The Valley of the Shadow
Reviewed by: Faihaa Khan and Emily Maanum
Review started: March 22, 2021
Review finished: April 26, 2021
Data and Sources
- The sources of this project include primary sources from Augusta County, Virginia, and Franklin County, Pennsylvania, from 1859 through 1870.
- Materials include letters, diaries, newspapers, images, and maps as well as census, tax, and church records.
- The archive also contains records related to soldiers and veterans of the American Civil War. These materials document the lives of people during the time of the American Civil War.
- The interactive archive is uniquely formatted into three separate image maps, each assuming a different timeline (The Eve of the War, The War Years, and Aftermath).
- Subsections of the map assume different categories that represent distinctive groupings of information.
- The project is designed and brought to us by the Virginia Center for Digital History (VCDH) an independent center within the University of Virginia that “facilitates active dialogue between scholars, researchers, and educators in the digital age.” The center creates the databases themselves using resources they find with the help of different partnerships, including various institutions and media centers; all of which are listed in VCDH website. It is not clearly stated which digital programs are used in this particular archive.
- Upon clicking each map users can look through a bevy of resources obtained and indexed. In order to find a specific resource, the user can input particulars to locate the source from the site’s curated database. For example, if a user wishes to find a certain newspaper article, they would be able to search by date, title, or brand of publication. Or rather if a user wishes to look up tax records of a certain time period, the website also allows users to search that along with the census, and the free Black registry.
- Although the archive seems to be wealthy with resources, it’s important to note that some of the links are broken and lead to a 404 error page.
Digital Tools Used to Build It
- Information not prominently displayed on site
- Wappalyzer analysis of https://valley.lib.virginia.edu/: no results available
The Valley of the Shadow project began as a proposal by Dr. Edward L. Ayers in 1991. Initially, Ayers conceived of the project as a traditional book comparing the lives of people in two counties, one in the North and the other in the South, during the era of the American Civil War. The goal of the project is to give users the opportunity to explore the impact of this era on the lives of individuals in these counties through primary source documents. By providing a plethora of material, the project aims to tell a variety of stories of these two counties and the individuals that lived there.
The project became one of the founding projects of the Institute of Advanced Technology in the Humanities (IATH) at the University of Virginia. The Valley of the Shadow was developed from the outset of the World Wide Web and utilized it to create a digital archive. It also created a version of the project on a CD-ROM to create a multimedia environment for images, sound, and animation that wasn’t possible on the early web.
During its development, the project was funded by the University of Virginia, the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, and the National Endowment for the Humanities. The University of Virginia processed and archived the site and added it to their permanent digital collections.
This project takes on the arduous task of compiling millions of sources of information into carefully categorized sections. We appreciated the organization and indexing that went into creating the archive. We believe this site to be beneficial to those in search of firsthand materials related to the Civil War. As this was a prominent event in U.S. history, we assume that everyone from students to full-time researchers will find solace in the fact that an archive is available with tons of statistics and materials.
The downfall of the site occurs in the process of obtaining these materials. Most of these are sorted by a particular time of reference. If the resource you are looking for has a date unknown to the user, they won’t be able to find it. Furthermore, as mentioned above, the website does feature broken links that lead the user to dead pages. We’re not sure how often these pages get updated, but maintenance of the site does seem to be a key issue.