Review of The Texas Manuscript Cultures Collection
The Texas Manuscript Cultures page recently won second runner up in the 2014 international Digital Humanities Awards in the category Best DH Project for Public Audiences. The site is summed up as a place “dedicated to preserving and promoting the culturally diverse hand-written social history of the peoples of Texas through digital access (txmscultures.writingstore.com – Home).” They do so by finding documents that show the shape and nature of life in the state of Texas and look into various documents that highlight all kinds of areas of life for Texans. Much of the history ranges from “literary, political, and religious manuscripts, personal letters and journals, drafts of essays and speeches, commonplace books, ranch records, household inventories, and receipts (txmscultures.writingstore.com – Home)” to name a few. All of these documents hope to preserve the rich culture of Texas as well as to give something for many young Texans to learn about in the future.
It is safe to say that this digital humanities site has one clear direction that limits its audience, but that is something that does not seem to be a top priority as the centralized audience is part of the goal and any audience outside of Texas seems to be luxury to them.
The site itself is very simple. There isn’t much aesthetic excitement on the site and much of it appears to still be in the start-up. The content is depended on donations and the current exhibits only consist of four items: Letters regarding World War II, letters regarding the Civil War, and old newspaper created by Confederate prisoners entitled The Old Flag, and a correspondence called Texas in Prosperity. There is also a search bar located above the exhibits, which currently does not seem necessary, but upon growth of the site, could serve more of a purpose once enough materials go up that justify any sort of search.
Upon browsing the exhibits, the World War II exhibit has lots of pictures of envelopes and not so many in regards to actual letters. While it is interesting to display these kinds of items, the envelopes in themselves do not serve much of a purpose other than saying “look at what we have.” The Civil War letters do change that. Each letter offers a description of what it is about and a clear visual
picture displaying the letter. The information ranges from a letter from husband to wife regarding an illness, an update on the war and the impact it is having on the surroundings, a description of clothing, another description of the surroundings during the war, and a battle report. Much of the letters are from the same family and the exhibit could benefit from a different family perspective. Regardless of the family, they do offer a nice perspective of the times through many different aspects.
The Old Flag section does not contain as much content as the previous two, but the quality of the content is there. It offers up a quality depiction of the times as well as the perspective from a group of people during the time. It is a solid historical document that gives a nice snapshot of the time period, something that includes perspective, opinion, and interesting illustration. All of the information followed the time that Captain William May was held prisoner.
The Texas in Prosperity section featured letters to Dr. J.T. Jones from Ms. O.D. Jones that were also presented through pictures. These pictures are hard to read and the hand writing does not help. They would benefit from a description or semi translation next to the picture instead of just leaving the picture for the audience to decipher what it all means.
While the overall content of the entire exhibit is good, it could benefit from a change in aesthetic display. The pictures are hard to read and some sort of description as to what it all means would benefit the exhibits as well. A lot of this is also based on what Jules David Prown stated in the Chicago Journal. Creating a more digital, interactive exhibit creates a more representative history for the current material culture (Prown). It offers a chance for those who don’t read as well to understand the site a little more. An attempt at broadening the audience would also benefit the exhibit. While it is for mostly Texas and preserving the Texas history, find a way, even subtle, to link it all back to a theme or the overall effect it all had on the United States. The collection is far from complete, and it’ll be interesting to see how it comes together.
“txmscultures.writingstore.com – Home.” txmscultures.writingstore.com – Home. N.p., 1 Jan. 2014. Web. 10 May 2014. <http://txmscultures.writingstore.com/>.
Prown, Jules . “Mind in Matter: An Introduction to Material Culture Theory and Method.”Chicago Journals 17: 1-19. Web.