Sunday, February 21, 2016

Reviewing Digital History

For my review I decided to look through Civil War themed archives one of the reasons being that archives are usually what I like to look through while I am doing research myself and, as of right now, I am hoping to focus on the Civil War/Civil War politics. After searching through various archives I decided to go with: The North Carolina Sesquicentennial Archive ( ) in association with the North Carolina Department of Cultural Resource.
The website has been updated as recently as 2016. I don’t know what was added or revised in 2016 so I cannot say how current the scholarship is; but I would have to say that more than likely the website was published sometime between 2011 and 2015 (the monuments section has not been updated since 2010) so I can’t imagine that the information would be too out of date. I do want to make it known that most of the archival information on the site is not directly on the site, it is linked with the North Carolina Archive collection; but I decided to review this “archive” because it does include up to date scholarship and it is accessible to those attempting to study Civil War/North Carolina history. So I have considered it an archive because it can be used for the exact same purpose.
My first opinion of the archive was that it does not prove to be very user friendly (at least not for me) I am used to using archives and databases where the information is much more obtainable. The task bar (?) at the top of the home page includes: “home, mission, committee, themes, timeline, history, education, events, maps, and monuments.” You have to scroll down on the page to get to the topics that one might actually be utilizing the site for. That’s when you get to the records (most of them).  This archive includes topics such as: “Tar Heels at Harpers Ferry, Tar Heels Pitch in: North Carolina’s Contributions to the Civil War, and Sherman’s March through North Carolina.” That part is well organized and easily accessible; but I believe it would have been more so if there had been a tab for “topics” or something of that nature at the top of the task bar instead of having to scroll down the page. Now, the theme of the archive, I found to be quite apparent. The theme is North Carolina’s role in the Civil War. We see that in the title: North Carolina Civil War Sesquicentennial. The title, even though simple and straightforward, could also have been a little bit more specific. It could have been something along the lines of “Celebrating” or “Remembering” the Civil War in North Carolina. The theme of the archive does become apparent rather quickly; but not immediately because I found myself wondering at first: “Is this an archive about North Carolina Civil War history or is it an archive sponsored by the state of North Carolina about Civil War history everywhere in order to celebrate its 150th anniversary?”  There is a timeline, which I did not really appreciate. The timeline is just basic text and you can click on a year at the top and it’ll bring you to that year’s timeline of events in North Carolina but there are no visualizations. I think that the timeline could have been much better utilized if there would have been links to records associated with that date or even including records or visualizations with the timeline.”  I don’t much about creating these sites; but I don’t think adding a link to a relevant document/record somewhere else on the site would have been that difficult or costly. This is especially because when you click on “maps” there are several maps that link to other sites to give you more information about that specific battle, etc.

This archive does not make use of updated media and some of the links I have found are inaccessible. I would have really liked more access to animated maps or even the use of visualizations such as graphs, photos, etc.  This DEFINITELY would be great as an exhibit and I know for a fact that there is one in Henderson county about Civil War/North Carolina history; but I do not know if it is associated with the State Department like this site is or with the county (I am pretty confident the museum I am thinking of is county-run) but the point is that this would be very useful as an exhibit. Contrasting any exhibit with a digital archive, I would prefer the digital when I am looking to contribute to my research and try to find something very specific. I would probably use this site if I were focusing on the Civil War in North Carolina; but for anything else I believe I would leave it be. There are much better archives and resources out there; but this one does the job that it was meant to.

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