Exeter Time Trail – a website’s story

Ten years of presenting Exeter’s history

Time Trail started out as an e-government project in 2003. The museum supplied the content and the then Telematics Centre at the University of Exeter built the website.

The idea was to present the museum’s archaeology and art collections along with related content from Exeter Archaeology in a website. The way chosen to do this was splitting the content into ten time periods. The clever bit was making the content link to themes as well. This meant you could view objects from medieval Exeter and then filter out objects related to the home or to medicine.

Time Trail original logo

Time Trail original logo

Interactive elements

In addition to its core function the website had some fun and educational content added. These included a series of fly throughs of Roman buildings produced in software by a student at Exeter university. Not to mention the film made by using an endoscope and the Hedgeland model of Exeter. This video gives an impression of travelling along a street in the model and is still entertaining!

Finally we had two “dress the soldier” interactives added. This allows the user to dress and equip a Roman soldier in lorica segmentata armour and to dress and equip a harquebusier from the English Civil War.

Dress the Civil War Cavalryman

Dress the Civil War Cavalryman

Fast forward six years

The site proved popular with schools and people across the world interested in Exeter’s history. In 2009 the website was reviewed as part of the RAMM Online Presence Project. The site concept of exploring by time period and theme were found to still be a valid approach but the site looked old and lacked a clear visual identity with RAMM.

Happily for RAMM Jenny Durrant, Assistant Curator of Antiquities, had helped set up the original website and was on hand to help with the revamp. This included ensuring all images had a square background and this was done Holly Morgenroth as a student placement (Holly is now RAMM’s Curator of Natural History).

The result was the content was reorganised around a timeline as a unifying feature. The themes were still present as buttons along the bottom of the site. All the content was reviewed and all copyright permissions checked. The new site went live in 2009 and a key feature was that curators and volunteers could work on the website without going through any third parties.

Exeter Time Trail Home Page
Exeter Time Trail Home Page

The new website presents the objects in a Flash based album. To ensure we did not exclude anyone the site is avaiable as HTML only by a click on a link at the top of the page header. Although the site did not win an award, this feature was praised by the Jodi Awards judges in 2010.

Recent developments

New objects are now added to the site as curators have time and can be picked up through its RSS feed. The site is also linked to by the BBC Schools Romans website and Usborne children’s books website.

A favourite new feature is the mosaic interactive. This is an e-learning module developed by Makes Sense Design of Brighton and is based on Exeter’s Catherine Street mosaic (now on display in the museum). At the end of the interactive the user can create their own mosaic using either a Roman or modern palette. The resulting creation can be sent to the RAMM learning team to feature in the gallery on the Young RAMM website pages.

Roman Mosaic screenshot

Roman Mosaic screenshot

Looking ahead

Some of the content from Time Trail was used in the RAMM mobile tours website. The next step is creating a web-app with this content, and that is what this blog is all about!

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About Rick Lawrence

Digital Media Officer at the Royal Albert Memorial Museum & Art Gallery, Exeter, UK
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