In the interest of not taking up too much space on the main page, my final on data visualization will be under a “Read More”
The dataset I’ve chosen to work with is the Albany Muster Rolls 8th Militia dataset. It is a census of recruits for the Revolutionary war in the early 1760s, and is a textual dataset. There are a total of 944 men listed in this dataset, with 13 categories filled out. These categories include last name, first name, enlist date, age, where the recruit was born, what their previous occupation was, whose command they were under, their physical attributes, and what volume and page their information could be found on in the physical text.
Privileging Form Over Content by Adam Chapman got a little repetitive, I think (not in a bad way, he just reiterated his main points over and over again), so I’ll try not to just go paragraph by paragraph to avoid over-repeating myself and him.
Chapman begins his article by saying that he hopes most historians are at least at the point where they can accept certain historical fiction games (He name-drops “Civilization” and “Assassin’s Creed” as examples) as being at least historical in some way. Chapman believes that video games should not be analyzed strictly by how historically accurate or inaccurate their content or narrative are, but how video games as a medium, or tool, can be used to teach. It is important, he says, that people try not to separate the “story” from the “game,” because the nature of video games make it impossible to understand each section independently from the other. Just focusing on content ignores the part the player has in the video game process, which is seeing historical problems/situations, analyzing those situations, and then choosing an action in-game based on that personal analysis. Because of this, how the game presents the narrative and allows players to interact with the narrative must also be studied.
Chapman uses past treatment of historical films as an example of the importance of joint narrative-form study. He states that when people criticized the content of historical film, they more often than not criticized it against historical documents rather than by its own standard. He argues that this is wholly problematic because it reinforces the idea that the only correct kind of history is the history written down in books, rather than the idea that books are simply one way to display history. In what I thought was a useful explanation, Chapman points out that the difference between a history book vs a history video game is “history as it can be written” vs “history as it can be played.”
I should mention that although Chapman implies that comparing historical tools is useless and limits opportunities for “collaboration,” his next sections seem much more biased in the pro-video game field than pro-teaching-medium-equality. He goes into how the “feeling” of history can often be more educationally informative than specific historical details, and having players play through historical situations helps comprehension more than simply telling people how things were. History taught through video games can also be taught without the requirement for players to already have an understanding of historical concepts, like many books and, specifically, college courses might. Chapman then goes into a little detail of how developers combine historical detail and algorithm to present a historical experience for players. He ends by saying that many of the people reading the article no doubt already agree with him, and that there should be a call to action for creating a better way to analyze games by form and not just by content.
Being Historical by Gilles Roy
Roy asks the question of where the popular historical video game theme of “creating history” fits into the common definition of “history.” More specifically, Roy wonders what happens when players take a subject like history, commonly thought of as being a record of set past events, and juxtapose themselves, or fictional representations of themselves, into it. Like Chapman, Roy name-drops Assassin’s Creed and Civilization as examples, where players get at least theoretical direct control over how the game’s world is shaped (as a side note: I say “theoretical” just because of how the game mechanics between the two titles differ, the sentiment is the same). Roy also name-drops real-life reenactment and LARP group Society for Creative Anachronism (fun fact, I have attended one of their weekend events!) as an example of the far reach and variety of historical gaming. Roy asserts that historical games allow players to “be historical” rather than just “learn history.”
Roy goes into brief detail of the history of the presentation of history. This transformation went from a want to describe the best feats by Greeks and not-Greeks, to trying to document the causes behind specific national conflicts, to more patriotic fantastical, ideal origin stories by the Romans. Roy states that this is around the time that the split between history as truth and history as political narrative popped up. “Popular history,” which Roy says games seem rely on because it focuses more on entertainment and narrative than education, falls somewhere between this split. Like Chapman, Roy also notes the importance of studying games as a medium, though while I used the words “medium” and “form” interchangeably in the summation of Chapman’s article Roy uses them definitively by saying that games are a medium and the way they communicate this “popular history” is the form they take. The specific “form” Roy then focuses on is the strategy game, which as noted comes in many different forms and has been around long before video games were invented. Roy compares two different genres of modern strategy games, the historical strategy and the space conquest, by saying that the genres share the theme of “continuity of the historical process.”
Roy then goes into an explanation of strategy game mechanics and themes, with helpful visual aids. I personally appreciate this part because although I’m familiar with different types of “progression trees” in game mechanics, they usually focused on what new powers my character would get rather than what new technology my settlement invented. Roy asserts that the game mechanics represented in the strategy games (“explore, expand, exploit, and exterminate”) are themes that have driven human progression throughout history, albeit very simplified versions of them. Therefore, these types of strategy games, which allow the player an integral part of shaping history, aren’t really rewriting our understanding of history so much as allowing players into the “historical process.”
History as it can be played by Jamie Taylor aka PastPlayer
The third of the traditional articles begins by reinforcing the idea that video games, despite (past, I think) popular belief, can be useful for other things besides quick entertainment. As Taylor states right in the first paragraph, “games allow for learning by stealth.” The versatility of video games is allowing more “serious” topics to be presented in what many used to think was an non-serious medium, which means more in-depth, less childish narratives can be produced. This also means daunting or too serious topics (like history) can be presented in more accessible ways. Taylor then actually quotes Chapman’s article from above to demonstrate how historical legitimacy of games like, again, Civilization and Assassin’s Creed.
While Chapman and Roy seem focused on making the argument that the mechanics and form of a game have to be focused on when analyzed, Taylor seems to be focused on actually analyzing (at least to some degree). Chapman and Roy brought up the argument that playing through a game helps a player gain an understanding of the historical process, but Taylor brings forward arguments that the amount of interactivity and choice a player runs the risk of making the historical back drop of the game just be a historical back drop. The reality of game development means that there will always be parameters in the game that the players cannot escape, limiting the amount of actual decision making or genuine learning about the historical process they receive. On the other hand, sometimes the parameters are so broad that players can choose to do something totally unrealistic or unhistorical, therefore entirely breaking the historical process. This is all assuming, Taylor points out as well, that the game even puts effort into historical accuracy or process.
Taylor quickly counters his own arguments, quoting Chapman once again by saying that one shouldn’t judge the historical validity of video games based on the standards of traditional history. Are video games less “history” just because a player can choose to mod the game so that they have a Steampunk empire with airships instead of reenacting the American Civil War? Taylor points out that if video games share a portion of historical narrative tropes that traditional history does, it should be considered “history.” From here, Taylor goes into the different types of historical narratives potentially available to consumers that reinforces both Chapman and Roy’s call for collaborative narrative efforts. Taylor ends by pointing out that regardless of anyone’s opinion on video games as history, video games definitely provide a way to “engage” with the past. The sheer popularity and spread of different types of digital games has literally changed the way people learn, and that in some ways games might be a more effective method of teaching history because of it.
Surviving History by Rachel N. Ponce
This seems to be a “choose your own adventure game,” so I will play through it and then comment.
(I lasted a little over two months)
It is a “choose your own,” very reminiscent of the physical books I used to read when I was younger. As opposed to more popular choice-based games such as RPGs like the Mass Effect or Dishonored series, this is able to pack a lot of historical information, such as specific dates, city and street names, people, and real-world events into each page. The trade-off of supplying so much information, besides the limited choices the player is given at the end of each page, is that the pages become dense and run the risk of losing player interest or patience. The graphics in the game were also broken on my browser, which is not typically a thing that needs to be constantly worried about in a self-contained, published game. With that being said, there were a few times I think I could feel at least a fraction of the helplessness the character did in treating others. I had no idea what proper medication in the 1700s was, or how to treat anything, or what the “right” choice was, so every time I made a decision whether or not to help another character I had a little bit of an internal battle.
While I don’t feel particularly educated by this game, I think that it would be hard to argue against the fact that this game has a realistic historical narrative that gives at least a little insight on how doctors were viewed in the 1700s, or lived their lives.
Why Mechanics Must Be Both Good and Accurate by Extra Credits
This video focuses on two questions: How accurate should historical games be, and can they be used as educational tools?
These questions were definitely touched upon in the three articles we read to some degree, but I think this video states the answer in a way more easily understood. Chapman, Roy, and Taylor all agree that video game narratives can’t be studied in a metaphorical vacuum, and that the mechanics of video games and how players interact with games have to be addressed to be able to completely analyze, I guess, the historical validity of the game. They assert that player interactivity allows for better understanding of the historical process. This video would agree to that statement, but rather than calling it an understanding of the “historical process,” it says that players are able to learn from themes of the past. Players learn that their decisions matter in how the “future” is shaped in within the game, and allows players a chance to learn from their mistakes, which is something the narrator believes is important about the study of history in general.
The narrator also points out a problem that Taylor mentioned in game development, which is that the “historical” part of the game often ends up being reduced to some arbitrary backdrop. While Taylor states that this sometimes come from giving the player too much freedom to do what they want in general (creating a kingdom in Civilization that literally only focuses on mining and nothing else, for example), the narrator of this video suggests that this problem comes from making all the tiny details of the background very historically accurate, then giving the player very historically inaccurate options to take (allowing players control over the development of every single character in a strategy game, even if those character options are realistic). This creates an inauthentic feeling, according to the narrator, because it stops the player from being forced to manage their people based on more realistic unpredictable risks and starts allowing players to just make all of their characters exactly the way that will most quickly advance them through the game. The narrator ends by asking for a call of historical games in other genres besides strategy and RPG-shooters.
1.1) Sure, games can certainly be historical and can give insight into historical themes (I know just from readings in past classes that some high school teachers are using Sid Meier’s civilization to try to explain the spread of Rome), but is it realistic to think that “traditional” history classes could be taught through video games? In other words, do you think it will be possible to teach a class on a subject as tricky and complicated as WWII, or the Cold War, or the American Civil War, etc, using games as the teaching tool as often as we use books?
1.2) Would it be more realistic to think that video games as a medium are better at broader concepts rather than more nuanced detail like dates and specific names and places? “Surviving History” was a fun little game, and I remember how I thought it was funny that marrying a doctor is considered by many to be a good thing in modern USA, but in the game it was something that gave the main character’s father in law pause. I remember that the game took place in Philadelphia and that yellow fever killed a lot of people very quickly. But I can’t actually remember the other doctor’s name, or the exact year the game took place, or the street names that the game took time to tell me.
2) Does the level of player freedom act as a legitimate advantage or disadvantage to the historical value of a game? Assuming one is making a game to be more educational than entertaining, would it be better to limit player freedom to give them a more “traditional” narrative and historical lesson, or broaden player freedom so that they can experience, as the authors have suggested, the “historical process?”
3) In all three articles, “Civilization” and “Assassin’s Creed” were referenced by name as examples of historical games. These games, specifically, were created for entertainment purposes. This makes the authors’ argument about analyzing their game mechanics as well as their story a little moot, considering the games weren’t created to be analyzed by academics at all. With the growing hype about the potential of using video games for teaching history, do you think that upcoming games should strive for historical accuracy? In other words: now that gaming developers are under the spotlight of academics as well as casual consumers, are they under obligation to deliver a more realistic product? Are they under obligation to create a product that can stand up to scrutiny in both narrative and mechanics?
It is perhaps not a large stretch to assume that most citizens of the United States, by the time they graduate high school, have at least heard of the Transatlantic Slave Trade. One need only type the three-word phrase into a search engine to see pages of lesson plans and resource sites for teachers and students alike. The topic seems to be nationally approached, at the very least, in terms of simplified definition and time range. The Transatlantic Slave Trade lasted several hundred years. It describes the global economic phenomenon of the buying and selling of human slaves from the African continent to the Americas and Europe (“Transatlantic Slave Trade”).
It is no surprise, if this basis is what the casual learner receives, that higher education offers more of an in-depth look at the particulars of the Transatlantic Slave Trade and its impact on the world and its victims. In the past, or at least during the 1900s, mainstream scholars seemed to write about the period of trade from a strictly critical viewpoint. Slavery is bad, and so any writing about slavery and the global economic leaders’ place in it must reflect that. In the 1970s, however, a work entitled Time on the Cross was released to directly challenge this interpretation (Haskell). Time on the Cross claimed that not only was the institution of slavery overwhelmingly beneficial to the building of American economy, but past scholarly work on the subject painted the alleged harsh treatment of slaves in an over exaggerating light (“Time on the Cross”).
In modern times, Time on the Cross is regarded as being a failed attempt at using math to justify history, and is generally ignored as an academic text. Still, it seems to have set a precedent for 21st century discussion of the Transatlantic Slave Trade. Very few modern scholars seem interested in arguing the benefits of slavery in a defensive light. The trend of unapologetically presenting slavery as something irredeemably criminal seems to have, in general, continued on. Still, modern scholars seem stuck between two types of approaches when it comes to reflecting on the Transatlantic Slave Trade: commenting on the economic backbone to nations human trafficking provided as well as the often detrimental social consequences brought on by abolition, and intimate looks into the oppression and resistance of victims of slavery.
Many writings on the use of slave labor to build national economy seem like apologetic admittance. Portraying historical fact–that national economy benefited—without taking any particular pride in the matter. Some scholars waste no time in demonstrating this; the very first line in Van Welie’s Slave Trading and Slavery in the Dutch Colonial Empire claims that slavery was fundamental in building the Dutch colonial empire (Van Welie, 47), and Van Welie claims that admitting this fact with help shed light on previously overlooked, undesirable aspects of Dutch and European history (49). An often ignored point, he claims, is the fact that Dutch colonies continued to use slave labor even after the Dutch Republic had it publicly abolished. Van Welie does not seem overly concerned about hiding his contempt for slavery from the tone of his writing.
Van Welie is not the only one to attempt to shed light onto the misconception that abolishment of slavery meant the immediate releasing of all slaves. As detailed in Kim Butler’s Slavery in the Age of Emancipation, the closing of the Transatlantic Slave Trade in fact led to a system of internal slave trading across North and South America and the Caribbean that resulted in the buying and selling of 200,000 victims of slavery (Butler, 969). Butler claims that even this estimate might represent less than the actual amount of victims, due to the amount of undocumented slave transactions by slave traders and slaver owners fearful of legal repercussions. Like with the Dutch colonies, the use of slave labor in Brazil did not end just because it became illegal to buy and sell slaves. Butler also makes sure to make it clear that victims of continued forced labor were not restricted to Brazil; many victims were taken and sent to the supposedly liberated British colonies across the Caribbean as well (971).
Continued use of slave labor despite abolishment is not the only consequence of abolition written about, such as in the case of Van Der Linden’s Unanticipated Consequences of ‘Humanitarian Intervention’. Van Der Linden goes into detail on the necessity for Britain to convince its neighbors to agree to the abolishment as well (Van Der Linden, 283). Legislation was passed with the eventual blessing of other European nations, but still, as also demonstrated by Van Welie and Butler, “…it turned out to be difficult to block the slave trade” (286). It seems that, for a great while, slavers simply got better at smuggling their human cargo. Van Der Linden, too, acknowledges the increase of domestic slave trades due to the abolition of an international system (288), as well as an increase in cross-Africa and Asian slave trade (289). Connections between the criminalization of the Transatlantic Slave Trade and the colonization of East Africa and parts of South Asia are made as well. According to Van Der Linden, it was not until “Britain consolidated its rule in the Sudan and East Africa at the end of the nineteenth century” that there was even a dent in the Arab slave trade (290). Colonization in the name of social justice shows a sort of nationalistic, yet cynical, portrayal of a nation’s campaigning for abolishment.
That’s not to ignore the humanistic side of scholarly research on the Slave Trade. Butler, to use as a transitional piece, uses the continued slave trade as a vehicle to demonstrate the extraordinary bravery of the Brazilian rebels still victim to the system. Butler does not want it to seem as though continued victims of human trafficking were simply passive and accepting. Due to the lack of documentation of these trades, of course, intimate knowledge of many of the victims is lacking (Butler, 974). Still, the slaves who could would pay for their own freedom or attempt escape when they were able (975). Additionally, Butler claims, when physical resistance was impossible some communities turned to cultural resistance (978).
Others write on the resistance shown in African American communities and families, as well, though not every story told has a happy ending for the resisters, as detailed by Kenneth Marshall in his article Powerful and Righteous with his implication of two African slaves committing suicide to escape bondage (Marshall, 24).
Interestingly and as just an aside, both Marshall and Brenda Stevenson in her article The Question of the Slave Female Community and Culture in the American South go out of their way to name accounts from women who were nobility or royalty before captured and sold off to America. Marshall relates the written account of an African princess named Phillis and her experience on a slavers ship, and how it relates to others’ experiences as human cargo (Marshall, 25). Stevenson comments on several women who’d been nobles in their home nations, and how their culture helped them in servitude as slaves (Stevenson, 75). Though Marshall makes it clear that Phillis’ experience is one of the few remaining stories of African women on the ships, one can’t help but notice the manipulation the authors are doing to make these stories of oppression settle heavier; by presenting the life stories of noble women specifically, readers feel the impact of knowledge that anyone could be victimized. Even African royalty, and even royal women.
Sowande’ Mustakeem, also like Marshall, writes on the experiences of the victims of slavery while crossing the Atlantic in cargo ships. According to Mustakeem, despite the active purchase of healthy-looking Africans sickness was a common problem in the Transatlantic Slave Trade that very often resulted in death (Mustakeem, 475). It did not help that limited provisions on the journey meant that the African captives were also often malnourished (Mustakeem, 480). Marshall elaborates on the captives’ suffering on-ship in his description of the conditions of the hold the Africans were actually kept in, which were hot and cramped and they were all packed in in such a way to incapacitate and demoralize them (Marshall, 32).
Still, slave resistance as a whole, rather than individual origin stories or accounts of the horrific conditions faced by captives on the slave ships, seem to be the focus of many scholarly works about the Transatlantic Slave Trade. One article in particular, written by Karen Bell, suggests in an ironic twist that though many accounts of individual captives during their journeys to the Americas are lost, documentation of their resistance is able to give modern historians at least some insight into their lives (Bell, 158). On a further ironic note, instances of cultural resistance to forced American integration was possible for some communities of slaves and their dependents due, in part, to the demographics of the Africans captured; often slavers would buy many slaves from the same markets, making it sometimes possible for Africans from similar ethnicities to stay together and reinforce cultural traditions. Similarly, new traditions and comradery could be shared among communities of slaves based on the shared experiences of being slaves (Ibid.).
More traditional forms of slave resistance, not just cultural resistance, is also occasionally noted by scholars. Also sometimes noted by scholars is the difficulty in pinpointing not the resistant actions of slaves at the time of the Transatlantic Slave Trade, but the context behind their resistance and their motivation for change, assumptions on which tend to be oversimplified or come from a place of European arrogance (Kyles, 498). It is suggested that the combination of original African identity mixed with the adopted African American identity helped forge the type of resistance an individual slave or slave community might participate in, but even that is difficult to confirm due to a persistent general lack of knowledge in many slave origins (499-500).
A minority of modern scholars, when writing on slave resistance, sometimes mention the opposite side of that; African American slaves who side with their white owners and attempt to turn in the slaves they believe are going to try to resist. In one documented case, a slave in fact received his freedom for warning his master against an attack and protecting him from the resisters (Kyles, 503). Though this account is not presented with any sense of encouragement from the author of the article, but as a sort of example of the types of power moves slave masters would do to keep resisters in line. Overall, it is suggested that the slaves’ ability to resist or type of resistance did not come from their African cultural background, but their ability to adapt, like any human, to their environments (506).
Modern scholars of the Transatlantic Slave Trade do not just write on the consequences of abolition and the personal accounts of slaves, but the overall majority of modern focus seems to be on these topics. Wide-spread racism, especially in North America, has continued to be a widely discussed controversy. One could argue that it is this persistent controversy that has spurred academics into the research that they do; a common argument, after all, is that Americans cannot live in a racist country if the leader of the country himself is of African descent. This socially relevant argument can be paralleled to arguments that slavery ended immediately just because the Transatlantic Slave Trade was abolished—a fact that has been disproven in several papers by several academics. Understandable, too, is the focus on the resistance shown by victims of the slave trade.
One could argue that it is intellectually dishonest and socially irresponsible to continue to write about a historically marginalized people as though they have never been anything but helpless and oppressed, especially when modern social activism often resorts to acts of passive and active resistance against the oppressive. On a stretch, a claim could be made that by not documenting acts of negative consequence or resistance, past historians are guilty of large-scale victim blaming slaves—if no acts of resistance are shared, then it is impossible to say whether the marginalized group truly felt marginalized. It is this type of justification that no doubt led to works such as Time on the Cross, and subsequent modern studies, to be written.
Bell, Karen B. 2010. “Rice, Resistance, and Forced Transatlantic Communities:: (Re)envisioning the African Diaspora in Low Country Georgia, 1750-1800.” The Journal of African American History 95 (2): 157–82. doi:10.5323/jafriamerhist.95.2.0157.
Butler, Kim D. 2011. “Slavery in the Age of Emancipation: Victims and Rebels in Brazil’s Late 19th-Century Domestic Trade.” Journal of Black Studies 42 (6): 968–92. http://www.jstor.org/stable/41304567.
Haskell, Thomas L. 2016. “The True & Tragical History of ‘Time on the Cross.’” The New York Review of Books. Accessed Feb 27. http://www.nybooks.com/articles/1975/10/02/the-true-tragical- history-of-time-on-the-cross/.
Kyles, Perry L. 2008. “Resistance and Collaboration: Political Strategies within the Afro-Carolinian Slave Community, 1700-1750.” The Journal of African American History 93 (4): 497–508. http://www.jstor.org/stable/25610020.
Marshall, Kenneth E. 2004. “Powerful and Righteous: The Transatlantic Survival and Cultural Resistance of an Enslaved African Family in Eighteenth-Century New Jersey.” Journal of American Ethnic History 23 (2): 23–49. http://www.jstor.org/stable/27501418.
Mustakeem, Sowande’. 2008. “‘I Never Have Such a Sickly Ship Before’: Diet, Disease, and Mortality in 18th-Century Atlantic Slaving Voyages.”The Journal of African American History 93 (4): 474–96. http://www.jstor.org/stable/25610019.
Stevenson, Brenda E. 2007. “The Question of the Slave Female Community and Culture in the American South: Methodological and Ideological Approaches.” The Journal of African American History 92 (1): 74–95. http://www.jstor.org/stable/20064155.
“Time on the Cross: The Economics of American Negro Slavery | Economic History Services.” 2011. December 20. https://web.archive.org/web/20111220190203/http://eh.net/node/2749.
“Transatlantic Slave Trade.” 2016. Public. UNESCO. http://www.unesco.org/new/en/social-and-human- sciences/themes/slave-route/transatlantic-slave-trade/.
Van Der Linden, Marcel. 2010. “Unanticipated Consequences of ‘Humanitarian Intervention’: The British Campaign to Abolish the Slave Trade, 1807-1900.” Theory and Society 39 (3/4): 281–98. http://www.jstor.org/stable/40587535.
Van Welie, Rik. 2008. “Slave Trading and Slavery in the Dutch Colonial Empire: A Global Comparison.” NWIG: New West Indian Guide / Nieuwe West-Indische Gids 82 (1/2): 47– 96. http://www.jstor.org/stable/43390702.
My idea for the walking tour would be going to the sites of historic graveyards around the city. I wanted to do a walking tour of the builders of the graveyards and maybe other non-grave yard locations they might have built, but I couldn’t so far find information on any specific builders/movers/laborers. These three pictures are of three locations I might use, though I think I’ll definitely end up having to change the scope of the project because of how far the locations seem to be from each other.
Halenbeek Family Burial Grounds from Flickr, location no longer exists and a quick google maps search is a little ambiguous with where the site might have been.
Albany Rural Cemetery, still exists and was established in the 1840s. According to the cemetery website the location is fairly popular as a tourist attraction (Flickr has loads and loads of pictures of the head stones and some illustrations, like those below), so maybe I can switch the tour to be more ARC-focused.
The Washington Park Cemetery, which no longer exists, was located across the park. Its bodies were officially relocated to the ARC by 1868. Focusing between WPC and ARC might actually make up a more cohesive project than trying to dig up all the old private graveyards churches and families used, if I could find an interesting angle. For right now, I have a picture of an old map laid over a current one indicating where the cemetery would have been. This was found on a site that lead me to a tweet.
— Albany Archives (@AlbanyArchives) October 24, 2014
(the image linked to above is here:)