Review: The National Security Archive and Grumentum

So I have two separate website projects that I’m working on: https://peopleshistoryfallujah.org, using WordPress, and http://memoriaelinguagrumentina.org/neatline/show/g, using Omeka. The first is a pretty straight-forward digital archive, and the second is a mixed methods, public history and language documentation project focused on the Italian village of Grumento Nova. 

The National Security Archive has served as a model for my People’s History of Fallujah project. The biggest attraction to the website is, of course, the information. The staff of this site has created a fantastic public resource through their work with Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests. Scholars and the general public alike can find valuable primary source material on a number of foreign policy issues, recent and past. 

Being a website built around content, often just text, the organization of the site and its searchability seem to me to be its most important features. The design itself is minimalist, even though the home page is quite busy. There is a simple header image, then a menu bar, followed by a scrolling window of the top stories in the media. Below this, there is a left side-bar with the latest blog posts, a right side-bar with news items that feature the work of the Archive, and the central body of the home page lists the most recent additions to the archive in chronological order. 

The homepage could at first leave visitors feeling overwhelmed with the amount of information and it’s many different sources (from the blog, archive postings, news media, or various projects). However, this is not a website built for casual browsing. If one has a clear idea of what they want to look for, searching the website is actually very simple and smooth. You can search by project—usually a country of interest or a topic, like torture—or you can do a search for specific documents. Searches can be refined by keywords and date of publication. 

I have found searching by country to be very helpful. Many of the “postings” offer a collection of documents on a specific topic with some background context explained by the editorial staff. I’ve found several new documents that I didn’t even know existed by looking through these postings, and I’d like to use a similar approach for my People’s History of Fallujah. 

My other project, Memoria e Lingua Grumentina (“Memory and Language in Grumento Nova”) is much more challenging, and I haven’t found any website to serve as a good model. However, http://www.grumentum.net/index.php is a useful resource focusing on the village’s “beni culturali”—(something like “cultural resources” but with legal and economic connotations). 

The graphic on the home page is simple, attractive, and intuitive. The vertical color bars stand for categories of “beni culturali,” and these colored bars appear again in the header image. I think it looks good, and when you click on either “nature,” “archeology,” “history and traditions,” or “food and accommodations,” some snapshots open up on a real of film. Overall, I like the design. And even though the graphic is redundant with the header menu, it’s a good portal into the website’s contents. 

However, after this neat homepage, all the info about this town is a bit scattered with an over-reliance on text. The website functions like an e-book with hyperlinks, and each category of beni culturali is like a chapter. But there is so much text and so much info that I don’t think the website is useful for casual visitors. In my opinion the site would work much better if they had some more engaging materials to begin each section with (like a video or some kind of graphic) and then offer links from there to more information. To have the information organized as it is will attract only the most interested visitors. Others will likely move on. 

4 thoughts on “Review: The National Security Archive and Grumentum”

  1. I agree that the National Security Archive website’s homepage is overwhelming. There is a lot of good information on this website and I think that the tabs break it down pretty well and in a way that is organized. I liked the simple look of Grementum but I think that the information was presented in a disorganized way.

  2. Very interesting to see how different both of these sites are. The Grementum site is designed very creatively but definitely favors aesthetics over usability. I have never seen so many hyperlinks, especially ones that link to wikipedia pages (which seems unnecessary). However, it does have fairly easy navigation considering how heavy the site is in text and content. On the other side, the National Security Archive site is less interested in having a simple, welcoming design on the home page and is more interested in telling you up-front all it has to offer. I agree that this makes it most useful for people entering the site with a purpose.

  3. The projects you are working on sound very interesting. Your project on Fallujah sounds very intriguing and given the subject I understand why you would make the design minimalist. The page looks sleek and clearly shows what you want to be the main focus and driving force of the site, the content. Your Memoria e Lingua Grumentina sounds like a layered project that will be very different and I am very curious to how it turns out.

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