Locust Grove Environmental Scan

List of Website Cited

In reviewing the digital environment in which the Locust Grove diary project would inhabit, there are several existing website that offer useful ideas and models, however there is also an accompanying lack of well-rounded, in-depth websites that chronicle the history of the Hudson Valley through primary source material. Given this dearth of websites geared towards the digital humanities and archival material of the Hudson Valley, the Locust Grove diary project provides an excellent opportunity to serve as a pilot project that could be expanded to other historic sites in the region.

To begin with, Locust Grove, as the home institution of the archival material, currently does not have much of a web presence. Given finite resources and limited staff common similar historic sites, Locust Grove’s website caters mostly to visitors and tour groups, providing a general overview of the history of the estate and the Young family. Furthermore, while the archives are expertly housed and arranged, with PDF finding aids available on-line, access to the materials themselves is severely limited due to the lack of a full-time archivist. Creating a digital portal to host the diaries as an entry point to the rest of the collection would enable a wider audience to benefit from a rich source of primary documents. In subsequent phases, the site would conceivably open up to scholars and the public a much larger portion of the archives, which consists of over 500 linear feet of material, 10,000 photographs, and 100 blueprints and maps. Also, by developing a site that caters more towards the educational needs of high school students b hosting lesson plans and other aids geared towards New York State Regents requirements, the proposed site would further fill an existing void.

In casting a wider eye on the historic homes of the Hudson Valley, it is readily apparent that Locust Grove is not alone in maintaining what amounts to a hidden archives. The majority of websites of historic homes also cater to visitors and tours groups. This is perhaps not surprising given the general orientation and primary mission of such institution. Most do not present finding aids to their archival material, much less hosting any documents themselves. Similarly the history presented trends towards general overviews and the education components, if any, tend towards highlighting available tours for school groups. Two of what would be considered top-tier historic sites serves to illustrate this point. The National Park Service operates the Roosevelt home and Vanderbilt mansion, both in Hyde Park up the road from Locust Grove. As such, their websites present information in a fairly uniform and utilitarian format. Neither provides ready access to archives material, detailed history of the buildings or families, or much in the way of educational resources beyond links to other websites. One unfortunate irony is that the Roosevelt home website does not even provide an easy link to the Roosevelt Presidential Library website. The one link from the Roosevelt home to the Roosevelt library is located on a PDF file under the “For Educators” section.

The Roosevelt Presidential Library website, in contrast, does an excellent job in providing access to its collections and serves as a good model of what the Locust Grove project could be. The site mount a variety of primary documents, accessible through both a search box and browsing interface. The one drawback, however, is that search results do not provide any context of what document has been retrieved and there does not seem to be any metadata associated with the documents. The education resources on the website also provide a good model of how to incorporate document based lessons into the curriculum and integrating New York State standards.

The Historic Hudson Valley website is a useful portal to a collection of other historic sites in the area and serves as a useful model of how like-minded institution can collaborate in a digital environment. Unfortunately, however, this website suffers from the same general deficiencies of websites of other historic homes oriented more toward tourists and less towards presenting history or primary source documents. The sections on each historic site do include essays focusing on specifics aspects of their history, which serve as a usual model for the narrative essays planned for the Locust Grove project.

The Dutchess County Historical Society is a valuable resource of local history, but is only open by appointment and does not present any of its materials digitally directly, though a few items are mounted on the Hudson Valley Heritage website. Furthermore, the Society does not present any actual history online. Use of Historical Society resources will be useful in helping fleshing out narrative essays and diary annotations, but its current website is fairly two-dimensional and not terribly useful beyond providing contact information.

A more successful Hudson Valley themed website is the Teaching the Hudson Valley online presence. The organization, based out of the Roosevelt home, the organization serves a an excellent curriculum resource and its website acts as a portal hosting over 200 lesson plans based on numerous sites throughout the region. The advanced search options, with multiple dropdown lists and check boxes, as well as the browse function provide a good model of a dynamic site. Unfortunately currently there is only one lesson plan based on the Locust Grove historic site. This sole option focuses on the sciences and is based on the landscape of the Locust Grove estate, not the history present in the house or its archives.

Another excellent digital resource on the history of the region is the Hudson River Valley Heritage website. This site would serve as an excellent host site for the Locust Grove diary project as it already serves as a portal site hosting digital object from an assortment of institutions, including seven architectural drawings from Locust Grove. The site is a good model of how to mount digital objects in a straightforward manner. The HRVH site also offers a fairly dynamic search and browse options, plus the ability to filter search results by a variety of metadata including subject, creator, type and date. Some but not all digital objects on the site have been transcribed, but all present metadata with the digital image, which in turn are encoded can be used to search as well. The HRVH site is probably closest to what the Locust grove diary project strives to achieve in mounting digital objects, but it lacks any historical context, educational resources or other added value features.

Another category of websites that serve an useful examples for the Locust Grove project are sites that mount other diaries. Samuel Pepys, Philip Hone and George Templeton Strong are all known for their diaries. Surprisingly George Templeton Strong’s diary does not appear to be available digitally and Philip Hone's diary seems only accessible via the Internet Archive. Samuel Pepys diary is mounted on a website with additional in-depth essays and an encyclopedia feature to capture annotations. The transcriptions of diary entries are further encoded with annotations appearing in pop-up screens and linked to the encyclopedia. Another feature of the site is programming the site so diary entries for today’s date appear on the home page, and linking diary entries to external sites such as other diaries or the proceedings of the British Parliament for that date. The Martha Ballard diary site is another fairly basic site that nonetheless permits greater access to a unique primary source. In addition to search and browsing the diary, as well as providing transcriptions, the website includes some very useful added value features such as stories and themes represented in the diary and features that assist in understanding the structure, content, and handwriting of the diary. T

The Nehemiah Wallington English Civil War diaries are mounted in a more technologically savvy fashion, though this does not necessarily translate into a better presentation, necessarily better, presentation. While the ability to zoom in on sections of the diaries and the extensive metadata attached to each entry are both excellent features, the lack of historical context or full transcriptions limits the usability of the site. The William Henry Jackson diary, part of the New York Public Library digital collections, as well as the Theodore Drieser Russian diary, hosted by the University of Pennsylvania, are both less technically robust, but the simple search and navigation of both sites still make the contents accessible. While no digital images of the originals are available, the full text transcriptions provide the user with an acceptable alternative.

A number of websites serve as portals to a variety of diary projects, however the majority of these are simply lists of links with no added value enhancements. In the case of the Historical Diaries Online site, most of the links are no longer functional, which highlights the pitfalls of sustainability in a digital environment. The SCETI: Women's Diaries website hosted by the University of Pennsylvania also is a good example of sustainability issues. In this case, the school has simply archived the site as indicated by the “old” URL. While the digital objects are maintained, they lack any metadata, historical context, transcriptions, or even a basic search function. A much more function portal site is the Wisconsin Historical Society diaries site. This site does not provide digital images of the original, but does offer full transcriptions as well as extremely useful and detailed editor’s notes. The Diaries along the Trails of the West portal is another flat, two-dimensional portal listing other diary websites. However, it does provide the unique element of essays detailing features of 19th century handwriting and speech patterns in order to assist users in understanding and deciphering the contents of the diaries.

Finally, there are three sites worth noting that mount digital images of manuscripts, while also including value added elements that enhance the user experience and understanding of the materials. The Sabato Morais Ledger website is a more simplified example providing a detailed historical essay, a browse function, and a simple search of detailed metadata attached to each image. The Jane Austen manuscript site allows full text search of full, encoded transcriptions alongside digital images of the originals that are held by five different repositories. The site also provides detailed information on the project and editorial decisions. The Old Bailey proceedings is another site that integrates full, encoded transcripts, complex searching by keywords and metadata, as well as some images of the original texts. The site also has an “On this Day” feature and permits searching related texts as well as map and location information. There is also detailed information about the project as well as a fairly extensive section on providing research and study guides to facilitate use of the material.

Overall, the current digital environment provides many examples of how the Locust Grove diary project can be executed effectively. However, few sites incorporate all the elements currently envisioned. The ultimate goal of the Locust Grove diary project is to serve a model for other Hudson Valley historic sites by producing a robust, multi-faceted website geared toward not only mounting digital copies of the diaries but also providing users ample historical context and other value added features.

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