Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Liberty, Equality, Fraternity: Exploring the French Revolution

The Execution of the Queen

Liberty, Equality, Fraternity: Exploring the French Revolution.

This site is a good example of primary resources losing information through the digitization project when the paper itself is not digitized. The site is dedicated to teaching about the French Revolution using its 245 digital images, 338 texts, 13 computerized maps of specific areas and time periods, and 13 modern recordings of old songs (re-recorded in 1989). Lynn Hunt of UCLA and Jack Censer of George Mason University are in charge of editing and maintaining the site, supported by the American Social History Project at the University of New York and and the NEH. It was created in 2001.

It is a relatively small and unimpressive collection in many ways - the images cannot be zoomed, and although the texts are all searchable, it is through transcription and not digitization. The maps were all drawn on the computer and offer little information other than to illustrate the short essays. The site is structured in such a way that it might actually hinder research, despite all of the learning tools provided. I found it was more optimistic to view this site as a sort of short class or a textbook on the French Revolution. There are 12 chapters of readings that are linked with useful primary sources that a teacher might use to illustrate a point. Only one point of view is offered in each chapter, there is no room for discussion.

The metadata on the entire site is summed up on the home page: "This site with more than 600 primary documents is a collaboration of the Center for History and New Media (George Mason University) and American Social History Project (City University of New York), supported by grants from the Florence Gould Foundation and the National Endowment for the Humanities." Other than that, some items include the source on the bottom of the window, but even this is not standardized. The most metadata can be inferred from the brief description of the item, but this is usually somewhat narrative which takes away from its practicality.

The search options are quite useful and thorough for this small collection. You may, from any page on the website, enter a keyword quick search, or go to the search page where you may enter a keyword, chose the subjects to search from a list of 20, and the format. But it seems kind of silly to have such a powerful search for such a small and structured collection.

This site is useful like a textbook, but does not encourage scholarship as it so ardently tried. This digitization project did not consider the value of seeing the actual resource or describing the physical objects in any great detail. The zoom is not always useful or even available. It seems cramped, like there is no room for further questions.

Work at the Indigo Plant

After doing this blog, I found a link to a new site from this one. It is titled Imaging the French Revolution and has an even narrower scope, focusing only on crowds during this time period. Though set up similar to the first site, this began in 2003 and looks a little nicer. This narrow scope is actually useful. Instead of attempting to tell the story of the entire revolution, scholars and historians have submitted several different essays based on the topic of revolutionary crowds, which illuminates one aspect instead of hazily pointing at several. There are only 42 images, and these still can't all zoom, but the metadata for each is extensive and standardized. Images and linked directly with correlating texts or discussions. The highlight of this site compared to the other is the ability to submit retorts through the discussion page. Although not as useful as a comment box, the essays and retorts and scholarly, cited, and reviewed so they have a great deal of authority. Of the two sites, the second is much more useful for research and communication.

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