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.