Assignment: DH Project reviews

Before Tuesday’s class, choose three of the projects below and explore.  You don’t need to try to see every single page or item in the project, but click around enough to get a sense of what the project is about.

  1. UAlbany Campus Buildings Historical Tour
  2. The Normal School Company & Normal School Company History
  3. State Street Stories
  4. Black and Free
  5. Valley of the Shadow
  6. Arabella Chapman Project
  7. Mapping Segregation
  8. Digital Harlem
  9. The Negro Traveler’s Green Book
  10. Visualizing Emancipation
  11. Cleveland Historical
  12. Quantifying Kissinger
  13. Invasion of America
  14. Pox Americana
  15. Mapping the Republic of Letters

In your comment below, discuss:

  • Who is the audience for each of your projects?  How can you tell? Is the audience scholarly or public?  Does the project seem to engage with a historiography?
  • What kind of interactivity is there?  How do you as the visitor interact with the project besides just reading it?  Do your projects differ in the kind of interactivity they allow?
  • Does the project have an argument?  How does the project use its interactivity functions to make an argument?
  • How did the visual presentation of information affect your understanding of the argument, good or bad?  Link a particularly great or frustrating example for at least one project.
  • Did you have any frustrations in navigating or trying to interact with the project?

6 thoughts on “Assignment: DH Project reviews

  • February 6, 2016 at 7:28 pm

    I chose to review the UAlbany Campus Buildings Tour, the Normal School Company and History, and the Invasion of America. For both the UAlbany Campus (created by Special Collections at the University) and the Normal school projects (created by a graduate seminar at the University), the audience is the public. Because they are so focused on Albany, these projects would probably interest people who have an interest in local Albany history. Because of their scope, I would imagine that if they are engaging in a specific historiography, it would be local history. The Invasion of America is speaking to the larger historiographies of Indian removal, Manifest Destiny, and westward expansion. Although the site was created by an academic, the audience still seems public. While I have viewed the site before in my studies, it was more helpful in teaching students at the undergraduate level about removal.

    For both the UAlbany tour and the Normal School project, there was very little interaction. The visitor is meant to click through the pages and read the content. The Normal School project was a little bit more interactive in that there are links throughout to various letters and pictures, but some of the links were broken. The Invasion of America was much more interactive in that the visitor can watch a video of removal over time or search for specific addresses to see which groups were removed from where. The address search is a bit clunky as it seems like some addresses do not fit specifically in an area formerly occupied by one group or were outside the boundaries of removal treaties in the surrounding areas.

    The UAlbany campus tour and the Normal School Project could have been presented in a printed format and it would not have made a difference in my understanding of the material. The Invasion of America included what was essentially a time lapse video of Indian removal from 1776 forward, ending with the formation of modern reservations which visually had a huge impact on just how much land the United States stole from Native groups.

    Aside from the occasional clunkiness, the only other frustration with Invasion of America was that the project began in 1776. The time frame makes sense for understanding American policy of removal, but the entire Atlantic seaboard is not included and it would be nice to have a visual for that since the history land theft goes back before 1776.

    • February 8, 2016 at 9:32 pm

      I might ask you in class to talk a bit about how it worked in class. We used it a little in 300 and ran into some of the same issues you point out. And the 1776 start date is a pretty strong argument itself, even if only implied.

  • February 9, 2016 at 3:33 am

    I looked at the articles Living Black and Free in 18th and 19th Century Albany, Visualizing Emancipation, and Micki Kaufman’s Quantifying Kissinger.

    Living Black and Free in Albany seems to be designed for a public audience, specifically a public audience that is interested in local African American history. It is not engaging with existing historiography; instead it is built mostly off of other online sources, telling the stories of prominent figures in the African American community. Because it is linking African American life to Albany in the 18th and 19th centuries, I would argue that it is making the argument that African Americans have long been a major part of the Albany community, and have been historical actors in the community for much of its history despite the fact that the website offers no explicit arguments.
    There is not a lot in terms of interactivity. There are digitized scans of official records, such as records from the Albany County Hall of Records, as well as hand written records that are not easy to read. Had the website offered the option to magnify the hand written records, it would have improved the viewing experience. Having the records on the site does enhance article’s argument, however, as it offers primary source evidence. The project offers a lot of potential, as it shows that Albany was racially diverse since at least the creation of the United States, however, it could have offered much more than just some individual stories interspersed with scanned primary source documents. For example, it could have emphasized African American owned businesses, or interactions between the black and white communities.

    Visualizing Emancipation is an expansive and in depth look at emancipation events taking place during the Civil War. It is aimed at specifically at high school teachers, although academics teaching undergraduates and the general public would also find it useful. The site offers many opportunities for interaction, with the largest big a map of the United States with red dots signaling emancipatory events and blue dots showing Union Army locations. The site allows the user to click on a dot to get a story. The stories range from a “copy of a list of Negros taken off by the Yankees 1862 in City Point, VA to former slaves assisting the Union in Humboldt, Kansas in 1863. In addition, the website allows users to submit information for additional dots on the map. The website, affiliated with the University of Richmond, offers a section with lesson plans for teachers are comply with Common Core standards.
    The site is not advancing a specific argument as it is trying to broadly appeal to educators, but the primary sources used demonstrate how complex the emancipation of slaves was both before and after the Civil War. The website offers a section on Methods that demonstrates a clear and deep understanding of the historiography. Overall, it is a very good visualization of emancipation, however the sheer multitude of information contained in map can get overwhelming. After one plays around on the website, it is fairly easy to navigate, however.

    Quantifying Kissinger is an amazing website that explores what to do with massive quantities of information. While this is a situation that is somewhat unique to historians of the twentieth century, such analysis could conceivably be done on any era. Kaufman’s website, which is supported by CUNY, offers examples of her computational analysis, as well as a video explaining how the work can be useful for those who are looking to explore larger trends. Kaufman’s video assumes a knowledge of the historiography of Kissinger, as she discusses issues that scholars of the time period would certainly know about such the negotiations surrounding the end of the Vietnam War and the 1973 Arab-Israel War. Because of this, her project is aimed clearly at scholars of the period or at least those with an in depth knowledge of the subject already.
    Kaufman does a very good job of deconstructing her very complex looking computational analysis and she breaks her work down so that scholars who are not as experienced with digital history can better understand how it is methodologically useful to them. If I had any frustrations, it would be that the project has a high learning curve. This is not a strike against Kaufman, but rather comment on the complexity of doing this type of digital history. In addition, the video Kaufman offers does a very good job of explaining the project.

    These three projects offer very different takes on digital history. Living Black and Free is decidedly local in its scope. The onus of the project is on incorporating a marginalized community into the broader history of Albany. Visualizing Emancipation offers educators an opportunity to expose high school age students to the complexities of the American Civil War and offers lesson plans to assist educators. Quantifying Kissinger shows off the scholarly potential of digital history by exploring how massive amounts of information can be explored in both depth and breadth for pertinent scholarly information.

  • February 9, 2016 at 4:29 am

    I chose UAlbany Campus Buildings Historical Tour, State Street Stories, and the Arabella Chapman Project.

    The Audience for the UAlbany is definitely the public at large. The way the site is set up makes it user-friendly and accessible to those with no prior knowledge of the history of UAlbany. The project seems to not engage with any particular historiography, it is mainly just facts about the campuses of the University without much background. As far as interactivity, there really isn’t much going on here, just a point and click kind of site. There is also not an argument within this project, it is purely informational. The one frustration I had was the lack of information, I was left wanting more.

    The Audience for State Street stories could be either the public or academic. It uses primary as well as secondary information that could aid in research.I would say that there is a brief historiography presented in the introduction to the site. The interactivity level is about the same as the UAlbany site, however, State Street does have interesting historical pictures in the sidebar. I think that the argument would be that State Street holds significant historical value for the development of the City. The visuals did help me get a feeling for what State Street looked like in centuries past.

    The Arabella Chapman Project is also one that is made for both scholars and members of the general public. This site was way more interesting visually and thematically than the other two I reviewed. Even though it is a work-in-progress, the content is engaging and interesting. The argument presented in this project is that the African American community had an impact on the political,social, and cultural world of Albany. By using the photos, the creators actively invite the viewer to witness this influence. What I liked most about this project is that the scholars working on the research invite the public to share in their journey.

  • February 9, 2016 at 6:32 pm

    For the three projects to review, I chose State Street Stories, the Valley of the Shadow, and Mapping Segregation.

    In terms of State Street Stories, the audience for this website would probably be more academic. While it would be accessible for the general public, the information depicted here would be of better use to someone who is working on a class that deals with Albany’s history, rather than a person who randomly clicked on a link for this website. There is a little historiography, but not much. The level of interactivity is low, and I don’t think this website tries to be anything more than a brief and detailed presentation of the history of state street. When you click to a different subject, nothing amazing happens, you are taken to the next bit of information, and that’s about it. The saving grace of this project are the pictures it uses for visual content, which someone else mentioned in their comments, and these do help get a sense of what State Street looked like when Albany was developing as a city. As for an argument, it would be that State Street has had a great impact on how Albany developed commercially, socially, and politically, being a place where businesses, religious institutions, and seats of government are based (both the State Capitol and City Hall are in close proximity to State Street).

    With the Valley of the Shadow, I think the audience for this project would be similar to State Street Stories, with maybe a little more emphasis on public engagement of the history being presented. Also similar to State Street Stories is the level of historiography, of which there is little. This website is more of a collection of information relating to the South before, during, and after the Civil War. Most of the information here is incredibly interesting, providing statistics on religious institutions, voter registration, and other relevant pieces of data on life in the South during this period. There is also a wealth of primary sources, including letters, diaries, and newspaper articles that would be useful for someone doing a thesis related to this topic. Interactivity is low, but, again, there’s just so much to look at and discover that this weakness can be ignored. In terms of argument, there isn’t one per-se, it’s more of a comparison of two communities and how they differed, and you get a sense of this when you click through the available information. Navigating through the site wasn’t difficult, but one small gripe I have is that you can’t continue to the next collection when you reach the end, and instead have to return to the previous page (I’m just nitpicking at this point).

    Mapping Segregation was by far my favorite of the three. The project discusses the segregation of African Americans in Washington D.C in the early 20th century, and how this was done. This is definitely set up for the public, but it could be useful for an academic audience. It engages with historiography, and provides links to relevant articles related to the subject it discusses. What caught my attention the most with this project was the high level of interactivity when compared to the other two websites. The sidebar on the left contains the textual portion of the project, while most of the presentation concentrates on the maps that appear on the right. There are numerous links embedded into the text if you want to learn more about a specific part of the presentation (and they open on new tabs, which was much appreciated). The maps are also interactive, and allow you to click on certain households to get visuals of the covenants, and at different points in the presentation, you can click on different places and it will show demographic information, as well as rent prices during the time period being discussed. As for the argument, it is put forth that as the African American population grew in Washington D.C, more of these covenants restricted them to substandard, racially homogenous areas of the city, as a way of restricting their access to better communities and schools. Again, the level of interactivity helps make this point clear, and it is easy to see how all of this was done. Visually, the presentation is excellent, and the images provided positively impact the argument. I only had one frustration with this website, and that was the fact that unless the buildings were specifically listed, you couldn’t view them in the street view portion of the map. While it isn’t a huge problem, I would have liked to see what other buildings in the area looked like, just to get a better feel for what D.C looked like at the time.

  • February 9, 2016 at 7:23 pm

    “The Valley of the Shadow” is certainly an attention-grabbing title, at least. It seems to be geared toward scholarly work but with the assumption that anyone in the public might be using it—that is, there is a great deal of very detailed information, but the “about” page seems to be very careful to keep description non-technical. It specifically states the idea that “there is no ‘one’ story,” of history, which is basically common philosophy and concept among historians but one that non-historians might not entirely grasp. There is a lot of point-and-click following of paths, and the paths themselves are relatively easy, if stylistically dated, to follow. The “about” section also has a nifty little section explaining how to get around. Some links lead to charts, some to pictures, and some to databases. The presentation of the actual information is a little cluttered, but I chalk that up to dated technology rather than lack of enthusiasm or knowledge. The “argument” presented by the site seems to be exactly as I mentioned above—that there is no “one” story about the civil war. The sheer amount of information and primary sources within the project seems to portray this very well, though again the clutter can make sorting through the information seem more daunting or tedious than it actually might be.

    “Mapping Segregation” is a little different, not only in subject (a more humanistic retelling of the civil war vs an intimate look at Segregation through the eyes of our nation’s capital) but in presentation as well. Unlike The Valley, M.S. seems more interested in appealing to mainly other academics (perhaps not to help with research since this looks like it could be a digital museum exhibit, but just to show that such projects are possible and relevant). Because of this, there seems less interest in explaining modern historical philosophy (there is no “multiple ways to view history” here) and more interested in letting the academics using the site figure out the project on their own. Maybe this project is more geared toward young academics. It explains why the political and social system of the USA allowed for segregation to happen, but also assumes that the reader knows what the political and social system of the USA was. For what it tries to do—arguing that segregation directly contributed to the racial geography of modern D.C—it seems to do well (so far). It gives a pretty comprehensive look at the laws contributing and dictating segregation. I think it should also be worth noting, though this is a personal grievance, that the interface used by the project is not very clear. It took five minutes of clicking around the website and back and forth on the first page of the project to figure out how to actually view the rest of it. PrologueDC could have probably given directions on how to navigate the project. Once I understood how to use it, however, it was a pleasant enough experience. The project is not as text-heavy as The Valley but the part that is completed and up right now is primarily text-based.

    “The Invasion of America” is an actual map, which I think is awesome. It begins with a little pop up window that gives a little background information behind what the map is depicting, and some directions on how to use map features to more easily visualize the collective information. It is because of this that I think the map holds some similarity to The Valley, in that it may or may not be built for academic work but the project seeks to make the information accessible, and understandable, by everyone (trained historians might not need visualizations to be able to comprehend the effect of the land seizures, or might already have access to more in depth analysis on the subject). The map itself is very simplistic, despite its heavy amounts of data. A user simply has to click a region of the map and a little pop up info box appears that has a zoom in feature, the nation, type, ID #, date, and a few links to primary documents also hosted on the site (with the exception of the video that visualizes the land seizures, which redirects the user to youtube). The map also allows the user to adjust it by date range, but I’m not really sure of the benefit of doing that (probably because I’m not an expert at reading this map). I don’t know the argument the map is presenting besides “Native nations lost land to colonists throughout US history,” but for what it’s worth it does show that pretty well.

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