Cool Stuff Week

 Where to Start? On Research Questions in The Digital Humanities

This article considers methods for developing research questions in the field of digital humanities, and attempts to answer the question of whether a research question should be posed first, and then a digital tool should be found that can display the answer to that question, or if a tool used in digital humanities (giphy, etc) should be decided upon, and then a research topic that can be best answered through that tool should be chosen. The author of the article, Trevor Owens, states his belief that a research question should be the first aspect of a project to be developed, as it is the reference point around which any project is based. He also states that research questions often change as a project progresses, implying that choosing a research question based on a specific tool would be ineffective since the question is likely to change along the way. He goes on to suggest that digital humanities tools can be instrumental in invalidating research questions, and are, therefore, an integral part of the research process, not the element around which a research project should be based.

How to Get a Digital Humanities Project Off the Ground

This article evaluates potential first steps in the process of beginning a digital humanities project. The author, Paige Morgan, like Trevor Owens, states that research questions are subject to change, so graduate students doing these projects should avoid trying to connect them to their dissertations. The author also suggests identifying any potential issues early on in order to avoid them stopping a project in its tracks after substantial time has been put into research, as well as to do the proper research to insure that there are no similar projects. If there are, that does not necessarily the end of a project, as they can take different approaches and end up with varying results. On that note, Morgan also suggests to individually take varying approaches, including experimenting with different platforms. The one point on which Morgan seems conflicted is whether to make a digital humanities project that is in process public in order to gain feedback due to the risk of plagiarism.

You Got the Documents. Now What?

In this article, author Jonathan Stray identifies the best methods for extracting data from documents. He states that the first step in doing this is to take paper documents and turn them into digital documents, thus making them easier to share and analyze. It is also emphasized that  they must be converted into text documents, as pdf’s and images are not good for much more than reading on a screen. Thus, it is important to remember that digital tools used for analyzing data are not compatible with pdf’s. Throughout the article, Stray repeatedly highlights the stark contrast between documents and data. Additionally, the point is accentuated that, whenever possible, data analysis should be automated, and not manual. In order to make that easier, Stray recommends gaining familiarity with the many functions various tools used in analyzing and visualizing data. The tools suggested by the author are Overview and DocumentCloud, which he states should be used for publication.


Twine is a digital program that allows users to create interactive stories. As demonstrated by the samples of games (I played ‘Sewer Diamond War of 3096 Reenactment’ and ‘Happiness Simulator’) and it is basically like using an interactive flowchart with if/then questions. Twine is something that could be potentially used for displaying, though not necessarily analyzing, data.

Physical Computing

An Arduino is a type of small computer that can be programmed in order to create interactive museum exhibits while remaining unseen by visitors. Unlike larger computers used to program exhibits, which can run a few thousand dollars, Arduino starts at just $30. A major benefit of Arduino seems to be its compatibility with numerous types of exhibits, as it is cited as having been used in science exhibits relating to brain usage and the weight of human compared to dinosaurs, as well as art exhibits that can move independently or interact with visitors, blurring the lines “between art and robotics.’ In addition to creating cutting edge exhibits inexpensively, Alicia M. Gibbs’ article states the Arduino can be instrumental in improving the preservation process, as exhibits can be saved digitally.

3D Printing

“Please Feel the Museum: The Emergence of 3D Printing and Scanning” discusses the fact that the advent of 3D printing art and objects can be cost effective for museums creating exhibits, as 3D printed replicas of objects can be created that visitors can touch and otherwise interact with. However, the article expands beyond museums, stating that 3D printing can be instrumental in teaching in a hands-on manner, which can be beneficial considering the extent to which ‘interactive’ learning occurs in front of a screen. The article also implies that 3D printing can protect museum objects, as visitors will often photograph them in order to examine them more closely later on. However, with 3D replicas of museum collections, visitors can examine objects as closely as possible while still in the museum. 3D printing can also teach professionals to look more closely at objects and artwork, as creating a 3D replica is achieved through photogrammetry, which involve photographing the objects from every possible angle. Mistakes and missed angles in a final product can spur further analysis of the objects. Additionally, the ability to make replicas of museum collections through 3D printing can allow the same object to be displayed to the public at different museums simultaneously.
In “Harvard’s 3D-Printing Archaeologists Fix Ancient Artifacts,” author Joseph Flaherty discusses the practice of photomodelling, through which sculpture fragments can be photographed and recreated through 3D printing. This technology can not only essentially revive art and objects from the dead, but can also potentially be used in fields such as forensics. The Smithsonian’s online 3D art exhibit allows for close examination of museum objects from the comfort of any computer. The 3D models available on the website show the color, texture, and imperfections of objects, and can be turned, adjusted, and scrutinized at any angle. This could be a major step for research, as grant money could potentially be saved through students being able to review items in the collections of far away museums and institutions from home.


1.) How effective would a 3D exhibit in a museum really be? Would people be less likely to want to visit if 3D replicas of objects are being displayed rather than the originals?

2.) Would having 3D interactive exhibits available online (such as the Smithsonian) reduce actual visitation to museums?

3.) How could 3D printing and Arduinos help historic house museums and other historic sites?

4.) Can interactive exhibits or Arduinos survive in the long run? After their novelty has worn off, will they still be as interesting or valuable as art and other objects from the past?

Final Project- Walking/ Driving Tour of Former Movie Theaters in Albany

Identify your theme and how it is unique from the existing tours of Albany Walks for Health. What are the closest related tours? How does your tour differ from the related tours?

The theme of my walking tour will be the exploration of the former sites of the plethora of palatial movie theaters that once existed in Albany, New York. Although many of the locations that will be included on the tour were still occupied by the movie theaters in question as recently as the 1980’s, the change in the way in which movie theaters appeared and were operated over the past hundred years will be made evident through descriptions of the bygone theaters compared to the contemporary theaters with which participants on the tour are familiar. This theme is unique from the existing tours on Albany Walks for Health as movie theaters are significantly more modern than the themes on the Walks for Health, which predominantly span from the seventeenth to nineteenth centuries. Additionally, due to the nature of this project, the locations on my tour, unlike an abundance of the locations on the Walks for Health, are no longer existent.
The closest related tour on the Albany Walks for Health to the tour that I am going to create is Tour #7: Entertainment Centers of Downtown Albany. Unlike most of the other tours on the Walks for Health, ‘Entertainment Centers of Downtown Albany’ takes participants to more contemporary locations, such as the Egg, which was built in the 1960’s, and the Times Union Center, which was not even constructed until 1990. Additionally, both my tour and ‘Entertainment Centers of Downtown Albany’ appertain to leisure activities enjoyed by Albany residents and visitors. Unlike ‘Entertainment Centers of Downtown Albany,’ which includes a variety of types of entertainment venues, such as theaters (the Palace Theater, Park Playhouse) and concert halls (the Washington Armory) my tour will only feature locations that were once movie theaters. Another tour featured in Albany Walks for Health that is similar to my movie theaters tour is ‘The Leisures of Albany.’ Like ‘Entertainment Centers of Downtown Albany,’ ‘The Leisures of Albany’ is homologous to my tour because it is about recreational activities in Albany. Also like “Entertainment Centers of Downtown Albany,’ ‘The Leisures of Albany’ features locations for an assortment of leisure activities, including theaters such as the Palace Theater and parks such as Washington Park, and museums such as the Albany Institute of History and Art, whereas my tour will only contain movie theaters.

What is the organizing theme or story for your tour? Who is the audience for this tour? What’s the big takeaway point that the visitor will get from your tour?

Since movie theaters began to emerge in the final years of the nineteenth century, they have grown into one of the most popular and prominent venues in the entertainment industry. The multi-screen movie theaters that we know today, often operated by a chain (Regal, AMC, etc) deviate greatly from those that existed up until even the mid to late twentieth century. Older movie theaters, also called ‘cinemas’ or ‘movie houses,’ were formerly built to create a memorable overall experience that extended beyond the viewing of a film. They would often include ornate architecture, sumptuous lounges, and one large theater. This tour will explore the many opulent theaters that once existed in Albany, but were closed down in lieu of theaters that boasted multiple screens and that were able to show more movies to more people simultaneously. Additionally, many of the theaters on this tour are further tied to Albany’s history  as they were named after locations or prominent figures in Albany’s history.
This tour is geared towards Albany residents. Participants who have grown up in Albany may be interested to learn about the sheer number of now unassuming locations that once housed movie theaters. In addition, older Albany residents can enjoy the nostalgia of visiting the sites of theaters that they might have frequented in times past.
Participants on this tour should come away with a better understanding of how the notion of what defines a movie theater has changed over time. Many people are already aware (and, if not, will be informed on the tour) that the modern movie theater evolved from Vaudeville theaters. Through reading about movie theaters that once existed in familiar locations in Albany, participants taking this tour can attain a greater level of comprehension regarding the early incarnations of movie theaters and the fact that they were the midpoint between the exalted Vaudeville theaters of the nineteenth century and the utilitarian theaters with which we are familiar today. Additionally, participants of this tour will be able to glimpse into Albany’s history by showing them the different way in which people of the past engaged in a familiar activity in a familiar place.

Identify at least four potential locations. Briefly describe the historical location and what is currently at that location.

1.) Hellman Movie Theater– Located at 1365 Washington Avenue in Albany, the Hellman Movie Theater was constructed in 1960. Art deco in style, the theater originally featured a lobby, lounge and single screen, though it was divided into two screen during the 1980’s after being taken over by United Artists. The theater was built by Neil Hellman, also known for building the Neil Hellman Library at the College of Saint Rose, and is named as a memorial to his father, Harry Hellman. The Hellman Theater was demolished in 1989, and the site in which it once stood is now occupied by the Washington Center for Medical Arts, which leases office space to various medical practices.

2.) Eagle Movie Theater– Opened in 1928 on Hudson Avenue and Eagle Street (for which it is named) in Albany, the Eagle Movie Theater was housed in a defunct arsenal that was constructed in 1858. In 1938, the theater was remodeled an reopened as the ‘New Eagle Theater.’ The theater operated for three decades as a popular entertainment venue with a single screen and 830 seats. However, a decline in attendance in the 1950’s led to the theater staying in business through an agreement with local schools to show children’s specials on Saturday afternoons. In 1962, the state of New York acquired the site through eminent domain, and it was demolished in order to construct the South Mall arterial of the Empire State Plaza. The site is now occupied by the Albany County Probation Department.

3.) Harmanus Bleecker Hall– Opened in 1888 and named for attorney, congressman, and foreign ambassador, Harmanus Bleecker, Harmanus Bleecker Hall was originally opened as a regular theater. However, in 1929 it was remodeled to become a single screen motion picture theater with 2,070 seats. This sumptuous theater was decorated with tones of brown and gold that were highlighted with shades of blue red and green. Unfortunately, the theater, which was located at 331 Delaware Avenue in Albany, was destroyed in a fire on May 6, 1940. The site, which is now occupied by the Delaware Branch of the Albany Public Library, is nearby the still operational Spectrum 8 Theaters, which was opened soon after the fire that destroyed Harmanus Bleecker hall.

4.) Ritz Movie Theater– Located in a former jailhouse at 21 South Pearl Street in Albany, the Ritz Movie Theater first opened in the 1920’s. In 1941, the theater was purchased and operated by Warner Brothers. This single screen, 1,125 seat theater began to decline in popularity once the majority of households began acquiring televisions. Like the Eagle Movie Theater, the Ritz Movie Theater was ultimately demolished to make way for the construction of the Empire State Plaza. The Times Union Center now stands on its former site.

5.) Leland Movie Theater– Located at 43 South Pearl Street in Albany, the Leland Theater replaced the Trimble Opera House that was destroyed in a fire during the mid-nineteenth century. It was reopened in 1873 as the Leland Opera House, and was converted for Vaudeville and movies in 1906 and renamed the Leland Theater. With one screen and 1,350 seat, the Leland Theater remained popular until, like the Trimble Opera House before it, it was destroyed in a fire in the early 1960’s. It’s former location is now occupied by apartment and office space.

Slavery in New York State in the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries, Historiography

The state of New York has long been known as a primarily liberal state. Additionally, New York was on the northern side of the American Civil War, lending substantial amounts of troops, supplies and support to the anti-slavery Union cause. Regardless of the fundamentally abolitionist inclinations that existed in New York by the mid-nineteenth century, New York State and, by extension, the city of Albany, was a major point of convergence for both the Dutch and English slave trades. Additionally, many New York State residents, including notable historical figures, owned slaves. This paper will examine the viewpoints of various historians regarding the general attitude towards slavery and blacks in New York State during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.
The 2005 book, Slavery in New York is a collection of essays compiled and edited by Ira Berlin and Leslie M. Harris that all discuss the fact that New York State was a slave state for more of its existence than it was not. Berlin and Harris’s decision to compile essays on this topic was catalyzed by the discovery of an African burial ground in lower Manhattan in 1991. The essays in Slavery in New York argue that, not only did New York State and its inhabitants actively participate in the slave trade and the practice of owning slaves, but New York City had one of the highest slave populations in the United States during the eighteenth century, surpassed solely by Charleston, South Carolina. Many of the essays in Slavery in New York contend that it is wholly unsurprising that New York was once a thriving slave state, as it was large and relatively prosperous from its beginnings and, prior to the coming of the Industrial Revolution to the United States, cities were heavily reliant upon slaves for production (Berlin & Harris, 8). One of the essays featured in Slavery in New York, “A World of Possibilities: Slavery and Freedom in Dutch New Amsterdam” by Christopher Moore highlights the fact that a very prominent figure in New York’s history, Peter Stuyvesant, the last Dutch Director General of the New Netherland Colony (1647-1664) for whom many landmarks in the state are named, was a known slave holder: “Many of the slaves on Stuyvesant’s bowery were company slaves whose work included building the forts. Stuyvesant used enslaved Africans as a first line of defense against the Esopus” (Moore, 20). Thus, the essay not only exposes Stuyvesant as an active participant in the practice of slavery, but also presents the fact that slaves were responsible for building forts and, therefore, the defense of the colony, a feat generally attributed to white European men in the annals of history. The revelation of the extensive use of slavery demonstrates Moore’s view that New York was, in many ways, built upon the foundation of slavery.
Another essay included in Slavery in New York, “The Long Death of Slavery” by Patrick Rael, also examines the fact that most cities in the United States were dependent upon slave labor during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and the inherent difficulties associated with ending slavery, even in northern states, due to that reliance. Rael states that the institution of slavery was deeply ingrained in the country’s roots, as federal rulings existed that guaranteed political prestige for slaveholders, and that these were enforced in the Constitution. Unlike Moore, Rael implies that slavery may have continued in the United States if it were not for the actions of enslaved Africans themselves. In addition to the efforts to gain freedom by those who were enslaved, Rael asserts that there was pressure building in the western world to provide equality amongst all people: “The Atlantic-wide revolutions that mainland colonists inaugurated in 1775 soon struck other European empires, challenging the young nation to grapple with the logistical limits of its dedication to universal principles of human equality” (Rael, 38) In articulating these points, Rael builds upon Moore’s idea that all of the United States, including New York, was built with a fundamental dependence upon slavery, but goes on to suggest that slavery may have persevered in northern states if had not been for social pressures from the western world for the United States to live up to its reputation and discomfiture due to anti-slavery efforts made by slaves themselves.
David N. Gellman’s 2008 book, Emancipating New York: The Politics of Slavery and Freedom, 1777-1827 states that, due to an extended internal debate regarding whether slavery fit in with the state’s values, New York was amongst the last of the northern states to take a stance against slavery. Gellman shares Moore’s view that the bustling industry present in New York State contributed toward the difficulty associated with ending the practice of slavery. Emancipating New York also discusses that fact that, not only was New York a state where slavery played a much greater role than most other northern states, but New York also began to officially oppose slavery much later than even its immediate neighbors, such as Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Rhode Island. Unlike Moore or Rael, Gellman examines the extenuating conditions in these surrounding states that made may have led to earlier advocacy of abolition, such as the presence of the peace and equality loving Quakers in Pennsylvania and the shorter history of slavery in Massachusetts: “While Quaker activists in New York played a prominent role in opposing slavery, Quakers were a much more marginal group in New York than Pennsylvania. The mechanism for abolition was quite different as well in Massachusetts. No New York court would have dared to pronounce a blanket condemnation of slavery as the Supreme Judicial Court did in that state” (Gellman, 4). In discussing New York’s relative reluctance to declare its opposition to slavery compared to other nearby states, Gellman implies that New York was more internally divided than other states during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.
Gellman also explains New York’s background as it relates to its eighteenth century ties to slavery. He states that when New York was settled by the Dutch during the early seventeenth century, the area was utilized by as a center of trade for the Dutch East India Company, the country for which Henry Hudson was employed when he came upon the area now known as Albany. Thus, the Hudson River, which connects major ports in New York State, such as New York City and Albany, to the Atlantic Ocean was used to facilitate the Dutch slave trade. Gellman goes on to express his belief that New York clung on to slavery during the period that the colony was transitioning from Dutch to British control, as it was felt that slavery was a basic right for white men and that it was being threatened by the British: “As New Yorkers unsuspectingly lurched into a continental showdown with British authority, black bondage remained a deeply ingrained aspect of the world whites sought to defend from what they deemed to be British infringements on colonial rights” (Gellman, 16) Thus, in Emancipating New York, David Gellman argues that New York’s relatively long practice of slavery was a result of the influences of imperial rule.
In the 2006 book, New York Burning: Liberty, Slavery, and Conspiracy in Eighteenth Century Manhattan, author Jill Lepore is far less apologetic than Moore, Rael, and Gellman in regards to the responsibility of New Yorkers for the continuation of the institution of slavery. Lepore underscores the irony of the fact that the terms “liberty” and “slavery” were both articulated by New York’s most prominent figures, and that many of the white men in the state who verbalized their opposition to slavery owned slaves: “That calls for liberty came from a world of slavery has been named the central paradox of American history” (Lepore, 18). New York Burning does not blame the United States as a whole for this “paradox,” but rather isolates New York as, after the occurrence of multiple fires over a brief period of time in Manhattan in 1741, two hundred slaves were convicted for arson and murder, of which “thirteen black men were burned at the stake” and “seventeen more were hanged.” Lepore uses a response to these executions, written by an anonymous New Englander, in which New Yorkers are accused of treating blacks in their state just as badly as suspected witches were treated during the seventeenth century Salem With Trials to assert her stance that the treatment of slaves and blacks in New York State in the eighteenth century was singular, and not merely a reflection of the cultural paradigm existent in the United States at that point in history.
Lepore continues her examination of the practice of slavery in ways that were unique to New York State by purporting that slavery was fundamental part of New York’s politics: “Slavery was always and everywhere a political issue, but what happened in New  York suggests that it exerted a more powerful influence on political life: slaves suspected of conspiracy constituted both a phantom political party and an ever-        threatening revolution” (Lepore, 52).  New York Burning cites an event that occurred during the summer of 1741, when a now extinct political party known as the Court Party in New York faced contention from another defunct political party, the Country Party, and became the group responsible for the aforementioned burning of slaves at the stake after the series of fires in Manhattan. In including this point, Lenore seems to be implying that the issues of slavery and the methods of quelling perceived slave rebellions, were being utilized by political parties in New York State in order to rally support from citizens.
James and Michelle Nevius’s 2014 book, Footprints in New York: Tracing the Lives of Four Centuries of New Yorkers, focuses on the lives of specific families in New York’s history. Through one of these families, the Delanceys, the authors demonstrate that, not only was slavery an intrinsic part of New York State’s politics and industry, but also the domestic lives of the state’s inhabitants. This is illustrated in Footprints in New York through the fact that the patriarch of the Delancey family, Stephen Delancey, was, at the beginning of the eighteenth century, a successful merchant and trader whose fortune was built through the use of slaves, and whose son, James Delancey, had grown up in a world in which utilizing slaves in the household was an ordinary act: “His eldest son, James, grew up in a world where slavery was the norm, and Africans could be passed on as property, just like furniture or a house” (Nevius & Nevius, 26) James and Michelle Nevius acknowledge that Stephen Delancey’s children did eventually inherit his slaves in his will, as did many children of slaveholders during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Though eventually, as slavery was slowly phased out in New York State beginning in 1799, and many slaves were freed in their master’s wills, Footprints in New York emphasizes the notion that household slaves being passed from generation to generation through bequests was an obstacle to entirely eradicating the practice of slavery in New York State.
Through the facts presented in these works, it is clear that the practice of slavery was a major part of various aspects of life in New York State. It is also evident from that the authors feel that New York’s politics, society, industry, and inhabitant’s family lives were all tied to the institution of slavery in a way that differed from surrounding northern states, which would account for why New York was amongst the last of the northern states to officially declare itself opposed to slavery. Additionally, a remarkable number of the authors of texts relating to slavery in New York State do not make extensive excuses for the residents of the state for their continuation of the practice of slavery.



Berlin, Ira, and Leslie M. Harris. Slavery in New York. New York: New Press, 2005.


Gellman, David N. “Labor, Law and Resistance in the Eighteenth Century.” In Emancipating New York: The Politics of Slavery and Freedom, 1777-1827. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2008.


Lepore, Jill. “Fire.” In New York Burning: Liberty, Slavery, and Conspiracy in Eighteenth Century Manhattan. New York: Vintage Books, 2006.


Moore, Christopher. “A World of Possibilities : Slavery and Freedom in Dutch New Amsterdam.” In Slavery in New York. New York: New Press, 2005.


Nevius, James. “The Delanceys and New York’s Lost Century.” In Footprints in New York: Tracing the Lives of Four Centuries of New Yorkers, edited by Michelle Nevius. Guilford: Lyons Press, 2014.


Rael, Patrick. “The Long Death of Slavery.” In Slavery in New York. New York: New Press, 2005.


Prominent Dutch Families in Albany Walking Tour

Beginning in 1609, when Dutch explorer, Henry Hudson, came upon the area today known as Albany while sailing his ship, the Halfmoon, on the river that now bears his name, Albany was settled by a number of Dutch families, many of which established prominence in the area. Amongst these families were the Van Rensselaers, the Schuylers, and the Ten Broecks. Throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, these families repeatedly intermarried, growing in both wealth and power. They were responsible for the construction of a handful of now historic homes in Albany, including Schuyler Mansion, Cherry Hill, Ten Broeck Mansion, Fort Crailo, and the Van Rensselaer Manor House. With the exception of the Van Rensselaer Manor House, which was demolished in 1973, all of these homes are still existent and are now open to the public as museums. This tour will bring you to each of these historic sites and provide the necessary background to appreciate their role in Albany’s history.