Archive | January, 2017

Pinning Your History: The Year of the Bay Collection

25 Jan
Screen Shot 2017-01-24 at 9.30.28 PM.png
The Year of the Bay Project Pinned Map

New digital platforms have enabled public historians and museum professionals to create “dialogic opportunities by balancing both traditional curatorial content and visitor-contributed content.”[1]. Digital projects, like the Year of the Bay Project, invite public historians and non-professional historians to navigate new technologies and to engage and interpret the past in the present. The Year of the Bay Project, a collection in the larger digital project Historypin, serves as a spatial pinning platform that shares archival photographs of the San Francisco Bay and invites users to not only interpret their collections, but contribute their own SF Bay memories and content as well [2].

Beginning as a British community engagement project in 2010, Historypin partnered with Google to build collective memories of neighborhoods in the United Kingdom [3]. As Historypin grew in popularity, other local projects, like Year of the Bay and LGBT America,are using Historypin’s platform to publish their collections in the digital world. These local projects can upload and link their digitized photographs to Google Maps and they are layered onto modern street views.

screen-shot-2017-01-24-at-9-40-01-pmSnow on Potrero Avenue, 1932, Contributed by Potrero Hill Archives Project, The Year of the Bay Project

Over 6,331 materials, memories, or contributions are currently uploaded on the Year of the Bay Project [4]. The photographs and other content are geolocated and pinned to their original locations, and some images layered over a modern Google Map Street view. By allowing users to view historic images within their modern context, this then and now feature is great visual tool for measuring changing in the built environment over time. Users can virtually walk down memory lane and experience their community both in both the past and present [5]. The project’s simple interface enables users to move throughout San Francisco Bay easily, with pins denoting photo, audio, or other content connected to different locations.

In addition to showcasing local archival materials, Year of the Bay Project encourages users to upload and “pin” personal photographs, audio, video, and other content to their maps. This crowdsourcing tool allows users to answer questions posed by the mysteries section, add to the ever growing digital image collection, and write history. Whether you are a scholar, student, or local history enthusiast, users can share their memories in photographs in order to build a collaborative, unrestrictive archive of local images and memories within interactive arena.

While other crowdsourcing digital projects require users to meet minimum qualifications as an amateur historian to contribute to a project, like the Dictionary of Sydney, the Year of the Bay Project allows anyone with a Twitter, Facebook, or Google account to add content. Community members can contribute any form of content they desire, without consulting a historian or meeting professional standards. The democratic nature of this project allows a free flow of information and the expansion of the digital archive daily, however, this invites further questions of credibility and quality control of the content. In order to curb “bad history,” the project’s partnering institutions like the San Francisco Public Library and Stanford University Library Special Collections actively tract changes and answer questions posed in by public users. As with other Historypin projects, public historians are taking an active role in The Year of the Bay Project by contributing their own posts that providing public users with example content to model [6].

The Year of the Bay Project is a great collaborative image and memories collection for the city of San Francisco and it continues to grow daily. This digital platform serves a tool for the Center for Spatial and Textual Analysis The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency Photo ArchiveCalifornia State Library, and San Francisco Public Library to share their archives and work with the public to create a shared local history. The Year of the Bay Project is not only a expansive digital archive; it fosters community ties and encourages an inviting collaborative environment for creating digital history.


  1. Matthew Fisher and Bill Adair, “Online Dialogue and Cultural Practice : A Conversation,” Letting Go: Sharing Historical Authority in a User-Generated World (Philadelphia: Pew Center for the Arts & Heritage, 2011), 44.
  2. “Year Of the Bay Project” accessed January 24, 2017.
  3. “Historypin,” accessed January 24, 2017. 
  4. Ibid.
  5. Crow, Charlotte. “Historypin: Patchwork History,” History Today. June 7, 2010. accessed  January 24,  2017.
  6. Foster, Meg, “Online and Pugged In?: Public History and Historians in the Digital Age,” Public History Review, Vol 21. (2014). Accessed January 24, 2017,

Take Me to Church: The Virtual St. Paul’s Cathedral Project

24 Jan


How would we have heard sermons in Early Modern England? North Carolina State University Professors John Wall and David Hill aim to answer this question in their Virtual St. Paul’s Cathedral Project.[1] Unsurprisingly, Wall and Hill discovered that the way Londoners interacted with sermons in the 17th century is very different to the ways in which scholars of the period interact with them today. While scholars and students of the Early Modern period read these sermons in the privacy and relative quiet of an office, library, or bedroom, the pious 17th century Londoner listened to them at a cathedral (often outdoors) where whispering crowds, chirping birds, barking dogs, and tolling bells all battled for attention. In order to replicate this experience, Wall and Hill, with funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities, staged a digital reproduction of John Donne’s Gunpowder Day sermon at St. Paul’s Cathedral on November 5, 1622 through a combination of 3D modeling and auditory simulation technologies.

British historians and Early Modern scholars will know that the digital recreation of St. Paul’s Cathedral in 1622 must not have been an easy feat. Forty-four years after Donne’s Gunpowder Day sermon, a fire ignited in a bakery on Pudding Lane. In early September 1666, thousands of wooden buildings were destroyed in what would later be known as the Great Fire of London. By the time the fire was contained, an estimated 100,000 people lost their homes and several important structures, including St. Paul’s Cathedral, burned to the ground.[2] The St. Paul’s Cathedral that stands in London today was constructed between 1675 and 1710.[3]

While the original building does not survive, Wall, Hill, and their production team used historical research to produce an accurate representation of St. Paul’s Cathedral in 1622. There is a great deal of information that we may never know about November 5, 1622—the number of people in the congregation and where they stood, the morning’s temperature, and all the possible ambient sounds. However, Wall and Hill found that there was also a number of facts that they did know. For instance, to determine the appropriate scale, they drew on recent archeological research from John Schofield who measured the dimensions of the original cathedral’s foundations. The appearance of Paul’s Cross and the churchyard were gleaned from several paintings and drawings from the 16th and 17th centuries. A manuscript of the Gunpowder sermon provided the words that the congregation heard and a knowledge of the Early Modern London accent, thanks to linguist David Crystal and his son, actor Ben Crystal, helped Wall and Hill imagine the voice of Donne.[4]

Virtual St. Paul’s Cathedral Project’s website hosts a wealth of information. The site features sections on the project’s historical research and background information on John Donne as well as information about the sermon, the physical space of the churchyard, and the makeup and attitude of the congregation. At the heart of the website are the sections that discuss the digital construction of St. Paul’s churchyard and the simulation of the space’s auditory landscape. The 3D model of the cathedral and its churchyard were created by Joshua Stevens, a graduate student in Architecture at North Carolina State University, in Google SketchUp. Further dimension and shading was added in Photoshop by Jordan Gray, a fellow graduate student in Architecture at NC State University. The team at Virtual St. Paul’s Cathedral Project are currently in the process of reformatting their digital model for use in 3D virtual reality gaming headsets.

Although the entire project is a result of collaborative partnerships, this is most apparent in the discussion of the auditory simulation. The project’s audio was produced by Ben Markham and Matt Azevedo, acoustic engineers at Acentech Incorporated. Markham and Azevedo used the auralization program from CATT to create the model for St. Paul’s churchyard. Auralization reproduces digital sounds in such a way as to give listeners an “impression of how the music or the speech would sound if replayed in [a] modeled hall.”[5] Lastly, the voice for the sermon was provided by actor Ben Crystal; Crystal used a traditional 17th century London accent and spoke clearly and slowly so that the reverberations that would have been caused by the surrounding buildings did not muddle his speech.[6] Visitors to the site can not only listen to Donne’s sermon in its entirety from two different vantage points, they may also explore how sounds changed throughout the churchyard by selecting the size of the congregation (500, 1200, 2500, or 5000 attendees) and listening to a snippet of the sermon from eight distinct locations.[7]

Taken all together, the site is extremely user-friendly; there is no complicated software to use or technical knowledge necessary to benefit from the information the project provides. Visitors to the website need only click on a YouTube video to listen to the reproduced sermon or toggle between options as they explore the acoustics of the cathedral’s churchyard. The complexity of the project is in the behind-the-scenes research which is detailed on the site in several different sections. While some of the information is rather technically advanced, particularly the section on the auditory model, it is useful for those interested in creating acoustic simulations and not necessary for others to appreciate the project’s product.

The Virtual St. Paul’s Cathedral Project is a boon to those interested in Early Modern England or those who want to experience history in an innovative way. The 3D modeling and digital simulations demonstrated by Wall, Hill, and their production team offer scholars and history buffs alike a new window into the past and the chance to listen in to a world that has long since been relegated to the pages of history.

[1]“Virtual St. Paul’s Cathedral Project,” North Carolina State University, accessed January 24, 2017,

[2] “The Great Fire of London,” Museum of London, accessed January 24, 2017,

[3] “History,” The Chapter of St. Paul’s Cathedral, accessed January 24, 2017,

[4] “Framework,”

[5] “Room Acoustics: Auralization,” CATT-Acoustic, accessed January 24, 2017,

[6] See, Josh Jones, “Hear What Shakespeare Sounded Like in the Original Pronunciation,” OpenCulture, for a discussion and demonstration of the Early Modern English accent.

[7] “Explore Audibility,”

The Citizen Archivist Dashboard: Crowdsourcing Digitization and Creating a Volunteer Community

24 Jan


The National Archives’ Citizen Archivist Dashboard seeks to not only provide a means of interacting with historical documents an engaging way for site visitors but also to crowdsource some of the great deal of the work required to make the documents of the National Archives more accessible and available online.  The National Archives seeks eventually to have all of its records available online and in order to do that, seek the help of “Citizen Archivists” to help make that happen.

The Dashboard provides a variety of ways for these citizen archivists to interact with these documents and provide much needed help in making these records accessible.  One of these is the tagging of documents, images, and articles with appropriate topics and terms that will allow them to be more easily searched and found by possible researchers online. Using both their website and their page on the website Flickr, they provide a number of suggestions for potential tags and encourage all interested in performing such a small task that will have such a big impact on improving accessibility.[1]

The Archives is also seeking to make digitally scanned images and documents more accessible utilizing the photo and video sharing site Flickr.   Using this site, they are requesting that visitors upload and share photos of documents from the National Archives along with any information that the user can provide.  This includes the title, as well as the file and box number, and any other information the uploader is able to provide about the image.  By requesting photos scanned by patrons, the Archives seeks to not do work that has already been done.  This allows them to focus the time and resources available to them scanning documents that have not already been scanned, without the need for the unnecessary labor of scanning documents that have already been scanned by patrons.[2]

By utilizing sites such as Flickr, the Archives is helping to make uploading these images a less complicated task for those who which to share them.  However, Flickr is becoming decreasingly relevant as time goes on, losing out to more affordable and easily accessible photo sharing mediums such as Dropbox, Google Photos, One Drive, or even Facebook.[3]  In using primarily Flickr, the National Archives is utilizing technology that is, at best, on par with other far more popular photo sharing sites and programs.  The National Archives could reach far more people and thus access a far deeper pool of volunteers if it included these alternatives alongside, if not in place of, Flickr.

Another way one can get involved is through transcribing scanned archive documents.  The National Archives has actively been scanning millions of pages of historical records and many of those records are not text searchable as no transcription, as of yet, exists.  This feature allows patrons to determine and record the document’s text as to make it more easily searchable by researchers and visitors.  This time-consuming task can take up much of the time or archival workers but for Citizen Archivists it is a fun and interactive way to engage with historical documents.[4]

While the dashboard’s purpose is clear, the means by which it is seeking to gain volunteers is subtler. Utilizing such tools as their “History Hub”, the National Archives not only seeks to provide the tools necessary for becoming a citizen archivist, but to foster a sense of community for these volunteers that encourages and validates their contributions as part of a larger project involving archivists and researchers both citizen and professional.  History Hub provides a means for these volunteers and professional to engage in discussion regarding their work and to offer experience and advice to one another.[5]  In addition, the Archives has hosted fun competitions, such as “History Happens Here!” which had the public submit historical photographs with the site of the photo in its present state.[6]  Such competitions and resources help to create a community of volunteers that feels invested in a project larger than themselves.

[1] “Tag It.” accessed January 23, 2017.

[2] “Upload and Share It.” accessed January 23, 2017.

[3] Pierce, David.  “Time to Give up on Flickr, Everybody.”  Wired.  Wired, March 09, 2016.

[4] “Transcribe Records.” accessed January 23, 2017.

[5] “History Hub.” accessed January 23, 2017.

[6] “Enter a Contest.” accessed January 23, 2017.




Mapping Metaphor: Visualizing the History of Modern English

24 Jan

I love words, as anyone who meets me tends to figure out pretty quickly.  So the University of Glasgow’s visualization of the semantic connections between different meaning categories in the English language, “Mapping Metaphor”, was definitely interesting to explore.

The home page greets you with a large, memorizing ball of string.

Mapping Metaphor Home

The first thing you see when you visit the “Mapping Metaphor” site.

Thankfully, near the top of the page is a line of links, one of which is “How to use”.  A user very quickly learns to rely on the little green box that lives on the left side of every page in the site, which in the case of this page, lets you select between a text explanation or a video walk-through, in addition to links to the FAQ and various other helpful pages.  The text walk-through is thorough, if a bit cumbersome to read.  The video walk-throughs, however, have a distinct shortcoming: they are video only.  They lack any audio to accompany the highlighted cursor floating around the screen.  Without either reading or watching, though, the green ball of grey string is just something that lights up when you click it, and brings up boxes with information that is little better than literal code to the casual observer.

That being said, after a little reading and some trial and error, the visualization engine appears to be a fairly robust machine.  The primary data set from which it draws its information is the Historical Thesaurus of English [1], which in turn draws the majority of its data from the Oxford English Dictionary and A Thesaurus of Old English [2].  The Historical Thesaurus, and the visualization in turn, rely on the division of all words in English into semantic categories.  “Mapping Metaphor” uses both color and alphanumerical designations: color indicates the three umbrella categories—The External World, The Mental World, and The Social World—and then a number-letter-number code indicates all subcategories, with color used to further differentiate between selected categories.  All categories are based on the Historical Thesaurus [3].

Drawing and demonstrating the connections between words in these categories, though, is the point of “Mapping Metaphor”.  And that, according the the creators, was entirely a manual process.  With the Historical Thesaurus as a starting point, all the contents of each category were cross-referenced against the contents of all the other categories; and wherever a word match was found, that word was marked for analysis [4].  All the word matches were compared with lexical data about the historical use of the word, and any changes therein.  Words with purely metaphorical connections, rather than homonymy or other semantic links, were then separated out [5].  It is those particular words—over ten thousand of them, in the end—that were then mapped in the visualization.  The map differentiates between “strong” and “weak” connections, or categories with many metaphorical connections versus those with only a few [6].  According to the creators, all decisions about how words were classified and whether connections could be verified were reviewed multiple times, and reviewers constantly referred back to the original sources.

The data is maintained in an SQL database and visualized using a JavaScript library called D3 [7] [8].  Because D3 focuses exclusively on web languages like HTML for its coding, the visualizations of “Mapping Metaphor” will work on almost every modern computer.  The trick with understanding the visualizations is that they require a decent functional knowledge of the vocabulary of language analysis and some idea of how the English language developed.  Without that background, the visualization is just a ball covered in grey lines surrounded by words.  Very little of the information would make sense to a casual user, even after reading the directions.  However, to someone with a bit of experience, “Mapping Metaphor” contains a host of information.


Completed metaphor card

What the creators are still working on, however, is one of the more practical uses of the visualization: every acknowledged connection has a “metaphor card” listing the number of words in common between the categories, but lacks examples or a time period in which the connection was first made.


Blank metaphor card





According to the FAQ, the process of linking the “metaphor cards” with its source information in the Historical Thesaurus and the Oxford English Dictionary was not originally conceived as part of the project and, although efforts are ongoing, that aspect of the site has not yet been completed [9].

As a whole, the software underlying “Mapping Metaphor” is robust, open source, and designed for web-based viewing, which makes the visualizations easy to play around with.  However, as with many such scholarly projects, a viewer with no frame of reference for the data they are looking at would be easily frustrated.  Unlike “Six Degrees of Francis Bacon”, which immediately greets users with a how-to video, “Mapping Metaphor” relies on a committed, knowledgeable user in order to function as intended: as a visualization of the connections between words in the English language, and a demonstration of the constant evolution of meaning.


  1. “About the Project.” Accessed January 23, 2017.
  2. “About the Thesaurus.” The Historical Thesaurus of English. Accessed January 24, 2017.
  3. “About the Project: Method.”  Accessed January 23, 2017.
  4. Ibid.
  5. Ibid.
  6. Ibid.  The example provided was that between the category Weather and the category Anger, which had a very strong connection.
  7. “How to use: FAQs.” Accessed January 23, 2017.
  8. D3 is an open-source JavaScript library based on web standards:
  9. “How to use: FAQs.” Accessed January 24, 2017.  However, the Historical Thesaurus is available to the public, and most universities (including IUPUI) have access to the Oxford English Dictionary via online subscription.

Google Arts and Culture and the Siren’s Call of Commercial Interest.

24 Jan


The Google Arts and Culture¹ (GAC) application is the public face of the Google Cultural Institute, a not-for-profit initiative of the Alphabet corporation. While the Institute was born from the Google Art Project, which focused on the high-quality digitization of works of art, its real focus is on how Google’s technological resources can enhance production in the arts and humanities and use those products to enhance Google’s own online offerings. Although the vast majority of materials on the site are scans of paintings and photographs, the Institute has innovated with new technologies such as the ultra-low-budget VR headset, Google Cardboard. While it is heartening to see such a large corporation take an active interest in the digital humanities, there is some question of what exactly GAC adds to the field and whether its duplication of effort with organizations such as The Internet Archive will be good for the field moving forward.

Google Cardboard is a cardboard structure that turns many mobile devices into a rudimentary VR headset. 

A result of the “20% time” that Google allows its employees to experiment with new technology and applications, The Google Art Project began in 2011 as an effort to create very high quality digital scans of famous works of art. While it launched with just 42 exhibits in 2012, by June 2013 it included 6 million items from dozens of global partners, including art, history and natural history museums. While the Institute itself has digitized hundreds of paintings, even creating the new gigapixel Art Camera specifically for the purpose that has increased the efficiency of the process by an order of magnitude², it is the contributions of these partners that makes up the bulk of the GAC collection³.


GAC’s primary contribution to this collection of is its organization and accessibility. Both the desktop site and the mobile app are clearly laid out and visually pleasing, if a bit cold. A set of self-explanatory filters fills the sidebar, while a search field is available in the menu bar. These tools serve to locate specific works or narrow browsing by artist, medium, movement, event, historical figure or location. All of the pictures are presented in stunningly high resolution and faithful color, a welcome change from the less rigorous standards of Google Books. Objects are also presented with a complete and useful set of metadata, provided by partners, but cataloged and contextualized by GACs algorithms. However, after creating the vital infrastructure, GAC leaves the job of real content creation in the form of projects and exhibits to the partnering museums. While these exhibits provide necessary context for the included works, the “exhibit” title masks the fact that there is little difference between these works and any other well-executed multi-media presentation. Although there is certainly value in making these works broadly accessible, the real scholarly value of the GAC project comes from the Institute’s experiments.


The massive wall at The Lab, in conjunction with the Art Camera, allows a new look at old works of art. 

The Institute’s experiments have already produced some tangible products: Google Cardboard facilitates VR experience of galleries captured by the Google Maps team’s 360 camera, the aforementioned  Art Camera is a revolution in digital imaging and The Wall, a massive screen installation at the Institute that allows viewing the Art Project’s scans at an unprecedented level of magnification and resolution. It is reassuring that the Institute has already been able to turn some of its high concepts into reality. The current experiments listed on the site are exploring the potential of machine learning applied to art identification, mapping networks of objects, and stretching the limits of data visualization and represent a real commitment to pushing the capabilities of technology to add real value to the field of digital humanities. The focus on artificial intelligence and big data mapping indicates that the Institute does have a clear idea of next steps for the field.


For all of GAC’s promise and potential, it does raise some concerns. First, it does not and does not seem to be intended to reach the broadest audience. While the site is accessible, it is not well advertised and requires the user to drive their own exploration, expecting a certain amount of familiarity with Western art culture and education in order to take advantage of its features. Also, like many massive digital collections, its content is heavily skewed towards western, and particularly English-speaking culture. While access is limited by available technology, GAC’s commitment to working smoothly on mobile technology represents an acknowledgement that digital access is an issue they are aware of and are seeking to improve. In practice, the customers that the Institute are designing the site and their technology for is not the end user, but the partnering cultural institutions and academics, which in turn are primarily responsible for the end user experience. Viewed in this context, as opposed to being seen as something primarily created to give access to remote works of art. the structure of GAC makes more sense.

The second concern with GAC should worry these institutions, however. While the Institute is a non-profit endeavor, its parent company, Alphabet, is not. While Alphabet has, up to this point, made a sincere effort to “Be Good,” there is nothing that promises it will continue to do so in the future, especially as it founders reach retirement. This leaves one wondering if the plug could be completely and suddenly pulled on the entire institution, leaving the work completed up to this point inaccessible. Considering how much of the GAC project overlaps with the efforts of The Internet Archive (IA), an institution devoted exclusively to digital preservation and open access, the high quality of the digital infrastructure in GAC is frankly troubling. Beyond its reassuring ideological commitments, the IA simply does not and likely will never have the resources to create the kind of infrastructure and assistance that GAC is able to offer partner institutions. It seems very likely that this will result in an increasing number of institutions throwing their lot in with GAC ass opposed to the IA, leaving access to these works in the hands of an institution whose character could be unpredictable in the future.


  2. Kastrenakes, Jacob. “Google Made an Insanely High-Res Camera to Preserve Great Works of Art.” The Verge. The Verge, May 17, 2016.
  3. W.B. Seales, S. Crossan, M. Yoshitake and S. Girgin, “From assets to stories via the Google Cultural Institute Platform,” 2013 IEEE International Conference on Big Data, Silicon Valley, CA, 2013, pp. 71-76. Gaining the participation of the public

24 Jan
screen-shot-2017-01-22-at-10-06-52-am logo

The tag line of colorfully shouts “It’s About Time!” Pointing out the relative newness of studying and preserving LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) history. The website contains an extensive amount of information and resources on LGBT history which is the first of its kind that is free and open with an element of public collaboration. [1] Through encouraged site participation and collaboration, it archives, displays and blogs on selected historical events. They also reach out to historians and those interested in historical research to submit their work on LGBT topics that meet the site’s guidelines. also encourages members of the LGBT community to contribute. Yet, that public participation has not materialized. was created by Jonathan Ned Katz who published Gay American History in 1976. Katz was an activist and presents the activism of preserving and telling LGBT history. This site is for the elders and teenagers who feel that they are alone. This site is also for educators interested in teaching LGBT history in the classrooms and lecture halls. The site was originally launched in 2008 with the help of grants utilizing MediaWiki software which allows for contributions from users much like Wikipedia. The ability for users to contribute content gives them authority and ownership of their own past.[2] However, this feature of MediaWiki has been disabled and replaced with a submission form. is housed and maintained at The Digital Humanities Initiative at The New School.

from Making Gay History the Podcast

The blog is quite active. The main contributors are historians of LGBT history. One recent blog post explores the Making Gay History podcast that includes voice recorded interviews of prominent figures in LGBT history or everyday members of the LGBT community. This is a great example of digital history in practice as it presents history through the popular platform of the podcast. Another recent blog post has historians reflect on the Trump presidency which is a great way to use history to view how it relates to the present political climate. There were many mentions of the progress narrative that is an engrained notion of our society forever progressing throughout history. This is a main concern of the site moderators that untrained contributors would post Whig history.[3] LGBT historian Susan Ferentinos states our present is just as complicated and complex as our past with each generation having its advances and its setbacks.[4]

For all the website does do, there is a sense that it is a work in progress and that the community collaboration element is still missing from the website. This is due to early decisions that ranked certain works as more authoritative than others. Investors into the site were worried that LGBT history would be skewed, slanted or false if they fully trusted site contributors on the internet.[5] Currently there is a form where visitors can contribute materials and stories to be added to the website by moderators. For example the Native American Timeline leads to a page asking users to contribute stories, pictures and other materials via the online form.  However, doing public history is a young field which shifts users from mere consumers to participant in the telling of history.[6] The links to outside resources needs to be expanded to include more places like Indianapolis-based, Chris Gonzalez GLBT Archives which is hosted through IUPUI. features great resources and can be a great starting point to those interested in LGBT history. It is an example of the intersection where digital and public history meet. The collaboration will come from the public with trust. It is a starting point to delve into academic research or as an interest. provides open access to LGBT history unlike the extensive LGBT Thought and Culture database hosted by Alexander Street which can be accessed through an institution or paid account. is a site that boasts public collaboration yet without the public. With proper help tools, a clear understanding of how the site works and moderated contributions from online users, “it’s about time” that historians assist the public  in learning how to become active participants in the telling of our history.

Update: In a previous version of this post, I stated that is not for academic research. Yet, there are many primary source documents that researchers could use as well as other research that can be utilized as a starting point in LGBT historical research.

I also stated that was hosted at CUNY. The site is now housed at the New School.

LGBT activism from


1.Greenblatt, E. (Ed.). (2010). Serving LGBTIQ library and archives users: Essays on outreach, service, collections and access. McFarland.

2.Frisch, M. (1990). A shared authority : essays on the craft and meaning of oral and public history. Albany: State University of New York Press.

3. Gutterman, L. (2010). “ An Experiment in LGBTQ Community History-Making”. The Public Historian. Vol. 32, No. 4, pp. 96–109

4. Ferentinos, S. (2014). Interpreting LGBT history at museums and historic sites. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield.

5. Gutterman, L. (2010). Ibid.

6. Ibid.

LGBT History in the Digital Age

24 Jan


LGBT history is fairly new as a subfield of history, and is continuously growing as historians uncover more and more information about this complex past. Out History has formed a comprehensive look at all facets of LGBT history and has gathered not only primary documents over hundreds of years, but also has oral histories of many LGBT people. While this site provides an amazing resource to historians, there is so much more that can be learned about LGBT history, and the site provides a way to participate by either adding research or a personal story. Out History is a hub of digital information on a group of people who have often been marginalized or forgotten by other histories in the past, and the information keeps expanding every day.

Founded by Johnathan Ned Katz who developed the website in 2005 and then later redesigned the site to what it is today in 2011.[1] Katz, who is the author of Gay American History, which is a documentary history of the LGBT community. Katz’s book was revolutionary for historians as it had such an extensive collection of primary sources all in one spot. Published in 1976, right in the middle of the gay liberation movement, Katz spoke up for a history that was relatively untold saying, “Our existence as a long-oppressed, long-resistant social group was not explored.”[2] Katz’s name is one of the largest in LGBT history as he wanted to share the information that he had gathered for his book with the world over the internet. He not only wanted to create a space for LGBT history, but also a place for people to participate in the history by adding their own research or their own stories. [3]

The site itself is very simple and easy to use, especially with all of the features that it has. The homepage has a list of birthdays, “this day in history”, and other history highlights, many of which not only include site information about the topic, but also some other form of media to help illustrate what is going on. Out History has a fairly large collection of primary documents that have been digitally scanned for viewers, on topics going as far back as to Colonial America. [4] The scanned documents are easy to read and access, and some of them feature additional background information on the topic. In addition to the primary documents, Out History has information that is searchable by time period, location, and subject, making finding information very easy. The timeline feature is another great quality about the site with interactive timelines for viewers to go through on a variety of different subjects. [5]

The blog on Out History is another great resource on the future of LGBT history as a whole. Featured on the January 11, 2017 post, is another digital archive of LGBT history, the podcast, Making Gay History. Much like Out History, Making Gay History comes from primary documents in order to tell the story of the LGBT community. The founder of Making Gay History, Eric Marcus has collected a variety of oral histories of those who participated in the Gay Rights movement, and has produced them into a weekly podcast in order to tell their stories. [6] Out History also features an extensive book list of some of the best literature in the LGBT history field, many of which have descriptions and reviews that go along with them.

Out History is an amazing digital collection of all sorts of LGBT information, and it only keeps growing. While Out History founder Katz was severely marginalized by those in the field for writing LGBT history, as well as many other scholars, today the field is blossoming into a growing subfield with much more information, and much more of a voice. What Our History is doing is not only running a gigantic digital archive of information, but they are giving a voice to millions of others in the LGBT community.

[1] “About OutHistory · Outhistory.Org,” accessed January 24, 2017,


[2] Chrislove. “LGBT Literature: Gay American History: Lesbians and Gay Men in the U.S.A.” November 11, 2015. Accessed January 24, 2017.

[3] “About OutHistory · Outhistory.Org,” accessed January 24, 2017,


[4] Katz, Jonathan Ned. “Colonial America: The Age of Sodomitical Sin · Outhistory.Org.” Accessed January 24, 2017.

[5] “Browse Items · Outhistory.Org.” Accessed January 24, 2017.

[6] Marcus, Eric. “Listen to the Voices.” January 11, 2017. Accessed January 24, 2017.



Social Networking the Past with Six Degrees of Francis Bacon

24 Jan

Social media networks are undoubtedly at the forefront of many lives. These tools help us to establish relationships, draw commonalities among users, and expand our professional and social circles. As easy and convenient as this is, we may almost take for granted our ability to draw connections between individuals of the present and recent past. Why limit using technology to draw associations only among the living? What about social circles of early modern Britain? In the fall of last year, collaborators at Carnegie Mellon University and Georgetown University made this feasible. Inspired by the popular game connecting celebrities to actor Kevin Bacon, “Six Degrees of Francis Bacon” is a humanities project that establishes over 200,000 relationships among over 13,000 individuals between the 16th and 18th centuries.1

While it was initially difficult to draw possible relations with individuals of the past, and even more tasking to keep track of these findings, “Six Degrees” allows all interested a far more convenient and accessible way of conducting and saving this research. It appears to take the general idea of a bubble map, what some historians might use otherwise, but with an innumerable increase in potential. Whether a scholar, student, or history inquisitor, users can navigate the site to learn about potential relationships and influence among prominent figures of the time, from Queen Elizabeth I to Julius Caesar.

Two main options to navigate include below, what looks like an extensive web, or less visually interactive lists. The mapping centers around, of course, Francis Bacon, Former Lord chancellor, politician, and philosopher of the 16th and 17th century. Bacon serves as an optimal basis due not only to his convenient name, but his prominence of the time. The mapping consists of nodes (signifying individuals) and edges (connections between individuals). Nodes of darker colors indicate people with more prominent names and/or more connections to others. The thicker the “edge” or line between people, the stronger the connection. When clicking on a node or line, users are immediately given additional information in a box on the page about the person or connection, such as a more specific time frame, or even the nature of the relationship.

Francis Bacon

Two of the creators, Daniel Shore of Georgetown and Jessica Otis of CMU developed this expansive, innovative resource by mining 62 million words in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Utilizing CMUs department of Statistics and data mining experts, they were able to come up with a visually elaborate and interactive tool.2 The site also employs other resources such as JSTOR, offering links on individuals for additional research.

Though the rough concept of data mining has been around for hundreds of years, it wasn’t until the late 80s and early 90s that “data mining” became a known and useful tool. Data mining has proven to be a helpful on many fronts, initially serving businesses better analysis of trends and predictions.3 Within the last decade, we have seen an increase in the use of this technology in the field of history.4 Currently, many digital history projects that include mapping and other visualizations are confidently using data and text mining.

The project’s value stands on multiple levels. It was even awarded the National Endowment for the Humanities grant in the summer of 2016.5 Using modern technology, “Six Degrees” allows researchers to answer questions that at one point were unknown or overlooked. Historians are no stranger to the importance of social influence to better understand individuals and groups. One glance at a literary, political, or philosophy figure on any internet site will often show others who influenced or were influenced by the individual. Some influences go unseen, and this site does well to uncover information that can break down preconceived notions about people of the past. Shore was able to demonstrate to a class how John Milton’s social circle was linked to many different people other than poets.6

This project works as a platform to explore areas of the humanities in ways once unheard of. By synthesizing research scattered among thousands of works of literature, historians and others of the like can more easily study how early modern people may have interacted and socialized. Researchers can peruse social groups and members throughout the time and possibly, with further research, come to original conclusions of their own. Perhaps one day, some will manage to unearth profound ideas about prominent figures based upon previously unexplored social interactions with others. It tackles many branches of history, exploring social, cultural, and intellectual history through a public history oriented dynamic.

This project also continues to be highly collaborative. It acts similar to a site like Wikipedia, and once creating an account on the site, members can not only explore these early social networks, they may contribute research and recommendations. The site also offers a section for users to contribute feedback about the site, as well as a blog for users and collaborators to discuss findings and topics in digital history. This does bring about concern regarding credibility of information. Any changes are monitored by other members who have proven themselves to be consistently credible and helpful to the site, but what their accreditation is remains unseen.7 However, team members do seem aware of the potentiality of error in even their own work. In a blog post, Chris Warren discusses how some of these relationships may only be possible relationships. With older and limited resources in some cases, this will stay an issue, as “likelihood” is the only conclusion one can make. Researchers must always proceed with caution under these circumstances.8

For someone who may not be as adept at technology, navigating the site may be quite difficult for the first time. It may deter those who are not as comfortable with the technology, possibly confining the demographic to younger, more scholarly users. While informative, listing a legend for understanding node color and its meaning, or how to scroll in and out to view people and connections at varying degrees, it is not user friendly for beginners such as myself. I would recommend watching their introductory video which can either be found here or on YouTube . This video gives a more in depth overview of the variety of tools on the site, such as altering “confidence” settings, which will limit searches to stronger relationships. The site also contains a section of tutorials on the content. While it initially comes off as intimidating and complex, maybe interactive projects like this will help to further integrate computers and technology into history, making them more approachable. Data and text mining serve an ever expanding purpose that has only recently infiltrated the humanities. It will certainly be interesting to see what future projects may bring.

  1. Reisz, Matthew. “Six Degrees of Francis Bacon: A Social Network for Early Modern Britain.” Times Higher Education (THE), October 23, 2015.
  2. Rea, Shilo. “Six Degrees of Francis Bacon Launches.” Accessed January 24, 2017.
  3. “History of Data Mining |” Accessed January 24, 2017.
  4. Cohen, Dan. “Enhancing Historical Research With Text-Mining and Analysis Tools.” Dan Cohen, February 4, 2008.
  5. Rea, Shilo.“Six Degrees of Francis Bacon Awarded Coveted NEH Grant.” Accessed January 24, 2017.
  6. Ouellette, Jennifer. “Mapping 16th Century Social Networks with Six Degrees of Francis Bacon.” Gizmodo. Accessed January 24, 2017.
  7. Green, Anna.“Six Degrees of Francis Bacon Shows Links Between Your Favorite Historical Figures.” Mental Floss. Accessed January 24, 2017.
  8. Warren, Chris. “Toward a Pragmatics of Error in the Digital Humanities.”“Six Degrees of Francis Bacon.” Accessed January 24, 2017.

Memories and Simulations: The Battle of Mount Street Bridge

24 Jan

As we become more technologically advanced it is only logical that the next step historians take is to manipulate these tools for our advantage to better understand how events may have occurred spatially. Contested Memories: The Battle of Mount Street Bridge does just that. It works with gaming platform Unity to enable users to navigate the recreated city of Dublin freely, as it would have appeared in 1916. This is reminiscent of games like Second Life, only without character development or the opportunity to move from world to world.

The Battle of Mount Street Bridge examines the 1916 fight between the Irish and British known as Easter Rising. 17 Irish volunteer fighters were astonishingly able to keep roughly 1,700 British soldiers from advancing into the town center for over 6 hours before losing the battle. Despite the loss, the men who bravely fought encouraged others to continue the fight for Irish independence elsewhere. The Irish state even traces its origins to the Easter Rising.[1]

Contested Memories relied on professionals that specialized in weapons, architecture, history, ballistics, and virtual reality specialists to create a realistic portrayal of the April 16, 1916 event. These specialists were used to determine pertinent information like the types of weapons used, the paths of the bullets, and how the buildings would have looked and been located to understand how the fight would have occurred.[2]

There are current debates among historians and ballistic experts that question the true number of British soldiers listed as wounded or dead. [3] Inconsistent information was reported by witnesses on both sides of the conflict. This simulation could be especially useful in determining the truth, or as close to it as possible, in other disputed wartime scenarios. The ability to view an event spatially and temporally gives historians the ability to play out multiple scenarios to determine how an event occurred in real time.

This site used two main sources throughout the simulation, the Bureau of Military History and the Military Archives, which has digitized searchable documents, news clippings, witness statements, and pension records.[4] These sources included contradictory and fragmentary evidence, from census records, military documents, letters, and pensions records, which allows historians to conduct their own research via digitized sources. Contested Memories enables testing of different hypotheses, such as calculating how accurate shots would have been for volunteers with no prior gun experience and how quickly they would be able to reload a gun, to determine as closely as possible, how key events truly played out on that fateful day.[5]

Although the website does not allow individuals to input new leads or conclusions directly into site, they are able to mark ‘placards’ once they have entered the virtual recreation.[6] These placards enable users to note the coordinates of specific areas that may hold evidence of how/if the Irish were able to wound and kill as many British as claimed. This also permits users to test conflicting theories, as recorded in witness statements.

The inclusion of conflicting sources opens a plethora of possibilities to recreate for the 1916 events. Similar programs would do much to enhance and advance historian’s knowledge of conflicts that might have differing reports or sources available. As there is no way to completely prove or disprove witness testimony, this simulation offers some possible conclusions, but not a definite answer. This type of technology would be useful play out different scenarios of inconsistent and flawed memories.

The website allows users to choose between two distinct virtual realities. The first gives the user access to freely wander the area of the conflict, to gauge the distance and get the overall lay of the land before the battle began. It also allows users to read biographical information of the volunteers, officers, weapons, and buildings involved in the conflict. The second virtual reality simulation is more complex, permitting users to place themselves in the midst of the 1916 events using first or third person point of view.[7] This virtual reality offers additional options, including the ability to chat with others in the simulation and mark placards.

As I am not too familiar with computer programs I will keep my criticisms short. From a quick internet search I found that Unity offers a higher visual quality when compared to competing brands and is faster and runs more smoothly in complex and detailed games.[8] However, to enter the virtual worlds I first had to download Unity Web player. Once downloaded, the web player was slow to load and often froze my computer. I would suggest only stepping into the virtual world once you have closed all other open programs to reduce the chance of freezing. Even once ‘joined’ in the virtual world the screen would often go blank or not load correctly. Due to this, I would suggest relocating to a platform that does not create issues with loading when people are trying to manipulate the system with new data. I believe it would be beneficial to include a space for open dialogue, outside of the simulation, to allow users to discuss different scenarios before attempting their recreation and risking a computer freeze. This could also potentially lead to more collaboration between conclusions and theories tested.

[1] “Easter 1916,” accessed 23 January 2017

[2] Ibid.,

[3] Ibid.,

[4] “Contested Memories: The Battle of Mount Street Bridge- Methodology,” accessed 23 January 2017

[5] Ibid.,

[6] “Contested Memory: The Battle of Mount Street Bridge- 3D World,” accessed 23 January 2017

[7] “Contested Memories: The Battle of Mount Street Bridge”, accessed 23 January 2017

[8] “Why build a web game using Unity, rather than Flash, Shockwave, or some other web player plug-in?” accessed 23 January 2017


Facilitating History: The Bracero History Archive

23 Jan

Museum and public history professionals are increasingly grappling with a new trend that shifts their role as “a provider of content and designer of experiences to the more complex role of facilitator of experiences around content.”[1] In a digital world where Internet users relish generating their own content in the form of tweets, blog posts, Wikipedia entries, Instagram photos, YouTube videos and more, this philosophy comes as no surprise. The Bracero History Archive, part of the larger Bracero History Project initiated by the National Museum of American History, adapts this role as a facilitator of history to provide a space for users to easily generate, contribute, and interpret primary sources that illustrate the history of the Bracero program, the largest guest worker program in the United States.[2]

The Mexican and United States governments developed the Bracero program in 1942 as a way to provide much needed laborers during World War II. Male Mexican workers came to the United States to fill short-term employment contracts in primarily the agriculture from 1942-1964. Through this program, nearly 4.5 million braceros worked on American farms, often under poor conditions and for low wages. Few Americans were aware of this program’s legacy that deeply affected their country’s agricultural, labor, and immigration history and policies until the National Museum of American History stepped in. The museum developed the Bracero History Project in 2005 to enlarge their primary sources and public interpretation related to the Bracero Program. The creation of the online Bracero History Archive became an integral part of this program.[3]


Braceros pile wooden boxes full of strawberries on the edge of a field in Salinas Valley, California. Leonard Nadel, Bracero History Archive, Item #2868.

The Archive uses Omeka, a “free, flexible and open source web-publishing platform for the display of library, museum, archives and scholarly collections and exhibitions,” developed at the Roy Rozenzweig Center for History and New Media to provide access to materials collected.[4] Omeka’s crowdsourcing abilities also enables individual web users to add their own content to the Bracero History Archive.[5] Visitors can add their own (or a family member’s) experiences and memories with the Bracero program in a post, 0r upload relevant documents, photographs, videos, and audio recordings. Users can also create their own posters using content on the archive and can tag and add metadata to the archive’s contents that are, unfortunately only visible to the user themselves. To date, the Bracero History Archive contains over 3,000 open access items that visitors can easily locate through a simple search bar or advanced search feature, as well as resources for teachers, a lengthy bibliography, and link to the corresponding online exhibit developed by the National Museum of American History called Bittersweet Harvest.

Oral histories, especially user created ones, clearly take center stage. The archive provides several guides, in a variety of mediums, to help individuals conduct their own oral histories. Videos educate users on best practices, detail a step-by-step process to conducting an oral history, and teach visitors how to add their collected oral histories and relevant metadata to the archive. Question guides curated specifically for former braceros, farmers, or border patrolmen are available to download to use during the interview. The project’s oral historians hoped that empowering the public with the tools to collect these histories would help ensure the preservation of the bracero identity and their contributions to the history of agriculture, labor, and migration for the historical record, before many former braceros passed away.[6]

The Bracero History Archive clearly facilitates users’ abilities to contribute digitized primary sources and exemplifies the open, accessible, and collaborative nature digital humanists uphold. However, the question remains how the site can use crowdsourding to provide better tools to help users contribute metadata, transcription, and translation, and interpretation of the materials presented in the site? For example, many of the oral histories on the archive lack basic metadata, requiring users to listen to each oral history fully to discover topics covered. Since most of the interviews are (obviously and understandably) in Spanish, the lack of metadata and translations into English, prevent the vast numbers of Americans who are not fluent in a language other than English, to access these rich sources.[7] While more attention to second-language education in the United States needs to be given, how can we grant access to these sources to English speakers now?

Increasing the site’s crowdsourcing abilities has interesting potential to improve their role as a facilitator. Could users include tags and metadata for all to see, not just themselves? Could the site create training videos, as it has already done, coupled with a Spanish fluency test, to teach users how to transcribe and translate oral histories? Could users curate collections of related oral histories that revolve around themes and locales, that all users can see and explore, to help them flex their own interpretive powers? Growing and nurturing existing partnerships with history, Spanish language, and TESOL educational programs, organizations, and community groups might provide the “crowd” necessary to complete these objectives well.

True, crowdsourcing invites further questions regarding credibility, quality, and authority over contributed sources, as Mark Tebeau has observed in his own insightful blog post on the Bracero History Archive. However, we can only develop ways to tackle these issues in the digital humanities if we continue to employ, play with, and evaluate Omeka and crowdsourcing as tools public historians can use to better facilitate historical interpretation.

[1] Tom Satwicz and Kris Morrissey, “Public Curation: From Trend to Research-Based Practice,” Letting Go: Sharing Historical Authority in a User-Generated World (Philadelphia: Pew Center for the Arts & Heritage, 2011), 196.

[2] Mireya Loza, “From Ephemeral to Enduring: The Politics of Recording and Exhibiting Bracero Memory,” The Public Historian Vol. 38 No. 2 (May 2016): 24.

[3] Ibid, 24-25.

[4] “Omeka: Serious Web Publishing,” accessed 23 January 2017

[5] Mark Tebeau, “Omeka, Collecting & Crowdsourcing,” Cleaveland State University Center for Public History and Digital Humanities, accessed 23 January 2017

[6] Loza, “From Ephemeral to Enduring,” 30.

[7] Lisa Spiro, “’This is Why We Fight: Defining the Values of Digital Humanities,”Debates in the Digital Humanities, accessed 23 January 2017,; Chris McComb, “About 1 in Four Americans can Hold a Conversation in a Second Language,” Gallup News Service, accessed 23 January 2017