Website Comparison - 1916 Uprising

by Craig P. Savino

I will compare two sites here:

BBC History’s “1916 Easter Uprising”, []

The National Library of Ireland’s “1916 Online Exhibition,

Site goals

National Library of Ireland site
This seems to be the library's first digital exhibit and one would imagine that they have engineered it in a way not only to educate but also to impress. The use of flash technology, clean design, and well written history indicates that this is an exhibit intended to appeal across a broad range including amateur enthusiasts in Irish and English history, educators, and even scholars. On one hand, the site's goal is clearly to communicate the history of this event in a way which highlights the primary documents surrounding it. But in addition to this I would say the the NLI hopes this site will direct traffic to their catalog and institution as well.
BBC site
This site seems to function along the same lines as your average PBS history site. The attempt is to teach about the event and supply clips with contemporary introspection. There is little emphasis, if any, on the primary documents. The site comes across as more of an old school, top down telling of the history. There is a lot of text provided, so one thinks they were hoping for those with a passing interest looking for more general information to come across the site. This site seems much less for scholars than the NLI and even seems to have limited (though some) appeal for educators. Instead, this site seems to have a very "for the public" feel to it.

Range of materials offered

National Library of Ireland
this site seems to stick to the basic forms of documents known - written documents and images. There is a wide range of types within these fields though and this site covers many of them. There are handwritten and typed documents, there are printed broadsides, photographs, prints of drawings, etc. The materials cover a good portion of the history surrounding the event. Also included are some very old documents which give important background to the conflict between the Irish and English (perhaps a venue for the NLI to show off their impressive preservation?). The only weakness is a lack of other sorts of media. However, considering the time period and the focus of the site (as well as the set up of a flash site with corresponding PDF's which try to communicate all that is in the Flash portion and more) one can hardly blame them.
BBC site
At first glance the BBC site seems to have a much wider range of materials than the NLI. There seem to be documents, images, photos, and audio. However, few of these documents are really passable. As will be explained futher in the "How Documents are Treated" portion, many of these images and documents are small, in poor resolution and/or difficult to use. Furthermore, the majority of the audio portions have to do with contemporary scholars weighing in on the event. Only a couple of the audio files are actually songs related to the Easter Uprising. One aspect where the BBC has a slight advantage over the NLI in the documents it offers is in giving news articles which deal with the Easter Uprising and views on it from various decades following the event itself. Overall this is a poor website for actual materials (though it DOES seem to be rich in information if one trusts the authority of the BBC).


I thought that "creators and audience" was a bit redundant given the information given above, so I thought I'd speak a little bit about how each site has utilized different technologies. The BBC site uses little in the way of JPEGs and other visual technology. It also uses little along the lines of searchability except that its text (and the text provided for historical articles) is searchable in the way one might search any website. Most of the tech aspect of the BBC site is in the music and video offered via RealMedia. Personally, I am not a big fan of RealPlayer but it is likely that anyone who regularly uses their computer to listen to the BBC will also have RealPlayer. There is very little in the way of website design and technology integration on the BBC's site. However, they should probably be given some slack as a look at the source code for the site reveals that it was built several years ago before many sorts of technologies had proven themselves as worthwhile in use on a historical and educational website.
The National Library of Ireland, meanwhile, uses an integration of newer technologies that really works well for the display of these materials. A combination of using Flash to deliver documents scanned at very high resolutions and PDFs to relate information which couldn't make it across Flash (or for users who don't have Flash at all) creates a multifaceted and user friendly site. The design of the site is fairly high end, particularly for a public history website, and helps facilitate the digestion and delivery of the material.

How Documents are Treated

National Library of Ireland exhibit
documents are treated properly as important components of history. They are clearly presented and can be examined at high resolution. Documents which may present trouble reading have been transcribed and these transcriptions can be read in the corresponding exhibit PDF's. Each set of documents are sorrounded by context for the corresponding portion of the exhibit which helps illuminate the significance of the document, sometimes even referencing these documents. Overall, very high marks for this important component.
The BBC site
much more disappointing and a stark contrast to the National Library of Ireland. Documents hardly play an important role in this site. Many narratives have pictures or excerpts provided, but in no instance are you able to click on these images to enlarge them. The narrative is constructed as an end unto itself, rather than something which surrounds historical documentation. There is only one section which provides clickable documents, but these are limited and even questionable in their selection, particularly considering the breadth of what they attempt to cover. Furthermore, this handful of clickable documents are provided with very little (if any) extra information. There is no sense of provenance or importance/context. The only actual documents provided in full are excerpts from news accounts. It could be argued that this philosophy in addressing actual documents has to do with the audience the BBC is trying to serve. However, I would argue that the BBC's audience could be very entertained and drawn in by the provision of documents where large blocks of texts without something visually enticing tied in could work against their aims.


National Library of Ireland
There is no easy way to search while within the exhibit itself, but the exhibit is linked to the Library's main site which is certainly electronically searchable. There are also the occasional reminders within the exhibit that one can search the library site and of course, as noted, there is attention paid to the provenance of documents so that those interested can track them down. It is not the most optimal way to go about searchability, but the object of the site seems to be to exist as an exhibit first and foremost rather than a "collection." One could see that with all the bells and whistles already provided through this site, a search capability directly embedded in the exhibit itself may have been more trouble than it was worth.
The BBC Site
This site is not searchable at all. While this is probably not within the purview of the site and would do little good as the documents used are rarely of a quality worth using (or helpful) it is still frustrating. On the BBC's side is its searchable via web browser text, something the National Library of Ireland might not have because it is within Flash, but it is hardly through actions of their own or the design of the site that this is made possible for the BBC. Once again, low and disappointing marks for the BBC's site.

Rating the sites

Both sites do a good job in conveying large amounts of good information on the subject and both sites manage to stay away from heavy bias which is particularly impressive for what must be such a touchy subject for both institutions and their constituencies. The National Library of Ireland exhibit is better on the design and usability end. It does have the advantage of several years worth of technology and design/web integration on its side and that is worth considering as well. I would have to say, though, that the major edge which the National Library of Ireland Site has over the BBC's site is how it treats the historical documents. As mentioned, the documents are clear, unclear writings are transcribed, provenance and context are provided and all documents are treated as pieces of history crucial to achieving a full understanding of the topic. The BBC website relies too heavily on contemporary text and interviews to get the same ideas across and in a history exhibit this is questionable public history practice. The great litmus test which shows the difference between the two, I would say, is that the BBC site seems like a nice starting point for those unfamiliar with the Easter Uprising. The National Library of Ireland site, meanwhile, is somewhere you could start your research AND find legitimate sources for in depth research and analysis.

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