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 That’s right, 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, 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 (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.

Midwifery In Colonial America

Historians have utilized existing court records from colonial Virginia, specifically the records of the General Court, Richmond County Court and Accomack – Northampton County Court to study local history, legal history and even gender relations. Thus far there has been little attention given to women’s history as presented within these records. I am currently reviewing these same records to determine the types of cases which brought women to court during the colonial period in Virginia and who testified in those cases. Specifically, I am searching for the presence of midwives within the court records. Historically, in England in addition to their role in childbirth, midwives testified in court in regard to cases of bastardy, infanticide, fornication, adultery, rape and witchcraft. My research will determine if this aspect of their practice made the journey with them from England to the colony of Virginia.

My website, focuses on the practice of midwifery in colonial Virginia based upon the information available in local court records. Women seldom left letters or diaries behind, especially midwives who usually did not keep records to protect the secrets of both the birthing room and their patients. In the absence of first-hand accounts, court records can provide a window through which historians can view the lives of these early settlers and gain an understanding regarding their gendered roles, social relations and gendered power dynamics.

I selected a ready-made product such as and a hosting service, to create my website. I have provided links to Laurel Thatcher Ulrich’s website,, the site for Archiving Early America at and Colonial Williamsburg at which provides information on midwives and apothecaries.

The website currently features a specific case which moved from the local court, through the Court of Oyer and Terminer and ultimately ended at the General Court of Colonial Virginia. So far, I have located all of the records except those of the General Court which contain the final decision and punishment assigned to the case. This website is a work in progress and will most likely continue to evolve as I locate additional resources and information to add to its pages.

The Virtual Memorial:Reconciling Disparity Between Physical and Virtual Presence


The District of Columbia’s National Mall is home to four memorials commemorating the sacrifice of American soldiers who served in overseas conflicts.  The World War II, Korean War, and Vietnam War memorials are national memorials while the World War I memorial, or the D.C. War Memorial as it is also referred to, is a local memorial that honors the 499 D.C. residents who lost their lives. There is no national WWI memorial.  The WW I memorial “is in extreme disrepair, it is hidden away among overgrown trees and bushes, and it is seldom marked on Park Service or other tourist maps or signs.” Ironically, in spite of the WWI memorial’s physical dilapidation, its online presence is the most advanced and well-represented of the memorial quartet.  It is this marked distinction between the physical and virtual memorial sites that I would like to explore in further detail.

The official WWII, Vietnam, and Korean War memorial websites created and maintained by the National Park Service are utilitarian, bare-bones sites that provide basic historical background, answers to frequently asked questions, and a “Photos & Multimedia” page with a few photos and no multimedia (it should also be noted that the Korean War memorial page does not even have a Photos & Multimedia tab). The World War I memorial, being a local rather than national landmark, does not have an official National Park Service website but The World War I Memorial Foundation, a not-for-profit foundation formed in August 2008, has developed a website to “advocate and raise funds for the re-dedication of the DC War Memorial as a national World War I Memorial.” The World War I Memorial Foundation was inspired by Frank Buckles, the last surviving American veteran of World War I (who just passed away on February 27, 2011 at 110 years old), and honorary chairman of the Foundation. Buckles drew attention to the fact that there was no national memorial, a grave oversight compounded by the fact that the local memorial was run down and neglected.  In response, The National Park Service and announced in 2009 that “it would dedicate $7.3 million of ‘stimulus funds’ to the full restoration of the memorial. Once restored and re-landscaped, and re-dedicated as a national memorial, the DC War Memorial will give honor to the heroic deeds and sacrifice of all World War I veterans equal to that bestowed on the veterans of later wars.”

The World War I Memorial Foundation’s website stands in stark contrast to the official National Park Service memorial websites and serves as an excellent model of what the National Park websites could be with some alterations and improvements.  First, the Foundation’s site is visually appealing, displaying striking color photographs that evidence the solemnity and quiet grandeur of the memorial to its best advantage. The poor condition of the physical site is not readily apparent in the images to further exhibit its former (and future) splendor.  The site creator chose to use visually stimulating interactive media whenever possible: using a Google map satellite image of the memorial as well as a video archive.  A “news” page keeps readers abreast of any memorial related news and events, and they offer visitors the opportunity to subscribe to their online newsletter.  Considering this is a non-profit website primarily concerned with raising awareness, obtaining signatures for their petition, and soliciting donations, the website was created with remarkable care and attention to detail.

It is extraordinary that the “forgotten” memorial should be possessed of the most impressive website.  Its striking virtual presence almost mocks its material decay. What is most surprising, however, is not the incongruity of the WWI memorial’s physical and virtual presence, but the disparity between the physical and virtual on the National Park Service websites representing the other three memorials.  That these popular, well-maintained memorials should have such uninspiring online representation is startling.  Perhaps, The National Park Service assumes that an improved online experience is not necessary since they are not concerned with increasing awareness, revenue, or foot traffic; but, by neglecting and letting their websites fall into “disrepair,” they are missing out on the opportunity to transform their sites into exceptional educational tools.  As it is now, the National Park Service’s websites merely provide an adumbration of the memorials, almost concealing more information than they provide.  In the final project, I would like to explore how the National Park Service can enhance their web presence using sites like the World War I Memorial foundations website as a model.


Matthew Kirschenbaum is an associate professor of English at the University of Maryland.  He is also the associate director of the Maryland Institute for Technology in the Humanities, making him more than qualified to write Mechanisms: New Media and the Forensic Imagination.

Mechanisms takes a new approach to studying new media and born-digital writing.  Kirschenbaum explores the contemporary by using case studies from earlier decades to show how technology has changed over time.  In the first chapter Kirschenbaum explains what he describes as ‘Forensic Materiality’ – which “rests upon the principle of individuality” – data leaves distinct marks that are used in computer forensics.  The second chapter is given over to storage technology, specifically, hard drives.  This makes the book unique in its field, as this is a topic that has not really been explored or written about until Mechanisms.  Kirschenbaum argues that it is essential to understand the hard drive in order to fully comprehend new media.

The third chapter focuses on, what Kirschenbaum labels, ‘Formal Materiality’ – “the impositions of multiple relational computational states on a date set of digital object” (9).  The example he gives for this is a digital media file, which contains multiple layers.  Using a walkthrough of the game, Mystery House, Kirschenbaum proves how Forensic Materiality and Formal Materiality complement each other.

Chapter four and five are similar to chapter three in that they use examples (Joyce’s Afternoon and Gibson’s Agrippa, respectively) to show how new media and electronic writing are changed, erased, repeated, and stored over time.  Using computer forensics, Kirschenbaum illustrates how the digital is more material than it may first appear.  It is a tangible thing whose layers can be peeled back despite that fact that we cannot touch the files.

The book is well written though I find it a bit dense.  I was slow in understanding what he meant by Forensic Materiality and Formal Materiality but with later chapters that included the walkthroughs, I was able to gain a better understanding.  This book was definitely written for an audience with some prior knowledge of the history of technology.

How do you think Kirschenbaum’s argument influences us to think differently about storage and born digital media?  Considering how deeply computer forensics can probe into a hard drive or other storage, what should remain private and what should be public?  What effect will this have on ethics?

I leave you with a quote: “Product and process, artifact and event, forensic and formal, awareness of the mechanism modulates inscription and transmission through the singularity of a digital present” (23).


Project Draft: Omeka and the Historical Society of the DC Circuit Court

For the past several weeks I have been working with my public history class to create an online catalog and exhibit for the Historical Society of the District of Columbia Circuit Court. While we still have a long way to go before completing the project, we have made substantial progress on the site and finally have a draft up and running at!

So far the most substantial progress made on the project has been the completion of the online catalog of the historical society’s collection of judicial portraits. If you click on the archives tab you can see an entry for each portrait that includes information about the judge and the painting. While two of my other group members also helped with the catalog, I entered in the information for the judges between Joyce Hen Greene and Joseph C. McGarraghy (these judges are located on pages 6-8 in the archives section).

Now that we have completed the majority of the work on the catalog portion of the site, my group has shifted focus to creating an exhibit and lesson plans. While the majority of the work for these projects has not yet been included in Omeka, we have made substantial progress on writing the exhibit script and gathering information to create K-12 lesson plans. We plan to finish both of these projects by March 30th so that we will have time to make final edits to the site before the final drafts of our project are due.

In addition to the exhibit and lesson plans, we are also considering including a site survey to receive feedback from visitors. This would allow the historical society to track the progress on the site and learn of any problems that visitors experience while using the page. Can you think of anything else that we should include on the site? Are we missing anything that you think would really add to the web page? Please leave feedback here!