Websites are more than repositories…

Looking through three online websites, it became clear that there are the good, the bad, and the ugly examples of how history can be effectively portrayed/engaged with online…

The Good: National Museum of African American History and Culture

This website is remarkably well-designed, and does an excellent job of extending the organization’s mission and collections into an online space. The essential information (parking, pricing, etc.) is easy to find and prominent toward the top of the page, as realistically this is why many people visit the page. However, this website is elevated by two main factors: giving online access to the ongoing exhibits and the production of original content for the internet.The NMAACH has extensive online collections that it will organize and offer access to based on new themes and categories arranged specifically for online viewing. There are also well-produced videos, articles and posts covering topics entirely independent of exhibits, furthering the organization’s mission and increasing the accessibility of reliable, insightful interpretation for public audiences.

The Bad: Ashburnham Historical Society, Inc.

The main problem with the Ashburnham Historical Society’s webpage can be summed up in one word: unused. Especially for smaller historical societies with limited budgets and available hours, websites can be an incredibly effective tool for providing interpretation and resources for a wide audience. This page instead remains practically bare, providing no useful information to curious visitors to the site. The “About” page for the website provides a link to the by-law which created it, their Privacy Policy, and the line, “The Ashburnham Historical Society is an organization dedicated to preserving the history of Ashburnham:” nothing more. What could be an opportunity to communicate the institution’s goals, ongoing projects goes unutilized. The organization’s main attraction, a preserved Meeting House in downtown Ashburnham, and receives a page of its own on the website. That page, however, provides bare-bones information about what dates it was built and acquired, followed by the line “The building is a significant facet of historic downtown Ashburnham and is in need of important structural repairs.” Instead of communicating why the building should be preserved, the historical significance of the site and their organization’s mission, or anything else of value, the page provides nothing to a curious observer. The calendar for the page lists only national holidays. While the whole website is barely worth noting (which is exactly the problem), there is a page devoted to chronicling the repairs done to the meeting house. Unfortunately this page is a series of out-of-context photographs.

The Ugly: Fredricksburg Research Resources Website

The Ugly:

This website is ugly in every sense of the word. While technically a useful service, providing online copies of resources otherwise inaccessible to the public for Fredricksburg, VA, the overall presentation and execution are sub-par even for the 1990s, when it looks like this page was made (it was last updated in 2015). The page’s only redeeming quality is the extent of its offering; if one were completing a survey of Fredericksburg or looking for a specific person they could find them in the plethora of directories, lists of inhabitants, etc. that have been translated online. However actually making sense of any of this data is nearly impossible due to the organization of the website. The page relies heavily on links to bring visitors to resources, including the Court Records and Newspaper resources promised by the site. These links are now dead, halting the progress of any researcher or curious individual. The worst offense of this site is the lack of interpretation. Putting information online and making it available is all well and good, but unless something useful is done with these resources then for what purpose was it uploaded? There is legitimately interesting and useful information on this website that could make for engaging studies, including lists of “Free” and “Slave” inhabitants in each of the parishes, juxtaposed with records of agricultural production. Putting these resources in conversation with one another could lead to engaging interpretations or even conversations about race, slavery, and its relationship to the city’s success, but instead sits unhelpfully in a sea of white, unimaginative web design.



6 thoughts on “Websites are more than repositories…”

  1. I really like the National Museum of American History and Culture website. It is organized, informative and aesthetically pleasing. Historical societies tend to be small and understaffed so it’s not too surprising to see the quality of the Ashburnham website. The Fredericksburg website would be so much better if they used a little bit of color or a more modern layout. They have interesting information but present it horribly.

  2. Interesting choices, Jacob! The Ashburnham site is actually quite aesthetically pleasing but it’s barren. That’s unfortunate to say the least. The Fredricksburg site is quite unpleasant to look at but kinda makes sense if it was designed as an information repository for a single person (like to categorize and sort documents, etc). I feel like most “webpages” developed by faculty in this manner tend to look like this.

  3. It is a shame when funding is the reason for a lack of thriving of a historical site or website. It is a shame that this is the case for the Ashburnham Historical Society, Inc. It does not present much of an inviting platform. As for the Fredricksburg Research Resources Website I don’t know what their excuse is, because as the blog says it is very disorganized. This makes their site confusing and what they are about even more confusing. After these two sites going to the National Museum of African American History and Culture was a great experience. I am upset that I have never visited this site before. Their online exhibits are so interesting and very diverse. The Double Victory: The African American Military Experience exhibition is very fascinating

  4. Each of these sites clearly come from very different organizations/individuals. The website for the National Museum of African American History and Culture is of course extremely impressive. It offers such a wide range of resources and search options for a wide audience of visitors, researchers, students, teachers, and just web browsers. Of course this one also probably has had the most money invested in it, the most people working on its creation and is the most up to date since it was only launched within the last couple years. Despite being so wide-reaching in content, the mission and purpose for that site is very clear. In contrast, the Fredericksburg Research Resources Website is very confusing, not just in organization as you rightly pointed out, but also in its background. It is not clear from browsing through the homepage who created it and why. If it is an archive, historical society, or other institution who wants to digitize these materials it is interesting that they do not take the opportunity to discuss the organization or its goals with this project.

  5. You really make it seem so easy with your presentation but I find this topic to be actually something which I think I would never understand.It seems too complicated and extremely broad for me.I’m looking forward for your next post, I’ll try to get thehang of it!

  6. Today, I went to the beachfront with my children. I found a sea shell and gave it to my 4 year
    old daughter and said “You can hear the ocean if you put this to your ear.” She put
    the shell to her ear and screamed. There was a hermit crab inside and it pinched her ear.
    She never wants to go back! LoL I know this
    is entirely off topic but I had to tell someone!

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