Project:  Nathaniel Hawthorne in Salem
Project web site:
Team members:  Terri Whitney, Jan Arabas and Maureen O'Neill

The goal of our project was to create a web site on Nathaniel Hawthorne in Salem with a rich array of source materials from the collections of the three Salem, Massachusetts museums with important collections relating to Hawthorne: the Peabody Essex Museum, the House of the Seven Gables Historic Site and the Salem Maritime National Historic Site. We also aimed to provide interpretive materials appropriate for apprentice and senior researchers, in an accessible, user- friendly web environment. After attending the national conference at George Mason University, we decided to focus on the architecture of the Salem Custom House and the relationship of this building to the life, times and fiction of Nathaniel Hawthorne.

Specifically, we wanted to offer the following in our website:

  • An architectural, historical and literary context for the Custom House.
  • Learning activities using the featured documents and images which place students in the role of research scholars.
  • A forum for scholars to post papers related to Hawthorne, the Custom House and early American architecture.
  • An annotated list of related sources.
  • Interactive maps of Salem in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.
  • A forum for discussion on Hawthorne's writing related to the Custom House, historical topics related to this writing and early American architecture.
  • A virtual tour of areas of Salem in which Hawthorne lived and worked and which relate to his literary career.
Our original action plan called for Jan and Terri from November 1999 to February 2000 to:
  • Purchase, install and learn Dreamweaver,
  • Meet with curators and experts from the participating Salem museums,
  • Identify and select resource material from the collections of these museums,
  • Develop the website template,
  • Select the literary edition of "the Custom-House" to be used online.
From February to April, Jan and Terri were to:
  • Conduct research at the participating museums,
  • Arrange for photography, videotaping and scanning text related to the architecture of the Custom House, the first chapter of The Scarlet Letter entitled "The Custom-House" and to the Life and Times of Hawthorne in Salem.
From May to July, Jan and Terri were to:
  • Create a website map,
  • Create links,
  • Develop learning activities (guided paths for students through some of the web material),
  • Attend the meeting of the Hawthorne Society in Boston,
  • Create a Home Page with logo and introduction at
We planned to continue producing images and text for the site throughout the summer and have the collaborating museums review the site online in July or August, make any changes requested by the museums, and go live with the site by August 31.

In September and October, we planned to:

  • Create video and audio clips for the website,
  • Develop a search feature for the site,
  • Test and evaluate the site, demonstrating it to faculty at the College and to
  • our mentor, Dom Franco, who would visit our campus in October.
In November and December, we planned to continue debugging the site and develop plans for dissemination.

The outcome of this project was a website on Nathaniel Hawthorne and the Salem Custom House that incorporates materials from the collections of the Salem Maritime National Historic Site, the House of the Seven Gables and the Peabody Essex Museum as well as from private collections in the Salem area. The literature section of the site includes the full text of the Ohio State University Centenary Edition of the first chapter of The Scarlet Letter, entitled "The Custom House." This is the only online edition of this scholarly edition of the text, and we have linked the text to related material within our site and on the WWW. In addition, we provide an audio version of the text.

The architecture section of the site also includes source documents on the construction of the Salem Custom House as well as depictions of it through history, using images from the collections of the participating museums. This section of the site also includes a discussion of Federal style architecture with rollovers identifying Federal features of the Custom House, a video clip explaining the distinguishing features of the style and a variety of virtual tours of the building. The third section of the site, Life and Times, provides some information on Hawthorne's life in Salem and his work in the Custom House. All three sections incorporate a variety of media including, in addition to text and images, video, audio and panoramic videos. The final section of the site for which we were able to add material is the Explore and Discover section. In this section we provide a few guided paths through the website with suggested activities appropriate for students.

Our project-related activities included the following:

  1. We met with college administrators and our mentor in October 2000 to discuss the project.
  2. We met with curators and librarians from the three participating museums on a number of occasions.
  3. Two students from NSCC computer classes participated in the project as student interns. They assisted with programming and scanning and developed a database.
  4. A member of the college Media and Communications Department participated in the project as a reader for the audio of the Custom House chapter, and the Assistant Dean of Educational Technology also participated as a reader for the audio discussing the Federal features of the Custom House building.
  5. We tested the Website in two different Introduction to Literature classes at NSCC.
  6. With the success of this project, the college has launched another project in collaboration with a local cultural institution, the Essex National Heritage Area (ENHA). Specifically, a member of the English department is developing material for a Website on Poets and Places of Essex County. Some of this material will be posted on the ENHA Website, and the full material will be posted on the NSCC Website. In addition, we are currently discussing other possible web project collaborations with the ENHA.
  7. The college is developing an academic technology plan and has incorporated as one of its primary goals to pursue collaborations and partnerships with local cultural institutions to develop online materials which will supplement our curriculum.
  8. As one way of measuring the success of this project, in our action plan we proposed that identifying the number of "hits" per month on the site would provide some objective data indicating the interest in our website. One of our student programmers has provided us with much more extensive data on the traffic on our website, using a free online program.
Professor Dom Franco. Kirkwood Community College, was an attentive and knowledgeable mentor who kept us on track and provided important guidance throughout the project. His visit not only allowed us to evaluate the site, but he also answered a range of questions we had regarding online learning. Our only disappointment regarding the site visit was that only a few faculty attended the sessions. A number of faculty did view the website at the Liberal Studies division meeting, however.

Our interim president, Dr. Laurence Reeves, was an enthusiastic supporter of our project, and our new president, Dr. Wayne Burton, who was hired in the spring of 2000, is equally enthusiastic. Dr. Burton is eager for our college to explore the possibilities new technology offers for students and faculty, and, in fact, initiated the collaboration between the Essex National Heritage Area and the college on website development.

Dr. Maureen O'Neill, our team member who is Chair of the Division of Liberal Studies, provided vigorous support for the faculty developers, Jan Arabas and Terri Whitney. She requested and received permission from the Dean of Faculty for Jan and Terri to receive release time in the spring and stipends for their summer work on the project.

The college Information Systems office allowed our Web administrator to assist with the project. The Web administrator, in turn, recruited two students from NSCC's computer courses, to assist with scanning images, creating a database and programming of the site.

The college's Learning Resource Center allowed the Telecommunications Director to devote time to recording and editing audio and video, and their photographer took some publicity photographs.


  • We held a full day of demonstrations of the Custom House Website in October 2000 during the visit of our mentor. We presented the website at two of our three campuses and invited the entire college community.
  • We demonstrated the website at a meeting of the Division of Liberal Studies at our college in the spring of 2000.
  • We demonstrated the work in progress at the conference of the American Association of Community Colleges in Washington, DC, in the spring of 2000.
  • We demonstrated the site at the Northeast regional conference of the Community College Humanities Association in the fall of 2001.
  • We demonstrated the site at a conference of museum educators in Boston in November 2001.
  • Eric Eldred, who hosts an important website on Hawthorne, posted a link to our site.
  • We discussed the site on a local radio program, and our site was the subject of several newspaper articles. Most recently, it was reviewed in the Boston Herald in an article entitled, " 'A' for Effort." (The reviewer praised the site but noted sections without any information posted. We will be posting additional information when this site is merged with the Hawthorne Website on which we are currently working, a project funded by a three-year National Endowment for the Humanities grant.)
  • In March, we were contacted by C-SPAN. The television station is coming to Salem in May for a live program on The Scarlet Letter, part of their new authors' series, and in conducting advance research they had heard about our Website. As a result, they are bringing their bus to our Lynn campus on Friday, May 18. We will demonstrate the site for a group of students and faculty from area high schools and from our campus in one of the college's computerized classrooms. Among the students will be high school students from Lynn Vocational Technical High School who are studying video production. These students sometimes work with AT&T. When C-SPAN asked AT&T to suggest activities for the day, ATT suggested that after the morning website demonstration, students and interested faculty visit the Custom House. C-SPAN and AT&T will arrange for the students to lay out shots for a video which they will later shoot and edit.
Lessons Learned
First, although we had the enthusiastic support of our administration at all levels as well as the assistance (for a while) of our web administrator and two willing student interns, the time they had available to devote to the project was inadequate. The requirements for developing and maintaining a database, preparing and editing images, programming, photography, scanning, creating and editing audio and video were simply too demanding. The college web administrator was essential in coordinating the website posting, and when he was taken off the project because of the pressing demands of his job developing the college Website, we struggled. In addition, we were asking the student interns to do far more than could be reasonably expected of them. Fortunately, they were dedicated to the project, but our recommendation is that money be available in any future grants to pay programmers and others with the technological expertise necessary for sophisticated Website development. To create a rich, attractive, well-designed site requires extensive time and expertise.

We knew from the outset that we would need a database, but we could not find one which would work for us and with which our personnel were familiar or could easily become familiar. We spent considerable time examining commercial products and thinking about ways in which we could adapt them to our needs, but ultimately we used a database developed specifically for our needs by one of our student programmers. Our recommendation: when preparing a proposal for a website, establish what database will work for the project.

Because of the time it took to select a database, by the time we had one, we had a backlog of nearly one hundred images. As a result, when we were finally ready to post the images, we had difficulty locating all of them and had little time to post the necessary annotations.

Although we focused our project much more narrowly than we planned in our initial proposal to the CCHA, specifically on the Salem Custom House and its relation to Hawthorne, we still fell short of the goals we set for ourselves regarding the material we hoped to post on the Website. We never were able to post material on the Scholars' Forum or FAQ, and we were unable to complete the Life and Times section. We are still working on the maps and some rollover diagrams.

Because we were new at the technology, our first efforts at producing panoramic images were not as successful as we had hoped, and our web administrator, who was the only one familiar with QuickTime for panoramas, was unavailable for assistance for these. Ultimately, we turned again to one of the student programmers who learned how to create the panoramas.

Although the museums were willing to scan images for us for free and to grant us copyright privileges, in cases where documents or pictures were too fragile to scan, our only option was to pay for the museum to photograph the material. This limited our content.

When we linked to websites outside our own, the new site appeared in full screen so that navigation on our site disappeared and created the possibility of some viewers thinking that this material was actually on our site. Our mentor, Dom Franco, noticed this and suggested the site links appear in a smaller window. We will make this change when the site merges with the new NEH-funded site.

Although we were able to gain some feedback from the audience at the various meetings and conferences where we presented the website, and although the online tracking of the use of our Website was informative, it would have been helpful to have funding for a formal assessment conducted by an experienced designer of academic websites.

This project has taught us a great deal about what is required to create an effective educational website. Although we wished we had more time and resources for the project, because of the strong support we had at the college and the hard work of all involved, we were able to produce a website which we believe will be useful to students and faculty. We have included a document which provides a statistical analysis of the numbers of users of our site (See Appendix B.). Although we knew that our audience would potentially be worldwide, it was nonetheless somewhat startling to see the list of countries represented in the user list; we even had a visitor from Croatia. We hope our college will remain committed to maintaining and expanding the site as well as to supporting other technology projects. This is no small matter, as considerable time and cost are required, but we believe such investments can offer rich rewards.

Terri Whitney,
North Shore Community College

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