Appearance Matters

I know nothing about web design and am excited to learn more about how to make websites, including this blog, more aesthetically pleasing. This week’s readings encompass a broad variety of themes: appearance, creation, and preservation.  Two of the articles solidified the fact that the appearance of a site can affect how visitors gauge the credibility of information found on that site. Appearances do matter, especially for information found on the web, but also in the analog world. How likely are you to pick up a book that has a heinous cover? I’m a librarian and I will admit that yes, I judge books by their covers. What is most important for me, as an academic and a digital historian, is that the information I put onto the web is deemed credible, reliable, authoritative, and accurate. And that is where web design comes into play. I found the guidelines established by the Stanford Web Credibility Project to be particularly helpful as a means to evaluate my own site.

Stephen Ramsay’s “Who’s In Who’s Out” asked a question that I found myself asking quite often at the beginning of the fall semester: what is digital history, and more broadly, digital humanities? There is no unifying definition to answer this question. Everyone you ask will probably have a different answer. This is what I think makes the field so dynamic, creative, and adaptable to changing technologies. The lack of a definition is one of digital humanities’ greatest assets. Ramsay pointed out the very foundation of digital humanities: the act of creating, or as he says, “building things.” This is one definition to add to my own working definition of digital history that I use when I’m explaining my area of study to people unfamiliar with DH.

Jill Lepore’s intriguing piece reminded me of the importance of preservation for digitally born works. It remains to be seen how digital projects will fare 25+ years from now, and that is a serious concern for scholars. My first impression of the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine is that it is overly ambitious. Yes, it is important to capture information on the internet and preserve it for future viewing and use. But why does the entire internet need to be archived? Most of what is on the internet isn’t worth being seen years from now. What needs to be built, if it isn’t already, is a tool similar to the Wayback Machine that captures the sites that most likely will be accessed in several years’ time. Obviously criteria and guidelines would have to be established, but digital projects, academic articles, government information, popular and/or influential blogs, news websites, and much more might be some of the sites that are acceptable. I just don’t see the point of attempting to archive the entire internet. Who really wants to see their MySpace page – or Facebook page – in 2050?

My comment on Stephanie’s post

My comment on Jordan’s post


  1. Alyssa,

    I really enjoyed Jill Lepore’s article as well. Archiving the internet is both an ambitious task and exciting. However, I am intrigued that social media “doesn’t make the cut” for you. With an increasing amount of interaction between individuals occurring on the internet, do you not think that in some form, social media will be the source for historians to learn about everyday actions? The repository of “snail-mail” letters will be seriously depleted for our generation and I wonder to what source will historians of the future turn to if not, in large part, to social media. Really this is a larger question of how do we determine what should be saved and what shouldn’t be…which is a much more difficult task to undertake.

    Enjoyed your blog!

    • Alyssa

      Hi Jordan,

      You make a very good point. I’m not a huge fan of social media, so I think my bias against such platforms made me blind to the fact that the information contained on them will be valuable in years to come. I especially liked your comparison of social media to snail mail – such a comparison makes sense, and I can now see why it would be beneficial to scrape those platforms.

      Thanks for your comment!

  2. Enjoyed your first post. I also liked Jill Lepore’s article. But one answer to your query about why the entire Internet needs to be archived is that we have no idea what will be deemed important in the future. It may seem silly to archive Joe Blow from Kokomo’s rantings on world domination, but when he is elected 51st president of the United States in 2044, historians will be grateful that the IA preserved his every rant.

    Iris Barry was the first film archivist for the Museum of Modern Art in the 1930s and she had very definite tastes regarding who was important and who was not. She considered Buster Keaton a “low” slapstick comedian and so only preserved two of his films. Today Keaton is considered one of the few authentic geniuses of early cinema, not only as a comic but as a director. Tastes evolve over time.

    That’s just my two cents. Looking forward to your future posts!

    • Alyssa

      Hi Rob,

      Thanks for reading and for your comment. You make a very good point – we don’t have any way of knowing what sort of information might be useful decades or even centuries from now, nor do we know who might have political, social, cultural, etc. influence years down the road. Do you think there should be any limits at all on what the Wayback Machine saves?


  3. Marion Dobbins

    I enjoyed Alyssa’s post. I agree that the lack of definition within the field of digital history provides a wonderful platform for creativity. The field is in its infancy and the world wide web continues to expand expeditiously. This, in its self provides the necessity for atheistically pleasing sites, yet we can’t forget the audience. I am not a digital historian. I am a public history. With that said, both fields interpret information with an understanding of who that interpretation is gaged towards.

  4. Hi Alyssa,

    I really enjoyed your blog post from this week. I definitely agree that design matters when it comes to academic websites (or heck any website). Judging books by their covers is human nature and while I agree that the content of the website is what is most important, the websites that are better designed and better advertised reach the most people. It’s probably one of the saddest questions in our field. Do we try to compete with amateur historians with flashy websites who spill ahistorical garbage across the web (I’m talking you you Bill O’Reilly) or do we just keep to ourselves and design our website for others in our fields?


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