The goals of my project are pretty straightforward and were outlined in my project proposal. First, historycomps.com is meant to be a tool in helping history grad students study for their comprehensive exams. This meant providing exactly those items that every grad student is constantly searching for: book lists and sample comp questions. Beyond simply providing these items, however, I wanted to open a cross-departmental dialogue to graduate students where they could provide their own answers to comp questions or their own book reviews, such that students across the country could learn from each other.
In creating this website, I definitely used a lot of the advice Trevor gave to make it a little easier on the eyes. I went ahead and stuck with a white background, such that comments could be more easily read. I simplified the drop-down menus, getting rid of the “complete list of books” drop-down. I actually didn’t realize I could make the homepage a static page until he explained it and I had to learn a little more about how WordPress works. I also just recently registered for the H-Grad list and am currently looking through its archives to see if I can find what grad students have written about comps in the past. I’ve been having trouble accessing the actual archive lists for some reason, but I’m not going to give up. I’m also going to create a new list on H-Grad to ask for other grad students to send me whatever comp questions, book lists they may have in other subjects (outside of US History). I’d like to have most of these sections completed with at least some book lists, comp questions, etc, before sending out invitations to grad departments and their students across the country. In other words, when other visit, I want them to actually have stuff on their that will be of use to them. Basically, there’s a lot more I hope to do with this website.
That said, I learned very quickly that this project is far more involved and time-consuming than I had previously assumed. I initially decided to limit my work to American history, though I had to limit my focus even more so that I could complete the sections on early American (pre-Civil War) history. Creating individual pages for every single book and comp question takes time. Plus, before spending this kind of time on projects, I realized how important it is to first solidify ideas regarding the site’s appearance, operation, etc. Every time I thought of something that would be better (in terms of efficiency in the site), I would have to go back through every page that I wanted to change. I probably should have listened more to Dan Brown’s suggestions in Communicating Design, though I must admit I was just a little too eager to get moving with the project to take the time necessary in planning.
Also, while my site allows for students to post their own book reviews and sample comp essays in the comments sections, it would be nice to enable the site such that students could log in and post their own .pdf files, add their own book titles, and post comp questions from their own schools. In this way, it might have been beneficial for me to have created this site using a wiki-type platform, like those we discussed in class (i.e. PBWorks). Of course, making it more open source also provides additional challenges, even if there are advantages (see also Rosenzweig, Can History be Open Source? Wikipedia and the Future of the Past).
As I continued working on the site in the last two or three weeks, I thought about other things I might add. I went ahead and added a list of links that might be beneficial for history grad students, since those studying for comp exams are often in their first couple years of grad school and could use these types of resources. I considered creating a Google Custom Search Engine which filtered through the web looking specifically for other comprehensive exam tools, though I figured that the whole point of my site was to try and create a one-stop shop for these types of tools.
Ultimately, I’m pleased with this project up to this point, and I hope you are too!
Let me know if you have any other suggestions or what you think about my project as a whole.