Introducing the 10th Anniversary Re-Design

Welcome to Civil War Memory’s 10th anniversary re-design. Now I know that the real anniversary won’t take place until November, but I decided to cheat a little and declare all of 2015 as marking this personal milestone. Over the years this site has completely transformed my professional life. It has generated an incredible amount of content, both on the blog and beyond. What better way to mark this anniversary than with a new design that highlights this content and attracts the kind of interest that will hopefully lead to new opportunities.

While Civil War Memory began strictly as a blog it quickly transformed into a larger portal, featuring all kinds of content from a relatively new book to a wide range of online and print publications to my availability as a speaker. In short, it became a place where I could share my passion for the study of history with the public.

In thinking about the re-design, I wanted a site that was attractive and easy to navigate. I am a huge fan of minimalist websites that feature only the essentials and offer readers as few options to exit the site as possible. The design had to be attractive, but not overshadow the content. I hope this design at least approaches this crucial balance.

Veteran readers will find the navigation of the site to be pretty much in line with previous iterations apart from a few places where I consolidated content. The images are all pulled from the Library of Congress’s Prints & Photographs Collection and I think they work really well as banner images as well as in other locations. I particularly like the Alfred Waud sketch that graces the posts section on the Home Page as well as the envelope cover used to highlight the newsletter subscription option.

The Blog

Most visitors will go straight to the blog page. I spent a good deal of time thinking about the readers’ experience on this particular page. Posts are presented in a simple one-column layout – no sidebar. Scroll down the posts page. The background shifts from white to a light gray to easily delineate between posts and to break up the amount of white space that comes with a single-column layout . When reading individual posts the blog information (title, date and comments) are featured in the banner space along with a featured post image that replaces the default image if selected. For those of you who enjoy following comments, you can find them under the dropdown menu below ‘Blog.’ You can also find an ‘Archives’ page under the same dropdown menu as well as a link at the bottom of the page.

Alex

While I had certain design ideas going into this project my coding skills are quite limited. Over the years I’ve relied on various WordPress themes and skins, which I then tweaked to the best of my ability. When thinking about who I wanted to work with on the re-design I kept coming back to one name. Alex Mangini may have only recently graduated from high school, but he has been designing websites for five plus years. He’s got a great eye for design, functionality and conversion. I’ve used two of his WordPress themes in the past. It’s kind of funny to think that Alex likely responded to one of my many customer emails while sitting in his U.S. History class as a high school junior. We hit it off from the beginning. Alex’s enthusiasm and his willingness to listen alleviated all of my concerns about outsourcing this project and helped to make this a true collaboration. I couldn’t be more pleased with the final product.

Final Thoughts

Recently, Andrew Sullivan announced his retirement from blogging after fifteen years. While I was not a regular reader of The Daily Dish I’ve always appreciated the role Sullivan played early on in promoting blogging. A number of people have interpreted Sullivan’s announcement as signaling the death-knell of blogging. This is unfortunate given the care with which Sullivan framed why he decided to leave it behind. Such prognostications miss the fact that most successful bloggers have always been those who do it for personal reasons.

My blogging continues to enrich my life as a historian and as an educator. This is just another way of saying that after ten years I am not going anywhere.

Ultimately, what guided me through this project is the hope that this re-design will be a pleasure to read for each of you. With that in mind, feel free to share your thoughts about the new design. Alex and I put a lot of time into it.

33 comments… add one
  • Andy Hall Feb 8, 2015

    Congrats on the new design!

    • Kevin Levin Feb 8, 2015

      I thought of you when I decided to make Recent Comments available in the dropdown menu. Thanks.

      • Andy Hall Feb 8, 2015

        I appreciate that. Not so sure the True Southrons do, though.

        • Kevin Levin Feb 8, 2015

          Still tweaking a few things. Eventually it will list the 15 most recent comments.

          • chancery Feb 9, 2015

            Congratulations on the new design. Very elegant and readable.

            Thank you for paying attention to the display of pointers to recent comments, because it’s a source of frustration to faithful readers who want to keep up with new comments on active posts without constantly re-reading an entire comment thread each visit, and without being forced to conduct each re-reading of the ever-lengthening thread carefully so as not to miss new replies in the middle of the thread.

            Showing 15 (rather than 5) recent comments helps with the problem that a flood of new comments to one active post will obliterate evidence of activity on other posts. Even better would be an option to call up a screen listing _all_ comments for the past several weeks, ideally sorted by post, for obsessive readers who don’t want to miss anything.

            I realize that this request may be challenging in terms of interface design and server resources. It’s probably also in tension with your commendable goal of an uncluttered design, but I wanted at least to suggest it for your wish list.

            • Kevin Levin Feb 9, 2015

              First, thanks for the positive feedback. We are going to make a few minor tweaks in the next few days and one of them is to increase the number of Recent Comments displayed. Of course, you can also subscribe to receive additional comments if you so choose.

              Even better would be an option to call up a screen listing _all_ comments for the past several weeks, ideally sorted by post, for obsessive readers who don’t want to miss anything.

              Interesting suggestion, but I am not really interested in highlighting older posts for continued comment. In fact, I’ve considered closing comments after a certain point to avoid certain problems.

  • Ben Allen Feb 8, 2015

    This design is epic!! It is the best one yet on this blog. It is like Facebook on steroids. πŸ™‚

  • Scott A. MacKenzie Feb 8, 2015

    Well done.

  • Mike Rogers Feb 8, 2015

    Nice scarf. Did you borrow that one from Pete Carmichael?

    • Kevin Levin Feb 8, 2015

      It didn’t take long at all for that reference. It was very cold that day. I would have you know that unlike Carmichael my scarves have a functional value. πŸ™‚

      • Mike Rogers Feb 9, 2015

        I’m just surprised that I got in with it first. I figured Brooks, Al, or Megan would have all over it from jump street. Oh, by the way, I really like the new look.

  • Bill Underhill Feb 8, 2015

    It caught my eye! I look forward to another 10 plus years.
    Have you adjusted to the New England weather yet?

    • Kevin Levin Feb 8, 2015

      Thanks for the positive feedback, Bill. It’s been a tough few weeks, but these storms bring people closer together. We’re all in it together.

  • rortensie Feb 8, 2015

    Very nice!

  • Jimmy Dick Feb 8, 2015

    Nice design! Congratulations on the anniversary. I’ve noticed that most blogs have a fairly specific life span and go through several stages. Much of that depends on the blogger, but the general trend exists. You’ve exceeded that life span and seem to be doing what few bloggers do in revitalizing the blog and yourself.

    Personally, I like to be able to see recent comments. That is one thing that I get irritated with when I use my tablet in accessing blogs.

    In any event, thanks for blogging. I have really enjoyed your blog for the last several years.

    • Kevin Levin Feb 8, 2015

      Thanks for the comment and the positive feedback. The comments are available in the navigation menu under “The Blog” heading. It will eventually show the 15 most recent comments.

  • Oooooooh! Shiny!

  • Bob Pollock Feb 8, 2015

    Lookin’ good! I’ve been following Civil War Memory since 2007 and I’m constantly amazed at your ability to post something interesting on so regular a basis. You inspired me to start my own blog years ago, but I only seem to be able to post sporadically. Anyway, great job and here’s to another ten years! Cheers!

    • Kevin Levin Feb 8, 2015

      Nice to hear from you, Bob, and thanks for the kind words.

  • Pat Young Feb 8, 2015

    Congrats on your first decade. I have only been reading you for the last four years, so now I realize that 60% of your blogs have not been read by me. I have a lot of work to do to catch up.

    Great blog here. I check it at least seven or eight times per week. Even the blog-haters seem to read it regularly, as do the Yankee-haters, Jew-haters, race-baiters, and nutcases. And a lot of ordinary folks like me.

  • R E Watson Feb 9, 2015

    I like it ! I like it !! I’ll be seeing you on the 18th at the RICWRT. Really looking forward to it.

    • Kevin Levin Feb 9, 2015

      So glad you like it. Looking forward to catching up next week at the talk.

  • Liz Covart Feb 9, 2015

    This looks great Kevin. Congratulations on your 10-year Blogging Anniversary.

    • Kevin Levin Feb 9, 2015

      Thanks so much, Liz. We definitely share ideas about how historians can promote their content online and connect with the general public. At some point soon we will sit down to discuss this in person. πŸ™‚

  • Raj Mehta Feb 9, 2015

    The site looks so good. Cheers to minimalism!

    Alex is an “online friend” of mine. I found your site via him. You’ve got some great stuff going here, Kevin Levin (I love saying your full name. It’s a poem on it’s own!). And the new design rocks your content.

    I’m into design as well. I hope I can get as good as Alex someday πŸ™‚

    • Kevin Levin Feb 9, 2015

      Hi Raj,

      Thanks so much for taking the time to connect. I can’t emphasize enough just how enjoyable it was working with Alex on this re-design. We tend to describe websites as minimalist that are dull in terms of design. It seems to me, however, that you can have a classy site and still not overshadow the content. Stay away from clutter and think carefully about organization and you are good to go. Alex has always understood this.

      Best of luck with your own design endeavors.

  • Lisa Kapp Feb 9, 2015

    Stunning, Kevin (and Alex)! The images are gorgeous, such a lovely addition to your content, which I’ve been following (I’m now reminded) for nearly all of your ten years. As a teacher-reader who takes some of your ideas into the classroom to spark discussion, including images you post, I wonder: would it be possible to provide reference information for the images, including the banners? Perhaps you’ve done so and I missed it. A related question in light of your comments on the future of blogging: do you have your students blog as part of your classes? Congratulations and thank you for a decade of ideas that inform and inspire!

    • Kevin Levin Feb 9, 2015

      Hi Lisa,

      So nice to hear from you and thanks for the kind words. I definitely need to do a better job of including references for the images. All of the banner images were pulled from the Library of Congress’s website, where you can find high resolution TIFF files.

      In the past I’ve had students blog, but not in the last two years. That has more to do with technology constraints and other issues than anything having to do with the value of blogging. That said, I do know a number of students at my school who have personal blogs, which is encouraging.

  • Paul Taylor Feb 9, 2015

    Kevin – what a beautiful redesign – first class all the way, from appearance to content!

    • Kevin Levin Feb 9, 2015

      Hi Paul,

      So glad you like it. Thanks for the link via Facebook. My wife got a kick out of it.

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