Update on Research: Masonic Lodge and Heritage Center

So as my group members have posted recently we have found a tremendous amount of information for our project. Recently we have visited both the Masonic Lodge in Fredericksburg and the Heritage Center. Both had their ups and downs when it actually came to our research. Nonetheless we continue to find valuable material that will be vital to our website.

First, the Masonic Lodge was interesting to say the least. I have never really looked into the organization, but now I feel as if I am expert after spending an hour and half learning the ins and outs of the group. As for our research the lodge did not have anything that was truly worth putting in the project. However, the archivist for the lodge was not there when we visited, so hopefully when they return they can push us in the right direction if there is any material to work with. I have not fully given up on the lodge, but its beginning to look more like a dead end.

Second, the Heritage Center was almost a complete success. When I say almost I mean there was an exciting and overwhelming amount of material to work with, but there are a few issues with the center. For one its expensive: $2.00 for a digital copy, for example. Then after that if you want to publish any material from the center you must go back and gain permission first rather than placing an acknowledgement for the source. Instead we have resorted to the old school way of writing out all of our discoveries. One specific resource I worked with was a day to day diary from a family man in Fredericksburg throughout the war. He discusses everything from the birth of his children to war being fought in Europe. It was one of the best find we could possibly have because it can act as a great timeline for events throughout the war. I wish we could publish the diary on our site so individuals could flip through the diary themselves, but that would cost way to much money for the site. I have already created a basic timeline of the diary, but it is nothing compared to the original.

I beg UMW to purchase the archive so that history majors such as myself in the future can have access to endless amount of material from the area. I am a firm believer in open access and the Creative Commons and I wish we could have complete access to this information as students. I wish more people had faith in college students when it comes to undergraduate research. We are not coming to your archive to destroy, but to spread knowledge and information to the public and the education community.

Eastburn Diaries: Life in Fredericksburg, Va 1916-1917 Timeline

This timeline consist of the Eastburn family diaries. The diaries include global and local events. Eventually I would like to make a timeline from all the diaries, which include 1914 to 1917. I really like this timeline template. It’s very useful because its simplicity and it is easy to embed into a webpage or post. I think we will be able to use this template or some other timeline plug-in for the project. We have already kicked around a few ideas. We already have planned to make a massive timeline for the whole project, but we can use this timeline template for smaller periods of time or specific areas.

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Digital History: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Is it possible to research, design, write and publish a successful digital history project? Yes and no. After reviewing several digital history projects I have come to the conclusion that some projects can have great success while other just fall flat. Most of the historical research is impeccable and useful, some of the sites lack a user friendly interface, while others are down right ugly and reminded me of Windows ’98 (for one reason or another). The three projects included the Emily Davis Diaries, The Valley of the Shadow, and the French Revolution. Each had a varying degree of usefulness, beauty, and horror.

The Good: The Emilie Davis Diaries 

One of the better projects I looked at was Villanova University collection of diaries written by Emilie Davis. The site consist of all the diary entries of Emilie Davis, who was an African American woman living in Philadelphia during the Civil War. Each diary entry is transcribed for viewers to read easier than her normal handwriting. The organization of the website is built thoroughly with each diary entry placed in chronological order making it easy for users to go through the diary on a day to day basis. Additionally, users can search for key words throughout the website making for even easier user capability.  One cool and useful aspect about the project is a keyword and most used word bank at the bottom of the webpage. Along with the transcribed diary is a digital copy of the original diary on every page.  However, one of the best features of the project are the individual annotations on each page of the diary. This feature would work great for the project we are currently working on and is something we should all look into.

Besides just the usability of the website, the aesthetics and design are above par when looking at other historical websites. There is not too little nor too much information on each and it has a very clean cut look. Continuity is key and the project is completely successful at not changing the site layout on each page. Most websites tend to diverge from their layout once you continue on through their sites.

Overall the site serves its intended purpose and does not leave users horrified in what could have been a disaster. Instead the team at Villanova did an excellent job at bringing history to the web and giving access to those interested in the Emilie Davis diaries plenty to work with.

The Bad: The Valley of the Shadow

Though not wretched The Valley of the Shadow is nothing in comparison to the Emily Davies Diaries. The project consist of an online archive of material such as newspapers and court documents from two cities (one north and one south) during the Civil War. From the homepage users are greeted with a very creative interface. The developers actually brought the archive to the web. What I mean is that the designers gave each category and time frame its own individual “room”. Though this method is very cool and original the website lacks continuity and navigation. Once you begin diving into the actual material it is very easy to get lost in the archive and there is no way for you to navigate your way back.  The site goes from one theme to another and changes the user interface. However, this problem is no easy task when it comes to websites that host such large amounts of material. I absolutely love the idea of bringing the “archive” to the web, but the site itself is not very helpful.

One of the major components missing in this site is a main menu. The lack of menu makes users have to press the back button constantly to navigate back and forth between pages and the home page. However, the site does attempt to help users navigate their way through the conundrum by offering a “how to” page.

This project by far is not your standard website. The Valley of the Shadow only needs a few new components and a different layout in some areas to be a new creative site for historical research. It basically needs a revamp with a little bit of old school. Creativity with a site can set you apart from others, but you cannot skimp out on vital components of a website.

The Ugly: The French Revolution 

When I first went to this site created by George Mason University and the City University of New York I immediately wanted to leave the site. I lost all hope for the site when I saw them using three or four different font styles and colors on the homepage. Why is everything aligned on the left side of the page?  The menu is scattered about the small canvas making it difficult for users to even find a beginning. I do not believe I have attempted to navigate a more difficult website in my life. You are instantly thrown into a maze of French Revolutionary history. These type of sites is why so many are against the digital age and bringing history to the web. I do understand that the site is relatively old and more than likely has not been updated in a very very long time. Nonetheless, as an online archive this site should be continuously upgraded for its users so they don’t instantly give up on their research when they first come to your site. Lastly out of all the sites I looked at this is the only one I can remember that offers some type of merchandise for sale.

I can not possibly imagine how anyone could use this website for research. You are better off going to an actual archive than navigating this site. I will more than likely not take away anything from this website to place in my other than seeing what not to do when it comes to a digital history.

Conclusion:

All in all as we continue on into the future digital history seems to get better and more creative as we go on. For the digital past it is best if we leave some projects in dust and learned from what we lost. Project such as the Emilie Davis Diaries allow other historians and students great ideas for great historical project. The do’s and don’ts are all there in these three project and there is enough to take away to begin building our own sites.

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Archival Survey

After surveying material for the project our group has found a tremendous amount of information both in the university archives and elsewhere throughout the Fredericksburg region. UMW’s archives specifically hold an abundance of material from the war times. The archives have almost all of the academic catalogs and bulletins from 1914-1918. However, the most useful bulletins and catalogs are from 1917 when America first entered the war, which described how students and staff could potentially help the war effort and how to conserve during wartime. Even some of the bulletins after 1918 offer some information about campus life during the war.  UMW’s archives also hold President Russell’s papers from 1914-1918 which specifically reference the war and the campus community. There are a few student scrapbooks made by various students. They have little to no writing in them, but they do have valuable photographs from the time, which include soldiers and female students in what seem to be nurse uniforms. UMW’s digital archives also have all the yearbooks from the war years, which depict student life through clubs and sports teams. They offer information into student extracurricular activities and events during the time and offer some writing from various students. Additionally, at the institutes archives are a collection of newspaper clippings collected by Hamilton Eckenrode. They mainly consist of war events and nothing specific to the community, but with more research we may be able to find some useful information.

Beyond UMW’s own archives we have done some preliminary research at other archives and historical societies. The Central Rappahannock Regional Heritage Center has a great deal of information on the Fredericksburg area during the war. The collection includes photographs, oral histories, journals, and various local government documents. There are actually some letters from troops that were sent back home to the city. The Central Rappahannock Regional Library has a collection of post cards from Fredericksburg in addition to some oral histories from the region. The Virginia Room run by Barbara Willis has several useful resources, which include photographs and secondary sources from the time. Fredericksburg’s Circuit Courts has a list of World War I inductees of soldiers from the city and region. This list will help to research personal stories of those from the area.

We are still looking into local newspapers in the area to see if there is any useful resources. The Free Lance-Star has a digitized collection of newspaper, but it is not the most useful search engine when looking for a specific topic. In addition to the Free Lance-Star one individual, Gary Stanton, has compiled what seems to be some very useful material for the project. His website has the best digital collection of Fredericksburg resources, including some census records and searchable indexes for tax records, court records, and newspapers. The Virginia Historical Society has the Goolrick Family Papers from 1896-1927, which help give insight into the home-life in the Fredericksburg area because they were such a prominent  family. They have information on the struggles through the war times and the Spanish Influenza of 1918.

All in all we seem to have plenty of information and sources to work with through UMW’s own archives and collections elsewhere throughout the region. We are continuing to find useful information on a daily basis and will continue to update that information through blog post and twitter as the information comes out. Hopefully, this project will be a tremendous success and I am looking forward to the rest of the semester as we work on our sites.

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Archival Research: Week One

Two of us went to UMW’s archives in the library yesterday and successfully found a ton of material and information. There are several student scrapbooks from that time with various pictures of students, teachers, and various members of the armed forces from that time period. These scrapbooks additionally had several pages that stated “War Times”. Catalogs from the university also held a ton of information and actually on from 1917 titled “Patriotism Through Local History Conservation in War Time Reorganization of English School Activities.” This catalog was most exciting because it was written by the the schools president and several professors of the time explaining how to conserve during wartime. We are still trying to find out if UMW’s curriculum changed, but have not looked through all of the catalogs. By the end of the week hopefully we will be able to finish our archival research.

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