Mapping Suffrage History: Reflection

Project Goals:

The goal for this project was to collect and share the stories of African American suffragists at the turn of the 20th century, something that is especially important as we approach the centennial of the 19th Amendment. When talking about women’s suffrage campaigns it’s necessary to speak about those who were excluded from mainstream (white, elite) suffrage organizations.  To share these stories, I created a historypin collection and tour and a wordpress blog. I chose historypin because I was interested in the ways maps in which could be used to display the connections between suffrage organizations and women – where did they live? Where did they for clubs and work on campaigns? Who did they interact with? Because historypin is not a commonly known website outside of digital history circles, I built a very simple blog to host the maps and provide more context.

Research Notes:

Through my research I was able to identify several possible learning. Sharing the stories of these women can help users to identify where prominent African American suffragists lived and campaigned, what suffrage and social organizations they formed and participated in, and how to analyze the factors that motivated African American suffragists to interact with (or avoid) organizations like NAWSA and NWP.

Many of the women I studied were from well to do and prominent black families in northern cities, but others were born to formerly enslaved parents, or were enslaved at birth themselves. The majority of these women became teachers or were involved in education, one of the only paths open to women, and especially African American women, at the time. There were several “hubs” of activism; Baltimore, Philadelphia, Chicago, New York and D.C. featured heavily. Finally, African American female suffragists were almost always involved in other social and civil rights organizations, and often were part of abolition, anti-lynching, and anti-segregation movements. Thus, suffrage was one aspect of their pursuit for equal rights.

Project Notes:

While I was initially excited about the mapping aspect of this project, it came with its own issues. These women often travelled extensively throughout the country, and often lived and worked in different cities throughout their lifetimes. Using a single pin to represent a lifetime of movement and experience creates a static experience that does not necessarily accurately represent reality. Sometimes, even locating a specific address for a woman was hard. Because many of these women were club organizers or influential in rights campaigns, some of their houses are National Park Service sites or otherwise marked as an important landmark. The addresses of other women though, who were less involved or less recognized, have not been preserved. In those cases, I tried to locate an organization or philanthropy they were involved in (for example, the foundation of a school, settlement house, or hospital) but often these had been lost to time as well. Because of this, while some pins are highly accurate, some of them are more generally placed. When given a generic location such as “Philadelphia,” historypin selects a specific geographic location to place the pin. This may lead to confusion from users, as some pins appear to be accurately located while in reality they are not.

Issues with Historypin:

Initially uploading the pins was not difficult. The upload/edit function of historypin is really well thought out, with instructions about what information is required (title, date, location) and what is optional (description, license, tags). Editing a pin after it is uploaded is also easy and uses the same form. What I had a challenge with was getting all my pins to show up on the screen. Unless the map is zoomed out to include the entire US, visitors to the site can only see pins shown in the section of the country they can see. This is both intuitive and not; visitors may not understand the necessity of zooming out to include the entirety of the map, and so may miss a number of biographies. This issue was mostly solved by creating a tour version of the biographies, which ensured a visitor could click through all of the pins, and still see their location on the map.

Overall, I was happy with how the maps turned out on historypin, but if I repeated this project, I would consider using ArcGIS StoryMaps, which offers many more diverse editing functions.

Project Connections:

There were readings from several weeks that particularly influenced my thinking about this project. First of all, and most obviously, was the week on mobile media, place and mapping where we discussed the different ways museum and public history professionals are thinking about place and space in their work.

I was also especially impressed with Dragan Espenschied’s article “Big Data, Little Narration,” which included a discussion of Google’s Zeitgeist globe. I found the globe super interesting, but Espenschied had important questions that made me think more deeply about my project: why is the data arrange the way it is? Why is it on a globe? What has been left out? What is the most authentic way to share this information? How can we make representations of data meaningful?

Finally, the week on crowd-sourcing captured my interest. While the project as it stands does not include crowd-sourced material, historypin has a function where you can add a pin to a collection that already exists. I’ve chose to keep that function open, so that anyone can add a pin to “Lifting As We Climb.” While the women whose stories I shared were leaders or prominent members of suffrage organizations, there are thousands of women who participated who have gone unmentioned. By encouraging people to add their own pins to this map, we can perhaps learn these stories.


Despite the issues I encountered and have shared in this post, I am really happy with how this project turned out. The map and tour successfully share the stories of women who often do not get the recognition they deserve, and in doing so create a more complex and nuanced narrative of women’s suffrage.

EDLM & Digital History: Digital Project Reflection

Hello, one last time, pals. Thanks for a great semester and for being kind to each other as we all learned what the internet (and digital history) is this semester.

My final product for this project included the attached PDF of three blog posts I’ll be working with Everyday Life in Middletown to get published on their blog in the next few weeks. For now, I’ll reflect a bit on this project and particularly on using Voyant.

To the end, Voyant Tools felt like a nut I just couldn’t crack. I’m uncertain if I had too high of expectations for the tool or if I was thinking too big or perhaps if I wasn’t creative enough. While I am frustrated by this experience, I also realize how much more familiar I am with the tool than when I started. I remember poking around in Voyant the week we learned it as a practicum and being completely thrown by the language they used to describe its functions and by the different windows. Taking a deep dive into a single tool for my own project was exactly the learning experience I was missing during class, and I’m content with that experience despite my struggles.

My Struggle with the Corpuses

Navigating my corpuses was a task and a half. I have access to all of the EDLM diary files through a shared box account, but I went through a lengthy process to make sure that those files perfectly matched the website. They did not. Filling in the gaps and cross-checking the sites to make sure I had an accurate corpus was work I did not intend to do, setting back my project timeline.

The spreadsheet I kept while trying to make my corpus match what was available on the website.

This spreadsheet also shows the first phase of my project when I had to carefully weigh how best to create my corpus. The numbers and letters in red were from the 2016 iteration of the project which I decided not to incorporate into my project, partially for simplicity, but also to clearly mark what corpuses and what EDLM initiative my project would be in conversation with. I decided that the five diary days highlighted in green yielded the most cohesive and comparable diaries.  

I arranged these diaries into three separate corpuses:

  • 1 corpus by a single author, including each day
  • 5 separate corpuses, separated by day
  • 1 corpus including all 146 EDLM diaries

These three arrangements best represented the nature of the day diaries across time and space, in relation to the individual, and as a collective body of writing. Analyzing and comparing the three corpuses was productive to think through everyday life theory and how the EDLM project operates in these different modes.

The Stopword Struggle

My next difficulties arrived when I tried to determine the best possible list of stopwords. I took various approaches, both with a light and with a heavy hand. To get the best reading, I eventually went with a heavier hand, resulting in a list of stopwords of 483. I used the same list across all of my corpuses. My choice to include first person pronouns was a topic up for debate, but I think it added an important element to understanding what kind of texts the day diaries are.

Analysis & Writing

Analyzing the corpuses in Voyant ended up being fun, as much as I could expect. I was able to think about how I understood the diaries and to think about how best to do a distant reading of them and what concepts would be the most interesting and the most fun to write about for a community audience. One frustration I experienced was a lack of understanding about exporting data, so I ended up taking a lot of screenshots on my laptop and doing comparisons in spreadsheets like this one demonstrating the top 45 terms for each day and for the entire corpus when I was determining how best to make comparisons between the corpuses.

The spreadsheet I created when realizing I couldn’t figure out if it was possible to export my data in an accessible or readable document.

When it came time to write, I had my sister, a diarist, community member, and excellent editor read through my drafts. She encouraged me that they were interesting to read while teaching the anticipated audience about using this digital tool and my methodology. These blog posts ended up being a small exercise in public history through methodologies and content, and I’m excited to give them to the EDLM team to share with their community.


I still think that the EDLM team should find new ways to read the diaries and to encourage interaction on the website. During our class conference poster session I was encouraged to think about using Voyant as a way of developing a research question. I think that is excellent advice which helped influence the tone of my blogs. If we think about using Voyant and other digital tools to do new readings of the diaries, we can also encourage other people to think about the diaries through this kind of lens. We should encourage our community to feel like researchers of their own city and to ask questions and to engage creatively with these diaries. While they might not click directly into Voyant, walking them through the process through my blog posts might encourage them to think of their own questions and to investigate more on their own.

Reflecting on This Project

At various points I worried that I should have done this same concept but in pursuit of a print project rather than digital project. While I think that I could have developed more theoretical and methodological ideas in that space, my real intention and the core of my project was about contributing to EDLM and writing for a community audience. I think that pursuing the print project wouldn’t have stimulated the same results and would have resulted with a less community-focused project. Moving forward, I’d love to continue writing for and researching for EDLM. As a lifelong Muncie resident, this project means much to me, and I’m excited that I was able to contribute again to this project.

Digital project reflection

I need to preface this reflection by addressing one major flaw in my idea, something that may prove a warning to potential app designers: a project like this is time consuming. Each area of disability that your app may address is as important as every other, and having a fully-featured and usable app that doesn’t leave people out is a difficult task. That said, it is absolutely important. There is no reason a population should be left out of public history’s efforts to interpret their world.

With that said, my reflection.

Starting: I’ve been working on this idea for the better part of the term, and the second hardest part of the whole process was knowing where to start. There are a lot of design methodologies out there, but as my resource listing in my final project document shows, there are few that are actually relevant or worthwhile to a project of this nature. A lot of reading for a project like this is futile, simply reading a basic document that offers no rationale or backing to the reasons for its lessons, and even more frustrating, lessons and design tips that are actually counter-productive. In one case, a design tip offered suggested that app colors tailored to the color-blind should be black and white, ignoring the wide range of forms of color-blindness.

Expanding my research, I looked at actual apps I use each day to determine if they were actually usable by the disabled. Zero had legitimate features for the visually impaired (blindness, color-blindness, visual acuity issues), several had voice commands but offered no list of commands, none had image alt text or transcripts of text (except games, all of which have subtitles). It did not provide any hope but it did offer encouragement.

Identifying the needs: the assessment of needs for the app was a very thorough process and largely focused on two areas: features that help and features that hinder. Breaking down disability into primary areas, feature assessment was an A/B process: for low sight users, for example, what helps is a voiceover feature and what doesn’t is un-tagged, captionless photos. The needs, once broken out, made the itemization of features less difficult.

Identifying the who: after taking a scientific approach to the app needs, it was important to look into the human side. Looking at what disabled users want and need, determining the form and nature of focus groups, and determining what level of input they would have, was a careful process. On one hand, responsive design requires user input, but on the other hand, this was input prior to actual design and programming. Visioning may be a good word for this part of the process, but a more precise term would be laying the groundwork.

Creating metrics for success: before design, it was also important to be aware of what a successful app would do. Knowing the basic features, finding a basis for what a successful app would do was easy: it would offer as many people as possible access to interpretative histories of the target area. That leads to another metric for success: how does the app respond to the needs of diverse disabled populations? A well-programmed app would need almost no after-the-fact input to improve usability, or, at the most, additions of disability areas that do not fundamentally alter the design of the app.

Tools created for implementation: As the final document details, having a process is important, but having checkboxes is even more so. It is one thing to include addressing the disabled population in your design process, but entirely another to ensure they are included as an actual design goal. Furthermore, having a sample flowchart that shows the practical ease of sketching out the end product is a great starting point for designers, even if the flowchart only shows opening features of the app.

Final reflection: throughout this process I have become increasingly aware of my own limitations and what would help or hinder me in using an app. Early on, I had determined that triggering the app’s tour features when in proximity to a tour site was important, but as I myself reflected on my difficulties reaching locations in major tourist areas, it became more important to have clear and detailed lists of these sites. Early on, it did not occur to me that having a voice command feature needed to be featured as equal to the other features, but instead was a bonus: I can’t speak, however, so why would a voice command be an extra added bonus? Finally, speaking and scrolling speed of assisted touring features like voiceover and transcripting was something I did not consider.

As I’ve stated, with 33% of the LGBTQ population having some form of disability, it is important that community-related apps are accessible. And not just accessible, but assistive and adaptable. Utilizing these three principles, Accessibility, Assistability, and Adaptability, the underlying process of creating the app became one that was mission-oriented rather than goal-oriented. It isn’t enough that an app be working toward a goal of being open to all, it should also be working toward the mission of making disability a common and regular concern of the programming community. Disabled people should have access to history, and apps in general, and it is vital that the process be done in a considerate and meaningful way.

Final Paper and Reflection

Hello Hello,

Attached you’ll find my final version of my paper.

I’ll admit at the beginning of the semester I was totally lost on what project or paper I would produce for this class. But after we had that week where we read and learned about Wikipedia early on in, it totally clicked with me that Wikipedia could be used as source to learn about public memory.

I have been studying Jasenovac commemorations, narratives, and memory for over three years now. Considering its contested position in Serbian and Croatian society, it seemed like the perfect case study to examine how Wikipedia could be treated as a primary source and what we can learn about its public memory in both states by doing so.

I think this case study works as a perfect example of what we can learn by treating Wikipedia as a primary source. This project revealed the two contrasting narratives of Jasenovac found on the Serbian and Croatian Wikipedia pages, the points of debate among users, the Serbian and Croatian public’s understanding of Jasenovac in relation to the Holocaust and wars of Yugoslavia’s dissolution, and user’s understandings of national identity based on narratives of Jasenovac among other things.

My plan is to share this paper with other AU faculty members and prepare it for submission to an academic journal this summer. I will also be presenting this research at the International Public History Summer School in Wroclaw this July which I hope will give me additional ideas in how to expand this project going forward. I already have my own ideas but hearing from other scholars will be really beneficial and likely enrich my perspective and approach.

I’m not sure yet what I will do for my dissertation, but its likely that this project could figure into it. This is a methodological approach I never anticipated taking, but I am so pleased that this class brought me to it. As a public historian pursuing a doctoral degree in traditional history it’s an ongoing priority of mine to not only study public memory accessed through public history spaces but engage with the public as well. I think that this project and its potential for further development is a unique and exciting way I can do so.