Project Evaluation – Gulag: Many Days, Many Lives

The Gulag: Many Days, Many Lives project’s goal is to provide in-depth information about the gulags in Soviet Russia. In my opinion, the project is an outstanding one, for it offers its users a wide range of sources that allow them to immerse themselves in the information that is being presented.

The project was developed by the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media at George Mason University in association with the Gulag Museum at Perm 36 (Perm, Russia), and the International Memorial Society (Moscow, Russia). Funding came from a number of reputable sponsors, including the National Endowment for the Humanities, the U.S. Department of State, the Kennan Institute, and the Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies at Harvard University. The reputation and prestige of the developers and sponsors give the project credibility and reliability, so false information is not a concern.

The project’s webpage is modern, highly intuitive and user-friendly. The combination of easily-readable fonts, well-chosen color combinations, and a balanced mixture of text and images in the home page make it look neat and aesthetically pleasing. It is all well-labeled so it is intuitive and easy to navigate. Additionally, the featured exhibit (Days and Lives) and the featured item (sawing logs) call the attention of users and give them a shortcut to some of the most relevant content of the project. The webpage is highly indexed but it is easy to move from one site to another.

The page is also easily accessible via search engines. More than 483 million results come up after looking up the term “gulag” on Google. Yet out of all these websites, the second, third, and fourth results link directly back to the project – more precisely, to Gulag: Soviet Forced Labor Camps and the Struggle for Freedom, one of the site’s exhibits.

The biggest thing that, in my opinion, the site is missing is more interactivity. The only interactive feature I was able to find was listed under “reflections” and consisted on the site asking users who were either Gulag survivors themselves or were familiar with the issue to share their thoughts. It also provided a contact page where users could fill out a form to receive information about upcoming website exhibits. I think the site could benefit from more interactivity, but I am not precisely sure how they should approach this. Additionally, users are not able to manipulate the webpage. I agree with this decision though, because I do not think user edits would suit this project particularly well.

The project is, in general, very useful for those researching the Gulag system, or simply for those who want to be more informed on the topic. The incredible amount of resources (including photographs, mugshots, sketches, paintings, videos, documentary excerpts, victims’ testimonies, poems, and even teaching materials) allow users to explore the Gulag system from multiple angles. Additionally, I like the strategy the site creators used to present every topic: instead of giving the user a single long text, they divided the information into smaller chunks. I think this feature makes it easier for users to understand and digest the content, and, in addition, encourages them to keep on reading.