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Monday, August 2, 2021

August 2, 2021: AmericanStudies Websites: Steve Railton’s Trio

[On August 6, 1991, World Wide Web creator Sir Tim Berners-Lee publicly announced his WWW software for the first time. So for the 30th anniversary of the occasion that brought us all here, this week I’ll highlight just a handful of the many wonderful AmericanStudies websites. Share your favs for a crowd-sourced post, please!]

In one of my very early posts, I paid tribute to my Dad Steve Railton’s work on groundbreaking American literary & cultural websites. But since then he’s created a third, so for this week’s series I’ll say a bit more about the first two and highlight that new one as well:

1)      Mark Twain in His Times: Railton’s first site turns 25 this year, which, much like watching a child age, makes me feel super old. But I’m very proud of my first-born half-sibling (okay, abandoning that metaphor now), and have used it in countless classes to great effect (most of all my Special Author: Mark Twain course, natch). The separate sections on six of Twain’s major books are phenomenal, as are those on thematic categories like identity and marketing. But my favorite thing is how intuitive and easy the site is to navigate and use—no small feat 25 years ago, and frankly no guarantee in sites created in 2021 either. Don’t believe me? Take it for a trip down the e-river and see for yourself!

2)      Uncle Tom’s Cabin & American Culture: A couple years after starting the Twain site (which continues to evolve—that’s one thing about online projects, for good and for bad there’s no definitive end; it’s very good for us but can be tough for their creators), Railton launched this second, even more ambitious digital humanities project. Funded by grants from the NEH and the NEA, award-winning, and (I know from countless testimonies) a vital resource for educators and scholars of every type, the UTC site is a true model for online public scholarship. That’s true of the content, which contextualizes this one hugely influential text in history, literature, culture, popular culture, biography, scholarship, and more. But to my mind it’s even more true in its trio of navigation modes—Search, Browse, and Interpet—from which all those working on digital projects can learn a great deal.

3)      Digital Yoknapatawpha: DY is that aforementioned newest project, and is distinct from the other two in one key way: while Railton still created and directs it, it has been developed and built by a team of collaborators from all over the world. It also uses mapping, graphics, and other digital humanities technologies in ways that reflect just how far both DH capabilities and Railton’s own ideas have continued to progress (and of course what collaborators have added to the mix) since those 1990s sites. But at the same time, there’s a clear through-line here: the use of web projects to contextualize and amplify our work with texts and authors, to bring us back to our literary and cultural histories in new and nuanced and even more meaningful ways.

Next AMST site tomorrow,


PS. What do you think? Favorite websites, past or present, you’d share for the crowd-sourced post?

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