Sustaining a web exhibit requires dedicated time, energy, and funding. Antebellum Cincinnati: Social Intersections in the Queen City, a website I designed with my classmates in an undergraduate history course, does not have an in-depth sustainability plan for these reasons. Unable to support ourselves through funding or a dedicated staff, though we had hoped to design a more complex and interactive site, we recognized that we needed to scale back based on our resource limitations. Read more
For our upcoming online exhibit about Evanston women and the 19th Amendment, Maggie, Fazila, and I are constructing a video recording of a play by Evanston suffragist Catharine Waugh McCullough, highlighting the script of the play we feature in our collection. The play is a fictionalization of a true story about the organization of the Illinois Equal Suffrage Association. Because we are using Tiki-Toki as an entryway to the site, due to its ability to situate Evanston women’s contributions to the women’s rights movement on a timeline in a state and national context, we will feature the video on the date that the Illinois Equal Suffrage Association was established. A description of the play and the event on which it is based will be present alongside the video. A “find out more” link will direct users to our Omeka site, where we are using Timeline JS to trace the life of the play’s creator, Catharine Waugh McCullough, alongside the contributions of other Evanston women’s rights advocates (find out more about this from Maggie’s blog post). We will highlight elements of Catharine McCullough’s story as a part of our social media campaign (more on this from Fazila!).
Digital exhibits containing video are harder to come by than imagined. As I searched for new history websites to review for their multimedia presence, I found that very few incorporated video into their exhibitions. Those who did, such as the Gilder Lehrman Institute, simply hosted 1-2 minute videos of a scholar sharing a brief academic commentary on a specific topic. Access to Gilder Lehrman’s online exhibitions page, which promised more videos and multimedia experiences, required a paid subscription. Of the websites I searched, only Colonial Williamsburg, which has its own digital productions team, had a variety of freely accessible educational history videos available online, though even Colonial Williamsburg kept its best material locked behind a subscription screen, and for good reason—video production requires extensive time, money, and effort, which is why so many of the sites I visited had little video to show.
However, I eventually stumbled across Yad Vashem’s online exhibitions, whose multimedia usage impressed me. The site’s exhibits incorporate images and video into their textual narrative to tell stories of Jewish history, culture, and life before, during, and after the Holocaust. The Death March to Volary exhibition’s use of video was particularly powerful. The exhibit tells the story of approximately 1,000 Jewish women forced on a death march from a camp in Poland. An introductory video blends the stories of women who survived the march with images and film clips to make the horror of their experience more vivid. The video served as a compelling introduction to the site, bringing the opening text to life. The rest of the exhibit traces the chronology of the march day by day, from its origins to liberation and return to life. In each section, more videos, images, and artifacts pertinent to the event tell the story of those specific days of the journey. Unlike many other unsuccessful attempts to integrate written historical narrative and video components that I’ve seen, the text, audio, and video on this site complemented one another. Not only does the video enhance what’s described in the narrative, text and photographs situated alongside the videos contextualize the experiences the women describe in their testimonies.
I’ve had several encounters over the past few years which have revealed to me the myriad possibilities of conveying history through gaming. As a child at heart who loves to play, Bryan Alexander’s chapter, “Chaotic Fiction; or, Alternate Reality Games,” in his work The New Digital Storytelling caught my attention.
Scholars of history are sometimes hesitant about the benefit history-themed games can have for teaching history. They are concerned that the presentation of history through gaming, where altered outcomes may result, will skew students’ understanding of the past. But Alexander’s chapter has shown me how alternate reality gaming can be an excellent way to teach historical research skills in a National Treasure fashion, compelling players to uncover evidence from primary source material that leads at some points to dead ends, and at others to more information that unlocks more of the story. Users treat the story like a mystery, using their critical thinking, reasoning, and analytical skills to determine where to look next. Read more