Examining Digital History Sites

The approach I used to take a look at the list of sites for examining digital history was a simple one.  I went to the home page and after looking at the entire page, if it looked like something I could easily navigate and something that would hold my interest, I went into the site.

Such elements are what I am looking to incorporate in my side of our website, and I think that my colleague agrees with me.  We want something that is initially clean and just a “scratch the surface” type of intro, and then as each additional layer is revealed, the substance of the website becomes more striated and complex.

Those elements were what I saw incorporated into the Valley of the Shadow blog, the University of Houston’s Digital History blog, and the Emilie Davis Diaries.  These three blogs were my favorite.  They each had a fairly simplistic opening page, and I especially like that the Valley of the Shadows blog used their home page as simply an introduction page with a button for the site entrance.  I also liked how this particular blog split the time frame for the Civil War into three subsets- before, during, and after- and then each of those subsets had compartments (which were all identical in each time frame) in which to click to see primary documents, pictures, etc. and obtain an analysis of that information.

The Digital History site for the U of H was a bit more complex, and I hesitated before entering the site, but the graphics combined with the timeline made it a bit easier to navigate versus the box and grid line contraption on The Emancipation Project blog.

I also loved the timeline at the top of the Emilie Davis Diaries blog home page where each page of the site was broken down into particular diary entries from consecutive calendar days.  I also thought including the original diary entry off to the side of the page, with the ability to click and enlarge the entry, was genius.  I’m the type of person (historian) who likes to see the original of something, be it a photo, diary entry, letter, etc., when I’m learning about it.  Makes it more real to me, sort of brings it to life.

In thinking of the audience in which I’d like for most of the information on the Asheville site to be viewed by, I keep coming back to the K-12 set as well as the people who live in this area.  I don’t want a site that is so complicated it’s going to keep folks from even attempting to enter it.  Yet I don’t want a site that is too simplistic for a seasoned professor to glean some tidbit of information from either.

I continue to concur with my colleague’s musings on this: I think our blog site would be best suited as a kind of “archaeological dig site” if you will.  On the surface you have more of an overview on what you are about to uncover, something that would invite both the student as well as the professional historian alike.  When you reveal that second layer, it becomes more detailed, and by the time you reach the “bones” of the site, you are obtaining a completely detailed picture of the Great War.

In my mind this is going to be what appeals to a broad range of academic and age groups.  A site in which you can gain a broad overview of the subject in just a few clicks, but a site with enough meat in it that anyone with a hunger for the subject of the Great War in Western North Carolina will be fully satisfied when they finally close down their laptop.

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