Archive for February, 2014

New Graph (Cemetery visualization test #1)

Feb 25th, 2014 Posted in Public History | no comment »

I spent the day making a database of everyone buried in the Shaffer cemetery. Yay! So I have part of part one done. 1 cemetery, 3 different archives of who’s buried there. I imported it into NodeXL and made a chart. No idea what this is telling me, but I’ll get there. I can see that I want it to tell me something!

Graph test

GIS and the Spatial Humanities

Feb 24th, 2014 Posted in Public History | no comment »

I’ve now read several chapters of The Spatial Humanities: GIS and the Future of Humanities Scholarship. I think my synopsis so far is that GIS is a tool to create narratives from deep mapping and spatial theory. The basic differences between the sciences and the humanities create the tension in the GIS debates. Science is concerned with hard facts and numbers. The Humanities are fluid, looking at the world around us and asking questions that may not be able to be answered. That would drive a scientist nuts. So deep mapping is the creation of more complex maps, that include the idea of place and envelopes a humanist’s work with things like texts and oral histories into a map experience. Spatial humanities looks at the big picture of time, space, place. Basically, maps are more than maps in the Spatial Humanities.


Fries worldmap 1522

World map of Laurent Fries, based on the Waldseemüller map of 1513. 
[Public domain, via WikiCommons - click map for source]

Ch.9, “GIS, e-science, and the Humanities Grid” focuses on the advent of e-science and some projects that reflect the difficulties in merging the humanities and science. The author discusses the three grids in e-science and their relevance to the Humanities: the access grid (cooperative, integrative, collaborative); the computational grid (computer skills required!); and the data grid (connecting online data sets and deep web linking — most useful for humanities work).  The author also discusses place-name difficulties in linking with e-science grids. Subject is always easy to use to retrieve data, but information retrieval by location and chronology is a lot harder and needs special tools such as GIS to help with the retrieval. He discusses a couple of projects (mostly in the UK) that are doing things like creating gazetteers (a sort of geographical dictionary) using census records. Where they fall short is in the data mining. But there is potential as long as humanists become more open minded. The future includes more development of the data grid to handle these sorts of projects, open standards that allow collaboration, and changing the mindset of humanists. GIS needs to move beyond a visualization tool and become a data tool to manage information.

Visualizing and Mapping Cemeteries

Feb 23rd, 2014 Posted in Public History | no comment »

Initially I was agonizing over this project. I know what I want to do, but I don’t know how to express it exactly (even after reading the first four chapters of The Spatial Humanities: GIS and the Future of Humanities Scholarship – Bodenhamer, David; John Corrigan, and Trevor M. Harris). I found a pay site called but since it’s pay for use, I couldn’t decide whether their format is useful or not for mapping cemeteries. Supposedly they have software you can use to map any cemetery. So that didn’t help with my idea, which follows:

Eventually this is something I’d like to do on a larger scale (meaning, lots and lots of cemeteries – a big project [as opposed to the definition of scale in GISci, referred to on p. 33 of the aforementioned book]), but I will start with three cemeteries that I have spent way too much time trying to analyze and understand from far away and using only the resources I can dig up online and here and there. They all reside within a few miles of each other in the township of Mad River, Champaign county, Ohio. Two are family cemeteries and have not had burials in over 100 years, and the third is still used today. My ancestors from this county are buried between the three. One is the Zerkle Cemetery, off Coffin Station Road and Thackery. (GPS Coordinates: Latitude: 40.0428363 and Longitude: -83.8979884) The next is about 1/2 mile away, the Shaffer Cemetery, same cross streets. (GPS Coordinates: Latitude: 40.0467251 and Longitude: -83.8849324) The final cemetery is the township cemetery, Terre Haute Cemetery, off Storms Creek/55. (GPS Coordinates: Latitude: 40.0522805 and Longitude: -83.8807657).

I have lists of burials from the Shaffer and Zerkle cemeteries from the DAR, the WPA, the Champaign County Genealogical Society, Find-a-Grave, BillionGraves, FamilySearch, US GenWeb, and probably other places. For Terre Haute, I haven’t spent much time on it. It is maintained by the Mad River Township Trustees, so I assume I can acquire a list from them. If not, I know there are several of the former sources that have a listing for Terre Haute, I’d just have to take into consideration the time frame the list is from, since there are still on-going burials in the cemetery. My idea is to create a database of all these lists that first reveals differences between the lists (who’s missing, etc); and then create a map of the location of each burial ~ which will reveal (hopefully) who is missing and where there are gaps in the burials.

I wasn’t sure how to do this but then I found a website discussing a 4-H project done in Iowa for a computer company to develop cemetery mapping software. (See here for the full story and pictures. ) The kids plotted the GPS coordinates and three months later found out that was not what the company wanted. They then had to go back and start over, with the help of their county GIS coordinator. They had to create shape files, use aerial photography, and it took them 5 years to complete the first section of the cemetery.

That being said, I realized my little Ohio project is not something that 1) I can accomplish before mid March or 2) that I can accomplish unless I physically go to Ohio., because in all these cemetery lists there are no designations or coordinates for the exact locations for the burials. So for this phase of the project, I need to pick a local cemetery. My first thought was the Pioneer Cemetery in Phoenix.  I know they have been taking photographs of their cemetery – they were doing that the last time I was there – but am not certain for what purpose. I guess I can get in touch with them and propose my idea. I think that I will have to take a much smaller piece to work with to get it done in time. But as far as what this will tell me, I really don’t know, as I am not familiar with the cemetery other than I’ve been there before. I don’t know what records they might have, or whether they’d even be interested in something like this.  Second choice, if they are not interested, I thought possibly of All Faiths Memorial Park in Tucson. This will be a little harder to do, due to distance, but I thought it might be interesting to map the Our Lady of the Desert mausoleum. I’m sure THAT has never been done! But I’m pretty sure I have no idea what that would tell me. I could create a virtual tour of the mausoleum though, it’s not very big. I at least would find that interesting, as my parents are buried there; not sure if anyone else would.

Anyway, I will hopefully be working on getting the Ohio version of this project off the ground over this summer. Wish me luck.


Feb 9th, 2014 Posted in Public History | no comment »

Originally posted 2-9-14

I’ve apparently become a visual person these days. I’m increasingly finding myself drawing my notes in class, rather than outlining as I always have in the past. I’m not sure which is the better method, but I have found that for reviewing my notes, the ones with pictures tend to stick a little more than the outlines. In fact, I just drew a nice mind map for another class and it outlines the problems I am having with my project idea. I hope it will give me insight and clarity into this undertaking.

I’ve been thinking a lot about visualizations. Mostly, I am thinking about maps and all the different things you can do with them. One of the genealogists I follow, Lisa Louise Cooke, is an amazing proponent of technology and how all the technologies available to us can make our research easier. She teaches a class and has a book series on Google Earth. With Google Earth, you have the ability to (among other things) incorporate historic maps in an area that would allow you to see what happened over time in that area – where the boundaries are, what buildings were there and what is there now, etc. One of her examples was using the collection of the Sanborn maps in San Francisco. The Sanborn Insurance company had just updated their atlas collection in the fall of 1905, when the big earthquake happened in April of 1906. The fires that erupted after the earthquake destroyed over 80% of the city. Lisa showed how, by using the David Rumsey Sanborn map collection, you could overlay these maps over the current city of San Francisco and see what was there just before the fire. It’s an incredibly powerful image and I imagine how amazing it is to see where your ancestor’s blacksmith shop was that’s now a Nordstrom’s. (My example…I just made that up) I’m still not very good at doing all the things you can do with Google earth, but I did play around a little bit and was able to see exactly where my ancestors’ burial grounds are located, and when I zoomed out, I can see that the area is still farmland and not much on it. I haven’t been able to locate a map that I can use the overlay feature, but I do have a map from 1864 and I can match up the area visually looking at the two separately, I just don’t know how to make them work together.

So that being said, I was really excited to get to read a book called Graphs, Maps, and Trees by Franco Moretti. I was expecting these same kinds of concepts and ideas explored more in depth. I don’t know if that’s in there, but I sure didn’t see it. I was lost among his literary references, considering I’d never heard of, let alone read, any of the novels he mentioned. I think I understand that he was trying to map and graph the concepts of these works, but having not read them I couldn’t follow his method. I’m really hopeful we discuss this in depth in class and I can revise this blog because right now I am just confused.


Update 2-15-14

I’m still not sure I understood Moretti completely but I am pretty sure that my initial understanding of visualizations, as mentioned above, are correct. So I looked at another visualization project, called Mapping Texts: Visualizing Historical Newspapers.  I have a love-hate relationship with newspaper searching, so this was right up my alley. Andrew J. Torget, and Jon Christensen analyzed the LOC “Chronicling America”- newspapers that have been digitized. (They explored Texas) I think it’s really telling that that one of the things they looked at is the quality of the digitization. I’ve had issues with OCR in newspaper searches myself, so this was really intriguing to see what they did with it. They broke down the quality of the text so you can see the volume of “good” text they were able to get. They also mention that there needs to be ways to deal with the massive amounts of text that has been digitized. I’ve often gotten discouraged that I can’t find something, especially when it comes to my research into the Zirkle family (which can be spelled 39 different ways), and it often comes down to the search method I’ve used. This project discussed that issue, and though it doesn’t have an answer yet, maybe it will in time or will lead to someone else finding the answer. The “assessing language patterns” section was interesting – in every date range Texas was the most widely used word. It would be a good study to compare how that would match to other states…is the state name always going to be the most widely used word, and what does this say about the area or the news in general?

Digital Transformations of the Humanities

Feb 1st, 2014 Posted in Public History | no comment »

“Humanists must actively engage with, design, create, critique and hack” the environments around them in order to make sense of “who we are, where we live, and what that means.” (Digital_Humanities, p. 30)

Going digital allows historians to do the above better. “Digital” is just another tool for historians to continue their analyses of the past, just as ink, paper, the printing press and the computer were innovative new methods. Historians must be aware at all times of the dangers of the digital world – as with anything, there are advantages and disadvantages of technology, and being mindful of this is an element of a good digital historian.

Cataloging and curation are important factors to a myriad of people: digital historians, researchers – academic and lay alike, teachers, students, museum professionals and visitors, historical societies, lineal organizations, service organizations, anyone who is interested in the organization and presentation, and preservation of information and cultural artifacts that define who we are as humans. Along with this cataloging and curation goes the tagging and identification of the information of the items being presented. Proper tagging and metadata allows the information to be found quickly in the digital world, as well as relate like objects to one another.

Digital mapping is another asset of the cataloging and curation – maps create the visualization of the text, putting the person where the “action” is taking place. Many researchers are not able to be at the exact place the information they are seeking took place, and mapping and virtual collections can enable this.

Virtual gaming is something that is interesting and new to me. The idea of taking a 3D, simulated world from a game to interpret and display material is a concept that never crossed my mind. Virtual memory sites can be created and experienced from anywhere, including your living room.

But what about the dehumanizing effects of creating a game out of something of greater meaning? The case study in Digital_Humanities talks about a refugee camp experience. How do you consider the ethical and cultural sensitivities when creating this virtual world? These are the reasons for human interaction and humanists to be involved in this process, rather than computers and scientists who may or may not be aware of cultural implications for their work. But without the digital element, stories like this may never get told. Or it is showcased at a museum for x amount of time and then it goes away. The digital realm allows information to be there for everyone and stories to be told. That’s not to say the viability of museums will go away, on the contrary, an exhibit can remain far after the blockbuster show time is over.

I worked at the Museum of the Horse at the Lexington, Kentucky Horse Park during their blockbuster summer even, Imperial China: The Art of the Horse in China in 2000. (I found some stuff online about the exhibit, you can check it out here.)  It was my first experience working in a museum. What is notable about this exhibit is that it was the first time the Emperor Qin Shi Huang’s terra cotta army figures had been outside of China. And they were only exhibited at the Museum of the Horse. Since then I believe they’ve been around a bit, but in 2000 they came to our museum and were packed up and went right back to China. Anyway, the point being that there will never be an exhibit like that again, and while the website and information I found to mention this exhibit are basic, there is still this presence and anyone researching Qin Shi Huang will come across the exhibit that once was. Today the possibilities of keeping these exhibits alive and active are numerous, and there is much that could be done to re-create the summer 2000 exhibit. I can imagine a map showing the areas each artifact came from, where interactively you could click on them and learn more about the region and the item itself. Or a virtual world where you could learn about the emperor and visit his tomb virtually. Or rediscover his tomb with the archaeologists in 1974. This exhibit, like so many others, could be brought to life using digital humanities methods and practices. This is truly a great time to be in the field of history and humanities. There is so much we can be doing with the cultural artifacts and material around us to make sense of “who we are, where we live, and what that means.”

Souvenir guide, docent training manual, and work shirt from Imperial China exhibit

Souvenir guide, docent training manual, and work shirt from Imperial China exhibit