Month: December 2017

Black Politicians in the Post-Civil War Natchez Region

After the Civil War, there was a surge of African-Americans into politics. This lasted until the late 19th century, when racist practices and legislature forced many African-Americans out of the political sphere.

Professor Behrend, a history professor at SUNY Geneseo, focuses his research on black politicians during this time period, specifically in the Natchez region. This region—named for the city of Natchez—comprises six main counties straddling Mississippi and Louisiana. Behrend’s book, Reconstructing Democracy: Grassroots Black Politics in the Deep South After the Civil War, argues that the amount and range of offices held by black politicians during this relatively short period of time (roughly 30 years, from the late 1860s to the 1890s) represents a grassroots democracy movement by black communities in opposition to the white power structures surrounding them.

Data collected by Behrend about the African-American politicians during the post-Civil War Natchez region covers both information about the offices they held as well as personal information such as other occupations, literacy status, county affiliation, and many other categories. Professor Behrend stored this information in a spreadsheet which he published to the web a few years ago. Through this digital humanities project, Professor Behrend and I wanted to create a new and more interactive place to store this data. Based on that goal, I knew I wanted to create a map of the politicians.

My project website, hosted by Omeka, opens with a short “About” page to give any visitors context about the origins and purpose of the project. Visitors can then click on the “map” tab to take them to the map I created using Neatline. Visitors can also click on either the “Browse Items” tab or the “Browse Collections” tab to peruse the data by individual person. I also have a tab labelled “Credits” where I give credit to and thank those who have helped me along the way with this project, namely Professors Behrend and Schacht, Dr. Kirk Anne, and Wayne Graham on GitHub (whose Neatline base map I used as the background for this project).

Homepage for my Omeka website.

I decided to use Omeka and specifically the plugin Neatline to create the map. I decided on this because I knew that Neatline could create a map with multiple elements, including layers for the multiple counties and a pop-up box with information about the person when you click on their point on the map. Using a map to visualize data (especially connecting people and places) is an idea seen very often in traditional humanities. Seeing data, rather than simply reading about it, is a well-known method of increasing one’s understanding of the data and the overall argument. This project in particular uses a map to emphasize Professor Behrend’s argument about black communities creating a grassroots democracy through becoming elected officials in their region. When one first clicks on the map, it is obvious by the amount of points on the map that African-American political activity was significantly high during this relatively short time period. Beyond the traditional humanities, hosting a map on an Omeka site through Neatline—instead of creating a physical map—adds another useful element because you can include significantly more information. A digital map created with these programs allows an interested party to not only visualize the concepts but read more about each individual person represented in the data. A physical map does not have the ability to load up a sidebar of information when one clicks on a data point. The power to do this, particularly in a case like this project where you have many data points (roughly 400), makes the digital map even more useful than a physical one.

Map, created with Neatline, of black politicians in the Natchez region. Each colored shape represents one of the six main counties of the region and each dot represents an individual politician.

Another advantage of using Omeka was how well the archiving portion of the software suited the spreadsheet origins of this project. While archives are created and used all the time by traditional humanities projects, having an online archive run by Omeka offers additional features that a physical archive does not. The first advantage is the enlarged audience a digital archive can reach. Being able to access the archive using the Internet (not having to travel to a physical place) opens the door for more people to find and use the data. A digital map may also attract a larger audience since it is a quicker and easier way of demonstrating a main concept than reading the book. The other significant advantage of a digital archive is the interactive portion that Omeka offers. When I started this project, I did not anticipate that the Omeka archive would be searchable. However, now at the conclusion of this project, I realize that being able to search all items for specific terms is incredibly handy. For instance, if someone is searching the database for a specific person but only knows their occupation (say carpenter) and their birthdate (say 1837) then they could search the database for “carpenter” and cross-reference the results for people born in 1837 to find their person. The searchable aspect of this digital archive is also useful for anyone utilizing the data to find patterns for their own projects.

Example demonstrating what searching for “carpenter” among the Omeka items yields.

While creating this project I encountered a few challenges working with Omeka and particularly Neatline. The first problem I encountered was getting Neatline to work on my computer at all. Professor Schacht helped me solve this problem as he posted on a help forum and figured out that a typo in the Neatline file folder was preventing functional use of the program. A problem I ran into while creating the map was uploading files which had outlines of the county maps. I had found a website which specialized in historic county maps and had them available for download as either ArcGIS or KML files. Originally I thought I would be able to turn the KML files (KML being a type of XML) into SVG files, which are importable to Neatline. However, I could not find a KML to SVG converter that had the ability to convert the files. To overcome this problem I utilized Neatline’s “Draw a Polygon” tool and traced the county borders myself.

Overall, I learned how to work with online exhibits, data collections, and digital maps. At the beginning, while I was figuring out which program to use, I played around with Google MyMaps and TimelineJS so I learned the basics of those programs as well. Learning how to use Omeka is particularly relevant to me since I am currently applying to graduate school for archive management. Omeka is often used by archivists to create online collections so learning how to use the program and gaining hands-on experience with it will most likely be useful for me in the future. Engaging with questions of how to create a digital archive and map—both in the technical sense of how to use the programs and in the more abstract sense of what information to include, how to space the data points, and what each design decision means for the interpretation of the data—has given me a solid introductory grasp on what the digital humanities are and how they can be applied.

While my project did not necessarily reach any new conclusions about this data, I think it did reinforce Professor Behrend’s thesis in a new way. Being able to see how many African American politicians existed in this region (roughly 400) over a fairly short period of 30 years underscores the political and social agency which black communities created for themselves. This period of black political activity is often not covered in American history classes so it is important to acknowledge its existence. Using Omeka and Neatline offered a way to both create an interactive digital archive—an evolution of Behrend’s original spreadsheet—as well as convey this thesis through a visual component.

What Women Wrote

19th century American women writers received plenty of disapproval and even derision for their work during their lifetimes, and their texts were often placed into boxes – domesticity, sentimentality – that may not be fair representations of what they were really interested in writing about. Take Nathaniel Hawthorne’s biting remark about his female contemporaries as an encapsulation of this attitude:

“America is now wholly given over to a damned mob of scribbling women, and I should have no chance of success while the public taste is occupied with their trash-and should be ashamed of myself if I did succeed.”

With this in mind, I aimed to perform a textual analysis in two parts: on an individual author basis, with five selected writers I have studied in the past year, and on a macro level, with a larger sample of women’s writing from this period being gathered together for a much more distant read. My intention was to identify patterns throughout these texts that, for the individual authors, indicate the weighty social issues being address (slavery, education, law, and economic empowerment are big ones), and for the macro-level analysis, show us how sentimental their writing may be.

Analyzing the language of texts is a very traditional humanities aim; essentially, I’m performing the age-old task of drawing connections between a piece of literature and its historical and social contexts, as well as challenging preconceptions about who we read and why. Where this project really differs from traditional scholarly efforts to read and understand texts is in the way it analyzes literature. Instead of performing a close reading, I’m using digital tools to “distantly” read literature – pulling out patterns and data that may suggest what writers are focused on without necessarily having a strong, intimate understanding of the individual text. This reading also allows humanists to evaluate an entire subset of writing – the nineteenth century, women, etc. – and find intriguing results to further evaluate, rather than build an understanding from the ground up by developing an expertise in specific works of literature.

This work was all compiled on a WordPress site, which went through a few different themes before I settled on one that would provide the easiest navigation for visitors – a side menu bar with the various options listed in full as readers are scrolling down each page, paired with a top menu that also shows where these pages can be found at a glimpse. I was also aware that I didn’t have too many eye-grabbing images to include, so I needed a more text-centric theme that was still appealing to visitors.

The first page users will come across is the welcome page, which introduces the project, addresses its impact, and briefly points to some of the conclusions that can be found in the analysis pages of the site. I’ve also incorporated an overview of the texts being individually analyzed in a Timeline JS timeline, which can be seen below:

My intention is that users will first, if interested, look through the author analysis pages in order to learn more about each of the women’s writings I selected. On each page, I include a brief introduction of the writer, and then the text analysis put in context with my own close reading of the novels or other pieces being examined. For the analysis, I used Voyant Tools, a free online resource that allows users to upload text files and analyze them in a variety of ways – for my purposes, I mainly used Word Cloud, which is a visual representation of word frequencies, and Trends, which creates a graph tracking the relative frequency of specified words across one or multiple texts.

The introductory text for E.D.E.N. Southworth.

The best way I found to represent these results was to embed them directly from Voyant Tools, which allows users to interact with the graphs rather than just view them as an image. This has the potential to create issues with my project – it’s unclear how permanent these embeds are, since they’re hosted by Voyant Tools itself. So far, it’s been a couple of months and there have been no complications from this, but I did save the graphs as PNG images just in case I need to insert those instead. The benefits of the embedding can best be seen in the Word Tree chart I used for E.D.E.N. Southworth’s The Hidden Hand – with this tool, users can click on selected words to see their linkages and contexts. Try it for yourself below, and explore Southworth’s usages of the terms girl and work.

As a whole, I found some really interesting patterns using Voyant Tools on the smaller-scale level. Although I cannot include all the author analysis pages on this post, Hannah Webster Foster’s Trends chart is another example of the conclusions that may be drawn using digital tools.

Here, I’ve embedded the Trends chart from this page. Although readers can see what they find on their own by clicking through it, I’ve also included my own analysis:

The visualization of the pattern discussed above offers readers the chance to notice what may not be apparent in a close reading, or understand how Foster might be pushing against social norms even if they haven’t had the opportunity to read her novel The Coquette for themselves.

The second part of my project is the macro analysis, and the best description of how this was developed can be found right in its page on the WordPress site:

Sentiment analysis became a major focus for this part of the project – using digital tools to evaluate the emotions, positivity, subjectivity, and other non-quantitative aspects of a piece of writing. Polarity is one of the key aspects of sentiment analysis, and what I’ll be using here to demonstrate some of the difficulty I’ve had in drawing conclusions from such a tricky tool. For a description of sentiment analysis and some of its issues, read another excerpt from the project:

Here, I’ve embedded the line chart that has been produced from Kirk’s data on the polarity of these nineteenth-century American women writers, and also shared my interpretation of it below. As noted, a higher positive value indicates a more positive use of language (closer to +!), while -1 represents max negativity.

Text analysis was a much more conceptually simple tool when I was using it to evaluate individual texts that I was already quite familiar with, and I think the context I lend the graphs in my individual author pages help readers draw significant conclusions – yes, women writers in this time were interested in some pretty major and controversial national debates. Harriet Beecher Stowe, for example, wrote one of the most influential abolitionist works in our nation’s history, but my site also lets these results be read alongside the less well-known Harriet E. Wilson’s examination of the same issue in a much different context:

The macro analysis is inherently more problematic, but I end my project with the conclusion that sentiment analysis can offer humanists potential directions to take future work. I can’t make decisive conclusions just from the polarity and subjectivity results in the scope of my project, but they would have much more meaning if compared with the same values from a sample of men’s writing, or even from a sample of twentieth-century women writers. There are so many directions to take this kind of work, and I think my project succeeds in at least addressing this possibility. This has been a conceptually challenging undertaking, but over the course of the semester, I’ve been able to not only increase my technical skills (building a WordPress, performing some basic text analysis, doing plenty of embedding) but also my theoretical understanding of how humanists can use digital tools and technical, quantitative analysis to draw conclusions about literature.

The end of my welcome page, addressing these same issues.

James Bond Films in Response to Growing Tensions During the Cold War

Finally, my pièce de résistance for Digital Humanities is complete. This project’s main goal is to show the connections between the precedents set in Cold War influenced reality and how they compare to the fictional life of James Bond – Britain’s most powerful propaganda film series amidst rising tensions during the Cold War. By doing so, I establish the connections that show the way in which the U.S. and Britain had each other’s backs during one of the most anxiety-inducing times in global history.

My project sets out to accomplish traditional humanities work by explaining the allied relationships between the U.S. and Britain during the height of the Cold War. It’s important to show this relationship because of the severity of crisis at the time. The James Bond films, while brilliant popcorn movies, served a large role in defining British and American nationalism during a period where morale was down and peoples’ level of fear was up.The idea of nuclear annihilation, as well as devastation resulting from the Soviet Union’s nuclear stockade, was present in the minds of the British and Americans alike. With the help of these movies, people took solace in knowing that James Bond, who is a representation of British nationalism as well as American hardheadedness, would ultimately end up taking out the enemy – Britain always wins in the end, he has never failed to complete his mission.

By using the arcGIS Map Journal platform, my project goes above and beyond the ways traditional humanities work could have portrayed these connections. The interface of the online program makes it easy to navigate the five sections that I have created.

http://https://imgur.com/a/mXtPf

Above is the homepage that the viewer first sees when they click on the project. On the left is an introduction of the project, as well as what its main goal is. On the right is the map section of the website. Here you can see several locations on the map, all of which are color-coded and correspond to their respective movies.

As you scroll down through the webpage, information about the movies appears on the left. For all of my sections, the first paragraph explains, briefly, the plot of the movie in order to help the viewer understand the relationships better. Following the summary of the film is where the meat of the project is – the information that draws parallels between the films and reality. Also as the viewer scrolls down, the map limits its focus on the points where the the setting is explained. Every point on the map is specific to each movie, but they all serve the same purpose of explaining why the setting of the film is important. This serves the purpose to help solidify the ‘bonds’ between reality and fiction in each film.

As well as key metadata and textual information on the left-hand side, I also decided to implement video clips from each movie. Luckily, all of my arguments were supported by the clips previously uploaded to YouTube, meaning I didn’t have to purchase all five movies and rip clips from the original film. This not only saved me time (and money), but it also puts the reader in the movie. By adding clips, the viewer can see, first-hand, the dynamics between the Bond and/or the villains in each section of the respective films.

I did not have many problems with my project, for it was all pretty straight-forward; however, there were a few tool errors that impeded on how quickly I was able to compile my data. For example, the image below shows the administration screen that allows me to edit the data placed in the pointed spots on the map. Whenever I tried to save the the data, it would, however it would not update on the original screen. The solution to this, while easy enough, proved to be quite time consuming. Every time I was to save my data, I had to refresh the admin page, save the data on the main screen, and only then could I actually save the textual information on the administration page.

This project taught me a large amount of information about the importance of using digital tools to expand on social problems. Earlier in the semester, I looked at a site called, “The Story of the Stuff,” which is a website dedicated to promoting the importance of human kindness by providing information on the amount of hand-written cards and other sentiments that were sent to Sandy Hook Elementary. At the time, I didn’t understand why the use of a digital platform served such a large purpose, but in my own project, I now understand that by digitalizing the humanities, the level of understanding through the viewer becomes more thorough wile remaining easy to understand. I enjoyed my time in class this semester, and I will be sure to use the digital tools I learned in the class in the future.

Mapping the Legacy of Cornelia Adair

My project aims to create a digital biography/storymap of Cornelia Wadsworth Ritchie Adair (1837-1921), a pioneer originally from Geneseo, New York who played a substantial role in land development in Donegal, Ireland, and Southwest Texas. After her marriage to notorious Irish landowner John George Adair, Cornelia managed their estate at Glenveagh and was the primary manager of the JA Ranch in Texas, which at its height consisted of 500,000 acres primarily used for cattle grazing. Following the 1916 Easter Rising, Cornelia fled Glenveagh and devoted her time to land expansion in Texas.

Eduardo Tofano Portrait of Cornelia Adair (Source: T.D. Hobart Papers, Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum)

Considerable primary and secondary source material exists on Cornelia Adair because her life intersected with many developing narratives of the late 19th century–including Irish land wars, the Easter Rising, Native American land relations, early environmentalist practices and Republican philanthropy. However, I wanted to organize and compile these sources into one website that focuses a narrative on Cornelia Adair, with a particular focus on the way Adair transformed spaces with an eye towards community development. As such, I decided to organize available primary documents and existing research on the Adairs into a biographical story map, which provides a spatial lens for assessing Cornelia Adair’s extensive travels and proto-environmentalist land practices.

                                                                                         the homepage of my website

Before beginning the digital map, though, I had to develop a homepage and subsequent pages that would contextualize Adair and provide users with a fuller description of her biographical legacy. I used Omeka, an open-source digital archivist platform, to create “items” related to Adair, most of which contained a picture,  source/publishing rights information, and several sentences of description to explain how that particular item connects to Adair’s larger narrative story. I also added three simple pages to the navigator of my site:  a biography page, in which I provided a short (~750 word) biography of Adair; a bibliography to aggregate my sources and provide users with further reading material; and an “about the project page.” In this last page, I state the goals of my website, its origins in my research grant from the Geneseo Foundation, the digital platforms I used to make the site, and an acknowledgement to the folks who helped me in my research (including Dr. Schacht, Dr. Anne, Warren Stricker, and Sean O’Gaoithin). I also organized my items into collections, so users can quickly browse collections such as “pictures of Cornelia Adair” or “letters from Cornelia Adair” without combing through the map.

                   the navigation bar of my website

Finally, after adding the appropriate biographical and contextual information onto the site, I began developing my original aim for the project: a digital storymap. I used the Omeka plugin Geolocation to locate each of my items to a specific point on a map. From there, I was able to create a more holistic, spatial representation of the scope of Cornelia Adair’s travel and activities. Users can browse the map to find items, or zoom in to read about the legacy of Cornelia Adair at a particular place.

                                                                Map of Cornelia Adair’s Legacy

This is just one example of many forms of storymaps (I wrote about an earlier one that examines Yeats’s legacy created by the National Library of Ireland), but in general, I feel that my project helps build onto Cornelia Adair’s biography by showing how her activity connects to particular spaces. For visual and spatial learners, maps are often a critical way to transmit stories, which is what I sought out to accomplish in this project. However, the “about” section and “browse items/collections” feature of my website allows users who learn textually to explore the same content outside the confines of a map.

There are still many directions for me to expand upon my website on Cornelia Adair. For one thing, I’d like to incorporate photographs I’ve seen of Ireland’s land surveys of Glenveagh castle from before and after Cornelia’s time there, because these maps illuminate how Cornelia built and transformed a physical place, one that now operates as a national park in Donegal. I also want to add an audio recording of an interview I conducted with Sean O’Gaoithin, the head gardener of Glenveagh National Park (Sean has researched Cornelia’s influence extensively). For now, though, I’m happy with the outcome of my project, and satisfied with the ways Omeka and Geolocation enabled me to visually tell a story that compiles a wide range of resources from various locations. The tool (or really, set of tools) is an excellent platform to expand upon the traditional practice of archiving and categorizing historical information to convey broader narratives.

 

 

 

 

Evolution of Fairport Central School District

With this project, I sought to compare the spread of district schools in Perinton to that of the centralized schools in Fairport, New York. Construction of the Erie Canal was completed in 1825 in New York state. The man made waterway runs through Perinton. The completion of this canal led to surging population increases in Perinton and the need to develop a school system.

I utilized the digital program Google MyMaps to expand my project. Google MyMaps is an expansion of Google Maps which allows users to expand on face value information provided in the maps, and implement their own metadata. Users can select an established point or location, or add a new point to the map. After adding a point, it is possible to add pictures and descriptions. Symbols are important to maps, and they can represent what stands at a location. MyMaps provides dozens of icons with hundreds of color combinations to clarify what different types of structures and land are present at different locations.

 

 

I plotted locations of the eleven Perinton district schools used in the 19th and 20th centuries, and added metadata to these points. Pictures of some of these buildings were available to me so I implemented these visuals. Additionally, I wrote brief captions and explanations of these schools. This layer is entitled “Old Schools”. The separate layer of the map I filled is the “Current Schools” layer. Users can select and deselect the layers to view and compare locations of the school buildings that have been utilized within the town over the years.

 

 

I hosted my project through a WordPress installation I worked on in English 388. Using the “Hotel” theme, I wanted to make my website accessible and easy to navigate. The “Interactive School Map” post on my WordPress contains the MyMap project as well as a detailed explanation of the information contained. I wanted to make sure my website is accessible to anybody, and user friendly.

 

I think it is important to preserve history digitally. Where traditional humanities practices in history may fail to protect documents and ensure that they are accessible, a digital host for information is within reach for a much larger audience. Additionally, the ability for an audience to interact with a project and draw their own conclusions objectively is quite important in its own right.

 

I enjoyed my time and work invested into this project and my overall studies in “Digital Methods for Humanists” with Dr. Schacht. Though I am a novice when it comes to technology, this course has broadened my skill set and showed me ways that digital tools can support studies and work in the Humanities field.

 

A Tour of the Historic Wadsworth Homestead

Historical Homestead is an examination of the Wadsworth Homestead and its connection to larger historical contexts through the use of virtual reality technology.

Homepage:

The Samsung 360 camera is use at the Wadsworth Homestead’s Library

The opening page of the site presents a clear, organized format of pictures and text. The first thing one notices when visiting the site is the large circular pictures at the top. This was the original format the virtual reality “photos” came in, direct from the 360° camera’s two curved lenses. I thought this was both a beautiful picture of the inside of the Homestead, as well as a subtle introduction into the virtual reality (VR) process.

In the middle of the page, there is a block of text to provide context about the house and the Wadsworths to the viewer. This was taken from my essay on the house for my Museum Studies class. It introduces briefly the contents of the Homestead and why it is  significant. The ending paragraph is the thesis of the entire site, written below:

 

Through virtual representations of the objects and rooms of the Wadsworth 
Homestead, Historical Homestead aims to illustrate a larger connection between 
the Wadsworth family and Geneseo, American, and global history.

The navigation bar at the top of the homepage was customized for this site. I felt the Omeka terms “collection” and “item” were confusing to use for this project. The items I cataloged for this project were in two groups, “Rooms” (such as the library and the dining room) and “Object” (such as a portrait on the wall of the dining room or a book on the shelf in the library). However, objects and rooms were both technically classified as “items” in Omeka. I thought this would create confusion, since the objects were stored physically in rooms and “item” seems like an odd term for a room. To avoid this issue, I redirected the “Browse Items” and “Browse Objects” tabs towards a “Rooms” page and an “Objects” page, and renamed them accordingly, as you can see below.

The navigation bar for Historical Homestead, located at the top of each page.

This reclassification on the homepage I feel solves the confusion of labeling and provides easier navigation throughout the site.

 

Virtual Tour:

The Piano Room section of the Virtual Tour.

The second link on the navigation bar, “Virtual Tour,” is the heart and soul of the entire project. This is where the aim of the project, illustrating a connection between the Homestead and larger historical events, is presented. As a visitor scrolls down the page, they are taken through a virtual tour of a selection of rooms from the Homestead. The rooms were specifically chosen for their ability to illustrate larger contexts of history.The layout of each section consists of an introduction to the specific room, the VR video-frame, followed by a list of the objects cataloged from that room. Each object is accompanied by a brief description of their significance.

 

The VR video-frames are the most interesting part of the page. Hosted on YouTube, viewers can interact with the video and move the camera up, down, left, and right, as if they were looking around the actual room. Since they are hosted on YouTube, the video time will eventually run out. This is why I made them each one hour long, giving viewers plenty of time to explore without having to restart the video multiple times. The Piano Room’s VR is presented below as an example:

The blue shapes placed around the room are to highlight specific objects. I originally wanted clickable links embedded on the objects, instead of the shapes. Given the time frame of the project and our overall technological understanding, such a feature was out of the realm of possibility. Placing the shapes near the object instead, and using them to reference information below was the solution I felt was best. Each object’s description is accompanied with the link to its unique catalog page, where viewers can read more information about the piece. The brief description given on the Virtual Reality page is to illustrate the larger context in history between this object and the Wadsworths.

Overall, the Virtual Reality page came out wonderfully. There is an easy flow for users, as they scroll down through the rooms, or click to exterior links for more information. By the end of the tour, the reader will understand the larger connections between the Wadsworths and history.

 

Rooms and Objects:

Rooms section, listing the individual room pages.
Objects section, listing the individual object pages.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The final sections of the website present a grouping of all the rooms and a separate grouping of all the objects. These pages serve as catalogs for the items, where viewers can click and read more information about a specific room or object on their specific page. Each room or object page is linked to in the Virtual Tour, but these separate pages listing the items allow for quicker access to more information about the specific item, without the hassle of searching through the Virtual Tour.

Overall:

Historical Homestead, through its simple VR program and site layout, conveys to readers my thesis in an easy to navigate digital world. This is how the project captures elements from both traditional humanities work and digital humanities. Presenting a thesis and supporting that claim through evidence is what traditional historians do. My presentation of the rooms and objects in a virtual environment, while utilizing exterior source links, is the newer digital aspect of humanities work. I think we reached the goal of presenting the Homestead in a thorough manner and illustrating the family’s connection to larger historical events from the foundation of the Genesee Valley Hunt to imperial Japan. This is a much better result than the initial project of simply a VR tour of the Homestead. Using the VR to illustrate the deeper history of the Wadsworth Homestead produced a much better and more engaging project.

What Made the Dead so Grate?

My digital project serves two purposes surrounding the Grateful Dead. My first purpose is to illustrate where each Grateful Dead member got their influences. I also looked at the polarity of their songs. Since I am a long time Dead fan I had a lot of knowledge about them already, but I did not know very much about who or what drove them to create psychedelic rock. My research consisted of documentaries, interviews, the book “Deal” by Bill Kreutzmann, and online research to solidify the facts I already knew about each member. This project was completely different to what I was used to doing. When Professor Schacht introduced the idea, I was very scared up until the middle of October because I knew very well that I am not good with technology and understanding the use of computers. Throughout the course I learned a lot, we learned some coding, how to make a website, how to use Timeline JS (which I used in my project), how to embed youtube clips, pictures, or anything really. For my project I choose to use WordPress, the reason was because it looked like it would be easy to master and I did do a good job learning the ins and outs of the site. For my timeline I inserted every song that I selected to look into for the polarity of them. The first ten songs listed on my site are the songs that I believed were either happy or dark. Then the last six songs listed on my site are the songs that the software thought were the darkest or happiest. For the polarity section of my project Kirk Anne helped me a lot. He used a software called “Textblob”, the software computes all the words in each song to determine whether or not the song is dark or happy, Textblob and I had a couple of agreements and some disagreements.

Spreadsheet of song polarity: Made by Kirk Anne

 

The first challenge I faced was creating a website. I didn’t even start a website until the end of October because I didn’t know how to use it too well and I thought I would ruin the site altogether if I tried to get started. While I was still trying to get over my fear of technology, I did the research and wrote down all the content for my site using google docs. I overcame my fear by going to office hours with Kirk and Professor Schacht so they could help me better understand how to work WordPress and to do better in the course. I still have a one challenge left in my project; I wanted to cut out scenes from the Grateful Dead documentary on Amazon, but due to copyright issues I was never able to get this on my site. How did I overcome this obstacle? I noted down where I wanted to cut the scenes while watching the documentary so I could remember where I should go. Thankfully I did this because I decided to quote the scenes that I wanted to cut out. Although, it is not the way I wanted it to turn out because quotes are not nearly as good as someone from the band speaking about their experiences, I was still able to make it work.   

Screenshot from my site, the top bar is embedded from Archive.org and the bottom from YouTube.

 

My website is easy to navigate because I wanted to keep as simple as possible, but at the same time make fun and exciting for anyone who visits the site, not just Deadheads or people who enjoy reading about music.

Screenshot of the sidebar on my site

This is the only sidebar I have on my site, I choose to only do one because again, it kept the project simple and concrete. When you click on the arrow next to “influences” all the names of the band members get hidden. I like this aspect because it makes my site look clean and organized.

Throughout the semester I learned a lot and I am extremely happy that I took this course. All the digital tools that I have learned how to use this semester will be very useful in the future, whether it is for a school project or for a future job. Thank you Professor Schacht and Kirk for a wonderful semester!  

The Ecological Benefits of Good Advertising

This project is live at https://jacksnyderdh.wordpress.com/

The purpose of this project is to show how the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) builds a community between a company and its consumers through carefully crafted advertisements in a way that benefits both the MTA and the riders. I analyze details ranging from the implications of personal pronouns to feelings brought about by background art, all of which work together to make riders feel like part of a community and more environmentally aware of their actions; this in turn promotes riders’ continued use of the subways and reduction of their ecological footprints at the same time. This analysis is worthwhile to both consumers and companies alike, as consumers can become more consciously aware of the impacts felt from different styles of advertisements, and companies can be prompted to change their style of advertising from a toxic consumeristic cash-grab to a more positive and mutually beneficial model.

This is essentially the traditional humanities aspect of my project. Examining how a corporation can use advertisements to influence its customers is useful to corporations and consumers alike, and shows how interactions between different groups of people can be mutually beneficial. My project reinforces the importance of community in maintaining healthy and ecologically efficient lives, which benefits everyone involved if practiced truthfully. As a traditional humanities project would, I break down and compare elements from various works in order to convey a pattern in messaging that the MTA uses to the mutual benefit of the company and its riders.

However, there are many elements of my project that distinguish it from a traditional humanities project. Along with a photo of each advertisement, I made smaller edited versions of their elements that I discuss, and integrated them in the text. This allows users to directly compare my analysis to the related elements without having to move back and forth around the page and search for each specific element in the photo, all while potentially forgetting what the analysis was or losing their place in the text.

For example, the photo to the left is from the Operation Track Sweep poster. I color coordinated words in the photo with their reference in the text to make the context less confusing (e.g. when discussing us or us) and to make it easier for users to identify which elements of the advertisement are being discussed.

Each advertisement being in its own blog post allows for a certain level of interactivity between the users and the content, where users can comment on each advertisement’s blog post or share the posts to social media.

I have embedded YouTube videos within a couple of my posts and analyze the contents of the videos as they relate to the advertisements. For example, I have the Operation Track Sweep poster and its analysis, as well as a YouTube video that is by the MTA and about the Operation Track Sweep initiative. I draw parallels between personal pronoun use in the poster and in the video, which establish a community between the MTA and its riders and promotes keeping the subways clean. Having a video able to be played within the blog post allows users to easily compare the advertisement to the video while taking the provided analysis into account. A traditional humanities project would not have access to such a dynamic interface for analyzing video content and comparing videos to text and other photos.

Other distinguishing elements of my project are discussed later with my choice in WordPress theme.

My project’s homepage prominently displays the title and subtitle of my project (shown at the top of this post). Underneath are snippets of each blog post with the analyzed advertisement in the background. The title of the piece, the beginning of the text analysis, and a portion of the image gives users a taste of the advertisements that they will read about in each blog post, which makes the posts seem more enticing. The background scaling also changes dynamically depending upon window size and browsing device, which keeps it well formatted across multiple platforms.

Each blog post can be clicked on from the homepage. Some of the blog posts include interactive features, such as embedded YouTube videos or slideshows paired with analysis. At the bottom of each blog post there are options to move to the next or previous blog post. From anywhere on the website, a menu on the top right can be used to jump to any page on the website, including the home page, about page, references page, contact form, and any of the blog posts. I depict and discuss more about the menu button later in this post.

I had initially wanted my project to be a single-page experience, where a user would scroll through the project from top to bottom, as I believed this would be a very intuitive and simplistic user interface. I found difficulties with this format as I worked, such as the advertisements being so distinct from each other that making a single-page experience feel cohesive was nearly impossible, especially so after adding multiple smaller images of elements from each advertisement. After a discussion with Dr. Schacht, I realized that such a format is not very different from a traditional humanities project – the information was presented in a very simplistic way that could have just as easily been printed out as an essay.

I decided to move away from the single-page experience in order to take advantage of WordPress. Dr. Schacht had noted several ways that I could more meaningfully present my information with different WordPress themes, so I changed my theme to make the project more visually engaging and lend itself better to the visual analysis that I conduct. I settled on the theme “Intergalactic 2” for a number of reasons:

Something Dr. Schacht mentioned, which the theme Intergalactic 2 does well, is the ability to have a featured image behind posts on the homepage. On my project you can see a portion of the discussed advertisement in the background of each of the posts’ panels. The title of the piece, the beginning of the text analysis, and a portion of the image gives users a taste of the advertisements that they will read about in each blog post, making the posts seem more enticing. The background also changes dynamically depending upon window size and browsing device, which keeps it well formatted across multiple platforms.

An aspect of this theme that I feel conflicted on is the navigation menu. It slides out from the right side of the screen in an elegant way, and the menu itself is aesthetic and functions well with the short list of posts I have in my project. The only issue is that users can easily miss the small “MENU” button on the top right corner of the page. The menu button does not scroll with the page, so a user would have to scroll to the top to find the subtle menu button, which is not intuitive. There is no way to change the design of this menu button, so it is a flaw of the theme that I must deal with for now, and will account for in future projects.

Over the course of working on this project I learned a lot about web-design, digital tools, and overall about the humanities as an enterprise. Switching my website’s theme halfway through my project was not an easy decision, but it allowed me to realize the difference between what I had imagined in my head and what was viable for implementation. Over the course of this project I had tried out other online tools, such as HTML map tags to make sections of photos interactive, and StoryMapJS to try a timeline sequence approach to photo analysis, and despite not using them in my final product, I learned about the capabilities and limitations of each of these methods: HTML map tags are ancient and clunky, while StoryMapJS does not have the ability to do photo analysis that I had wanted.

I have learned that humanities is an ever-evolving field as it moves into the digital realm, with more tools available now than traditional humanities projects could have ever had access to. Digitization allows for deeper analysis with online tools, makes it easier than ever to share projects with others who may be interested, and propels the humanities into the 21st century.

Fall 2017 Final Presentations Live Stream

Final presentations in ENGL/INTD 388 Digital Methods for Humanists will be streamed live via Google Hangouts on Air from approximately 3:30 pm till approximately 6:40 pm on Thursday, December 14.

Update: The live stream is no longer available, but you can watch a recording of the presentations right here or on YouTube. See below for a breakdown of start times by presenter.

  • Holly Gilbert (0:04)
  • Zack Veith (10:19)
  • Tyler Waldriff (18:39)
  • Michael Griffin (27:17)
  • Veronica Taglia (34:19)
  • Aaliyah Taylor (44:05)
  • Allison Maier (50:58)
  • Justin Anderson (59:22)
  • Isaac Sanabria (1:07:20)
  • Jack Snyder (1:17:38)
  • Phoebe Siegel (1:22:05)

Blog Post on the History of the Peloponnesian War

For my project I looked closely at the works of Thucydides and his historical depiction of the Peloponnesian War. I decided to use multiple different tools to create a more in depth analysis of the work and also to provide the reader with a better historical context of when each of the events described by Thucydides in the work happened in the timeline of the war. At first I was planning to just use Timeline JS on my project and provide a few different timelines that present the differences between the timeline of Thucydides’ work and the timeline of the actual war.

This proved to be insufficient in getting across all of the analyses I wanted to present in my project. Instead of doing this I met with Kirk and talked to him about organizing the mentions of people and locations in the book into pivot tables that showed the number of times each of these items were mentioned.With Kirk’s help we used GoogleMaps to create two different maps showing the locations that were mentioned.

The darker dots show that that item was mentioned more in the works of Thucydides than the lighter dots are. Along with these maps I provided an analysis of the pivot tables, explaining possible explanations for why some items were mentioned more than other such as a possible bias that Thucydides may have had on the side of the Athenians. To bring all of these different elements together I decided to create a wordpress site. This site has a different page for each map and timeline and comes with an analysis of each one.

This project is different from a traditional humanities because it is interactive. The viewer of the site is able to interact with the timeline by clicking on the different events which will then give a detailed background on the event.

They are also able to click on a spot on the map and learn the number of times that the word is mentioned and where the most mentions were located geographically.

I learned a lot about numerous different tools used by digital humanists. I am glad I had the opportunity to use multiple tools instead of just one and I had a fun time trying to set up the website so that it would present all of the information in a comprehensive way.