Monster in a Box

13 11 2006

For a couple of weeks, I’ve been trying to write this summary of what I think my digital history project, the First Battle of Bull Run (BR1), is all about.  During that time, this summary has turned into the equivalent of Spalding Gray’s “Monster in a Box.”  In the one man play (and film) of the same name, that’s how Gray referred to his work in progress, his first novel.  The thing took on a life of its own, and Gray was having such trouble with it (and many, many other things) that it became his enemy.  Every time I try to finish this summary, I just keep getting pulled in other directions: what is it; why do I want to do it; why on the web; what is history; what is important; what role should this blog play; what is the air speed velocity of a swallow (African or European, laden or unladen)? 

It occurred to me that the trouble I’ve been having summarizing the project is probably due to the nature of the project itself – it’s very free form in a, ummm, errrr, structured (?) way.  It’s founded on a concept that my friend Brian Downey refers to as “thread pulling” – taking a story and seeing where it leads, removing the blinders formed by the “goal”.  The long and the short of it is that I’ve decided in my case thread pulling IS the goal.  The distraction is the attraction.

However, I don’t think I’m going to be able to cover everything in one post, so let’s just discuss the digital Bull Run project in very narrow terms for now.

Here’s what I want the website to do:  I want it to be a sort of one stop shop for just about anything having to do with the campaign and battle of BR1 (First Manassas if you are of a secesh leaning).  A detailed order of battle; official reports and correspondence; first person accounts (contemporary and memoir); newspaper reports; images; timelines; maps; bibliographies; and what I hope to be the centerpiece of the site, individual and unit biographies.It is in the biographies that thread pulling is most productive (or most distractive, depending on your POV).  I feel that it’s important to know more than the minimum about people leading up to the central event, because that event is only central to the researcher, not to the historical actor.  Without getting too metaphysical, their lives were bigger than that moment.  How these lives spread out through time, and how they intersect with other lives, particularly those of their fellow actors, to weave a bigger and perhaps more important “story” is what I find fascinating.

Will the project be any less useful to researchers with a more narrow focus because of these threads?  I think not.  The site will be dedicated to the gathering and storing of relevant data, with very little (if any) interpretation.  But I’m going to have fun while I’m at it, and hope to share the fruits of the thread pulling here.

So, stay tuned.

Variations on a Theme

13 11 2006

So far I’ve only had two complaints about the theme, and both concerned the white text on black background.  One was from an old – and I do mean old – friend (JUST KIDDING!!!).  The other was from the folks over at Civil War Interactive’s This Week in Blogs.  (Why do I always hear that in my head as a Mel Allen voiceover?)

For now, I’ll keep the format as is since most folks seem to like it.  If it’s a problem, just say so.  Remember, I can change the theme with the click of a button.  It’s that easy.


13 11 2006

Later today (I hope) I’ll talk about what my digital history project is all about, and why I have chosen the web as my outlet.  I’ve had some inquiries about the mechanics of such a project, and nobody has said it better than Brian Downey in a series of posts last month on his blog, so I’ll provide the links to those as well.

In recent correspondence with a friend we were discussing various individuals who later achieved some prominence in the war and were present during the battle as civilians.  I’ve added that to my list of things to discuss later.  It’s getting to be a long list, but I think I need to define the project first before I do anything else.  Even if I doubt that I’ll hold myself to any strict definition.

Here’s something weird…the spellchecker on this blog does not include the word “blog” in its dictionary.