CIRCA:Shadow of the Valley Project


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Valley of the Shadow: Two Communities in the American Civil War, Virginia Center for Digital History, University of Virginia (

Colette Leung

September 17, 2010

Introduction to project and its significance

The Valley of the Shadow Project is a digital archive, and one of the largest history websites available on the World Wide Web since 1993. This project provides primary sources such as newspapers, census data, church records, military records, maps, letters, diaries and images related to the coming, fighting and aftermath of the American Civil War for the people of two counties: the northern Augusta County in Virginia, and the Franklin County in Pennsylvania. These primary sources are presented in an interactive form that is accessible to a large audience; and as a digital archive, serves more as a library than as a single resource. There are also further resources available on the project website regarding teaching, digital articles, and history of the project and team.

The Valley Project has received a great deal of recognition, through press and awards. This extends also to the CD-ROM created in association with the project in 1994/1995. Some notable commendations the website has received are an article in the New York Times, the eLincoln Prize in 2001, and recognition from the American Historical Association as a teaching aid.

The Valley Project is also a very significant project, especially to humanists. This project developed over the course of many years, and as it developed, one can also trace the history of Humanities Computing. For example, institutes such as the Institute for Advanced Technology in Humanities or the Virginia Centre for Digital History came about because of this project. Further, it exemplifies the needs and struggles that humanists face in preserving information as technology upgrades. But further than that, the Project also shows how information need not be solely presented as a book. Interactive mediums, such as CD-ROMs, and the archive itself are not only accessible to an incredibly large general audience, but provide new ways of searching for information, teaching it, and using it. The Valley Project is thus a forerunner in this realm of digitization, and serves as a template for other projects such as “Women and Social Movements in the United States” and the “Abraham Lincoln Historical Digitization Project.” Edward Ayers proposes that digital publication may become the way of the future as well, and cowrote a digital article with Will Thomas III.

It is also important to recognize some of the difficulties presented by the Valley Archive. Ayers has suggested as late as 2004 that not enough digital projects have taken off, and it is possible that academia will be slow or neglect to recognize the use of technology as both a teaching resource and a medium of conveying information. The Valley Archive itself is also no longer updated by its original creators, which may in time date the interface and project itself.

Audience and Purpose

The original idea behind the Valley Project was to create a “research box” that was available to a students to use who could not access these materials easily. It would allow them to perform research at the same level as academics. However, the scope of the audience this project targeted grew as the project did over the sixteen years it developed. The Valley Project seeks now to reach students and teachers in high schools, colleges, and research universities, as well as researchers, genealogists, librarians, and anyone with an interest in the Civil War. The Project seeks also to maintain this accessibility of academic materials, and preserve the information, especially as technologies evolve.

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