The Valley of the Shadow

For this post, we are going way back. I mean, we are all History enthusiasts, right? So, with that being said, I thought it would be cool to look at both History, in the traditional sense, and the history of Digital History. That’s right, we are going to look at one of the earliest Digital History sites, Ed Ayers’s The Valley of the Shadow. In all of its archaic glory, this site tells the story of two communities–Augusta County, Va and Franklin County, Pa– on the eve of, during, and after the Civil War. The site acts as an archive, and the documents for each community is arranged in a comparative manner. A user can easily find tax records, census records, church records, letters and diary entries, newspapers, statistics, and even battle maps for the two communities. These types of records can then be compared across the two communities which allows for the user to draw conclusions about what the turbulent time of the 1850s, 60s, and 70s were like for the two different yet inherently similar communities.

As I said, the site is a bit archaic, but its age doesn’t diminish how innovative it is. It was one of the first sites to take advantage of digitized records and the vast storage space of computers. In many ways, I feel that this site set the bar for other Digital History projects. It is also incredibly well thought out. It is very hard for sites to be an archive and to relate a story. Yet, Ayers has found a way to do both masterfully. Through the exploration of archival material, the lives of people and the story of two communities come to life. It is for this reason that I think the site is so innovative and, above all, remarkably well designed.

Below is a video of Ayers sharing his thoughts on the field of Digital History:

To access the site in full, Follow the link below:


Digital History: Using New Technology to Enhance Teaching and Learning

Like the last few posts, this one veers away from the type of digital history projects that I have reviewing. Some of the others were more “clear-cut” digital humanities projects. They focus on one specific episode in history and either act as a resource, tell a particular story, or act as a database. Digital History: Using New Technology to Enhance Teaching and Learning, a site created by Steven Mintz at the University of Texas at Austin, does a little of all three.

It is essentially an online textbook that covers the entire scope of American history.  However, it does not look like textbook. There are no pages, chapters, or glossaries. Instead, it looks and operates like a traditional website. As a result, the site as a large amount of storage space for all of its information which means it can be replete with a number of types of engagement. Through the site, user can access tabs for the following:

  • a Textbook
  • Famous Documents
  • Famous People
  • Music
  • Film
  • Images
  • Primary Sources
  • Links
  • Quizes
  • Information for Teachers
  • Multimedia
  • References
  • Timelines
  • Virtual exhibits
  • Voices of the Past

There are two things that stick out the most to me about the site. For one, since it is such an expansive resource found available online, I think the site has an incredible democratization powers. One needs not to be able to afford an expensive textbook to interact with the sight and what is more, one does not have to be enrolled in school to learn about History.

The site is also incredibly engaging. If one follows the link to the virtual exhibits, for example, he or she is then redirected to a whole new set of links. It seems as if every tab on page is incredibly fleshed out and thorough. As a result, a user can be completely immersed in the page and all of its features. It also uses the spatial affordance to effectively organize the page. For example, on the homepage, a “grid” appears, and if one clicks on a square, the material for the  corresponding era and time period are accessed. I thought this was a great way to organize the site that is effective and intuitive.

Of course, since it is so expansive, my only issue with the site is that maybe it is not deep enough. What I mean is that it offers a great “survey” history, but I am not sure that it is specialized enough for certain topics. To be fair, though, this is an issue that arises in any project that spans the whole scope of American History.

To access the site, follow the link below:

To view the virtual exhibits, follow this link:

The Case for Reparations by Ta-Nehisi Coates

Though not “Digital History” or even History per se, Ta-Nehisi Coates’s “The Case for Reparations” serves as an incredibly example of how journalism and writing in general have adapted to the digital medium. The video below shows Coates discussing his article. The full article

For the article, view the link below:



Slave Revolt in Jamaica, 1760-1761: A Cartographic Narrative

Slave Revolt in Jamaica, 1760-1761 is a project that I have previously had some experience with. It is, at its core, an animated map that relates the events of “Tacky’s War,” a major Jamaican slave revolt. Harvard Historian Vincent Brown–the site’s creator–uses the map to relate the spatial and strategic characteristics of counter insurgency and rebellion.

Image Via Slave Revolt in Jamaica, 1760-1761


The biggest flaw of site is its lack of archival information. While Brown admits the site is not intended to be a database, some form of documentation would have been incredibly useful. The animated movements are great, but the lack of archived data makes it hard to understand exactly what is happening with those movements. In other words, the lack of archived information allows the user of the site to lose context of what is going on. As a result, I think the site is not quite as immersive as it could be, which negates the site’s effectiveness.

Image Via Slave Revolt in Jamaica, 1760-1761


However, with that being said, the map really helps one to understand how important space, geography, and the landscape is to acts of rebellion. The thing that really stood out to me is how the rebellion engulfed the entire island while as remained demarcated to certain regions. It reminded me very much of how I envision the Haitian Revolution–the world’s first successful slave rebellion that also happened on an island in the Caribbean. After recently reading C.L.R. James’s remarkable book Black Jacobins: Toussaint L’Ouverature and the San Domingo Revolution, I now understand how geography and place often dictates the actions and, sometimes, results of revolutions and rebellions.

To view the site in its entirety, access the link below:

The Roaring Twenties

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to witness the “roaring” twenties first hand? Well the site, The Roaring Twenties lets you do just that. As the site’s homepage explains, it is an “interactive exploration of the historical sound scape of New York City” during the 1920s.

The site compiles and catalogs the recorded noise complaints issued in the city during the decade. It catalogs the complaints in three different ways: By sound, by location, and by time. For the sound, the site offers a 1920s style chart that organizes each complaint by sound type. For location, the site includes an early twentieth century map of New York and “pins” each location that a complaint was recorded. And last but not least, for time, the site uses a neat timeline to show when the complaints took place. What is so cool about this site, however, is that each complaint also includes its source, meaning that the site doubles as an archive for New York City noise complaints. However, since there are not an incredibly large amount of complaints, repeat offenders can be recognized and certain narratives can be unraveled.

I think it is a phenomenal site. Its design matches exactly what I would picture for a site based on the 192os. What the site does best, though, is drawing the user in. Its cartoonish, almost childish character truly engrosses the user. However, once past the veneer of design, the user encounters a site with an incredibly large archival capacity, allowing one to spend hours clicking from one complaint to the next.

Needless to say, I highly recommend this site. You may not get to actively take part in the Harlem Renaissance or rub shoulders with Jay Gatsby, but it sure to keep your attention and introduce you to New York as a sound scape. To view the site in its entirety, follow the link below:

Mapping Occupation

Dr. Scott Nesbit from Visualizing Emancipation and Gregory Downs have teamed up to create an incredible resource for studies of the Reconstruction era. As an epoch in American History, Reconstruction is lightly studied in comparison to other historical periods of interest. In fact, I would venture to say that if you asked someone with a general understanding of history, they would know the least about our country’s post-Civil War reunification.

This lack of understanding, in part, stems from the nature of Reconstruction. It was messy. The glory often associated with the Civil War was nowhere to be found. The period was characterized by immense poverty, corrupt politics, and, of course, an intense level of racial violence. Lynchings, disputed elections, and industrial power struggles permeated across the Southern half of the country and into the Northeast and West.

The nature of Reconstruction was also determined by geography. What I mean is that different parts of the South had different reconstruction experiences. The Mississippi Valley and the Sea Islands of South Carolina and Georgia, for example, were areas that had very large black populations, making their story of Reconstruction vastly different from the predominately white Virginia or Tennessee. States also regained their political abilities at different rates. Some, like Tennessee, were readmitted to the congressional process shortly after the war, while others, like Georgia, had to wait much longer. In other words, Reconstruction was not a national story. It was state-centered and, in many places, driven by specific localities, making it hard for general histories to accurately explain the history of Reconstruction.

The Army also had a large role in how Reconstruction played out. Serving as Federal agents, the Army was essentially an occupational force dedicated to seeing the policies and procedures of Reconstruction enacted in the Southern states. The only problem was that Military influence across the vast plantation districts and rural counties of the South was logistically impossible. The army was therefore relegated to the areas of need and to Southern cities. In turn, those areas became the sites for the largest percentage of black political involvement.

Picture from Wilson Center of Humanities and Arts
Screenshot of Mapping Occupation. Picture from Wilson Center of Humanities and Arts

Mapping Occupation, a project created by Dr. Nesbit and Dr. Downs, seeks to show exactly where the Federal army exerted its influence. Using mapping technology, the site maps out where the army was located at what specific times. The site also overlays this information over areas that had high black voting percentages, a sign that the Federal army was doing its job and exerting its influence. To take it one step further, the site then overlays this on top of the Southern railways of the time for a better understanding of where the federal troops could get to and how fast they could mobilize in a given area.

Once again, Dr. Nesbit has created a groundbreaking new resource that furthers the understanding of America’s darkest period. To view the site in its entirety, follow the link: