Digital Project Draft: Comps are Coming!

Do a quick search on Google for “history comp exam study guide” and what comes up? Well, as of March 23, 2011, the second website listed is HistoryComps.com. That’s right, HistoryComps.com is up and running, and who needs GoogleAds to market your website when you’re already one of the top results?

So here’s my roadmap: after a month of work, book lists and sample comp exam questions for various subfields under US History I (Colonial to Civil War) are posted. These are the main two offerings on the site (book lists and comp questions) and, when completed, will include various historical topics, including US History II, Latin American History, Late Medieval and Early Modern European History, Modern European History, Eastern European and Russian History, History of the Middle East and North Africa, History of East and Central Asia, US Diplomatic History, Environmental History, and History of Medicine. When writing the proposal for this project, I explained that my focus would be on American history while leaving the opportunity for expansion into other fields as the website gains success. However, by posting these possible fields now and allowing students and academics to email their own books lists and comp questions from those subjects of their own interests, expansion may happen sooner than originally intended. Even without help from others, it takes between one and two months to find and post book lists and comp questions for each field, such that an all-encompassing website that includes every historical field should be completed within a year. Either way, a complete draft of my project is available under the US History I section. In proceeding with the other sections, I will essentially mirror the work I have done on this first section.

As a draft, HistoryComps.com now provides book lists divided by nine subfields of early American history such that students can search through a topic like Women and Gender. Once clicking on one of the books (like this one), the student is taken to a page dedicated to that book which shows a picture of the book cover, a link to purchase the book on Amazon.com (I will later include a link to Alibris as well), and a button to search for scholarly book reviews of that particular work on JSTOR. The page also includes directions on how the student might write their own review which they can post in the comments section of that book’s webpage. I chose to use the Disqus plugin for comments as it allows students to post while logged in to Disqus, Google, Twitter, Facebook, Yahoo, or OpenID.  Disqus also allows visitors to click on whether they “like” posted reviews, which gives others a better idea of those reviews which are most helpful. The section on Sample Comp Questions is similar in its providing questions within each subfield and a dedicated webpage for each individual question allowing students to post their own practice essays in the comments sections at the bottom of those pages (like my own essay posted on this page). I also encourage students to email their practice essays if they’d prefer, such that a .pdf file can be uploaded to the page rather than in the comments section.

In the end, this website is meant to serve as a study guide for history graduate students across the nation, and it is up to their participation for it to succeed. Once I have completed enough of the website, an email will be sent to administrators in history departments across the country for them to forward an announcement regarding the online History Comprehensive Exam Study Guide.

One Reply to “Digital Project Draft: Comps are Coming!”

  1. Congrats on getting to the top of google search results! This is a great illustration of how important domain names are. One of the highest priorities for search is matching key terms up with domain names and you have the right domain name for the searches people would presumably do. So kudos.

    Overall your site is coming along really well.

    I like the drop down menus you are working with. The sample comp questions list is exactly the right size for this kind of drop down. With that said, the complete list of books drop down really isn’t working. It is just way to long to work like that. You might think about putting that list in the sidebar or something so that people can scroll through the entire thing. Or, you might just think about making it an example list of books.

    I think the disqus plugin is a good idea. With that said it becomes a little bit hard to read the comments in your current theme. You might want to think about getting the color behind the comments to be a little bit lighter. I was looking at your review on this page. http://www.historycomps.com/sample-comp-questions

    I would encourage you to think about your homepage a bit. At this point it looks like you are using the standard wordpress blog page for that. If you want, you could have that point to a static page. You can find the ways to do that in the settings section. If you want to keep it as is I would suggest editing the sidebar. The search box is great, but you don’t need the meta login stuff there, and unless you are going to do a lot of posts you don’t need the archives section. You should be able to change this through the widgets section in WordPress. For example, you could put a recent comments widget over there to showcase the activity on the site.

    As you go forward with this it would seem that your next big hurdle is to get people to start using this. To that end you might want to talk to some in the department about announcing this to students and faculty. I could imagine that some of the folks here might be interested in supporting this. Beyond that, I might suggest that you think about some of the H-net lists. My first bet would be the H-Grad list, but at the same time some of the subject area lists may well have faculty who would be interested in having their students make use of this kind of site.

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