Digital History: Project Review

National Maritime Digital Library, http://nmdl.org/index.htm. Created and maintained by the National Maritime Digital Library. Reviewed January 24, 2017.

National Maritime Digital Library is a digital project designed to collect and make available material for research into maritime history. As the goal is to encourage a historical understanding of maritime culture, the intended audience is researchers and scholars interested in this field of study. Furthermore, this project includes a communication forum to discuss current maritime news. Outside of academic use, the site offers little to the general public as much of the material is digitized information from primary sources, with limited discussion on the content of the sources. On a whole, the site is very easy to navigate and use with simple header and side bar links. This should be considered a digital history project since it serves as a digital archive and as a digital community. So far, the digital library has five collections including a maritime studies journal and four primary source collections detailing crew and ship lists. The other major part of the project is the maritime search engine, powered by Google, in which researchers can search topics and can narrow choices by primary sources or books.

While this site does have important potential for researchers, it does have a number of problems. One major fault is that one of the primary source collections does not work as all of the links to the digital issues lead only to “that page can’t be found.” This along with a finicky search engine that only somewhat reliably works in Internet Explorer limits the usefulness of the digital library to researchers. Furthermore, the site’s desire to serve as a communication forum has yet to become functioning further limiting the success of this digital history project. Thus while the goal is important as it would create a single place for researchers on maritime history to search for sources and find out new information, the site falls short of these lofty aims. Changes that would be recommended to this project, beyond fixing the current software bugs, would be to expand the types of material in the digital collections. Currently the collections focus on ship and crew lists, mainly including names and dates; however, it would be important to include sources such as dairies and letters, since these documents would better enable researchers to explore the maritime culture. In addition, such documents, with some slight analysis would better serve the general public as it would encourage engagement with the digital repository that is currently not there. The simplest way for the National Maritime Digital Library to accomplish this would be to partner with individual maritime museums currently digitizing their collections and then link to those collections as they become available. Furthermore, once the communication forum becomes functioning, it will provide an important place for scholars to engage with and make connections that may have otherwise been missed. Through this process, the National Maritime Digital Library can become the leading digital repository on all things maritime.

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