Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Environmental Scan and Project Review (Digital History Week 6)

Being in a digital history class this semester, I would love the chance to collaborate with others and produce a project that would be better than any of us could do on our own. With this in mind, the group I will be collaborating with plans to create a digital project that traces a soldier’s experience during WWI. Thus, my group is looking at using some kind of online tool to map a soldier’s travels and document his experiences/letters/journal during the Great War.
In doing an environmental scan, there are several different digital projects that reflect similar work being done in the field. First, the National WWI Museum and Memorial’s online exhibit Make Way for Democracy, which “portrays the lives of African Americans during the war through a series of rare images, documents and objects,” uses historical content (America during WWI) that is relevant to my group’s proposed project (Make Way for Democracy). Another digital project that reflects work similar to my proposed project its For King and Country’s John Cartwright’sGallipoli Campaign 1914-1915.  This online exhibit is relevant to my proposed project in two ways. First, it relates to my project in its historical content, being that it focuses on a soldier’s experiences during WWI. Second, it relates to my project in its use of digital tools, being that it uses mapping technology to trace the soldier’s journey in addition to using pictures to present relevant artifacts. Finally, a third digital project, which relates to my group’s proposed project, is Travels Across the Plains. This project, which maps the Oregon Trail Journal of Elizabeth J. Goltra, relates to my project in the technology that it uses. For my group’s project, I envision my group using similar technology to map a soldier’s letters during World War I. Since this last project is relevant to my group’s proposed project, presented below is a review of Travels Across the Plains as based on the guidelines form the Journal of American History.


Travels Across the Plains, Created by Robert K. Nelson of the Digital Scholarship Lab at the University of Richmond. Reviewed February 22, 2016.

Created by Robert K. Nelson, Travels Across the Plains is a project that purposes to map the journal of Elizabeth J. Goltra and her journey on the Oregon Trail. Considering the content of the project, the project presents sound scholarship being that the information presented represents the unaltered archived journal of an individual. Considering the way the archive is presented, users can see the author’s interpretation of the evidence: that the challenges of traveling across the plains are evident not only in the writings of Goltra, but also in the absences of Goltra’s writings. For example, looking at the map of Goltra’s journal, one will notice that just after Goltra documents what she calls a “hurricane,” she stops journaling for about a week and a half. Thus, from the user’s point of view, Goltra likely experienced challenging times during that week and a half which prohibited her from documenting her travels. 
Considering the form of the project, Travels Across the Plains is presented in a very clear way. The mapping, journal entries, and background information have a simple, but effective structure. Users are able to easily navigate their way throughout the project and will not get lost with any of the project’s hyperlinks. Whether users click around the site’s navigation tabs or click on specific journal entry dates, the map of Goltra’s travels remains as a large heading across the website. Employing Google maps to document the location of the journal entries, the project allows users to see exactly where Goltra was when she wrote each journal entry.
            While the project is strengthened through its content and form, it is weakened in the fact that it is not directed at a clear audience. While professors, students, teachers, and researchers can benefit from this project, it is not clear whom the project is intended to serve. If the project had a clear target audience, it might be able to serve that audience better. For example, if the project is intended to serve college students, the project might provide a citation for college students to use in their research.   
            Yet, while the project lacks a clear audience, it effectively makes use of new media technologies using WordPress and what I believe is Google Maps. Through its mapping technology, this project allows users to view both journal entries and entry locations at the same time. While theoretically one could print off a map of the United States that includes the journal entries as part of the map, the map would have to be so incredibly large that it would likely be difficult to produce and use. Thus, through the use of new media technologies, this project allows the archived journal of Elizabeth Goltra to be viewed in new ways that allow it to be easily and freely accessed by the public.

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