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?

This entry was posted on Sunday, February 9th, 2014 at 7:38 pm and is filed under Public History. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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