They’re bad, they’re dangerous, you wouldn’t trust them any farther than you could…just kidding, the history-themed internet is mostly lovely
It was really hard to write this post, because there are so many good history websites out there, that filling the latter two categories out of good, bad, and ugly mostly just made me sad. I decided to focus on history blogs, because those are the historical websites that I usually read. So, without further ado:
The Good – The Society for US Intellectual History
Design-wise, I think the strength in this website is how understated it is. It has a clean, professional look, and the black type on the white background is easy to read. I think that some of this look may have been recent, since some of the links lead to pages with a less polished web design. Despite that, it is easy to navigate, and the formatting of the posts on the homepage is inviting
I enjoyed the tone of this website a lot – the pieces that I read had a strong authorial presence, a good thing in a blog (as opposed to the more distant voice common in a newspaper), and some even used personal narratives in service of their overall argument. I would recommend this recent post particularly.
I also enjoy the way that the authors regularly incorporate historiography into their posts. Though all historical writing relies on historiography to some extent, I feel as though I don’t often see online authors engaging with the trends of history either this overtly or this engagingly. Or maybe I just like watching someone else do this well because it is hard for me to do it at all.
This is one of the few websites I have seen where I would hesitantly recommend reading the comments section. It appears that the administrators of the website feel as I do, since they post user comments on their homepage (along with Twitter mentions). While certainly not free from arguments, the comments are lengthier, and appear to have more thought behind them than the average online response.
The “Bad” – Executed Today
A note: it is highly probable that this blog is not really bad so much as it is not to my personal taste.
The design of this website is pretty “nothing to see here, folks.” It is readable, easily navigated, and not unattractive. I was looking to find more posts, and I could do so from any page. I wanted to see comments, and they were easily accessible as well. However, there is as little to recommend the design as there is to fault it. It is boilerplate, useful, and that is fine.
However, while I’m sure it is economically beneficial to have the “Execution Trading Cards” that the site manufactures advertised on every page, it does send an odd message to have death be seen both as serious business and literally a game on the same page all the time.
This is a blog about executions, so I was wary from the start. With that said, what I read did not exactly reassure me. I did not do an exhaustive survey of the posts, but some seemed to lack context, while others could be quite casual about death in a way that was a bit disturbing. On the page about the massacre at Lidice, the author concludes with a CSI: Miami style bon mot: “Only three men of Lidice survived the destruction: two who were in England at that time, and one who was imprisoned in Prague for killing his son. The sentence for this crime, it turned out, was life.” On the writer’s “about” page, there is a section where the reader is invited to contact the administrator of the site – and one of the prompts for conversation is “Consider the whole concept of this blog appalling?” In a way, the most disturbing part about this blog is that I think the feeling in the reader that the administrator anticipates is not one that he or she is displeased with, but one that he or she encourages.
Any blog about executions is going to get some odd comments. The Lidice page has a commenter who felt that the post was not objective enough since it was too partial against the Nazis – but most of the comments seemed like what you would get on any history site. There were arguments about accuracy and interpretation, albeit, with a bit of a grizzly side.
The “Ugly” – Boston 1775
I just want to start out by saying that I love this blog and I think it is really cool. I’ve read some posts on my phone before, and was thinking of using it as my “good” website, until I tried to read an article on my computer, and it took me three tries to get through it, even though it was only about a page long. All of the information on the screen is important, but there is a lot of it. Every post has a column of text, links, and pictures on ether side of it (this is eliminated in the mobile version), and it can be distracting. I’m sure it is also useful – particularly the column of keywords that direct the reader to other blog posts, but I’m not sure that all of it needs to be in one place at one time. The actual design, with a parchment and wallpaper motif is pretty, but does not make it more readable.
I really like the idea behind this blog – exploring smaller moments before, during, and after the Revolutionary War, and I have enjoyed all of the posts that I have read. One of the elements that I really like is how well the writer does keyword linking on the site. Many, if not most, of the names that he mentions are clickable links that lead either to more posts that mention that subject, or outside sources on it. This has the effect of making the period he documents seem even more like a world that you are exploring, rather than just a story he is telling you. Sometimes I felt that the entries could have used more of a personal touch – a little more about what his own experience was researching or working on the subject, or how he came to find some of his sources, but I think that is largely a matter of my personal preference.
There does not seem to be a lively comment culture on this blog. That is not necessarily a bad thing.