My group has been assigned to digitize the letters of Montgomery Slaughter and George Murray, and so far, I think we are making pretty good progress on that front. The members assigned to scanning the documents are doing well, and we are experimenting with how to make the site, do an introductory video, and handling other details. I think the question of audience is very important to our group, not because of any confusion as to who might be in that group, but just because that might be a very broad audience we’ll attempt to reach. Historians, teachers, students, and tourists are all groups that we would definitely want to reach through our project.
I think there’s a variety of things we could do to increase traffic for the website once it exists in a completed form. The most obvious of course, is to make sure we use plenty of tags and terms that will cause the website to come up quickly in google searches. What we can also do is contact various Civil War groups to try and promote the site, as well as use our own social media accounts to drum up interest that way. Another thing that might be worth trying is making flyers or something of that nature to distribute to local visitor centers and tourist sites.
One easy way to deal with site maintenance after the semester is over would be to simply hand the log-in information for the site over to the National Park Service; as it will be linked to their site, I would imagine they might take responsibility for occasionally checking in on the site to make sure it is at least functional.
So for my group, I, as well as the rest of the group, believe Omeka could be incredibly useful. Creating an exhibition of sorts for displaying the primary sources we are dealing with, which are Civil War-era letters, would be a good way to set up a site so that the public can view said letters. In addition, Omeka’s set-up makes it very easy to layer information; as well as just setting up an exhibition for the letters and adding transcriptions, we can very easily design other sections of the site to display additional information about the authors, people and events mentioned in the letters, and other relevant information. This will allow users to peruse the main feature of the site, the letters themselves, and then research the subject in greater depth through the information on the site, and other linked sources on relevant material.
In terms of layout, among the sites I’ve looked at, I liked the websites for Mapping the Republic of Letters and University of Houston’s Digital History site. The first site has some issues with clearly needing some updates or maintenance, but the general layout was interesting and useful for finding a variety of information; with just one click from the case studies page, you could access whatever specific information you were looking for or interested in. The Houston site was simplistic in its display, but quite easy to navigate and search.
The Molasses Flood website was certainly original and unique in its display, and could definitely not be mistaken for anything else; the way it allowed for closer viewing of the material it displayed was also good, My only criticism would be that especially with having to scroll down extensively on the side-section for additional information, it wasn’t terribly intuitive to use immediately.
For sites I liked less, MapScholar struck me as odd in that it did not seem to exploit Omeka very well, there was little at first glance to distinguish it from your usual WordPress site. The Davis Diaries is clearly a good idea, but it is not displayed in any particularly interesting visual way, and again, may as well be on WordPress; the bar that lets you swap through the dates is sort of neat, but overall the site does not look especially distinctive.
Reading the introduction to Cohen and Rosenschweig’s 2006 book, I was for the most part impressed that the observations made therein were still relevant. The authors did an excellent job of distilling the components that made up and still make up the field of digital history. Notably however, the book was written before the entrance onto the market of the Amazon Kindle e-reader. When commenting on the possibility of digital reading usurping traditional books, the authors had this to say.
“Prophets of hypertext have repeatedly promised a new, richer reading experience, but critics have instead seen the digital environment as engendering the death of reading as we know it. Sven Birkerts has expressed the most profound sense of loss in Gutenberg Elegies: The Fate of Reading in an Electronic Age. The more prosaic (and the most common) complaint centers on the difficulty of reading a screen, that is, the issue of poor legibility. But reading on screen may ultimately find a technological solution as high-resolution, high-contrast displays become cheaper to produce.”
As the Kindle has demonstrated, the readability issues in the technical sense have for the most part been resolved. Using an E-reader is no longer considered difficult, and the convenience of what can effectively be a portable library is hard to deny. That said, for various other reasons, the E-book has so far complemented rather than replaced print books. According to a Pew survey in 2014, only 4% of e-book users exclusively read e-books. In 2015, according to another Pew survey, e-reader ownership has actually declined.
Given these statistics, it seems safe to conclude that this particular fear of “techno-skeptics” as the authors refer to them, has been demonstrated to be unwarranted, at least in the foreseeable future. In terms of e-readers and tablets with similar provisions for allowing users to read online content and e-books, this book could definitely use an update, certainly to the extent of a footnote or two about the statistics mentioned above.
I signed up for Dr. McClurken’s class for several reasons, the first being that it looked like one of the most interesting classes for this semester and I had heard good things from friends who took the class. On a somewhat more intellectual level, I am interested in gaining more proficiency with using digital tools within the context of the history discipline in order to promote more interest and understanding of history. I like using the Internet, both for personal entertainment and to do research, but I do not have too much experience with digital projects, so I am hoping to get a wider skill-set in the digital history field that I could use in the future out of this class.
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