Shirtless George, a Party River
It was 2017, and I was turning 25 years old. My friend Alec came down from Pittsburgh to celebrate. He brought a six pack of Firehouse Red from North Country Brewery, and a six pack of Yuengling. There was much celebrating that weekend, and between Pennsylvania beers and the best pizza Del Ray has to offer, we took some time to explore the National Museum of American History.
The American History Museum is packed to the brim with interesting artifacts. One particular display caught my attention. It was a graphic of American political parties, from the start of the nation into the 20th century. It was colorful, detailed, and the twisting turns were reminiscent of a river system as complex and important to America as the Mississippi. The visualization is prominently displayed and accessible, but there’s an opportunity here to make an interesting digital exhibit, with an air of discovery and accessibility to the history of American political parties.
The Gist of It
The basic concept of this digital project is to put this image, or a facsimile of it, onto a website. The image will be split up into separate, but connected pieces, and each party or unique phase of a party will be hyperlinked to a digital exhibit page. The exhibit page will contain useful information such as the start and end dates, key issues, relevant legislation, key figures, and of course historiographically supported causes contributing to the rise and fall of the party. WordPress will be the platform for the website, as it is easy and free to use, as well as a platform I am familiar working with.
Who’s Gonna Click It?
I want the digital exhibit to be accessible to as many people as possible, by keeping the language simple and absent of jargon. A resource like this could be a fun overview for students of all ages. The website should contain enough critical and relevant information to be interesting to adults as well. The image by itself is an incredible reminder that American politics hasn’t always been what Kendrick Lamar called the Democrips and Rebloodicans, and will hopefully be an eye-opening experience for casual and curious learners.
In terms of existing projects, this digital exhibit is really inspired by the Smithsonian website. The Smithsonian site is full of digital exhibits that not only offer information on much of their exhaustive collection, but contain quality images of artifacts as well. It’s an incredible resource that can be tapped by anyone with a computer. The site is very functional and easy to navigate, but it isn’t any fun. And it could be.
As a class, we looked at HistoryWired, an earlier version of the Smithsonian site that did not age well and was taken down. HistoryWired had some great ideas that really could use a second look. With this digital exhibit, I want to make exploring a key part of using this image/artifact from the vast Smithsonian collection. While this digital exhibit won’t be the funnest thing ever, it will have a level of interaction and discovery that feels somewhat absent in the current Smithsonian site.
With a Little Help From My Friends
As far as getting the project out and known, I’ve always had success sharing projects with Reddit. The subreddit r/history gets a lot of traffic in a day, and projects/blogs I have shared on there before have been able to collect thousands of views in a few hours, and sparked some interesting conversation along the way.
It never hurts to get a little help from the network as well. I work at and have worked with several historical sites that interpret American politics, and would love to show them the project and perhaps ask them to share it.
Beyond just putting the project under the nose of the internet, it would be really important if it could be used as a teaching resource. I would enjoy putting the digital exhibit into the hands of teachers, and see if its something that could benefit a classroom of whatever age group.
Given that this project is centered around using a Smithsonian artifact, it would also be important to share the concept with them. It would be a joy to see the Smithsonian’s digital presence to be more engaging and fun. Perhaps this could inspire a second look at their website.
But is it Any Good?
To evaluate the project, I’m going to use a WordPress plug in that analyses metrics of engagement. Views of the homepage and of individual articles/party exhibits will be handy, but it will be more important to know how long people are staying on a page. Are they reading the information or just skimming? Knowing the bounce rate and exit rate will tell me if people are only checking out the home page or one article and exiting out. The bounce rate will help me to discern if people are really exploring and taking in the experience. The hardest part of this project will be giving it a longer shelf life, so that people are visiting the site without my having to post a link on Reddit or send out a tweet. This can be tremendously affected by making sure the website has a good SEO score, that it has optimal conditions to be found organically via searches.
So that’s pretty much the thing. Is this something you’d want to check out? What information would you expect to see on a site like this? Is there a better platform for this project? Will there ever be a party that sounds as cool as Bull-Moose? Let me know your thoughts below!
One Reply to “Digital Project Proposal, Kevin Lukacs”
Explicating and unpacking this chronology is a really neat idea. I like that this goes in the opposite direction of a lot of the digital history work we have talked about which focus on distant reading toward close reading and annotation.
It seems like you can build this out in a rather straightforward way. Get a nice high res copy of the image you are working from, and then cut it into chunks and write a post or a page about each chunk explicating what it is saying and what perspective it represents. With that you can connect out those various parts to a range of other online sources.
Focusing on sharing things out with r/history seems like a smart way to invite folks in to engage with this. My guess is that if you got a regular schedule of putting these up and sharing them with that space you would likely be able to get a good bit of interest and dialog going. You could well invite others in to comment on other connections or annotations they would like to make on the various historical chunks of the timeline too.