It has been a while since I have blogged for this site. The spring semester got crazy, and then I spent quite a bit of my summer visiting archives and working on research projects. I spent two weeks at the end of May working in the National Army Museum archive in London and back at the British Library. I wanted to take a quick moment to encourage you all to provide a review for any archives you may have visited recently.
In other news, I am preparing two new classes for the Fall semester, so I will be adding more US focused digital archives over the next couple of months. I hope you have had a productive summer filled with research and writing, or just relaxation. Please contact us for information about contributing to the site!
It's been a while since I have uploaded a new blog entry. To be honest, I got totally swamped by the semester. I had the opportunity to teach a U.S. History survey class this semester that focused on the end of Reconstruction to the present. One of the unifying themes that my students and I have discussed is the use of racial violence to support white supremacy in the United States from the end of Reconstruction to the present. At times, this has been an emotional and fraught experience. I recently came across an article in the Smithsonian Magazine that talked about a new digital history project that maps every incident of racial violence or lynchings from 1877 to the present nationwide. It provides details about every lynching recorded. This is an amazing resource, and I cannot wait to share it with my students soon.
I'm looking forward to hearing your thoughts in the comment below. Please feel free to contribute your own tips, hints, or resources in a blog entry on this site!
I hope everyone has had a great holiday season! I've spent a significant part of the break continuing to look for new digital history projects that we can discuss here at Research Freedom. I am also preparing to teach two new classes this spring, so I have been really interested in new potential teaching tools. This is where Histography comes in. It's a new interactive historical timeline, where every dot represents a significant moment in world history. The great thing about this is that it allows you to access the Wikipedia page for additional information.
I also really like the "Editorial Stories" part of the site. This provides access to videos, the Wikipedia page, and related resources. This is a more in-depth discussion of the topics. I think that this will be a great way for students to visualize history, and I am looking forward to showing my classes this Spring.
Check out Histography for yourself. Let me know what you think below.
The Liberated Africans Project explores what happened to 200,000 emancipated Africans as a part of the international movement to abolish the Transatlantic Slave Trade. The really interesting thing about this project is that it is extremely collaborative. One of the major issues with researching this topic has been that the information is spread in archives across the world and in multiple languages. The key source material for this project are the Vice Admiralty Courts. These courts handled all of the cases where the British Navy seized slave ships off the coast of Africa. This site is currently under development, but it will eventually have thousands of records from Cuba, Brazil, and Sierra Leone. Aside from the Vice Admiralty Courts, the site also contains an image library that is really useful. This is a great teaching resource.
Image Credit: The Liberated Africans Project
See our resource review here.
I came across this really interesting new Digital Humanities project called HistoryQuest DC the other day. It is an interactive GIS map that provides historic data on over 127,000 buildings. I think what I like the most about this project are the multiple layers of data available with the click of a button. It contains information on historic neighborhoods, allows you to trace the development of the city from the 1790s until now, and even lets you look at DC as L'Enfant planned it in the 1790s.
The project has its beginning with the DC Historic Buildings Permit database. According to the creators, this database provided 85% of the data used to create the maps. However, this is chronologically limited. The office issued its first permit in 1877 and ended operations in 1949. This is a project in development, and as such it will continue to become even more impressive over the next few years.
Check out the project here.
There's a really fascinating article in the Washington Post Lifestyle section about the history of the National Mall in Washington, D.C. from its original plan in 1791 to today. While this is not really "research" focused, it does make for an interesting discussion on public engagement and the use of digital sources to tell stories. The use of maps, though modern, shows how the mall transformed over the past 225 years.
The article demonstrates the many ways in which public pressure has resulted in the configuration of the Mall. It is the most sought after space in Washington, D.C. with various interest groups seeking to open their own museums/monuments to key figures. We've seen this over the last couple of decades as women seek to get permission and funds to build the Women's History Museum. There is also a significant move towards opening a Latin American history museum on the Mall. In 2003, Congress essentially called the project of the National Mall complete. Yet, we saw the opening of the African American History and Culture museum this year, and there is a new reception space opening by the Vietnam War memorial this year.
The National Mall represents one of the most important public spaces in the United States. It has been the site of the most important protests and rallies in our recent history from Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have A Dream" speech to the Million-Man March. This space has a fascinating history.
I recently saw an article in the Smithsonian Magazine that is really exciting. In April 2015, Queen Elizabeth II ordered the release of a treasure trove of over 350,000 documents from the reign of King George III including an intimate day by day, almost minute by minute, account of the American War of Independence. This provides an intensely personal account of King George III that challenges the current way we view this war. It challenges the portrayal of him as a solely political figure or as the "mad king." The really exciting news is that these will be available digitally starting in January 2017! This will be a great new resource for scholars focusing on Britain, the United States, and the Atlantic World.
I ran across this really interesting blog entry on The Junto, which is a collaborative Early American history blog. Casey Schmitt discusses the problems associated with determining the veracity of her source base, which in this case is super interesting pirate narratives. However, I think the issue is one that we all face. As we are in the archives, we are constantly faced with potentially unreliable sources. I work with soldiers' diaries, and I constantly face the same questions. Soldiers exhibited a camaraderie with each other, and they frequently took sides in disputes between officers and men. At times, one has to question how accurate the source might be. We all account for biases in our work. So, I am going to put out the same question that Schmitt asked in her blog, how should we handle sources that might not be at all truthful? I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comment section below.
I had the opportunity to hear from the creators of the Legacies of British Slave-owning Practices at an incredibly profound plenary session for the North American Conference of British Studies at the National African-American History and Culture Museum in Washington, D.C. this past weekend. I cannot quite describe the experience of sitting in the Oprah Winfrey Theatre and listening to scholars I have long admired discuss the context, findings, and future of this extremely important digital humanities project. This blog post is going to be a bit longer than most, but I want to share what I learned with everyone so bare with me.
Catherine Hall, a prolific historian primarily of Jamaica and the British Empire, is the lead contributor to this project. At the core of the LBS project is the desire to re-inscribe race at the center of place. Hall argued that race must be center in everything we do as historians, especially those of us who focus on the Early Modern and Modern periods. Indeed, Hall argued that slavery is the cornerstone of modernity. She challenges the position of abolition in our teaching of the British empire. She continued to suggest that the trauma of slavery is not yet over. The key point of the LBS project is undoing the white-washed histories that have so long dominated British history. The LBS project focuses on the silences, and in the process validates the argument that Eric Williams made in Capitalism & Slavery in the 1940s.
Keith McClellan serves as the Digital Humanities specialist for the LBS project. The first phase of the project, now complete, focused on tracing those British slaveowners who sought compensation in 1834. The British Government paid out £20 million (almost £16 billion in todays money) to 46,000 persons. The project documents who they were and what they claimed. The first finding is that 3,500 absentee landowners (people who had plantations in the Caribbean, but lived in England) represented ten percent of the claimants, but they received fifty percent of the compensation. These individuals were members of the Middle and Upper classes and were spread throughout the United Kingdom. Perhaps most surprisingly, almost 40-45% of the people who received compensation were women. This suggests the importance of marriage and family alliances. Phase II is currently underway, and in this part of the project the team is focused on expanding the information available both temporally and geographically. They hope to trace the records, although more incomplete, back to the mid-18th century.
Nicholas Draper sought to explain the impact this had on Britain. The data contributes to an ongoing historiographical debate regarding the importance of slavery to Britain and the British Empire. The answer provided is unequivocally that slavery was absolutely essential to the formation of an industrialized and expanding Britain both domestically and imperially. The team has only released about one-half of what they have so far, and one of the key aspects of Phase II is the move to a more dynamic database. They have been able to use the information accumulated to work with the Oxford Dictionary of National Bibliography to provide more information on individuals who owned slaves, and to ensure that this is an important part of their bibliography. They have also started working with the British National Portrait Gallery to identify works that were obtained or commissioned by British slaveowners.
This project is one of the most important digital humanities projects to come about since the field began. It continues to provide important and necessary insights that should change the way that we research and teach. It is without a doubt the gold-standard for digital humanities, and a model that we should all use as we conceive of our own projects.
Check out our review of the LBS project here.
I came across an article published in the American Historical Association's magazine Perspectives today, and it made me think about why we do digital humanities. The central question posed by Matthew Delmont, professor of history at Arizona State University, is "does it count?" We are all extremely busy, and there is a constant pressure to publish, teach, and perform more service. So the question is, where does digital humanities projects fit into the demands placed on our time? Is it actually worth it? Especially for those of us without a tenure track job?
Delmont answers this question with a resounding yes. Here's the thing, while our field, particularly history, places a huge amount of emphasis on the scholarly monograph. I am currently in the process of trying to get a publishing contract for my book. However, if we are being honest, there are only a very few people who will ever read that research. This is where I think digital humanities becomes so much more important. Our goal as academics should be to disseminate knowledge as widely as possible. Academia is essentially an idealistic exercise. We all think that our research is important and we want to change the world. At least, I do. Digital Humanities allows us to reach a much broader audience, and if done properly it will enhance our teaching.
What do you think? Is it worth it? I'm looking forward to seeing your comments below.