GeoCities Going the Way of the Dodo

Some time in the near future, Yahoo! will pull the plug on its GeoCities service.  The announcement has been out on the street for a while, but not very overt.  Just a notice on the service web site stating no new accounts are offered, and that users should be aware of the upcoming closure.

So what does that have to do with cannon and marker hunting?  Well consider that GeoCities, like AOL’s now similarly dead Hometown service, were the first forays by many into the “personal web page” arena.  Long before Web 2.o, blogging, and social networking became popular, many enthusiasts found an outlet creating very simple web sites to convey information.  Of course, there were many, many poor sites with little real value.  But several of note were fine repositories of information not elsewhere available on the web.  For instance:

  • John Mead Gould’s site with a lot of information about his grandfather, coastal fortifications, and artillery pieces on display in New England.
  • Steve Russell’s site on the 27th Indiana.  Good information about the “lost order” from the Antietam Campaign which was found by members of the regiment.
  • Or a site with a wealth of information on the 25th Ohio Volunteer Infantry.
  • And this isn’t just a Yankee thing, as evidenced by another site for the 43rd Alabama.

The really sad bit is, even though Yahoo! has called this well in advance (unlike AOL), many of these sites will not be migrated.  Some are simply left behind, like some scrap book in the attic, where an enthusiast moved on to other endeavors.  What I lament here is with one flip of the switch, a lot of good hard research and field work will be wiped off the list.

Then again, on the bright side, a lot of goofy stuff will get cleared out too!

Preservation and Interpretation

While researching the background of a few marker entries last night, I came across some presentations made by Professor William H. Mulligan, Jr of Murray State University.   The search thread that brought me to Professor Mulligan’s work started with a marker on the Kentucky Ohio River Civil War Heritage Trail.  Mulligan produced much of the interpretive material for the trail, and from what I gather, was the driving force behind it.   Specific to my quest was a survey titled The Civil War in the Jackson Purchase Region of Kentucky.

Looking around for more links that may be of use, I read through several presentations, and found a sidebar topic.  The title that stood out “Why Not Build a Burger King Here?” from 1998.  From the lead paragraph:

I don’t intend to argue today that interpretation is more important than preservation, but rather to discuss the importance of interpretation in building support for battlefield and other Civil War site preservation. We all know how important it is not to have to include the immortal phrase — “the Confederates formed their lines over by Wendy’s and attacked the Federals who were behind the Burger King” — in any tour of a Civil War site.

Professor Mulligan proceeds from that premise to first illustrate the importance of interpretation from the visitor’s perspective.  Second, he defines it beyond the five Ws (who, what, when, where, and why), to include the three Cs (Causes, Consequences, Context).  Lastly, the professor offers, although dated due to the time of presentation, a summary of the techniques which serve as good medium for interpretative programs.

What I step away from the reading with is a bit of affirmation.  Part of my motivation to document and present these historical markers is to aid with the preservation.  There are two domains to this preservation issue.  One is the “physical” side where we must talk about acreage and view sheds.  The other is more “cerebral” in nature.  The component of Professor Mulligan’s definition of interpretation that I’d pull out to highlight is “Context”, which should link the historical event to the visitor, reader, or… if we go there … the developer looking for a new place for that Taco Bell.

I say if we can, preserve it and interpret it.  And if preservation is not practical, at least interpret.