Historical Website Review

September 1, 2006

Our first assignment in the Clio class is to review the five websites listed on the class schedule.  The websites are all of a historical nature, but were set up with different audiences in mind.  They all have benefits and drawbacks depending on the viewers perspective.  Here’s a brief rundown of both the content and technical aspects.

The Valley of the Shadow: Two Communities in the American Civil War is http://valley.vcdh.virginia.edu/ the leading vote-getter for both criteria.  From a scholastic point of view, it features rich resources and great detail on a fairly narrow perspective of the war – that of a Union community in PA and a southern one in VA.  Unit histories, letters, maps and photographs are all included and cross-referenced – a real plus. Technically, the site has a very usable Site Map which is spatially displayed like the floor plan of a museum.  This little touch makes navigating through the site a breeze.

History Wired: A Few of Our Favorite Things http://historywired.si.edu/index.html is a site developed by the Museum of American History, which features a semi-permanent exhibit called Our Nation’s Attic.  The site is very much reflective of the museum in that it displays a random collection of artifacts in a very loose, broad categorization.  It isn’t scholarly – the text explaining each artifact is very brief and somewhat superficial.  About what you would expect on a museum placard.  Technically, the site has a very interesting organization based on a stock market site, but much of the functionality of the format (size and color of each block to indicate market share and price trend) is wasted on a historical subject.  Aslo, there’s an annoying amount of “persistance” of blocks and lines, and the site hangs up frequently.  This deficiency unfortunately overshadows the functionality of the site organization.

One would think that The Diary of Samuel Pepys http://www.pepysdiary.com/ site would be a more scholarly one, but many of the postings are cryptic and of unknown value.  The banner page of the site doesn’t give much of a clue as to what it’s all about.  It’s kind of a Catch-22 site – you have to have already been there to understand it.

Remembering Pearl Harbor http://plasma.nationalgeographic.com/pearlharbor/ is a National Geographic site clearly intended for a juvenile audience.  It’s graphics, audio (complete with 1941-era static) and displays are first rate despite having to compete with a number of advertisements, but its content is pretty shallow.  There is some good content in the eyewitness accounts, but the backdrop of the attack details is thin.  The subjects are ships – the US Navy ships in the harbor and the Japanese carriers that launched the attack.  There’s barely a mention of the attacks on the other installations on Oahu.

Images of the French Revolution http://chnm.gmu.edu/revolution/imaging/home.html has a somewhat misleading title.  One expects to see a pictorial essay, but what one finds is a discussion site about different images – paintings, etchings, etc.  It is most definitely a scholarly site, but it is hampered by very limited participation (possibly due to limited appeal?).  The few academic posters are also the commenters, so the site has a feel of what is sometimes called a “self-licking ice cream cone” – an entity that sustains and serves itself in a self-contained cycle.



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