All websites are not created equal…

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.

UMW/Fredericksburg Preliminary Survey

Over the past week or so, in addition to some earlier findings based on internet searches, Candice, Leah, Jack, and I have been able to find several resources both within the UMW archives and out in the Fredericksburg community.  Jack and Leah made it out to the Special Collections within our university archives and were able to find many helpful resources during the years of World War I.  Academic Catalogs and Bulletins mention the war and certain “war activities” that the university was involved in on the home front.  Also included in this collection, and online, are copies of the yearbook from every year beginning in 1914, with the exception of 1918 in which there was no yearbook published.

We are hopeful that much more exists about home front efforts in Fredericksburg in other archives found throughout the area; we have discovered many collections that appear promising, and will be checking them out very soon!  First and foremost, this Thursday we will be going to the Central Rappahannock Regional Heritage Center and looking at their own special collections, including diaries regarding the home front experience and oral histories, as well as photographs.  Their hours are not the most convenient for college students what with classes and all, but we will all be able to make the trek this week, which will be exciting I hope!

The Central Rappahannock Regional Library has a postcard collection dating to the World War I era which should be extremely useful to this project.  Located within the library is the Virginiana Room containing primary sources and photographs from Fredericksburg’s past.  The Circuit Courts will also prove helpful if we get any leads that require deed research.  Online through the Fredericksburg Historical Courts there are lists of WWI military recruits, as well as marriage licenses from the past that can be used to gather insight about life on the home front.

It seems like the four of us here at UMW have a number of promising leads regarding the home front experience during WWI, but it might take some sifting through and digging to find some sources from more than just the main archives.  We are attempting to contact smaller organizations that have been around for a while, including the fire department, the Masonic lodge, and the National Museum of the Marine Corps in Quantico to see if they might have any photos, diaries, or other artifacts of interest that might aid us in our research.  I can’t wait to continue on with our discoveries!

Exploring the Digital World

Even though I’m a history major, as well as a geography major who has received her certificate in GIS, I am still one of the most technologically/digitally challenged people in the world.  So why am I taking a class on digital history?  To learn more about it, of course!  Dr. McClurken had mentioned a project working with students from other universities to create websites about our colleges during World War I, and I jumped at the chance to join in.  I am super excited to be working with Candice, Leah, and Jack on this project, and to see the progress made by the other groups in our class.  I am also really excited to learn more about the tools that we will be using- like I said before, I’m pretty technologically challenged so even setting up this blog was a struggle.  But I know I’ll get better as I get more accustomed to using the tools and that these skills will help me beyond this class.  I can’t wait to see what this semester holds!

Initial Findings

So far, everything has been going pretty well in Fredericksburg!  Though the city is better known for its role in the Civil War, so far we have found that our school, the University of Mary Washington, did maintain some records of how the school functioned during World War I and what life was like on the home front in Fredericksburg.  The school does have a special collections section that has yearbooks, course catalogs, and other memorabilia from the era, and we are hopeful that we will find more in places such as the circuit court and deed office located in our downtown.  I am lucky enough to have the opportunity to work with Leah, Candice, and Jack from my university, and we are hopeful that as we delve further into our research we will be able to find more information and sources that will help us discover what life was like at home in Fredericksburg during the First World War.