Below is the assignment I was given for my graduate Digital History course, and my response to the assignment, as we have been asked to write it as though it were a blog post.
BLOG ASSIGNMENT: Write an evaluation (500-750 words) of one the following sites (each of you will sign up for one), using the Journal of American History evaluation guidelines. and, where relevant, drawing on the week’s reading. Note especially the questions in the key areas of content, form, audience/use, and new media. If you have a project site that you’d like to review but is not listed here, please let me know at least 5 days in advance of the assignment due date.
The project site that I chose to evaluate is “Remembering Lincoln.” I picked this site because I have always had a fascination with Abraham Lincoln. As a little back story, since this is written as a blog post, I actually was told in elementary school (a very small private school) that by third grade I had written too many reports on Abraham Lincoln and needed to write my next one on a female, especially because we would be dressing up as the subject of our next biography report. I was not a happy seven year old, and strongly protested this enough that they assigned me my biography subject, and called my parents. Eighteen years later, I still drag my family to Lincoln themed historic sites regularly, watch documentaries, read books, and clearly took John David Smith’s undergraduate course on Lincoln. I also regularly rant about Lincoln and Mary Todd Lincoln when given the chance, and sometimes even when I have to present myself with the opportunity just because I feel like talking about the Lincolns. So, long story short, ya girl is stoked to look at this site. Okay, that’s my unrelated, hopefully ungraded 🙂 rant, here we go.
The ‘Remembering Lincoln’ site is an Archive of responses to the Lincoln Assassination that is presented by Ford’s Theatre through various methods. The main tabs of the website are “Explore the Story,” “Browse Responses,” and “For Teachers.” Each of these tabs offers various other tabs within them once the visitor has gone into that tab. The purpose of the site is to trace the narrative of the reactions that citizens had to the shocking assassination of the President.
The Timeline features moves through photos and quick captions that range from one sentence to one paragraph. The timeline features the assassination, the chase and apprehension of John Wilkes Booth, the funeral trains, trial, and the executions of the conspirators in July.
The Map feature lets you click on different cities to see responses to the assassination. Diaries, memories, public statements, newspapers, letters, sermons, photographs, and speeches are all featured. There is also a browse feature for responses that has 39 pages of pieces submitted.
The Funeral Train tab goes to Google Arts and Culture that allows the user to click through photos and a virtual tour of the current sites that stand where Lincoln’s body was viewed by citizens on the funeral train stops.
The lesson plans tab has resources for grades 6-12 on various parts of the assassination.
Based on the Digital History Review Site, after generally browsing the site, I went back and looked for the categories that the DHR noted for reviews.
Content: The scholarship is sound in the fact that it features primary sources from around the country. This gives varying viewpoints, and the point of the site is to give reactions to the assassination at the time of the assassination. The project is current because it does have a section for teachers that features lesson plans that have been recently updated to align with national standards that are ever changing for both social studies and language arts educators. The flaw I saw in this category is the display of content communication to users. Three mains tabs are featured at the top of the site, but unless the visitors clicks in and explores, it is difficult to realize what all the site features (browse items, funeral train, explore the manhunt, meet the people, lesson plans, etc).
Design: As previously addressed, the design initially makes the site look much simpler than it is. However, if an user makes a simple click into one of the tabs it does feature what the site does have to offer, so it is not difficult to navigate. The only feature that did not function as expected was the “use History Pin” button for the interactive map of where photos and documents were submitted from, but the map was also featured on the project site, so I was unclear why an user needed to go onto a separate site to view the items to begin with. The site loads quickly, even with my affinity to have 50 tabs open at any given time, which I did while I was working on this assignment (yes, I know, my first period class yells at me daily, but it’s the way my mind works).
Audience: The project is presented by Ford’s Theatre, so theoretically it is someone who is interested in Lincoln’s assassination, assassinations in general, or is in an American History course. I was impressed of how well it addressed the goals of high school and middle school curriculum goals in addressing primary sources, then using analyzing, creation, comparison, writing skills, and comparison with those primary source items. If they intend for this to be used by educators, then they have done an excellent job and I would definitely use it in my classroom.
Digital Media: The project uses interactive mapping and Google Arts/Culture to interactively involve users in Lincoln’s assassination and the aftermath.
Creators: The site uses multiple contributors. Including teachers, digital strategists. They have a curator, website manager, interns, art directors, and digital public historians. They also have multiple advisors from various backgrounds including Dr. David Goldfield from UNCC, Jennifer Rosenfield from the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media, and the director of National History Day that we host at UNCC, Kim Fortney.