On opening the Geocities site ‘Stars and Bars’, one is greeted with a background collage of confederate flags through history. “Not Everyone Considers The Confederate Battle Flag To Be A Symbol Of Hate,” declares the opening page, above a picture of a black protestor carrying the confederate flag and sign reading “Heritage not Hate”. The welcome page paints a pretty good picture of its creator, historian and activist Gary B. Baker. Baker had founded the Association of Caroll’s Sacred Trust, dedicated to preserving Maryland’s history, a move that ultimately resulted in the production of Stars and Bars.
Going into this project, my main questions surrounded the motives of the people building Geocities. Most of the websites I visited before I found Baker’s were each an amalgam of the creator’s special interests and hobbies, a combination that I was sure would interest few besides the creator themself. The layout of a Geocities website in relation to the internet was another obstacle to garnering traffic- Geocities weren’t linked to each other, the way Wikipedia pages are, for instance. Locating a Geocities site wasn’t as easy as a Google search, especially if one’s intention was just to browse. Stars and Bars, however, was clear in its objective, with (nearly) all of the pages linked on the home page aiding in Baker’s goal to spread knowledge of Confederate history to the world. The website wasn’t a miscellaneous collection of random information to serve the creator’s own hubris, but rather was birthed to educate.
Stars and Bars is located in the ‘Orion’ subcategory of the Area51 collection in The Geocities Gallery, which I thought to be interesting grouping. Most of the other sites in the subcategory, like the description indicated, were in the realm of science fiction and fantasy, and Stars and Bars was anything but. The opening page is easy enough to navigate, with a selection of tabs to choose from and several mentions of ways to contact Baker himself. Unlike other Geocities I had visited, this one had no guestbook to sign. The first section, ‘Unit Histories’, was a collection of lengthy essays penned by Baker, covering several areas of Maryland’s involvement in the civil war, with titles like ‘Infantry’, ‘Cavalry’, and ‘Artillery’. There is not a single reference to be found between them.
Baker isn’t fully averse to secondary sources, though. The second link, ‘Book Connection,’ is to a wide collection of Amazon books surrounding Confederate history, each apparently thoroughly vetted by Baker. He also maintains a social aspect to his campaigning- the link ‘Upcoming Events’ leads to a list of historical-based events in the DMV. Though there is no year mentioned in his blasts, he seemed to have released a list of events every two weeks, maintaining an active online presence while the site was running. Baker also devoted a part of his Geocity to the advertisement of his ‘soon to be completed’ novel, ‘The Raid on Lookout Point’ which, as might be expected, is a historical novel about the Civil War, tracing a fictional general’s raid on a part of Maryland’s land.
The section ‘Civil War Preservation’ appealed directly to the viewers, pleading with them to join the fight to preserve historical land before it is lost to development. Several links to send donations to conservation campaigns are also listed, creating a proactive way to support. Most other Geocities sites I visited lacked this, as aside from guestbooks, there were usually few ways for visitors to interact with the material being shared.
The most baffling subcategory on Stars and Bars is the one titled ‘USS Constellation’, which leads to the site of a research center dedicated to ‘safely navigating the development of transformative AI’. Considering that the USS Constellation is also the name of a Maryland warship, it’s safe to assume that the AI creators were an accidental link, which is interesting given the care Baker had devoted to the rest of the site. Perhaps it once led to a different site that no longer exists on the current internet.
The site seemed to have been written for someone who didn’t have much knowledge about the Confederacy, aiming to educate them and hopefully generate enough interest for them to join the cause. As a site dedicated to cataloging history, it maintained a fairly formal air for the most part, besides for when Baker beseeched the viewer to take a stance to protect history, where his tone grows almost accusatory of the reader’s apathy. He seems to be aware that his fight to preserve is a losing battle.