After unsuccessfully trying to Stumbleupon some interesting history websites, I was linked to a website called Historical Cleveland via my frequent casual online browsing of the Cleveland Plain Dealer. Historical Cleveland turns out to be a strangely similar project to that which we are working towards in our class. It is developped by Center for Public History + Digital Humanities at Cleveland State University, and for many of its posts, it worked collaboratively with local muncipalities, libraries, and historical societies for specific articles on topics in different neighborhoods and suburbs in Cleveland. At first glance, the website is colorful and appealing, but it is evident that this website is geared toward the local population or anyone who has a little background or familiarity with Cleveland. Apart from recently added or featured stories, on the sidebar is a list of “tours” that a reader can take, that focus on a wide variety of topics, most of which are neighborhoods, or defining events in Cleveland. If I wasn’t at least familiar with most of the entries, it would be difficul to figure out where to begin. I think a comprehensive summary of the site, its breadth and depth, and maybe a very brief timeline or summary of Cleveland history is badly needed. Feeling overwhelmed, I scrolled back up to the top of the webpage, and only found 4 tabs, “home” “Stories” “tours” and “About,” nothing to help situate or direct my research.
To be fair, I this website could be very useful for an elementary or secondary school student who is searching for specific examples of certain themes in American history. For example race relations. There is an interesting entry about a race riot at the once immensely popular Euclid Beach, additionally, there a fascinating article on the defiantly integrated community of the Ludlow neighborhood as well.
Similarly, Historical Cleveland offers culinary tours of Cleveland, tours focusing on arts, culture, immigrant history, architecture, urban planning, and many more, all of which could offer great specific examples of larger trends in American history. This is one way the Historical Cleveland could be a helpful resource for the general public, especially for young history students.
Some entries include audio and short films relevant to said topic, but are poorly incorporated into the main article. If they were integrated better, with an image to go along with an audio file, instead of a small Windows 95 looking toolbar to the side of the article, it would be much more captivating. Additionally, to fully understand what each audio file is about specifically, you have to click on an info button, that brings up a full screen display that usually is only a few sentences. I think there could be a better way of summing up what the particular audio files contain with the info button at all. The best thing about the video files is that they don’t try to do too much. They usually fit effortlessly into the objective of the article, but they don’t try to steal the show.
Overall, I think the history on the website is great. My last critique is of the content of the entries themselves. I noticed a pattern similar of unequal focus and detail in each article that was common when we studied other user generated websites (Wikipedia). The Wikipedia effect is most obvious usually in the synopsis of each individual article. Many articles try to locate specific Cleveland phenomena/events with other national trends, or past/present occurrences. Some do this successfully, while others don’t. Many other articles don’t even try to situate the local history they are telling in a broader narrative. I think this inconsistency could be frustrating for readers. There are pros and cons for both consciously trying to situate local histories in national narratives, or just remaining local, but for the purpose of this website, I think it would be best to leave it at the local level, and let the reader make broader connections after reading the article.