Tuesday, April 28, 2009

The Visual Front: Posters of the Spanish Civil War from UCSD's Southworth Collection

The Visual Front: Posters of the Spanish Civil War from UCSD's Southworth Collection is a cool digitization project designed to make availible to the public propoganda posters from one of the most harrowing conflicts of the 20th century. The site argues that the posters would have been a frequently encountered item in the wartime landscape as individuals struggled to go on with their daily lives. For all of their impact and motivations, these items are "vivid testimonies of the event." Given the scale of the tragedy and its historical importance, there is little question that the posters of the Spanish Civil War are important artifacts that would be of interest to everyone from scholars to average citizens. It is then all the more frustrating that all of the great information contained in this website is arranged in such an obtuse, unusuable fashion. Although there is a great deal of curation on the site, there does not appear to be any kind of ongoing curation.

For starters, there is no way to search the collection. The two access points for the information are 1) a list of the titles of the posters in Spanish and 2) an unlabeled visual index that provides a large list of thumbnails. Upon clicking on a thumbnail, the user is taken to a seperate page with the image, metadata including: the title and the title's translation, the artist, its source, medium, and size of the original poster. Underneath this information are well-written and information rich descriptions of the poster, the context of the imagery, and what details if any are known about the artist or specific subject matter. There is such a fascinating wealth of information here that it is just criminal that it is so cumbersome to access. The images of the posters themselves are enlargeable only once. To really represent the artifacts, they should have scanned them at a higher resolution. As it stands, they just aren't good for anything but looking at. This collection is a prime example of how terrific materials and great information can be rendered almost useless by a fundamental lack of understanding of how digital collections should be built and conveyed.

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