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Digital History Site Review: HRNM


April 7, 2015 by cdavis132

For the digital history site review I decided to look at the Hampton Roads Naval Museum (HRNM) website. The museum and website is run by the United States Navy Department. The museum and subsequently the website is dedicated to the study of 238 years of naval history in the Hampton Roads area. The site is a hybrid of publications, exhibits and educational tool. The nature of the site, is to provide the general audience with an outlet to view what the museum has to offer, and provide the tools needed to learn more about navel events near Hampton Roads. The site and museum together cover many layers of history, and takes you not only through the history of Hampton Roads but also the larger American Naval History story. Given the large time period, 238 years, that the museum covers, visitors gain understanding of naval history of the American Revolution, the Civil War, and onward into both the World Wars.

The site includes both online exhibits and a blog. Both of these are resources used to present the history found in the museum. Having visited the museum in the past I can say from my personal experience that the website is a great companion to the museum, and does a wonderful job of portraying and providing information useful to the study of naval history. I personally have found the blog to be the most interesting. Through the use of the blog the site is able to take very specific objects or document and present a more indepth look at it. For example in the past few weeks the blog has spent much of its time taking a closer look at naval events of 1865 in the last months of the American Civil War. This past Friday on April 3rd, the blog posted about the CSS Hampton’s Flag that was captured on the morning of April 3, 1865. The online exhibits of the site, are the result of the cooperative arrangement between the Hampton Roads Naval Museum and the Commander, Navy Region, Mid-Atlantic. Commander, Navy Region, Mid-Atlantic, is an outlet that works to provide the public information on naval history of the region, through the use of the resources at the Navy Bases located in Hampton Roads, VA. The sites offers 7 online exhibits each looking at a different historical topic surrounding the naval bases. One of the exhibits covers the 1907 Jamestown Exposition. The Exposition in 1907 was to celebrate the 300th anniversary of the founding of Jamestown. The exposition took place on the land that would one day become the naval station at Norfolk. The exhibit looks more deeply at the exposition and how this event was important and helped in making the decision of where to build the naval station.

The site’s author is an institutional effort made by museum and navy staff. Each military branch has their own historical research and archival department, often times resulting in similar museums to the HRNM. The site and museum however has also joined forces with the National Maritime Center, and the Hampton Roads Naval Historical Foundation. The historical foundation also provides funding to the museum as a resource outside of the United State Government.

It is hard to specify who the intended audience is for the site. I would venture to say, however, that the intended audience is more so students and enthusiasts for the topics. It is clear the site is trying to provide an educational resource for those looking for more information on naval history. Given the simple design and easy navigation of the site, I imagine that they have designed the site with a younger and more general audience in mind rather than scholars. I have also come to this conclusion given the overall content on the site. Though the blog works to highlight specific items in the collection and archive, most of the site included the online exhibits provide a much more general history.

The site maintains that they own all the items and information on the site, however, given that it is a U.S. government site, and as such all information, materials and photos are considered to be in the public domain. Unfortunately on the website you cannot click on a photo and view the metadata associated with that item. Though as stated before the blog and online exhibits provide both in depth and general interpretation.

I have found the site to be very effective in meeting the goals of presenting and interpreting the history of naval activity near Hampton Roads. As a member of the audience that the site is looking to, I have found it very helpful. It is hard to determine exactly what the site’s goals are as they don’t have a mission statement available to view. However, given the nature of the institution and the site content you can assume some of the unstated goals. One being to promote the understanding of naval history of Hampton Roads, and perhaps the role the U.S. Navy has played throughout history. If I am correct in assuming that these are two of the site’s goals, I think that they have met these goals. Though there is always room for improvement. I would like to see the site develop more online exhibits so that they can have more diversity. I also think that a collections or archival page with information about the objects would be beneficial. A archival/collections page would be great as a researching tool.

Overall, I think that the Hampton Roads Naval Museum website is a wonderful resource. I find the online exhibits interesting, and I especially enjoy the blog that works in tandem with the website.


  1. nsakas1 says:

    I imagine that a site with a blog would appeal to you due in part to your love of blogging. The Hampton Roads site sounds very interesting. You mention that the period of history the site is interpreting is some 230 years of history. I wonder if an institution like this finds it easier to have such extensive history they can interpret considered within their scope of operation, or if it can get somewhat cluttered at times? I also had issues with my site not having a clearly stated mission or audience, but I also like you felt it could be hashed out of the sites content.That said it would be nice to have something clearly stated somewhere within the site.

  2. kdaly3 says:

    I think it’s really interesting when museums compile sites that complement a physical exhibit space, especially in cases when there is too much in a collection to exhibit in the space. The ability for digital tools to open up the possibilities of exhibition has always been very interesting. I also agree with Nick when he mentions the vast history of this place, and I wonder if sites always how to manage their digital materials in conjunction with the physical space, and how, or if, these two forms of exhibition overlap.

  3. jeldredge1 says:

    I find the practice of maritime archaeology to be really fascinating, mostly because I know that I physically couldn’t do it, but I’m intrigued to see it applied more and more to find shipwrecks and answer long held historic mysteries. How does the HRNM use maritime archaeology to interpret or present history? I also think that the blog portion of the site is a smart tool, if it is done well and is updated regularly, and can not only draw new audiences into the museum’s sphere, but it can be utilized for research and keeping current audiences up to date on new exhibits or discoveries. I think audiences now a days expect professional and major heritage and public history institutions to have at least one social media presence. Yet it can be a real retraction from an institution’s web presence to have a sparely updated blog or other social media account. If it’s to be done, it must be done well or else it just comes off as amateurish.

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