This week in Adventures of Digital History, I was given to opportunity to explore history websites. While doing so, Professor McClurken urged the class to look at the sites and determine what we liked or didn’t like. He also wanted us to look at sites and determine if any contained ideas that we may incorporate into our own websites and projects.
My group’s project is the development of a map of the National Cemetery in Fredericksburg. The cemetery belongs to the National Park Service. We have been given a list of what the NPS would like for us to develop for their visitors.
The first websites that I visited and reviewed were Omeka sites. Based on my limited knowledge I am aware that Omeka is limited in what it offers for a web designer. I visited Histories of the National Mall and the Great Molasses Flood.
The Mall History site had a good Home page. The search bar was easy to find. Additionally, selecting sub topics from the main menu proved user friendly. Toggling back and forth between menu items was also user friendly. The map was well developed with multiple layers that were easy to negotiate. The section titled “Explorations” was comparable to a FAQs section on other sites. That would be something I would incorporate into my own website. Unfortunately, the color scheme was overwhelming and the title on the home page was too small.
Unlike the overwhelming color scheme of the Mall History site, the colors used on the great Molasses Flood site were softer. The use of color to highlight relevant words within the black and white newspaper was good but adding color to random letters in random words was not appealing. On the right side of the site, there is a menu bar in which the user can select a topic pertaining to the article(s). This works well but becomes overwhelming at the text is simply layered on top of the home page as opposed to redirecting the user to the article. I like the use of the side bar with certain topics listed instead of a search bar. This helps the user who may not know exactly what to look for find an area of interest. I would incorporate this tool in my own site if I was linking to a primary source. On a whole, this site was very busy and overwhelming.
My favorite site of those I viewed was The Civil War on the Western Border. This site, one of the Rosenzweig Prize winning sites, was exactly what I would hope for in a History website. The colors, font, images, and layout were excellent. I especially liked to timeline and the map. The site also lists awards and endorsements. I would use this site as a model for future projects. There was nothing that I would change on this site.
I viewed Map Scholar hoping that this site would assist me and my group in the development of our mapping project. This site was aesthetically pleasing. It was presented in a simplistic manner. However, after searching the site I found it difficult to understand and focus on. I did not feel as if this site would work best for a novice such as myself. One positive aspect of the site was that the site would send the user to more information with a word link (not sure what it is called).
The site Mapping the Republic Letters was very interesting. The video introduction was welcoming. I would have liked more of an explanation of what the Republic Letters were. What worked best for this site was its simplicity. I like the way that the contact information is based on the scholar that the site documents. That would be a toll that I would incorporate in the future. I would like to use that on the cemetery project but we would need to contact NPS as to feasibility.
The last site I viewed was The Clio. This site was very user friendly. The search tool worked great! The site had a text box that listed how many sites were entered on the site and how many updates were made in the past thirty days. For a user, that tells me that the administrators are continually monitoring and updating the site. The only complaint I have about the site is that the logo on the home screen is very small. I was not sure that I was at the right site when I first arrived there.
I took away many good ideas from my research. For me, a site, just like food, needs to be visually pleasing. If it is overwhelming like the colors of the Omeka sites, it is hard for me to stay on the site and see what it has to offer. I do realize that looks can be deceiving (the Map Scholar site looked easy but was not) but it usually is a good jumping off point.