Journal entry #2

This week's journal entry will consist of applying the questions which follow to two web-sites chosen from the course syllabus.

  1. Do these articles fulfill the promise of digital scholarship?
  2. Do they do anything genuinely new with new media?
  3. Do they do it well?

The websites in question are: City Sites and The Spanish-American War in US Media Culture.

City Sites frontpage image. Both articles are interesting and attempt to be innovative with their use of new media for scholarly purposes. I believe that neither lives up to the promise of digital scholarship, however. In City Sites the use of Flash movies and sound add a dimension beyond that available in traditional book form, but do nothing to enhance the scholarly content of the e-book. This bit of animation probably should not have been included because it takes a significant amount of time for the Flash movie to run - this is fine for the first visit, but annoying as one navigates through the site, particularly as you are forced to revisit either the Chicago or New York opening movie each time you try to navigate out of the in-depth essays buried inside the title tags on the city maps. The essays themselves are accessible through a number of different of paths, which can be confusing, as it can be hard to tell whether or not you have already visited the section. This is somewhat mitigated by the presence of the 'Essays' link on the scroll bar, which provide a more direct way to view the essays.

The interesting part of the site in terms of doing something new with new media is the possibility of exploring themes across the essays - unfortunately, this promise is not fully realized in that the four pathways lead to seperate pages for each which in turn have links to the relevant passages from a single essay, rather than a blend of the content from several essays. This is rather clunky, and serves to highlight the fact that the site is built on a fixed set of essays by different authors, with each essay divided up into modules usable elsewhere in the site. I was hoping to see an innovative use of new media through the combination of the relevant content of several essays into a new coherent whole - this would be truly new, and, I think, possible (you can certainly use databases in this way - i.e. create simple narrative text from information divided into coherent fields), though not easily. I was dissappointed in the use and development of images on this site. I was hoping to get more images and information on the actual buildings highlighted in the City Sites maps rather than the single image and short blurb actually provided for each- surely there was room for these scholars to include architectural drawings and multiple exterior views, not to mention some understanding of how the buildings were used for at least some of the buildings?

First page of the Spanish-American War in U.S. Media Culture website.In The Spanish-American War in US Media Culture, Castonguay makes his primary resources available in the form of film clips taken from the Library of Congress archives, adding an experience not normally available to scholarly readers. The problem is that the clips take a lot of time to run, even on cable or dsl connections. In any case, while it is great to be able to view the primary resources as you read the essays, it is not a substantially new approach to new media. The article does provide a large amount of material but fails to make full use of the media to create something new - this is still a linear essay divided into multiple parts which can be variably accessed with the addded novelty of actual film clips. I was not convinced that the "multiplaction of media provided an added representational dimension to the films' various contexts" (Bass, Randy, "The Expressive Shapes of Arguments and Artifacts", AQ 51.2 (1999), p. 277.). The links in the essays take the form of digressions into particular themes, which, while interesting, tend to dilute the central message of the site as stated in Castonguay's "Introduction."

Overall, I believe the City Sites e-book to have come closer to fulfilling the scholarly promise of new media, but I also believe that both sites fall well short. The City Sites project does, however, point to some interesting possibilities for new approaches to new media, not just in the combination of tools, but in the development of multiple approaches to the same data, potentially creating new insights on the topic studied.