No Man’s Land

I was super impressed with all of the research and digitization that Jen must have gone through in order to complete this project, her website really shows the lengths she went to find images and resources from the era.  I particularly liked the section on “Letters from the Great War” because we can see the original letter along with the transcribed version for easy reading.  I think this adds to the narrative of making the website a lot more personable rather than just an archive.

One of the things I think would help make the site even more useful to the visitor would be if navigation was a bit easier – once you start clicking on individual letters and stories, it’s hard to go back to where you left off before you clicked onto a specific link.  The side bar and menu are helpful, but navigation still seems a bit strained.  Another thing I think that might make the site more aesthetically pleasing is a smaller header image, or none at all except the main page.  Every time I clicked on a new page or link, I had to scroll past the image to see what the page contained, instead of instantly being intrigued by a new image, title, or story.  Otherwise, I think Jen’s research shows through her website, and I can’t wait to see what it looks like once it’s completed.

Ryan – Farmington State Normal School

I LOVE the theme that Ryan is using!  I love that it looks like we’re peeking into a file about the Farmington State Normal School, which I think helps to create a narrative about all of the images and media that he is using on his website.  I also like the slider photos that appear on the main page, since they give us a look into life for the girls who attended the school.  I also really liked the page about the “Voices of the Great War” since it offered both readings and transcriptions so that visitors could follow along to the recordings if they so chose.

My biggest critique for the site is navigation – the menu is useful and gets the job done, but for sections that have multiple pages it’s hard to go to individual pages unless you remember to hover over that section and select the specific page.  My fear is that some information might get lost or ignored since visitors might not take the time to select each individual page by remembering to hover.  Perhaps it might be more beneficial to have links to the other pages within the section at the bottom of the page?  There is so much information on these pages and I just want to make sure viewers are aware of them, since Ryan has researched the school at length and has a lot to share about it.

Alisia – North Adams and the Great War

The home page for Alisia’s site is really crisp and clean, and the navigation menu at the top encourages the visitor to immediately begin exploring the site.  It might be helpful to add some text to this page, but just something brief to not take away from the image or further exploration.  I love the incorporation of blocked quotes into certain pages, which really help to construct a narrative rather than just a collection of images.  What I would suggest in the way of images, if possible, is to make the thumbnails the same size so that they look cohesive rather than some being larger than others.  I think the images offer a lot to the visitors’ understanding of North Adams during the war, and I love that when you click on them in the “Explore the School” section it tells you where/what the images are.  Navigation seems to be pretty clear, my only concern is the section on Mary Curran since the visitor has to hover over to menus in order to get to “biography.”  Perhaps it would be better to just link the second section to her biography?  Regardless, I think the site is aesthetically pleasing and offers an interactive narrative for those curious about the school.

Dara – Near the Great Lakes during the Great War

To me, Dara’s site was one of the easiest to navigate, which I really appreciated since I tend to get overwhelmed when bogged down on too many links and connections.  I think the menu bar was helpful, but what I really liked was the sidebar that allowed me to connect to both larger sections and individual pages.  I also liked the extensive use of images to help tell a story about the school, and I love the inclusion of newspaper articles and other quotes from those who were at the school during the Great War.  My recommendation would be to have little blurbs at the beginning of each page to create a more cohesive narrative, so that we understood the importance of each of the sources and images included.  My other recommendation would be to have a home page about this specific project, and maybe put the information about Century America on an “about” page, so that we are immediately drawn to the narrative about the Superior State Normal School rather than the overarching course.

Colin – Southern Utah University

I was really impressed with how much information was present on Colin’s site – the narrative created through the text was extremely well-thought out and definitely succeeded in giving the reader knowledge of what was happening in Cedar City during the Great War.  I think it might be nice to add in some images as well, so that there is something to go along with the text, but I know it can be hard to find relevant media especially from a hundred years ago.  I really liked the “Voices of the Great War” section, I thought the use of video was unique and creative in telling the story of the B.A.C. and the surrounding community, rather than just using quotes.  I also really liked the “Veterans of WWI” section because it really connects the narrative to the present and how we think about the Great War.

One suggestion I do have for the overall site is the theme – perhaps it would be more aesthetically pleasing to have a background color other than white?  Paired with the black and white images, I think the site could use a bit more color, either with the background or colors of fonts for titles.  Other than that, however, I think the narrative created is successful in telling the tale of Cedar City and its inhabitants during the Great War.

Jimmy – Shepherd University

The website is extensive of just how much work Jimmy has put into this project, and it shows through his research and the narrative he has created with images and text.  The breakdown of both the section on the college and that of the community is clear and thought out, and offers concise but crucial information regarding specific topics.  My favorite part of the website was the “Voices of the Great War” since it was so interactive and there were several quotes and readings.  The recording component adds to the tale because it makes the story seem much more real and personal, something I think is often lacking when simply reading quotes.

My biggest critique for this site is its theme – the current theme is designed for blogging rather than an exhibit or archive, and I feel like it is pretty limiting, especially given the amount of research that has been done on this project.  I don’t know if changing the theme would completely screw up all of the information on the site, but I think it might be something to consider so that the site feels less like a blog.  On that note, it might also be helpful to disable comments via a widget, so that no one comments on pages of text and information.  Aside from minor aesthetics, I really liked this site since it was rich in information and easy to navigate.

Christos – Eastern Connecticut

I like the incorporation of both text and images on this site, particularly the section on “The Fire of ’43″ since the reader can see the original article but also learn other information that was gained by the researcher.  I also really liked the section on the memorial – like with Colin, I think this was a great idea to see how the war affected the community, and is a great way to honor those who served in the war.  I think this section should go before the “Century America” tab on the menu, however, to cohesively connect with the story of Willimantic.

Like with Jimmy’s site, my critique lies in aesthetics and the theme that was chosen since it seems to be more suited for a blog rather than an archive or exhibit.  I would recommend going through some of the general WordPress settings and getting rid of things like the calendar of posts, disabling comments, etc. so that it feels less like a blog.  The menu at the top is a bit overwhelming as well, since it wraps under itself a few times and isn’t as seamless as a simpler, single line menu.  I think once the aesthetics are addressed, the website will be engaging since all of the information is already present.

Overall, I am extremely thrilled with everyone’s progress, and can’t wait to see what the finished projects look like in these upcoming final weeks!

Look how far we’ve come!

First off, everyone’s websites are really coming together, and we can’t wait to see what the finished products look like!  Thanks for all of your updates last Thursday, and your input for the final overarching site that those of us here at Mary Washington are creating!  We will be putting the finishing touches on the site soon, and would like your continued critiques as we complete the remaining tasks.

As for how our progress is going, we can’t really complain!  We’ve been really lucky to have been able to rely on each other, and thank goodness for Jack and Leah and their knowledge regarding WordPress and programming!  Voices_1Often Candice and I feel like we can’t contribute that much in regards to the technical aspect, but luckily this past Thursday night after hours of fiddling with widgets we successfully created the “Voices of the Great War” widget to show up on individual pages, and were able to make them different for each page.  We’ve also just been editing little things about the site, such as fonts, color schemes, and finishing up citations – that will probably consume the majority of our remaining time on the site, since we want to make sure everything is given proper credit.

For the overarching Century America site, we are still working on embedding the map into the site, and have decided to create a new page specifically for the map so that the home page isn’t as overwhelming or distracting.  We are also working on editing the timeline that Leah has put together – we just need to add a few more events and the pictures, so I will be doing that and attempting the citations.  We’re on the right track though, and can’t wait to show our finished site to everyone in our class, and the world!

Website Critiques

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 flipside, 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.

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.