Project Reviews

The Bethlehem Digital History Project
Created and maintained by Julia Maserjian and James Talarico, Reeves Library, Moravian College and Theological Seminary, 2000-2008

The Bethlehem Digital History Project (BDHP) was developed through the cooperation of historical, archive and library institutions from the Bethlehem, PA area, an endowment by the NEH, and more. It was developed under Project Managers Julia Maynard Maserjian, and her successor James Talarico. About six years in production, the site was completed in 2005.

Mostly a selected archive of materials from the early years of Bethlehem's history, the site primarily contains artwork, maps and documents. The images of artwork (including architectural sketches, paintings, drawings/engravings and needlework) enlarge to a reasonable size, though not large enough to identify techniques used in the needlework samples. The maps are a nice feature, but less than half of the ten maps have the helpful "interactive zoom" capability, making those that do not have it virtually unusable for anything other than getting a general idea of the area. Not counting individual entries for births and deaths separately, it appears that there are perhaps 75 document-type items available, though some are fairly lengthy. Documents have an English translation (most are originally written in German) and most include a moderately-sized image of the original as well as a transcription of the German. The "Scholar's Corner" contains five document sections which have images of documents, but neither a transcription nor a translation.

Though the interface is fairly easy to understand and use, the information structure is not intuitive. For instance, it is bothersome that some art pages link to information (such as a description of a church's consecration) which might be useful to users who are not interested in viewing art, yet there seems to be no way to find or access these pages without going through the Art section; even the Site Index does not list them. Additionally, there are architectural photographs available under the Education section, and modern photographs of artifacts under the Music section, but neither of these are clearly labeled for a user who arrived looking for images. Further, the Art and - especially - the Music and Land (i.e. maps) sections have comparatively little information about the images contained in them. Finally, it appears that perhaps the archive may have at one time been planned to be more extensive than it ended up; for instance, under the "Bills of Sale & Manumissions" category, the user finds documents for only one bill of sale, and one manumission.

There are a few additional resources. A simple yet helpful search feature can find a word or phrase from anywhere in the site, including transcriptions or translations of documents. Secondary information on the site is limited and seems somewhat happenstance: there is only one major piece of writing that seems designed to orient the user to the site, the period it explores and the information it contains; yet (obscurely) there are abstracts of conference papers for three recent Moravian Music Conferences. The Teaching Materials section, unfortunately, links to outside resources which have no direct relationship with any of the information on the site. The Links section points the user to a number of other sites, more or less closely related to early Bethlehem studies, which may be helpful. Beyond the search feature, perhaps the most useful of the resources is a glossary of unfamiliar terms.

In summary, then, this site would be a strong beginning to a digital history project, but seems very skeletal for a final product. The lack of secondary work - indeed, the lack even of really identifying and contextualizing the documents - is a problem. To stand out, the site would also need a more obvious organizing principle or argument. Nevertheless, even in this form the site would certainly be of use to someone interested in examining the documents and images themselves, which is clearly the focus of the site.

Amy Gant
University of Nebraska-Lincoln
Reviewed: February 2007