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: