Digital Project Summary and Reflection: A Digital Database for Past Exhibits and Exhibitions

Here is the link to my final project: A digital database of Titanic popular and museum displays, exhibits, exhibitions, etc.

This database, while still very much in a beta format, serves as a research tool for those who wish to easily research displays, exhibits, and exhibitions about the Titanic from 1912 to 2018. This WordPress website is an small scale example of my larger project idea, which was a digital database of exhibit display in the United States over time. As stated in previous posts, there isn’t a comprehensive database that exists which features this kind of content. The Smithsonian offers a database of their own internal displays, but that is nowhere near an exhaustive database, while it is still useless nonetheless. While my physical project is much smaller than my theoretical concept, a larger project would take a lot more time, funding, and buy-in from various institutions from around the country–as they would need to be okay with making this information accessible through an open access database.    

The site offers 5 different pages: home, about, database, contact, and works consulted. The home page serves as a basic landing page for the website. It provides some brief background about the project and myself. The about page features my project proposal and links to other databases I took inspiration from. The database is really the meat and potatoes of the website. It features various blog posts about each display which act as database entries. I used the five displays I found in my own research to fill the database, though going forward the goal would of course be to grow the entries in this section of the website. The contact page is a run of the mill WordPress contact page, where users of the database can contact me. And finally, the works consulted page features my bibliography from my research project. I opted to use the full bibliography rather than just the citations from images so as to cover my bases in terms of any interpretation I may have consciously or subconsciously put into my database entries.

Interpretation was something that I struggled with in this project. As the information for the database entries come from my own research, I obviously had a skewed interpretation of what it all meant, based on the trajectory of my line of argumentation in my paper. While I tried to merely describe the displays in simple language, some of the older ones had far less sources to go off of and so some interpretation was necessary, but I did find I often had difficulty striking a balance. I was constantly worried that this website would become a database of my senior thesis, rather that a research database which could be useful to others.

Another difficulty was creating an effective user interface. Given that I helped lead discussion for our designing digital projects class, and in particular read Dan Brown’s Communicating Design, I was really conscious about my user interface. That being said, I quickly realized how hard that would be given that I was using a free version of WordPress and I don’t have a lot of experience in web design. All of a sudden why Dan Brown’s steps to formulating a project and communicating that project were so detailed and comprehensive became clear. This is not something that is easily done, especially if you don’t have a lot of experience. One problem I ran into was trying to create a drop down menu for my database page so that they would be easy to see and navigate to. I was able to make a menu but the theme I chose for my site only let me put it at the bottom by the search bar, and it wasn’t in a drop down format–making it hardly user intuitive.

That being said, I think using WordPress for this project was overall effective. Given that I have never built something like this before, it was fairly easy to use. I do wish there was more customization and guidance offered for the free version, but the lowest paid version is still somewhat affordable. If I were to continue this project in hopes of growing the database, it would certainly be fairly cost effective to get the basic version of WordPress. That being said, I think a lot of the tools we learned about in class which help historians engage with technology, as well as the various blog posts and books, would be important points of references to continue building this website out to be more extensive and more effective. This project overall has shown both how important a tool like WordPress can be to a historian, as well as how easy it is to put historical content on the internet; something that I have always been a proponent of but never had the know how to carry out.

Also here’s my poster!

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