The first rule of creating a website: things are going to go wrong. It will be extremely frustrating and confusing. Images will refuse to adjust just right or codes may not operate as they should. Google-fixing problems will be a common occurrence. There will be a very real possibility that the project will not turn out as anticipated. The necessary information to create a full narrative may not be readily available or else difficult to interpret. The second rule of creating a website: none of this will matter. Despite all the difficulty faced, and regardless of whether or not the project turns out as expected, the final product will still be a great contribution to history and technology. In the process of creating Mecca for Motorists: A History of Migration on the Blue Ridge Parkway, we experienced all these things and more. At times it was exciting, as though we were the individuals planning a great scenic highway that would forever change Western North Carolina. Indeed, we had grand dreams of building a magnificent website that would be robust, full of history, rich with voices of the past. At other times, it felt as though we were actually laboring to build every inch of every mile, limited by the tools and sources available to us. And, as with every project, there wasn’t nearly enough time to research and include every bit of information we found, or to create and develop all the pages we wanted. However, in spite of the difficult journey we had along the way, I am reasonably happy with the result of our hard work.
Much to my surprise, I was more comfortable with the technological part of this project than the history component. I came into Mecca for Motorists having already created one website, so WordPress was not overly difficult for me to navigate. I experienced many of the same issues that I had last semester, such as placing images on pages without messing up the text. For the most part, however, I remembered WordPress’ layout and easily created pages and set up the menu. For me, the most exciting thing that I learned was how to embed a YouTube video. I know this sounds relatively easy, but I had a lot of problems getting the video adjusted just right on the page with the text wrapped around it. This required me to search for a code that would allow for such an action. After finding the code that I needed, I had issues getting WordPress to accept it. Finally, at long last, it worked. This was my first real experience embedding anything other than a Timeline. As I indicated in my blog, I found this to be quite frustrating, so it was an especially sweet victory when I got the video positioned properly on the page. I also struggled quite a bit with Timeline JS. As a free tool it is great, but it didn’t always want to accept the links that I was trying to insert. At other times links that previously did not work would work just fine. Perhaps this is an issue that future students should be made aware of. Another challenging—yet rewarding—experience was with the footnote code. Initially, we were unable to get the superscript to link to the footnotes section at the bottom of the page. After some much needed help from one of our librarians, we found a code that created the needed link. However, this wasn’t a simple plugin that we could activate… it was a code that had to be entered manually for every citation. That being said, as long as the code was inserted correctly for every citation, this wasn’t an issue. The problem was making sure the code was correctly entered on each page for each footnote.
For future students, I would highly recommend a few things. First, getting a good grasp of one’s topic as soon as possible so as to avoid trying to take on too much. Second, it is also imperative to begin visiting the necessary archives early on and as frequently as possible. There will be many times when a source (or multiple sources) will be dead ends. Lastly, when setting goals, understand that however long you think something might take you, give yourself twice the amount of time, if not more. It’s technology. Something will go wrong. This advice extends far beyond the scope of academic projects such as these, and so I feel like I can take this experience—along with the hard-earned skills and knowledge that I have gotten from it—to help me become better prepared for the next endeavor that I undertake. And, as far as my future studies, career, and life goes, I fully intend on becoming an archivist. I think this has probably influenced how I approach archiving practices. It has also challenged ideas that I had about how archives operate. In many cases, there really is just one lone archivist who is buried in a mountain of sources that need to be documented, cataloged, and preserved. After spending these past few months working with Jackie, I have immense respect or her and the efficiency with which she operates. Should I ever find myself in the position of the lone archivist, I hope I manage as well as she has. When the day comes that I work at an archive, I will be sure to remember the experiences I had this semester. Perhaps I can use my successes and struggles to help a fellow researcher.
This course was challenging in many ways. It pushed me outside my comfort zone, dared me to write a type of history that I had never attempted, and tested my skills as a historian and researcher (as well as my patience). It also brought me in contact with a very interesting piece of local history that I was previously unaware of. This was certainly one of the more difficult projects that I have attempted, but I feel we created a decent website in the time we had. If anything, it is a great foundation that either Liz or I—or the next person who comes along—can continue building on.