Digital Project Reflection: Exploring the History of Capitol Hill’s Alleys

Project Poster

Project Goals: Taking the Road Less Traveled

I discovered DC’s unique alleys on my first walk to Giant after moving to the city. I veered off course immediately to check them out and was fascinated by the alley homes I discovered. I didn’t really give them any more thought afterwards, until I became more involved in historic preservation this past year. When this course started I was really excited to create a digital project, but struggled to decide on a topic. My supervisor kept bringing up a survey on alleys completed by DC’s Historic Preservation Office. I decided to look at it to see what she was talking about and became instantly hooked by the story of alleys outlined in the survey. From that point, I decided to create a digital project about the history of alley communities in DC.

The ultimate goal for this project is to have the public find and explore overlooked histories in the world around them. I want them to reevaluate and reinterpret their environment to find stories of the past that often go unnoticed.

My (more focused) goal is to also have them look at DC and its history differently. Washington, DC is the nation’s capital and an epicenter of tourist sites, monuments, and popular museums.  These aren’t bad things and they are important when it comes to teaching history; however there is a local history in this city that’s deep-rooted and unnoticed by most people who aren’t native Washingtonians.  DC is often seen as a place full of transient residents who don’t stick around and that are quick to leave, but this isn’t true.

HistoryPin, Mobile Media, and Interpreting “Space”

For this project I used HistoryPin. I wanted to work with this platform because of it’s ability to overlay the past on top of the present. This essentially means that users can put a historical image on top of a present-day site and be able to explore how places have changed over time. This idea of understanding how the environment has evolved is vital to my project, because alleys have experienced both physical and social changes over time. HistoryPin’s tour capabilities were also important to my work. I knew I wanted to create a tour early on and for the most part, HistoryPin is easy to navigate. I didn’t have any major problems inputting my tour’s information onto the site. I also liked the aesthetic style of their tours.

I was a bit disappointed to learn that their app is no longer available, but it looks fine when accessing in on the web while using a phone. I will keep my eye out to see if the app makes a reappearance in the future though.

Overall, I feel that this project relates well to our class discussion about mobile media.  A few of the articles we read (and that I specifically reported on) dealt with using digital tools, such as apps, to explore spaces and their history differently. I think that making this tour available digitally is very useful for users, and it allowed me to be more creative in how I approached this subject. I also included prompts throughout the tour, and some of the questions deal with re-imagining “space” in alleyways.

What I Have Learned From My Experience

One of the most important things that I have learned while creating this project, is that digital tools can really change the way public historians teach and share history. They can also offer the public different ways to explore and learn about the past. I am especially amazed by the role cellphones can play in all this. While conceptualizing and developing this tour I often thought about how anyone can take their cellphone, open the tour, and almost instantly have the chance to explore the past in a meaningful and interactive way.

This was very much true for a lot of the things I learned in this course throughout the semester. Digital tools can really open new doors in our understanding of history. They also help people connect with one another on a much larger scale. For example, my tour is on the internet, and because of that it has the potential of being used by a wide audience. We can also hold a discussion about the content of this tour using the digital tool it is published on.

I had a great experience creating this project and look forward to continuing my exploration of digital history in the future!

The Tour!

“Finding Trends in Jazz Terminology”- Reflection & Paper

Digital Project turned Print Project

            All semester I was excited to work on the project I had devised as my Digital Project Proposal. I proposed to digitize the flyer/advertisement section from the Anacostia Community Museum’s “A Right to The City” exhibit to make it accessible to the public and encourage public interpretation. I argued that these documents should be made accessible to the public because it is, in fact, the public’s history; these signs were created and made by the people of DC, for the people of DC. This project would ultimately enhance and add to the Smithsonian’s online collections database. In addition to the digitizing of artifacts and archival accumulation, I proposed that a public dialogue be open to the public to discuss and remember the events that the flyers pictured. This dialogue would be open to the public in the form of a blog, using WordPress. Here, guests would be invited to comment, ask questions, convey memories, and remember the stories behind these flyers. This blog would, thus, create a data resource for the public.

However, my hopeful plans came to a crashing halt when Samir Meghelli, chief curator at the Smithsonian Anacostia Community Museum, told me this project would be impossible to initiate and even begin within the semesters’ time limits. Thus, ensued mass panic.

After stopping to take a breath, I sat down to brainstorm. As I could not come up with any ideas, I went back to the basics. I thought about what topics I am truly interested in. Then it hit me, my undergraduate final paper for a class on African History, entitled “Evolvement of African Slave Spirituals into Modern Day Songs” would be perfect. I would take a portion of my research from my senior thesis and use that as my topic. This topic would be the “Jazz Age”.

Digital Tool?

            After switching from a digital project to a print project and finding a new topic, my last step was to choose a digital tool…only the most important aspect of this entire project! As I knew I wanted use a word database, I narrowed down my options to Google Ngram and TIME Magazine Corpus. By this point in the semester my time was VERY limited therefore I went with TIME Magazine Corpus as I had already become familiar with its interface during in-class practicums. Therefore, it was decided; I would do a print project using TIME Magazine Corpus to look at how jazz terminology has changed over time.

I explore the trends and their use by using collocates and frequency as a way to explore relationships between terms in this publication. Lastly, I analyze and make conclusions through jazz terminology to shed light on the evolution of culture, language, music, and people.

As I thought I had already jumped over all the hurdles that would come at me while doing this project, I found myself running into one more. After using TIME Magazine Corpus for the basis of my research, I learned that the site has a search limit. A user can only conduct fifty inquiries within twenty-four hours. As I could not afford to pay for an upgrade (because I’m a grad student on the just-ate-a-poptart-for-dinner type of budget), my research stage turned into a long, tedious process.


            After overcoming many (MANY!) obstacles, I was able to use TIME Magazine Corpus to make interesting conclusions and interventions into the history of jazz terminology. One of my favorite conclusions can be found below:

Fig.5 (found in my final project document) conveys insights into American culture and jazz history- the first example of this being “Dizzy.” It is interesting to note that “Dizzy” was most commonly used to refer to the baseball player, Jay Hanna “Dizzy” Dean, also known as Jerome Herman Dean. According to Wikipedia, Dizzy was a World Series champion in 1934, a four-time All-Star selection (1934, 1935, 1936, 1937), and had four consecutive strikeout titles between 1934 and 1937. Dizzy Gillespie, on the other hand, became a major figure in the development of bebop and modern jazz in the 1940s. Thus, Gillespie was more current and on-trend than Dean was when “Dizzy” most frequented the pages of TIME in the fifties and sixties. Therefore, TIME chose to talk more about an older white baseball player rather than a black musician who was making ground-breaking discoveries in music.

As I state in my project, my paper encompasses adequate research. However, I believe it is still very much unfinished. To truly understand the history of jazz terminology in TIME Magazine, one will have to research the authors, the authors backgrounds, the location and decade in which the articles were written and published etc., as well as compare it to other publications. This is only an introduction into what can be learned from this research by using a technological tool. It is rare to find research that approaches digital media and content from the perspective of a historian. Thus, I can only hope that I, or someone else, will continue to connect and converge the digital age with history.

Final Digital Project and Reflection


There were many challenges faced over the course of this project.  The first and most important challenge, none of these digital tools are open for public participation and contribution.  This contradicts the very core purpose of starting this project four months ago. The purpose of this project was to provide an open source where people from all areas of the Black collective could contribute and participate in the collections.  All three digital tools require permissions by the owner to participants adding content to collections. In retrospect, I fear this project was too ambitious for the time given to complete a full body of work. However, as stated in class, “we sometimes have to learn by doing.”  If I never started this project, I would never have discovered the necessity for having space where the Black collective can have a say in how their story of activism is preserved. I foresee working on this project for some time after the spring semester has come to an end. This project requires more collaboration with diverse members of the Black collective, higher level of web-archiving proficiency, staying in tune with the news, and more time to invest in finding the perfect digital tool for an open, user-generated web- archive collections.

  • Links to archive collections:
  1. Archive- it :
  2. Webrecorder:–web-archiving-social-media-activism-of-the-black-collective
  3. DocNow:


A couple of months ago, I was quite green in the rudimentary understanding of how digital tools are used to amplify topics in public history. Out of all the many benefits that come with digital tools, such as accessibility and interaction, web archiving was not in my consideration. Additionally,  I was naive in the understanding that web archiving can be used to promote community, engagement, and advocacy. Digital tools like, DocNow, Social Feed Manager, TWARC, and Archive-it are using web archiving to illustrate the historical significance in social media content as a force in social change.  

In Beyond the Hashtags: #Ferguson, #BlackLivesMatter, and online struggle for social injustice , Deen Freelon, Charlton D. McIlwain, and Meredith D. Clark share conclusions from their study of hashtags as a field site for tracking the impact of social media activism.  This report along with #Ferguson: Digital protest, hashtag ethnography, and the racial politics of social media in the United States are the inspiration for my project.  As these reports used web archiving to illustrate the historical significance and social impact of #BlackLivesMatter social media protests, my project is an attempt to add to that more depth to that conclusion.   The focus of much web archive collections and research for Black Lives Matter (BLM) is the movement’s principles: restorative justice unapologetically Black, Black women, and collective value. These collections mainly target social media activity regarding police brutality and justice reform. Understandably, considering the movement reached “recognition” and made history for organizing protests around the murders of Trayvon Martin, Mike Brown, Freddie Grey, Sandra Bland, and many others who lost their lives to police brutality.  However, there are several other principles that the Black Lives Matter movement embodies. BLM ignited social media activism around the collective value of Black lives, including undocumented, transgender, queer, and impoverished Black lives. As there are many collections archiving the protests surrounding police brutality, I felt the advocacy for the collective value of Black lives should also be recorded. This project was conceived to draw attention to the advocacy of the collective from BLM and other related movements.

Finding the Right Digital Tool:

Out of the plethora of web archiving applications and software that target collecting social media engagement and activism, I needed to find the right one that provided accessibility and did not require a master knowledge of coding.  I thought the collection of social media activism should be easy to obtain and open for public contribution. Another factor I needed to consider was the type of application or software and the best approach. Should this collection live on a social media API software or web archives?  I found Justin Littman’s article, Web archiving and/or/vs social media API archiving , a valuable resource is deciding the between which application or software to use for my project.  Littman really breaks down the significant differences between APIs and Web archives. Each approach carries its own pros and cons; however, for my current level of proficiency, it became clear that APIs draw too many complications.  In the long run, APIs are ideal to capture to the more social media metadata and hashtags, but it requires more technique that is beyond my comprehension. There was an API that I began to use in the early stages of this project but then ran into complications.  DocNow, a social media appraisal tool co-created by DocNow founders and Maryland Institute for Technology in the Humanities (MITH), allows users to log in their twitter account and track content using hashtags and location pins.

When searching for a hashtag, you can view all the images, tweets, videos, every mention located on twitter.  Pretty useful, right? However, is this accessible for others to use and add content? Not really. To my knowledge, the collection is not available for other users to contribute and the Twitter API limits the timeline a user can explore the app for hashtag mentions.  This digital tool is still a work in progress so the complications I faced using this tool, might be resolved at a later date. In the meantime, I decided to look experiment a web archive a well-known tool, Webrecorder.

Webrecorder is a web archiving service that allows users to capture content from any web page and automatically save it to a collection.  These collections can be marked public or private by organizer. Also, I found no limits to the timeline I could record information. I simply logged into my twitter account, searched for #BlackTransLivesMatter, clicked the “Capture” icon, and began recording every tweet that appeared in my search history.  Unlike DocNow which only allowed me to search hashtags in 7-day intervals, Webrecorder allowed me to view social media content tracing back to August 23, 2013. At the moment, Webrecorder appears to be the best digital tool to use for this project. However, I am still investigating other digital tools that could be more useful for the purpose.

Archive-it is a web-archiving tool that uses Heritrix to collect digital artifacts.  This digital tool is the most established out of three used for this project.  It provides an over-arching structure, reliable support team, and a hard drive copy of all the content preserved through the tool.  The many benefits of using Archive-it are why the tool is one of the most trusted web-archiving tools of its kind. There is a catch! Unlike Webrecorder and DocNow, Archive-it is a paid service.  Clients pay for the structure and great customer service.

For the purpose of timing, I worked with the American Univerisity archives office to create a Black Lives Matter collection.  It took around 24 hours for the collection to populate. All the urls picked up in the web crawl, can be viewed as seeds in the collection.  There are many benefits to viewing the archives in this structure; however, one flaw is the inability to view the contents as it’s presented to viewers.  For instance, with Webrecorder and DocNow, one can see tweets as they are presented on Twitter. Through Archive-it, one views a tweet in the form of data collection.    There are many pros and cons to using this digital tool, just a matter of your purpose and impact.

Creating a collection of this magnitude will take more time than allocated in a spring semester and I aim to continue this work well after the term has ended.  There are other factors to creating a comprehensive collection of social media activism surrounding the collective value of Black lives that I was unable to perform in the early stages. First, I believe some level of collaboration and interviews from activists and members in each community are essential.  Black queer, Black transgender, Black undocumented, and many others in the collective should have agency in the narrative this archive is reporting. It’s one thing to record, what’s out there in the social media realm, but it’s another thing entirely to provide essential context to the content being shared.  Through further research and analysis, this web archive collection of the collective value of Black lives can be immensely useful in sharing the historical significance of social media activism.

Podcasting the future of public/history: A project and reflection

This project—a history podcast dedicated to providing an adaptable platform for scholars and scholars-in-training to connect with each other and wider audiences—has gone through several conceptual and practical revisions in the last two months. From a audio-visual concept for remastering academic journal articles to an audiobook-style repository of downloadable journal articles to an article-heavy podcast, this process has proved to be both enriching and exhausting. And still I want to continue working on the project. I’ve grown deeply attached to the idea and had great fun working on selecting the articles I know to contain good stories to share with audiences and that graduate students may gain equal use of.

The most strenuous part of the entire process was the most tedious… making files of my reading sections of journal articles. Though I stayed hydrated and tried to enunciate like my actor friends, I grew tired quickly and got a slightly sore throat. In addition, text written in different languages proved to be a significant hurdle. Lasting, I spent a considerable amount of time speaking into the microphone, only to find out, on a number of occasions, that the memory card was full or that I had forgotten to press the “record” button. Oops! But it comes with the territory. Given those challenges as well as time constraints, varied the length of time I spent recording. I found it easiest to produce the recording according to the sections marked in the articles themselves. I produced recordings from three articles, listed below. The sections tended to last between 10 or 15 minutes, making the full recording around one hour in length.

Such a file can be listened to in the time it takes most people to commute to work, to campus, or even while doing chores or relaxing. I know, I know. Listening to an academic journal article while relaxing? It’s possible. And doable. It is all just a matter of convincing potential listeners that the article is worth a listen. Here are the other two articles that I selected and worked on recordings for:

  1. Katherine Smoak, “The Weight of Necessity: Counterfeit Coins and the British Atlantic World, circa 1760-1800,” The William and Mary Quarterly 74, no. 3 (July 2017): 467-502.
  2. Joan Wallach Scott, “Gender: A Useful Category for Historical Analysis,” The American Historical Review 91, no. 5 (December 1986): 1053-1075.
  3. Hugh Rockoff, “The “Wizard of Oz” as a Monetary Allegory,” The Journal of Political Economy 98, no. 4 (August 1990): 739-760.

The latter two articles are accessible as PDFs without institutional access to JSTOR or ProQuest, and so can be accessed by anyone who listens to podcasts featuring these articles and who wants to download the full text version. Smoak’s article is not, but it contains a fascinating story and raises questions that may resonate with anyone who has ever had a coin-collecting relative or who has ever found an interesting coin in their change. (Articles with such restrictions as Smoak’s means that a future version of this project will have to involve a partnership with ITHAKA.)

So why should anyone be interested in listening to a podcast episode on one of these articles? Because everyone has an implicit vested interest in, or at least a connection to the content and themes; all three articles address subjects of particular relevance to just about everyone… the trustworthiness of money and of governments to generate it, gender and the ways it is used for methods of interpreting information, and The Wizard of Oz, a familiar story to many and a milestone in American popular culture.

I have also uploaded my working NEH Level 1 Grant Proposal, which is the part that I would like to continue work on. This involves reaching out to potential project participants, gathering data to continue work on the budget, and even trying out developing and producing a single podcast episode on my own. I received significant feedback during the poster session—I’ve also re-posted my poster here—that I have not had time to incorporate. However, this project is looking to be more and more of a reality.

This is the most fun I have had working on a digital project. I look forward to continuing work on it once I am ABD.

Digital Project Reflection: Homegrown History

Please, please pardon my awful pun but this project has actually really grown on me recently. I initially started out with the intention of producing a proof-of-concept for a resource that would provide a public audience with a place to learn more about how to actually produce a family history project. This intent has shifted over time, though it is not entirely divorced from that initial idea. Part of this stems from the fact that, simply put, I’m not an expert in the diverse fields and tools that I think family history projects stand to benefit from. Its difficult to write with an authoritative voice when you’re obviously not an authority.

So, the shape of Homegrown History has shifted to accommodate that acknowledgement. It is, at this time, less a definitive resource for aspiring family historians (though it does still endeavor to be of some utility) and more a living family history project that I would actually like to continue moving forward. The intent is not, at this stage, to pontificate from an ivory tower about the way family history should be done. Rather my thinking has shifted more to using it as an example for how one family history project is being done.

There is still much work to be done, but I have a plan moving forward. I’ve made arrangements to sit down and do my first oral history interview with a family member in early June, which I think will give me a good deal of content to produce. I am still struggling to figure out how to incorporate images/visual interest into my posts without dropping in stock images. I do plan on adding more personal photos in future posts, but for the time being I do not have ready access to many of those short of asking my grandparents to attempt to wrestle with their scanner which I think has a very low chance of success.

In terms of changes made since the initial draft post, I have switched themes to a less noisome one, added two substantially more significant posts, made the necessary arrangements to schedule interview time back in PA so that I can produce the oral history posts I’ve had planned, added language to reflect my intent to have this site serve as a space that is welcoming to discussion, and added a commenting/discussion guidelines page.

Moving forward I am considering bumping myself up from the current free plan to get access to more control over how the site looks and so I can edit the current word salad that is my domain name. I also need to create a logo that doesn’t play into the “its a site about family so its gotta have trees” visual trope.

While I wouldn’t be silly enough to compare this project to a professional digital humanities blog/digital journal like the Journal of Digital Humanities, I was significantly influenced by the mindset behind that project, our discussion on the place of blogging in history, and notions brought up in our Public History Seminar course last semester. Shared authority is the most significant of these, and it has been something that I’ve been considering with increasing frequency while working on this project. So often the question asked by historians seems to be less about how we get people engaged with history and more about how do we get them to engage with it on our terms, by reading more. I don’t mean to suggest that academic history is irrelevant by any means or that it doesn’t have its place in society outside the academy, but I do certainly buy into the idea that there are still many other ways beyond it for people to engage with history. To paraphrase Rosenzweig and Thelen, its not that people don’t care about history, its that they don’t see themselves in history as its typically presented to them. My hope is that in some small way, by trying to show people that family history projects are feasible, that they are within their reach, that Homegrown History can make a step towards getting people more engaged with their history. People already view history through the lens of their family experiences, so my aim is to show a way in which you can take that family experience and set it within a larger context, and to make the argument that doing this sort of history work is valid.