Digital Project Proposal: Barbary Wars Website!

For my class project, I will create a website about the United States’ conflicts with the Barbary States (Algiers, Morocco, Tripoli, and Tunis) from 1785-1815:  www.barbarywarfare.com.  Geared toward the general public, it will feature commentary about the main events (initial problems with Morocco in 1784, the Algerine captive crisis of 1785-1795, the Tripolitan War, Tunisian Ambassador Sidi Soliman Mellimelli’s 1806 visit to America, and the final wars of 1815), textual and visual primary sources, and discussions about secondary sources, including films and books.

Reading Communicating Design has helped me visualize and organize my goals.  Having perused the first ten websites that turn up with a Google search for “Barbary Wars” (discussed below), I understand how my website will be unique.  Communicating Design suggests that prospective website builders create “personas” to anticipate what type of users the website will attract.  As the U.S.’s current wars in Afghanistan and Iraq coupled with the political unrest in Algeria, Egypt, Tunisia, and Yemen draw widespread news coverage and public interest, I envision people such as “Right-wing Ralph,” “Curious Katie,” and “Sam the Student” as visitors to my website.

“Right-wing Ralph” listens to pundits such as Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh, supports a vigorous U.S. foreign policy, and would like perspective on modern events by learning about how previous generations of American leaders handled Middle East conflicts.  “Curious Katie” saw an allusion to the Barbary Wars in a New York Times article or heard a bit about them on NPR and would like to expand her knowledge.  “Sam the Student” represents a middle school, high school, or college student who is writing about the Barbary Wars for a homework assignment and needs to find an authoritative source for information.

To best serve all these users, www.thebarbarywars.net needs to be easy to navigate, have a learned but conversational tone, and be fun to use.  Visual sources such as paintings of participants and battle scenes will help make the Barbary Wars come alive, while a blog will allow users to both ask me questions and dialog with each other.  I have not yet decided which hosting provider to use; I will continue to weigh the merits of www.bluehost.com and www.dreamhost.com.

Surprisingly, no website solely devoted to the Barbary Wars exists!  Thus, I have an excellent opportunity to fill a vital need.  Most of the top ten results from the “Barbary Wars” Google search share many flaws:  they are amateurish (factual errors and not well-written), unexciting (lots of text, with few if any visual images), neglected (not updated for years), and passive in nature (only one allows user comments).  Moreover, some of them borrow text from another webpage; there is not much original information about the Barbary conflicts on the Internet.

The first result from the Google search is the Wikipedia article for the “First Barbary War” (i.e. the Tripolitan War of 1801-1805).  A solid effort, it details the war’s military and diplomatic components and includes some charts.  Interestingly, contrary to Wikipedia protocol, it is not objective:  it suggests that Barbary piracy stemmed from the Koran’s injunctions to attack non-Muslims.  Most scholars, however, disagree with this religious interpretation, instead arguing that piracy was just an economic activity that served as a convenient way for rulers to extract payments from foreign powers.

The second hit (http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/ops/barbary.htm) is an encyclopedia article about the Barbary conflicts that contains inaccurate information about the origins of the word “Barbary,” the battle of Derne, and the burning of the Philadelphia.  It is frustrating to use (ads pop up all the time) and lists as its one source a website that is no longer running.  www.globalsecurity.org is operated by self-described national defense enthusiasts, who claim their website is “a trusted source of military information” used by news agencies.  Unfortunately, the Barbary Wars article reflects poorly on the website.

Hit number three is also from Wikipedia:  the entry for “Barbary Wars.”  This piece is very short, comprising just two paragraphs.  Interestingly, it has a substantially different suggested reading list from the Wikipedia article on the “First Barbary War”; perhaps a different user wrote it?

The fourth result takes one to a webpage from the Library of Congress’s American Memory project:  “The Thomas Jefferson Papers:  America and the Barbary Pirates” (http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/collections/jefferson_papers/mtjprece.html).  It features a very well-written article by a specialist that provides a good discussion of Jefferson’s attitudes and approaches to the conflicts.  It invites readers to explore the plethora of primary sources offered by the Library of Congress’s online database.

The fifth webpage is from a website run by a middle-school teacher: The History Guy (http://www.historyguy.com/ Barbary_Wars.html).  It makes a political statement by featuring a large advertisement for a current movie about the dangers of a nuclear-equipped Iran.  The page design screams mid-1990s and the Barbary Wars article is very brief.  Still, it is to be commended for adding a touch of nuance by mentioning that the Tripolitan War contained the first coup attempt in U.S. foreign policy history.  Also, the middle of the page includes a banner that lists Barbary Wars book for sale on www.amazon.com.

The sixth webpage is very disappointing:  “Barbary Wars 1801-1805, 1815” on the Department of the Navy’s education website (http://www.history.navy.mil/faqs/stream/ faq45-4.htm).  As the navy played a huge role in the Barbary conflicts, one would surmise that the Department of the Navy would be an excellent and authoritative source for information.  However, all one finds here are two brief paragraphs, last updated on August 13, 2003.

The seventh result is a link to a 2009 New York Times article:  “Lesson from the Barbary Pirate Wars” (http://www.nytimes.com/2009/04/12/weekinreview/12gettleman.html).   It is simply a newspaper article that briefly discusses how the Barbary Wars can shed light on modern problems with the Somali pirates.

Hit number eight is an article about Thomas Jefferson’s policy toward the Barbary Pirates (http://www.city-journal.org/html/17_2_urbanities-thomas_jefferson.html) on a website that describes itself as the “nation’s premier urban-policy magazine.” The article is more an opinion piece than a repository of factual information, although it suggests various books for further reading (including a couple written by academics).  However, like the Wikipedia entry for the “First Barbary War,” it advocates the non-scholarly position that the Barbary pirates acted primarily from religious motivations.  Stylistically, it is boring:  all text on a white background.

Hit number nine (http://www.answers.com/topic/barbary-wars) offers both a one-paragraph synopsis of the conflicts and an extended description of them.  It also includes a bibliography.

The tenth result is an encyclopedia article on about.com (http://history1800s.about.com/ od/americanwars/tp/barbarywars.htm).  Although the author says that he studied history at NYU, he is imprecise with dates, using “early years of the 19th century” instead of giving the exact years.  Still, it is an approachable article for the general public that is easy-to-read thanks to bullet points.

Thus, current webpages about the Barbary conflicts are lacking.   A need exists for a user-friendly website that combines accurate commentary, primary sources, a thorough bibliography, and a blog.  I hope for www.thebarbarywars.com or www.barbarywars.net to become the preeminent digital resource for information about the Barbary Wars and, ideally, it will also stimulate users to engage in research of their own.

2 Replies to “Digital Project Proposal: Barbary Wars Website!”

  1. This sounds like a great idea to me. It sounded like you got some great feedback in class. In particular, I think the idea of using the site as a place to blog about things you are working in your research could be a fantastic idea. This actually makes me think that I should have put another component into the planing requirements for digital projects. A plan for sustainability. The nice thing about using the site as a place to blog through your research thoughts is that it serves a existing need. That is to say that instead of being a one-off thing it actually supports your work toward your research project.

    I'm looking forward to seeing how this project develops!

  2. Your energy makes this a variable choice. I also like the notion of using the site as a blog. This has great future potential.

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