Access at a Price

This past year, Colonial Williamsburg worked to relaunch its website on a new platform at the domain (not to be confused with the History Channel’s!). In addition to providing information for tourists interested in planning a trip to the living history village, the site also seeks to achieve educational outreach goals by providing a host of digital materials for researchers, learners, and history enthusiasts of all ages. Some of these resources are free and publically accessible. Others, however, require a paid subscription (although some opportunities are available to subsidize these costs). Within some tabs, educational opportunities are mixed with endeavors to advertise and sell products. Sometimes these commercial impositions unexpectedly inhibit open exploration of the site, though they are a clever means for an institution dependent on income to sustain such an incredible physical and online presence.

The site has an almost overwhelming array of tabs to choose from, putting information at an explorer’s fingertips. Some of these include: Read more


The Physiognotrace of 1802: A New Democratic Self-Portrait Machine

In our age, we assume that “new media” is the latest digital means to improve communication, accessibility, and functionality in our lives. We expect that this new media will replace the old, making it obsolete. But the book New Media: 1740-1915 explores new media that are now old, and the meanings that are imbued within these media. The second chapter, “Heads of State: Profiles and Politics in Jeffersonian America,” by Wendy Bellion, examines the development of a new artistic and visual medium, the physiognotrace.[1] The physiognotrace was a silhouette-making machine that an individual could operate without assistance to trace his or her own profile.

“Explanation of Mr. J. I. Hawkin’s Physiognotrace,” drawn by Charles Wilson Peale for Thomas Jefferson, 1803

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