Current Washingtonians might not recognize the corner of 7th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue N.W. in the photograph above. This corner of Pennsylvania Avenue used to be home to Center Market, Washington D.C.’s largest public market. What was once a bustling and vibrant marketplace is now part of Federal Triangle, a monumental core of white marble government buildings centered on a majestic and magnified National Mall.
But long before the monuments and the marble, there was a Market. In 1797, President George Washington designated two acres in the heart of Washington City for use as a public marketplace. For the next 134 years, Center Market was a Washington D.C. landmark on Pennsylvania Avenue, until it was demolished in 1931 to make way for the National Archives Building.
“The great focus of interest, the one-time social center, place of endless entertainment, is gone and can never be restored…Another generation will have no concept of the significance of the site on which they stand.” –Sunday Star, May 17, 1931.
I found this quote while researching Center Market last semester. I took it as a challenge to recapture something of the significance of Center Market through photographs of daily life at the market.I created an online exhibit using Omeka.net for a class on Visual and Material Culture: Market Forces.
Despite my best intentions, the web exhibit did not accomplish all of my goals. There are many, many ways that I would improve the website. Omeka.net did not allow me to make my own customizations to the website. The organization of the exhibit flows poorly. The section descriptions are hidden on the exhibit home page and are not integrated into the exhibit. The layout options for each section are limiting, forcing me to either cram too much text next to the pictures or leave uncomfortable white spaces at the top of the page. Most of all, I was frustrated with the photograph display. The Omeka.net site simply links the image back to the catalog description page. The ideal photograph display should be interactive; users should be able to engage with the photographs, enlarging images and zooming in on areas of interest.
Luckily, I am getting another chance to interpret Center Market’s fascinating history. I will work with the History Office at the National Archives and Records Administration to create an online exhibit for the History Office webpage.
The largest component of this project will be the creation of the web exhibit. I will design and code this website myself using Dreamweaver. The website will be hosted by http://www.nara.gov. I have been tasked to only use sources from the National Archives, so I will need to do additional research to find new primary sources.
There is also a digitization and public access component to this project. As I discover new records at the Archives that have not been digitized, I will scan and enter the records into the Archives’ Online Public Access database. I will also be uploading a gallery of Center Market Photographs to the National Archives History Offices’ Flickr account.
This project will combine many of the skills and challenges that we have been discussing in my New Media class this semester and I cannot wait to share the final results with you all!