Project Reviews

Virtual Jamestown
Created and maintained by Crandall A. Shifflett, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, University of Virginia, and the Virginia Center for Digital History

The Virtual Jamestown project unites the effort of research teams from Virginia Polytechnic University, the University of Virginia, and the Virginia Center for Digital History at the University of Virginia to explore the history of the city of Jamestown against a broader background of themes in the American and World history. Created to celebrate the 2007 400-year anniversary of Jamestown, the website gives access to a variety of primary sources of the colonial era, first-hand accounts of settlers and contemporary Native Americans, town records and primary document collections. Some of the project chapters are still under construction, and its overall structure leaves enough space to add materials and explore.

The history of Jamestown is presented through placing it into the American and World history context through timelines, maps (some of them interactive, featuring the Native American, settlers' and modern place-names), public and court records (the latter is currently under construction), and the collections of papers (complete John Smith papers among them). Some of the bigger document collections, such as "Virginia Company Adventurers Register" are searchable, others are indexed, simplifying the search.

The sources of the website include, apart from the variety of primary written documents (letters, records, etc.) and maps, interviews, short biographies of the famous first settlers and Native Americans, and timelines. Apart from that the website creators also offer History lesson plans for secondary school, which involve using the website materials. The website features a large comprehensive bibliography of the primary and secondary sources, listed on the separate web pages.

Created in an HTML format, Virtual Jamestown features the materials in a variety of media - interactive maps, video interviews with Chesapeake Indians, links to web-resources related to the subject (e.g. Geography of Slavery). The web site layout is relatively clear and easily navigable with all its levels presented in the left-hand menu. Site index shows site organization and provides quick links to the featured pages.

Though providing clear links and description of the material, the website lacks visual and structural organization. It would present the meaning of Jamestown in the American history much better if a comprehensive and cohesive structure of events, places and people were offered. A random visitor is left to wander aimlessly among the site's exhibits, and a person with a specific research purpose may have difficulty finding the necessary material (thus, for example, the links to lesson plans are not reflected in the left-hand menu). The links from various sections back to the main page are random and inconsistent.

Though the project definitely needs the efforts of a web designer, the variety and depth of its levels presented is still worth merit and will definitely become a landmark resource for anybody who studies early American history.

Svetlana Legotkina
University of Nebraska-Lincoln
Reviewed: Spring 2007