Archive

Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

HGSA Conference Deadline Extension

I just wanted to make a brief post that the deadline for Loyola University Chicago’s history graduate student conference has been extended! You can now submit papers up through September 3rd.

Categories: Uncategorized

Call for Papers: 9th Annual Loyola University Chicago History Graduate Student Conference

Call for Papers

Ninth Annual

Loyola University Chicago History Graduate Student Conference

November 3, 2012

Loyola University, Water Tower Campus, Chicago, IL

Masters and doctoral graduate students in any field of historical study are invited to submit proposals to present individual research papers at Loyola’s Ninth Annual History Graduate Student Conference. Panel applications and individual papers focusing on borderlands and transnational studies, urban history, gender history, and public history projects are especially encouraged. The goal of this conference is to provide an opportunity for students to gain experience presenting original research papers and receiving feedback from their peers on their work. Read more…

Categories: Uncategorized

Some changes coming

Hello again!  The end of the semester certainly limited my blogging, and I must admit that the first month of summer has been an equally effective distraction.  I do intend on settling into a fairly regular posting schedule and I hope to make some changes to the blog.

Categories: Uncategorized

One More Digital Narrative (?)

I’m not entirely certain if this counts as a method of digital storytelling, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention this innovative use of Second Life in the classroom.  Here, students are able to use Second Life to create digital narratives centering on the Cuban Revolution.

 

Categories: Uncategorized

Happy Birthday Pitt!

February 28, 2012 Leave a comment

On February 28, 1787, the state legislature for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania approved a charter for the Pittsburgh Academy.  225 years later, Pittsburgh Academy has become the University of Pittsburgh.  Attending Pitt was a great experience.  I’ll always love that school.  Happy Birthday and Hail to Pitt.

Categories: Ramblings, Uncategorized

What Makes a Good History Website?

February 23, 2012 Leave a comment

Almost every research archive and historical museum has a website nowadays. But that doesn’t necessarily mean all websites are created equal. Some make clear that the staff places great importance on maintaining an aesthetically appealing, easily navigable, informative site. Others seem less concerned with using the web to draw traffic and interest in their institution. So what makes a good website? According to Dan Cohen and Roy Rosenzweig’s Digital History: A Guide to Gathering, Preserving, and Presenting the Past on the Web, historical websites should address three things: usability, aesthetics, and accessibility. With that in mind, I’ve looked at four websites to address the extent to which they satisfy these three requirements: the Newberry Library, the Chicago History Museum, the Swedish American Museum, and the Edgewater Historical Society . Each website serves as a useful tool for examining the utility of usability, aesthetics, and accessibility as frameworks for constructing a site. Above all, when considering these three facets, one must remember that the goal of a website dedicated to some facet of history must “enable and inspire [the user] to think about the past” (Cohen and Rosenzweig, 111).

Usability

Usability, simply put, is the extent to which a website is user-friendly. The best way, I’ve found, to judge the usability of a website is to judge its homepage. The homepage is the first thing you see, and it sets the tone for how the rest of the site is constructed. The best websites are constructed in a way that everything you need can be accesses quickly from the main page. The Newberry Library and the Chicago History Museum excel in this regard. Both sites rely on dynamic flash pages in the center of the homepage to draw attention to the most notable events, lectures, and exhibits featured at the institutions. The advantage to these flash pages is that it immediately offers the user a chance to find the most current events at the institution. The Newberry, for example, highlights an upcoming lecture, a recent short film on the Newberry’s collections, an update on a renovation project, and information about the newest exhibit.

The Swedish American Museum doesn’t use flash pages, but it, too, has an easily accessible website that is very user-friendly. The museum uses a three-part page divide to offer the visitor information easily. The main portion of the page is devoted to the latest news, with the second panel offering links and upcoming events, and the third panel listing the museum information, visiting hours, and location.

On the other end of the spectrum, the Edgewater Historical Society does not have a user-friendly site. There is no information made readily available, such as upcoming exhibits, hours, or lecture series. These items must be accessed through a series of links on the left side of the page. This forces the user to stumble upon important information rather than find them quickly as soon as they visit the site. In an age with so many options on the web, the longer a visitor needs to spend on the site looking for the information they want, the less likely that user will return. Instead, it’s far too easy for them to simply move on to the next site.

Aesthetics

Cohen and Rosenzweig note four aspects of a good website design: contrast, proximity, alignment, and repeat designs (120-121). The Newberry and the Chicago History Museum excel in their aesthetic quality. These websites look almost like a magazine page. Thus the user is instantly viewing something familiar. Additionally, the dynamic flash pages are effective in enhancing the visual appeal of the website. They are able to add colorful and exciting images to the site to further draw in the visitor’s interest. These sites also rely on effective, drop down menus that load quickly and help prevent the page from unnecessary clutter. The Swedish American Museum also has an aesthetically appealing website. The Edgewater Historical Society, conversely, is designed with garish colors, a difficult-to-read font, and an awkward site design that evokes memories of old geocities pages.  This site has a series of information placed on the front page.  To read all this text, the user needs to continually scroll down.  This leads to a feeling or disorientation.  The Edgewater Historical Society could have made this more effective by breaking this information into digestible chunks.

Accessibility

Finally one must consider the role of accessibility. This is the ultimate goal of a website as a site is no good if it can’t draw traffic. Perhaps the most effective way to do so in this age is through the use of new media, specifically facebook and twitter. The drawback, however, to the use of new media is that an inactive twitter feed is counterproductive to the ultimate aims of increasing web traffic.

Both the Pritzker Military Library and the Swedish American Museum are great examples of the effective use of twitter. Not only are both feeds updated multiple times a day, but the tweets aren’t limited to links back to the website. The Pritzker twitter feed links to relevant articles about military history, offers up interest historical facts, and interacts with other twitter users rather than solely tweeting out information.  The Swedish American Museum feed often links users to exhibitions at the museum, but it points out interest cultural events germane to people of Swedish ancestry. This is a particularly effective way to increase traffic to the site and the actual museum. Cohen and Rosenzweig stress that an effective site bridges connections between the various communities that might be interested in the services of the museum.  Both sites skillfully market their holdings to interest as many different communities as possible.

Unfortunately, not all organizations fully embrace the power of new media. The Newberry Library uses twitter and blogs on their site, but neither appears to be particularly active. The twitter feed has one update posted in 2012. The previous tweet dates back to October 2011. For an archive as large as the Newberry, one would think they could update this more frequently. Similarly, the Center for Renaissance Studies has recently started a blog, though it only has two posts. This appears to be a recent addition for the Center, so it remains to be seen how effective this new media will be.

The Edgewater Historical Society employs no use of new media. For a smaller, more localized historical center, one must question how effective this site is in drawing interest. I would suspect that the absence of widespread marketing makes it difficult for the society to generate interest unless an individual is already familiar with the organization and its programs.

Conclusions

Ultimately, there’s no one way to design a website, but there are certainly some things that are more effective than others. For starters, if one of the main draws for your organization is exhibits and events, be sure to display these prominently, and make sure it’s easy for the user to access additional information.  Second, if you’re website caters to a small audience, be sure to develop a presence in social media to try and broaden the communities interested in your services.  Finally, make an effort to adopt a modern appearance to your website based on emergent technologies.  While the Edgewater Historical Society might offer strong services, the antiquated website sends the wrong message to its users.

Always be Dissertating

February 19, 2012 2 comments

There was one major constant in my life growing up.  Whenever my brother came home from college on breaks he and my mom would undoubtedly settle on the couch and watch a movie.  Usually, they opted for strange movies.  Sure, they watched the films nominated for awards, but they generally sought out the weird ones.

Of all the movies they watched, there was only one movie they disliked: Glengary Glen Ross.  For years it became a running joke between the two.  Several years later, when I became a movie person, myself, my brother and mom were overjoyed.  Now they had a third person to enjoy watching movies.  My brother was particularly pleased, as it made Christmas shopping much easier, since he could just buy me a few DVDs of films he thought I should watch (this is pre-Netflix, obviously).  I will never forget the Christmas when I opened his gift and found his copy of Glengary Glen Ross, given to him by our mom and re-gifted to me as an ironic present.  Well, I watched the movie, and like them, hated it.  Still, one scene always makes me laugh.  Alec Baldwin, playing the role of Blake, tells the struggling sales crew to put down the coffee.  Because, after all, coffee is for closers only.  He then delivers the iconic line: ABC – Always be Closing.

Well, the time has come for me to adopt my own rendition of the phrase: A.B.D.  Always be Dissertating.  I successfully defended my dissertation proposal last Monday.  That means all that’s left between me and finishing grad school is that pesky dissertation.  That should be no problem, right?  With one more hurdle cleared in the graduate student process, I’ve found myself reflecting on my first few years of graduate school today.

There’s a certain comfort in taking classes.  As someone who thrives on repetition and fears change, the routine of classes speaks to me.  Weekly readings, short writing assignments, rough drafts, due dates, final papers, all wrapped up into a nice sixteen-week schedule.  That regularity will be hard to find now, and I suppose that is what makes me nervous.  Fortunately for me, self-made schedules and deadlines have never been hard to set.  But that’s part of the process, I suppose, and something I should relish.  I’m exciting about my topic, I’m looking forward to traveling for research, and I can’t wait to get writing.  I guess the only option is to put that sense of uneasiness behind me and get dissertating.  Otherwise, I’ll have to put down the coffee.  And that’s not something I want to do!

Categories: Uncategorized