Tangled: The History Web

In Digital History, Cohen and Rosenzweig identify the aggregate of historical websites as the “History Web.” When selecting a site to critique for this blog post, I attempted to find one using a resource they highlighted, the World Wide Web Virtual Library’s History Index, which was started by Lynn Nelson in 1993. Unfortunately, the site depended upon volunteers to maintain the lists, and many are not still updating.

However, a quick google search for “history digital resources” revealed a list compiled by the AHA of a group of presenters who had participated in the 2015 annual meeting’s “Digital Projects Lightning Round.” I chose to focus on a resource titled “Memories/Motifs: Approaching Early Holocaust Memory Online.” by Rachel Deblinger.

front page

The site is an extension of Deblinger’s dissertation: “In a world still trembling: American Jewish philanthropy and the shaping of Holocaust survivor narratives in postward America (1945-1953).” She examines philanthropic materials such as fundraising pamphlets, magazine articles, radio broadcasts, short films, institutional records, and public ephemera to understand how survivor narratives were transmitted to American audiences. I found this website to be quite good and felt it had quite strong search capabilities and interesting media, though it was a complex site with somewhat difficult navigation.

The home page of the site follows good design principles. The bubbles contrast with the white background, and the pattern of circles allows the eye to explore across the page. The buttons are clickable, and tabs at the top of the page allow you to explore by theme or media as well.

The explore function was my favorite part of this website. In the “Search by Theme” section, a box appears with lines ending in circular nodes. The different nodes were themes such as “immigration,” “pilgrims,””Americana,” and “Children.” Clicking a node would reveal connections to other media on the site and more themes. You could double-click on a node to view the resource. Additionally there were options to search by tag, a pathway view, and a radial view.

Deblinger also balances the dissemination of information through text and image well. While Rosenzweig and Cohen caution against acquiescing to the lowest common denominator and not including much text, Deblinger provides insightful commentary and context to accompany the media on the site.

text example

Because the site is so complex, however, I did experience some difficulties with navigation. Once you leave the homepage, it is difficult to get back, and you can only access a home index, not the home page itself.

I felt the navigation tools on the resource were a delightful and brilliant way to handle the amount of metadata associated with this project. I would very much like to know how these tools work and how I could incorporate them into my own digital media projects.


One thought on “Tangled: The History Web

  1. Amber Bailey says:

    Julia, you pointed out one of the tensions with digital history sites that’s probably impossible to resolve: how much interpretative text is too much? One of the great things about the history web is that it allows historians to share primary source materials in ways that were previously not possible. But in my experience, it sometimes feels like sites heavy with interpretative text can be too encumbering or heavily mediated, especially for casual users. I suppose this balance ultimately depends on the nature and purpose of the site. It seems like Deblinger has adequately resolved this tension for her purposes.


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