Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Whither the history website

This new-ish website on the history of crime and punishment in New Brunswick by University of New Brunswick historian Greg Marquis and St. Thomas University criminologist Michael Boudreau came across my radar recently.

I love it. Legal history, and on the web. Just my cup of java.

Now I will say that Professors Marquis and Boudreau should probably not quit their day jobs to become professional web designers. But definitely solid, well-researched history gussied up with great illustrations (including photos like this oneof a spiral staircase in the St. John County Courthouse by Greg Marquis.) Fascinating case histories and well written syntheses on various topics related to the main theme of crime and punishment.

But I found it puzzling in some respects. Not a lot of meta-information about the project, for instance. I found myself wondering...who is this website for? The information is presented in a literate, sophisticated fashion, relying on the intrinsic interesting-ness of the subject to keep the reader engaged rather than the morbid sensationalism to which crime stories, however historical, tend to lend themselves. A useful general bibliography. But inconsistent footnoting, and no links to or reproductions of primary sources, except for illustrative purposes.

So what is it? It's a bit high brow and lengthy for public history, too 'secondary' to be a terribly useful teaching tool for high school or undergraduate students. Most of the linked entries are anonymous; some items, credited to Michael Boudreau, are more conventionally scholarly, as they include endnotes, but are stipulated not for citation without permission. So not as scholar-friendly as it might be, either.
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