Category Archives: Comments on Student Blogs (History 697)

Comment on Nathan’s Final Project Blog: “Building a Website”

Nathan’s Final Project Blog: “Building a Website”

Nathan expressed concern over how best to add multiple pages to his Web site. In his blog, he stated that he is copying both the HTML and CSS pages from one new Web page to another. Actually, I learned a better way thanks to a tutorial. Instead of creating multiple separate Web pages, you can create multiple pages within the same Web site that share the same CSS code. After I created my main (or home) page, I selected “Save as” and created my next page — all within the same folder. After renaming the file, I then modified the page with whatever content I wanted. I followed this same process to create all of my internal Web pages. If I wanted to do something unique to each new page’s style without interfering with other the other pages’ design, I simply used CSS Designer and selected as my style source the option “style.” This option allowed me to create inline CSS right on the new page while still drawing on design code from the main CSS file. I found this technique to be much easier and a lot less work. And I agree with Nathan: Getting all pages to work in concert with each other is challenge that requires an extreme amount of attention to detail.

Steve Rusiecki

Comment on Mason’s Design Blog: “Update on Design Project”

Mason’s Design Blog: “Update on Design Project”

I sympathize fully with the struggles Mason has outlined in his blog about finding ways to ensure that his Web site’s design captures his selected time period.  And, like Mason, once I found what I wanted to include on my own site, the real struggle became finding ways to make it work. As Mason explains, some techniques were easier to master than others. Tinkering with a background image was a big one for me, and Mason seems to be bumping along that rough road now. All I can say is that he is on the right track by experimenting with those backgrounds that may or may not work.

I wanted my font style to reflect a “newspaperish” feel to it as well; but, in many cases, and like the font style Mason selected, some newsprint-style fonts are tough to read on a Web page. I settled for one, leitura-news, that gave the feel of of old 1940s newsprint and was easy to read online.  I feel that this compromise was essential in order to grab a user’s attention and make him or her stay on the site. I would recommend to Mason that he seek another serif font for his main body that is a little easier to read than his current selection.  And I just love the parchment backdrop in the main body. Wow! It looks great!

Steve Rusiecki

Comment on Alyssa’s Design Blog: “Web Design Assignment”

Alyssa’s Web Design Blog: “Web Design Assignment”

I enjoyed reading about Alyssa’s thinking behind why she chose the colors for her Design assignment and how she selected the images and font style to support her theme.  I followed the embedded link to her Web site and was able to see the draft version. Her choice of purple in the headers — and her font style in particular — really capture both the sense of the media storm that encompassed the Richmond capitol building disaster in 1870 as well as the sense of mourning that accompanied it.  The newspaper-style font in the <h1>  headers look fabulous.  The images are particularly good, and I liked the way she vignetted Mr. Chahoon’s image — although perhaps resizing it in Photoshop might eliminate some of the “pixelation” that is still evident. I had the same problem with a few of my images, and re-sizing them in Photoshop was not always the best solution. In fact, I had to abandon some of them outright. Overall, Alyssa’s design looks great, and I can’t wait to see the final product.

Steve Rusiecki

Comment on Ben’s Blog 8: “Interactivity”

Ben’s Blog 8: “Interactivity”

Ben is absolutely correct in his assessment of The Lost Museum Web site’s “Achilles Heel”: Interactivity should enhance and not limit the historical experience.  In making a major facet of the site a game designed to figure out who torched the museum, the overarching cultural and historical importance of the site seems to take a back seat.  As I mentioned in my own blog, I watched my son grow up playing many historically themed games and thinking he was getting at the underlying meaning behind the event or period in question. Not so. Defeating the game’s algorithm became the primary objective to the exclusion of all other factors. And, as Ben rightly points out, users of The Lost Museum can become quickly mired in following the “algorithmic bread crumbs” while ignoring the purpose and meaning behind Barnum’s artifacts and underlying thematic message.

Further, I think Ben is onto something by likening the site to a copy of Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper that, although rife with wonderful engravings and imagery, would be meaningless without the necessary textual explications and the context attending such explications. In other words, visualization is great if it serves to clarify –  not obfuscate — the historical argument.  Granted, The Lost Museum offers some of that textual context up front; but, once the game begins, it’s off to the races. The dominant theme becomes finding the guy with the pack of matches and not necessarily the reason why he (or she) may have torched the building. Could the arsonist have been a Confederate sympathizer who, in a fit of pique over a display of Jefferson Davis disguised as a woman, decided to light up Barnum’s building as a show of unity with the recently defunct Confederate States of America? Hard to say. I’m sure the users who view only the textual descriptions of each attraction will get some meaning from the site while others will simply enjoy the cutting-edge visualizations of the virtual tour — all enhanced by Flash Player but sans descriptions.  Ultimately, and as Ben rightly argues, interactivity has to serve the overarching argument. The Lost Museum falls short here.  Granted, the site represents a great effort; but, as historians, we must be careful that our Web sites have more “bang” and less “flash” — or at least a good balance of both.

Steve Rusiecki

Comment on Mason’s Blog 8: “Interactivity on the Web”

Mason’s Blog 8: “Interactivity on the Web”

Mason made some excellent points about the nature of interactivity on the Web. In particular, Mason discussed the potentially “cheesy” appearance that an otherwise serious historical Web site might have if the designers leaned too far toward the gaming aspect of interactivity.  Such an appearance would almost certainly undermine the historical message and cause the site’s purpose to fall flat.

I’ve never been a big fan of video games, primarily because I find them to be tedious and predictable.  The goal of these games always seemed to be how the player could master the designer’s algorithm and win the “gold ring” in the end.  Arghhh. Not for me. I watched my son grow up playing video games, many of them with historic themes, only to find out after quizzing him later that he learned next to nothing about the game’s historical setting. He was more focused on “beating” the algorithms or finding codes online that would allow him to bring German Tiger tanks onto a medieval battlefield and “win the day.” No contest there. And certainly no learning, either. But I must admit to being amused when I watched a bunch of knuckleheads in heavy armor and on foot trying to escape a high-velocity 88mm round fired from the King Tiger.  Again, no contest there.

Like Mason, I admire the efforts of historians like Edward Ayers and Michael O’Malley who have delved into something different, something unknown, to try and create a new Web-based “language” that can enhance, or possibly even replace, the way we historians present our arguments and subject matter.  Like these men, the visual component to history is extremely important to me, and the Web offers so many possibilities in this regard. I am happy beyond words to have learned how to create and publish a Web site in Clio II, but I wish I had more technical expertise to contribute to the efforts of historians like Ayers and O’Malley.  But right now, I just want to ensure that my online historical efforts don’t become goofy avatars of fantasy-based Nintendo video games.  History, for the most part, is not a game. We can have fun with our historical subject matter, though, but not at the expense of forfeiting the meaning behind that subject matter.

Steve Rusiecki

Comment on Alyssa’s Blog 7: “Accessibility”

Alyssa’s Blog 7: “Accessibility”

I’m glad to see that I wasn’t the only one to run some of my Web pages through the WAVE accessibility evaluation tool. I thought that the few errors that “popped” (some of which I could fix easily) meant that I was in pretty good shape overall. And then, after reading Alyssa’s blog, I realized that I could do much more to improve my accessibility “score.” Alyssa used both WAVE and Achecker (not sure what that second  one is!) to evaluate her Web pages, and she came out waaaay on top! Her stuff was nearly perfect. Her only “ding” was that she did not identify her Web sites’ language — one of the same “dings” I received from WAVE for my pages. For the most part, Alyssa had clearly learned from her experience in library school how to code a page properly to ensure accessibility.  She has certainly set a high bar for the rest of us!  I’m inspired to go back and try and figure out — with renewed vigor — the  errors that WAVE reported on my Web pages. My thanks to  Alyssa for leading the way and setting the standard for all of us. Well done!

Steve Rusiecki

Comment on Jordan’s Blog 7: “Accessibility and the Web”

Jordan’s Blog 7: “Accessibility and the Web”

I am in full agreement with Jordan about the usefulness of the “10 Easy Accessibility Tips” from WebAim. As I explained in my blog, simply being conscientious about how you code your HTML will go a long way toward making the site accessible for many more users, particularly the visually impaired. As Jordan avers, the challenges faced by blind people are particularly daunting.  His example of the blind pianist in his church, Ron Harvey, was very moving and striking. Ron could not play the guitar, one of his passions, because the callouses that formed on his fingers reduced their sensitivity to braille.  I can’t imagine having to make such  a choice in life. Playing the music you love or being able to continue reading.  Terrible. Jordan’s example has made me even more dedicated to ensuring that any Web site I create now and in the future follows, at the very least, WebAim’s tips; and, as my skills improve, things like the hidden HTML code espoused by Paul Ryan Bohman will become the norm for my sites. I can’t imagine shutting someone out from reading what  I, as a historian,  produce on the Web for the benefit of all, including blind people. Thank you, Jordan, for helping me to “double down” even further on my own imperative to make my online work accessible to all.

Steve Rusiecki

Comment on Alyssa’s Typography Blog: “Typography Assignment”

Alyssa’s Typography Assignment Blog

I’m happy to say that Alyssa’s Columbine site, which she, like me, used as a practice site for the Typography assignment, turned out extremely well. Her colors, image position, and general site structure looked remarkably good — far better than my attempts! And, like Alyssa, I struggled to get my footer into the body container, but I eventually cracked the code by giving the footer its own class and styling it using the CSS Designer in Dreamweaver. I also used the CSS Designer to solve several of the other problems that Alyssa and I both seemed to have encountered in creating our Web pages.

Moreover, Alyssa followed the same approach I used to match fonts to period newspapers.  Since her period is 19th Century Richmond, she relied on the Richmond Times Dispatch for font inspiration. I’m glad to see that I wasn’t the only one to follow this same approach. I only wish that Alyssa would have tipped us off to her font choices in her blog, because she has a great eye, and I learn so much from her. In fact, she has been a great help to me by teaching me how to FTP and how to create site links — among other things! I am grateful for all of her help and, above all, for her incredible patience in answering my numerous questions and emails. Thanks, Alyssa!

Steve Rusiecki



Comment on Rob’s Post 5: “Errol Morris and the Case of the Inappropriate Clock”

Rob’s Blog 5: “Errol Morris and the Case of the Inappropriate Clock”

I found Rob’s analysis of Errol Morris’s seven-part reading to be informative and in line with my thinking. I agree that a photojournalist, when faced with the task of capturing something on film properly, has some clear choices to make, starting with angle, composition, arrangement, etc. But introducing something into the photograph that doesn’t belong in the first place (like the alarm clock) is taboo for me.  As I stated in my own blog for this week’s readings, the less that one tinkers with a photograph, the better — and that means even before the photographer has clicked the shutter.

I’m very intrigued by Rob’s discussion of Robert Capa and recent allegations that Capa faked his famed photograph of a Spanish Civil War soldier at the moment of the soldier’s death. Aside from the obvious lapse in ethics that such an allegation represents, the greater concern for me is that Capa took the only 12 surviving photographs of the troops landing on Omaha Beach on D-Day. These images, corrupted somewhat by the nervous hand of the developer in London, quickly found their way into American newspapers as true representations of the landing and its inherent horrors. Since my dissertation will analyze the ways in which the American print media constructed for the American public a very specific memory of D-Day as it was happening,  the Capa flap gives me pause.  The Capa photographs are a key component of that constructed memory. I have no doubt whatsoever that Capa’s D-Day images are the real deal, but what if the allegation about his earlier 1936 photograph in Spain is substantiated? How might that fact affect how we as historians  view his subsequent work? This is one question that I will have to contemplate carefully as I begin to explore this controversy in greater detail. My thanks to Rob for making me aware of it.

Steve Rusiecki

Comment on Stephanie’s Post 5: “The Glory of Photoshop”

Stephanie’s Blog: “The Glory of Photoshop”

I enjoyed Stephanie’s excitement and enthusiasm over Photoshop. I know lots of people who have used the program for years, but they always seemed frustrated at learning to do new things with it.  I’m glad that Stephanie has prompted me to search the Web beyond for other “how-to” sites and tutorials. I was generally sticking to the tutorials; but, after searching the Web based on Stephanie’s blog, I found numerous blogs, sites, and videos explaining how to use different techniques in Photoshop. Thanks for the heads up, Stephanie!

I also appreciated Stephanie’s advice on keeping Photoshop well beyond Clio-Wired II.  She is absolutely right that using Photoshop to make unaltered images and photographs “Web ready” is perhaps the most important function the program will serve for me in the future.  Since I intend to use the Web to present more and more of the history I do, Photoshop will be just as invaluable as Dreamweaver for me in the coming years.  Stephanie is clearly correct in implying that for all of us historians, Photoshop is a tool that we won’t be able to live without.

Steve Rusiecki