Digital Project Reflection: Washington on the Frontier

Here it is!

Washington on the Frontier now takes users from Washington’s first foray into the wilderness of the Ohio country in 1753 to his retirement from leadership of the Virginia Regiment in 1758. Each stop on the journey is marked by a map point. Each map point, which selected or reached by clicking through, displays an image relevant to the events that occurred at that map point, a title including the year, and between 100 and 120 words of text describing the events. There are seventeen map points and one introductory page, for a total of eighteen “slides.” Individual reading speeds will impact the time it takes to read through the entire StoryMap but the feedback I have received indicates that it does not take an onerous amount of time to read through everything.

The one issue I was unable to resolve to my satisfaction was the text background: the limits of the StoryMapJS program mean that my options for the background on which the text is displayed are 1) nothing, which sometimes makes portions of the text difficult to read against the map; 2) an image, which made it more difficult to read the text and sometimes cut off too much of the map; or 3) color, which proved difficult to adjust to a satisfactory hue that would allow the text to be clearly read while not interfering with the layout of the rest of the page.

The majority of my difficulties came from locating good images and from writing the text: I tried to avoid writing text that would involve significant scrolling, as that would break the alignment of the image and the text with the map point. This meant I had to work to condense large amounts of information into a very small amount of words. The result is that some of the entries are missing details which I would have preferred to leave in had the space been available. However, the core historical facts are all present and the narrative still holds together.

The StoryMapJS program is relatively intuitive and easy to use, but I have encountered some issues. For one, the program works best when the points on the map are all in a relatively linear formation, rather than bouncing around from place to place. This meant that I had to cut some elements of Washington’s story from the presentation because their inclusion would disrupt the flow of the StoryMap. For instance, Washington traveled to Boston in 1757 to meet with Lord Loudon, the British commander-in-chief in North America. Such a tangent away from the line between Lake Eire and the Virginia coast formed by the majority of the map points. In the end I decided to err on the side of streamlining the process from the technical aspect and cut the Boston journey from the map. The oftentimes competing imperatives created by the technical limitations of the digital tool and the full richness of the historical account being presented via that tool were on full display during the creation of Washington on the Frontier.

The StoryMapJS program offers the chance to do interesting digital history projects in a format that is easy for users to navigate. The spatial component allows for presentations that help users understand history as not just happening over time, but also over space.