Bridget Sullivan Final Reflection: Abolition Adventure!

                My goal for the final project was to create a digital resource that would effectively teach elementary school-aged children the basic history of abolition in Rhode Island. I felt that this history was important for a number of reasons. It fills a gap in the current historical teaching; a large amount of schools spend much more time focused on the history of slavery in the South and its contribution to the Civil War. Further, Rhode Island was one of the forerunners in the abolition movement. As such, its contributions to the legacy of abolitionism are significant. Finally, slavery is a difficult issue to teach, especially for younger students. Therefore, my goal was to create a resource that encouraged the interests and inquisitiveness of children while dealing with such an issue.

                Based on these goals, I decided to design a choose-your-own adventure game that would immerse students in the basic chronology of the period. In order to make the game more relatable, it centers on the story of two brothers, John and Moses Brown, who played a large part in the debate over abolition. Players function as a fictional younger sibling and have the opportunity to side with either brother on a number of important issues. Each decision results in the player receiving a dove or a coin. These items affect the end result for each player.


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                In creating the concept for the game, I look extensively at the other educational games we studied in class. In each case, I noted parts that did and did not work. For example, in the first version of the game, I did not include the dove/coin aspect. As a result, the choices of the player did not affect the end result. I chose to edit this aspect because I saw that the games we analyzed in class, such as Jamestown Adventure, encourage users to play multiple times. If this was the case with my product, students would easily realize that the choices had no effect and lose interest. I also took into consideration many of the points made in the work by James Paul Gee, What Video Games Have to Teach Us about Learning and Literacy. His work helped me to consider less conventional ways to incorporate educational value into the game.

                In terms of creating the design document, I relied on the advice of Dan Brown’s book, Communicating Design: Developing Web Site Documentation for Design and Planning. This work not only provided helpful examples of how models should look, but also solid information on the purpose of each level of documentation.

                Overall, this project helped me to learn a number of points about digital products. Prior to this class, I had no idea of the process behind creating any digital artifact. Again, Dan Brown’s book was quite helpful in remedying this problem. Beyond the scope of this class, I have already found myself referencing his book extensively in the course of my current internship. I also gained a good understanding of what can and cannot be completed in a certain amount of time. While I would have loved to be able to present a fully functional online game, I quickly realized that it was not feasible to learn the background workings of the Internet, coding etc, well enough of the course of one semester to bring this project to completion.

                Despite the scope of the project I undertook, I think that the parts of the process I was able to complete during the semester gave me strong insight into a process that I will certainly use in the future. As I said, I am already using some of this knowledge at my current internship.

National Archives, The Digital Vaults

The National Archives is probably the most well-known archive in the United States. However, most people only ever see its most famous documents on display, The Constitution, The Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights. While these are the foundational documents of our country, the archives housed thousands and thousands of other pieces that can tell us a lot about the history of our country. Most of these documents are collecting dust, only seen by a lone researcher every decade or so.

                However, recent digitization efforts for the collections at the National Archives are changing this situation. Digitizing records allows greater access for researchers who may be otherwise restricted by travel and financial considerations. Additionally, digitization really opens up the archives for the general public. It allows those people who would normally only enter the National Archives through the front to digitally march through the researcher entrance and explore what they can find.

                The National Archives Digital Vault allows visitors to browse their collections through tagging. Records are organized by tags and you can follow one to another through these connections. In fact, this is the premise for their pathways game, which starts with a record and provided clues to help to find a related document. It is meant to highlight the different ways that documents can be connected to one another. The site also has the option to create your own collection. Any records of personal or research interest can be dragged into a separate space and saved as a collection.

                In addition to tagging, you can filter through documents for type or time period. This is helpful for visitors with specific types of documents or subjects in mind to easily find items. I also really liked this feature because it maintains some of the importance of physically visiting an archive. Oftentimes researchers stumble upon records at archives that they may not have been specifically looking for, but are relevant to their research topic. By showing a number of records related to the one someone is looking at prevents this from disappearing entirely.

                The site also offers visitors the opportunity to create their own products. For example, one could create their own pathways challenge. Visitors can also create movies or posters using the documents that they have saved in their own collections.

                I feel that these types of tools serve multiple purposes. They open archives up to the general public and allow them to explore records they would most likely never see otherwise. In this sense, the design is very accommodating to browsing without a specific topic in mind. However, it also has the features necessary for a more focused search, thereby allowing the utility of the digital collections to be extended to serious researchers as well.

Scarcity or Abundance? Preserving the Past in the Digital Era

Roy Rosenzweig begins his article with a discussion of the Bert is Evil website. He uses this story as an example of the changing landscape for preservation because of the expansion of the digital world. In this introduction he poses two quandaries to the reader; first, how are historians and archivists to deal with the fragility of born digital records and second, if all of these digital materials are preserved, how do historians interact with a complete historical record?

Rosenzweig weaves his discussion of these two issues together throughout the body of the article. One important discussion is that there is not a uniform way of archiving digital materials. Many of the examples he provides, such as the Internet Archive, are projects taken on by private individuals to maintain this media. This is a serious problem because the collection of these valuable resources are entirely dependent on one person. There is no back up system if they move on from the project. He adds that historians as a community need to take on the responsibility of this preservation. They need to adapt the way that they convey historical information to specific audiences in the light of the digital age.

Other issues addressed in this article revolve on the difficulty of preserving digital media. a major issue is that the rate of technological evolution makes many media forms obsolete in a short number of years. Where a piece of paper can last for a hundred years with proper preservation, born digital files are often saved on formats that are obsolete within five years. Rosenzweig points out that converting all of this information to new formats to keep up with hardware and software innovations is the equivalent in time and energy of photocopying an entire library every five years.

Beyond these logistical difficulties, born digital materials interact with each other in very different ways than other objects. In making physical copies of these records, one loses the ability to mine these connections for important contextual information. In a similar vein, the anonymity of digital media makes it difficult to ensure the authenticity and ownership of such documents.

Rosenzweig emphasizes that the inherent problems in preserving digital media are compounded by those who are most affected by its preservation. Historians and archivists have traditionally disagreed on what should be preserved. Digital resources are no exception. Further, historians typically do not take an active role in collecting resources for preservation. With the abundance of materials that are created each day, it is important for as many people as possible to take responsibility for preserving these document for future generations.

In this article, Rosenzweig raises a number of important points about preservation in the advent of digital media. What do you see as the most relevant issues for historians and archivists in this age? How do historians deal with the new challenges of interpreting digital media for the historical narrative? How will historical narratives be affected by the abundance of potential sources available?

Bridget Sullivan Digital Project Proposal

My digital project will address the abolition debates in the colony of Rhode Island in the period leading up to the American Revolution. While the state of institutionalized slavery in the South and the bloody fight of the American Civil War are well known in our collective public memory, slavery in the North is widely forgotten by the historical narrative. This project will help to fill a gap in public knowledge about the history of slavery in the United States.


I would like to present this information in an interactive format. Because we learn so much about slavery and the causes of the Civil War in the American educational system, I would like for this digital tool to stand out against other educational aids on similar topics. Further, I would like for this resource to be able to reflect the differences that were inherent between the state of slavery in the North and in the South.


In order to present this information, I will focus on the lives of two prominent Rhode Islanders, John Brown and Moses Brown. The Brown brothers entered the slave trade together. However, a horribly tragic end to their first slaving voyage caused them to follow different paths. John stuck with the slave trade and rose to wealth and prominence with his profits. Meanwhile, Moses’ eyes were opened to the questionable morality of the trade and he fought to outlaw both the trade and the institution from the colony.


I would like to create an interactive adventure game that allows players to follow the lives of John and Moses as a fictional younger sibling. As a sibling, players will be given the opportunity to join John and Moses at the critical junctures in their careers, both separately and especially at the places where they cross. Players will be familiarized with the historical progression of the move to abolition as well as the function of slavery and the place of the slave trade in Rhode Island during this time period.


My intended audience for this project is teachers and students. The game itself will be designed for an elementary aged child. I think that this type of interactive adventure is educational and exciting for this age group. It allows learning, while providing a contrast for the more traditional methods of addressing history in an educational setting. In order to reach this audience, I would like to market to teachers specifically at Rhode Island public schools. I would like to explore the possibility of it being connected to a more well-known organization in the state, such as the Rhode Island Historical Society, in order to reach more teachers.


Ideally, I would like to evaluate the project through teacher feedback. In the short run, I would like to explore the possibilities of doing a trial testing of the game with teachers in the local DC area.