Week 3: Examining Approaches to History

This week we’ll be exploring the older interactive websites that enticed many students to explore history, while still making it interesting. Some websites like to use an interactive mapping system, like “Valley of the Shadow“, while others give you the option to play a game like “The Lost Museum” where you explore a museum that burned down in 1865.

Now, first and foremost I would like to say that I did spend more time on the Lost Museum, simply because I was trying to solve the mystery. That does not diminish the scholarly work or interactive aspects of Valley of the Shadow! The Lost Museum knew I was a sucker for a good clue searching Victorian mystery adventure. I had several backseat drivers trying to “help” me through the torrid life of P.T. Barnum’s American Museum as we tried to figure out who set the fire in 1865 that led to its ultimate demise. You have five suspects and a 3-D museum to wander through in the hopes of finding 15 clues. Once you get three clues you can “accuse” a suspect. Now, everyone reading this who isn’t me is seeing how this math works out. There are five suspects and they all have three clues… well crap. This made more sense when you watch the final video, but I still felt like a fool.

Not to give too much away (too late) the solution was a bit disappointing, but the larger idea they were shooting for made it sting less. There is no solution. It could have been any of the five suspects or numerous other people they suggest. Stories have a logical order and clear cut good/bad characters. History doesn’t work that way. There isn’t a clear and obvious solution to most questions posed about the past. That’s why historians keep publishing books about the same subjects. Everyone can assemble convincing evidence, formulate arguments and reach different conclusions.

Valley of the Shadow is also set in the Civil War era and gets serious bonus points for having a catchy-epic sounding title. Contrary to what the introduction says, yes these two towns are in the same valley, but they are VERY far apart. I was under the impression that they were neighboring towns, but Maryland is between them. The long lists of searchable and browse-able databases they offer are cleanly organized in three categories: Before, During, and After the Civil War. You’re set free to click, read primary sources, search databases, and see for yourself the differences between these towns. This site is rich with information, everything has been transcribed and you can look for hours into every nook and cranny. You know exactly what you’re looking at and it can be intimidating and exhausting to think of how much information is simply stored here!

I tried to be as engaged as I could with these different databases and staggeringly massive piles of primary source information. Sadly, I am not from this area, so I don’t really have anything to search! I tried family names, but to no avail, they were still on Nantucket or Kansas getting into their own kind of trouble at this time. The lack of visual primary sources lessens their impact. Yes, it’s wonderful not to stare at 19th century script, yet that’s part of the charm. I know I can trust the translation, if I can see the original. Perhaps when this site was published or with the time allowed to create it, it was impossible to store all the images required.

It was easy to bounce between related primary sources for both The Lost Museum and The Valley of the Shadow. Only The Lost Museum had images associated with their artifacts/ephemera. It’s not the fault of Valley of the Shadow that they did not a have a mystery, which involved suspects and mermaids, that appealed to a wider audience. It could have pulled in a wider Civil War or 19th century interested group if it had a clearer introduction or perhaps a “welcome” video like The Lost Museum. Although the newspaper timelines were excellent side-by-side comparisons. Meanwhile, The Lost Museum displayed click-able side-show displays, which was fantastic, until I realized you cannot click on the wooly mammoth. WHY WOULD YOU PUT HIM THERE?! That was perhaps one of the more infuriating parts. Both are not without their draw-backs and both are fantastic resources.

In my final comments I would like to say that The Lost Museum illustrated several plot points of the BBC America TV show Copper. Best way I can describe this show is that it’s like Game of Thrones set in Civil War Era Five Points New York. Yes, it is that good. Also I am huge fan of the games on the McCord Museum’s Website, The New Bedford Whaling Museum’s Whaling Adventure, and we wasted a good hour at work trying not to die in the Museum of London’s Middle Ages Apprentice Game. In closing, you get Mr. Morehouse drunk and snuggling with a puppy in Five Points from here.


Dr. Prescott also listed the following websites for exploration:


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