What is Histories of the National Mall?
Histories of the National Mall offers a comprehensive look at Washington D.C.’s system of monuments. Upon entering the site, the audience is welcomed with the site logo. There are no links along the top of the page to direct you to an “About” page or a “Menu” option. The clean logo greets you followed by a search bar. The remainder of the home page contains four large options to “discover”: Maps, Explorations, People, and Past Events. Also included are a link on how to use the site and a featured page from the site. Full of color and simple options, mallhistory.org is easily navigable.
“Using the Site” brings you to a general “About” page. The site is designed to be used by anyone who visits the National Mall via mobile device but can also be utilized from a desktop for those who want to explore the Mall at home. The Roy Rosenweig Center for History and New Media created the site with funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities. The project was completed at George Mason University. Its purpose is to follow the history of the Mall, specifically while immersed in the Mall.
The collection has four components. Under “Maps” you are brought to a digital map of D.C. The default image is on the modern layout of the capitol, with all 345 items available. These items include places, events, documents, images, videos, and audio. Visitors have the option of viewing these items separately but can also choose to view the map in different eras. While the maps begin as scans of the paper originals of the selected era, the map from the 1950s-1970s is a scan of a restaurant placemat. Subsequent maps are digital layouts.
“Explorations” contains 5 pages of questions and scavenger hunts, in no particular order. While the questions about the Mall’s history are answered with detailed pages, the scavenger hunts are designed to add an element of fun to visiting D.C. While the desktop user cannot partake in the hunt, a mobile device using the page can use its location to begin the quest.
“People” is organized alphabetically. There are 89 people to choose from, all of which have played a role at the National Mall. From presidents to museum administrators to enslaved peoples who sold vegetables in what would be the Mall, a biographical page is established for each individual.
Lastly, there is a category for “Past Events”. Beginning with George Washington firing his city planner, the events all surround the development and history of the Mall. On each description page there is a link to the source, typically from the Library of Congress, that shows the original documents, pictures, and prints from the event.
The website is extremely user-friendly, and accomplishes its goal, especially for those actually at the Mall. Generally, the site is categorized by 30-year-periods from pre-1800s to the present. Tags are also largely used. There is one interesting tag found on ten items called “ghost mall” which is left without explanation. The collection is rather large being that it contains the comprehensive history of the National Mall through four lenses. There are 345 items on the “Maps” page alone, which does not include individual people or questions to be explored. By going through the various filters, such as by clicking on an event or individual, the visitor is brought to a detailed description page of that item. All of the fields found on the description pages are broken down into metadata. The title, description, type of item, and time period are all forms of data that can be searched. While most people and events have sources linked to description pages, I wish there were more resources listed, such as on the pages that answer questions.
Although it has been about a decade since I have set foot at the National Mall, I was immersed in the monuments of Washington, D.C. by simply exploring Histories of the National Mall. The site offers a history not available by just walking down the streets of D.C. The only more complete experience would be to physically be at the Mall so I could participate in the scavenger hunts myself.