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

Virtual Jamestown is still in development, but promises to be rich with text and image resources and the digital tools to make those resources useful and meaningful on the 400th Anniversary of the settlement at Jamestown. Because the "here is our concept" page is not accessible again once you have entered the site (except by entering the address or, on occasion, clicking the graphic), discerning the purpose of the site takes some clicking around, but it becomes clear that the project is designed to immerse the user in early Virginia history through primary documents that are searchable, contemporary maps made useful through zooming technology, and a number of visualizations of John Smith’s movement into, and wider settlement in, Virginia. The left hand navigation bar remains stable throughout the main pages of site and is the primary tool for movement from section to section, however, within the documents and some sections, navigation moves to a bar at the bottom of the page and it becomes less obvious, given the length of some of the pages.

The quantity of text available is one of this site's outstanding features. Court records, laws, Virginia Company records, indentures, censuses, first-hand accounts, and newspapers (through the Geography of Slavery site) are useable through search and browse functions that make the content useful to researchers. Although some of the areas are still under construction, their planned format is clear in the html layout of the other sections. Most of the documents are offered in their original format and with modern spelling, making justifiable allowances for a broad audience unused to seventeenth-century text. Unfortunately, many of the links to bibliographic information on the original spelling versions are broken links to UVA's E-Text Center, but the modern spelling version links work consistently. Given the number of documents, corrections and verification of new, functioning links may be time consuming, but this problem eventually needs to be addressed.

Making vast quantities of text available and searchable is surely one of the most valuable digital components of this project, but one of the nicest gee-whiz factors is provided by the map features on the site. Images of contemporary maps are provided as two differently sized images and with a zoom function: given the detail of many of these older maps, the high resolution of the images provided, combined with the zoom function, makes this a very useful part of the site. Anyone who has had to pore over old maps either on paper or on a computer screen will appreciate this aspect of the site. Visualizations of John Smith's Voyages of Exploration allow the user to manipulate layers and time, as do maps of patterns of English and native settlement - including the locations of Native American towns and regions of tribal settlement demonstrate the breadth of such settlement. It is unfortunate that at this point these maps are only available in the Jamestown Interactive section of the site and there is no indication on the Maps page that interested users may find more information in this section.

Context for the settlement of Jamestown and Virginia is provided through a number of areas in the Reference Center. Biographies of settlers, timelines, interpretive essays, links to additional online resources, and other features enrich the archive's content. The essays are traditional in format, with no hyperlinking or textual pointers to pertinent documents as examples. Enriching these essays with some sort of connection to documents or other sections of the site would make them much more useful and more suited to a digital format.

Because it is still under development, Virtual Jamestown has several problems with inconsistency of design and fonts, sizing issues with some images, and is in need of general tweaking of design, links, and the like to make it ready for completion. In spite of these problems, it is obvious that this site, a collaborative project of Virginia Tech, the University of Virginia, and the Virginia Center for Digital History at the University of Virginia (and recipient of numerous grants), has a deep well of academic and technical support to draw on and one anticipates the further integration of these two factors and the eventual completion of Virtual Jamestown with delight.

Leslie Working
University of Nebraska-Lincoln
Reviewed: April 2007