This is a review of a digital history project for my digital humanities class. It was completed according to the Journal of American History’s regulations.
This review is on the People’s Atlas of Nuclear Colorado, a digital exhibit which narrates nuclear activity in Colorado. The material within the exhibit includes essays, a map of different sites where there was nuclear activity, and artwork that represents reactions to nuclear activity. The length of the content varies by object. For example, the essays are long and have an academic nature. The map lists multiple sites, and when clicked on, offers a small description of the site. Some locations have no description. The artwork has medium length descriptions that focus on the inspiration for each piece.
The homepage of the website presents the main path that you can take through the website. The main path is represented as a timeline meant to mimic the cycle of mining, refining, and using radioactive material. However, this is not the only path. The publisher also offers three additional paths by using each of these major categories of objects. These paths are the Essays path, Map path, and the Artwork path. On each of these paths, there are small symbols that indicate how the different paths are interwoven. For example, on the Essays path, under the heading of “America’s Atomic Mountain,” there are two symbols that link to “Deployment/Mobilization” and “Essays.”
This project seeks to expose the impact of the nuclear industry on the people of Colorado and their state. The main goal of this site is to generate content related to an often abstract conversation about nuclear waste. This website does this well. The Essays path offers a narrative of what happened. The Map path shows where it happened. The Artwork path helps people to react and deal with the fallout of the radioactive legacy.
The design of the website is simple and effective. By presenting the different paths in a timeline format, the designers do not overwhelm the user with text. Overall navigation of the website is easy. The homepage leads into an introduction which continues down the main path of the website. From there, for each title, there are two paths that can be followed. These different titles show the positive and negative sides of a certain action. For example, one part is labeled “Extraction/Overburden.” “Extraction” talks about how nuclear material is removed from the earth. “Overburden” discusses the environmental impacts of mining. After going through one path, the user is given the option of moving onto the next section of the exhibit or pursuing the path they did not go through. This design element encourages the user to continue to delve deeper into the website. The only flaw in website navigation is that it is difficult to find the Essays, Maps, and Artwork paths. In order to find these, the user needs to click on a drop down on the top right of the webpage. While this is not hard to find, it is not the most intuitive.
The pathways feature is excellent because it engages users to create their own experience, something that would be very difficult in a brick-and-mortar exhibit. An interactive film or video game is the closest media that could replicate this website. However, both films and video games represent their own challenges. They are typically considered less academic despite being able to reach a wider audience. The website pops off the page with bright and vivid colors, for example, the background on the Artwork pathway. Additionally, because the project is web based, it can link out to additional resources. One example is on the page discussing the artwork entitled “I’ll Cry Tomorrow” where there is a link to an audio recording playing from the art piece.
The audience is clearly intended to be the people of Colorado. The people of Colorado deserve to know about the atomic legacy around them, and this website offers an excellent medium to present that information.
The website is edited by Sarah Kanouse, a student at Northeastern University, and Shiloh Krupar, a student at Georgetown University. These universities also provided the grants for this website.
They are not the only collaborators. Their Collaborators page lists over thirty different people who have contributed to the website. Many of the collaborators have interests in how the environment, technology, and politics intertwine with each other. Many of their biographies specifically mention an interest in space as a factor that shapes politics. This project unifies all of these interests. Mining for nuclear material directly impacts the environment and requires extensive technology. Historically, this is set on the backdrop of the Cold War. This project successfully combines these three topics.
The People’s Atlas of Nuclear Colorado represents an ambitious attempt to bring concrete examples into a distant and abstract conversation. The creators succeeded in doing this. The website’s content is well researched and is unhindered by the design and presentation. The design of the website lets the user choose their own experience or follow a central path. The presentation of the website makes excellent use of the digital medium that would be difficult to replicate in a brick-and-mortar exhibit. Many people live under the motto “out of sight, out of mind,” but this website shows that nuclear history shaped the state of Colorado. It should not be out of mind just because it is out of sight. This website represents an excellent way of keeping history alive.