The director of the Virtual Jamestown project is Crandall Shifflett. He is a history professor at Virginia Tech and directs their graduate studies program. Shifflett is also an author who has written several award-winning books on Southern US history. Back in 1996 Shifflett wanted to combine technology alongside the James Town 2007 celebration. The Jamestown 400th anniversary was a key factor in the backing behind this project so Jamestown could be presented in a way never seen before. The project received several grants that made the site possible. It was supported by, the Andrew W Mellon foundation, Verizon tech grant, The Virginia Foundation for the Humanities and Public Policy supported this project with an initial planning grant in 1997. The National Endowment for the Humanities has supported the project with major research and teaching awards, Virginia Tech has supported the project in a variety of ways and especially through its Research and Graduate Studies Programs. The site garnered a plethora of accolades as well. USA today listed the site as one of its hot sites. The History Channel lists the site as one of its recommended sites. The Virginia Center for Digital History also recognized the site as one of its new online history initiatives. There were a lot of individuals and organizations that contributed to the site as well. Lots of staff from VTech, William & Mary, combined with Virginia center of Digital history and the University of Virginia. The site had Native American advisors, Professors, and contributors from schools all over the east coast. Clearly at the time in Virginia especially, this was a large project especially within academic circles pertaining to history. It also is a testament to the sheer scope of the content the site would possess.
Crandall Shifflett saw the site not only as a hub for extensive research on the colony but as a sign of progress. On the sites home page an essay written by Shifflett gives a look into his thought process. Shifflett credits the rise of social history for the purpose of this site. History had become more available for anyone to interact with and was more free from the old authoritative and nationalistic approach to history. Shifflett wanted this site to help visitors engage with long ignored groups in Jamestown’s history like slaves, farmers both white and black, Native Americans, and women. Shifflett has found that historically Atlantic history although great at getting people interested in the period, has been too Eurocentric and nationalistic especially with regards to Native peoples. He also strives to go beyond the biased European accounts that are so abundant. Clearly Shifflett aims to direct a project that’s not just comprehensive but also purposely wants to open new avenues of study. Prior to the internet, choices were not as abundant in what avenues of a specific history you wanted to study. With this site visitors were provided many options into how they wanted to look at Jamestown and were in a sense, in control of how they wanted to do it.
With the 400th celebration on his mind I’m sure Shifflett wanted to appeal to the ever-increasing lens of American history. The site does put on display certain aspects, but it is truly up to the visitor on what experience they want out of the site. Although today websites like this may be taken for granted. At a time when the internet was more limited, people were able to get a chance to do their own research and come up with their own conclusions rather than that be done for them. This site does indeed recognize other groups besides white settlers and makes it clear that there were people living there prior to Jamestown. This site is a marker into a world in which people interested in history want to dig deeper past mainstream historiographies. Virtual Jamestown came at a time when that train of thought was emerging, and the boom of the internet really helped carry that thought along. The large contributions from academic entities also makes it clear, that it’s not just students or history enthusiast interested in more comprehensive histories but the professors as well. The site even includes teaching materials. Despite the site being very open to user’s, professors indeed seemed to want to provide a new lens of history to their students by not necessarily forcing this history on them but by giving them tools to learn.
Like stated earlier this project has a great amount of diversity. The site has everything from laws of the colony, to biographies of Native leaders, and the complete works of John Smith. The site also goes to great lengths to show visitors what the area looked like. There’s countless maps and reconstructions and not just of the colony itself but even of Native villages. The section of first-hand accounts is also very extensive and from glancing over it, I could totally find myself absorbed in them for hours. The main drawback of this site is its age. The site was made in 1999 so despite being groundbreaking at the time it can feel outdated. That’s not any fault with the site though, and if anything, it’s a testament to how impactful the site is because it can still be very useful. Also due to the sites age I found that there were several links that led to nothing, but once again that’s expected out of a site this old.
Layout of Site
Crandall, Shifflet. “Virtual Jamestown”. 1999. http://www.virtualjamestown.org/page2.html