Final Project: Mapping Alexandria’s Black Communities

Hi everyone! Happy end of the semester!

For my final project, I created a StoryMaps site (linked here) mapping Alexandria, Virginia’s historically Black neighborhoods and communities. I also included a timeline on my site chronicling the city’s history, particularly noting its roles during wars.

Alexandria has a long history dating back before the American Revolution as a port city created to rival Baltimore as the area’s primary trade center. The city’s rich history also includes the creation of several free Black communities along the historic wharf, which grew in prominence during times of conflict. During the 1970s, Alexandria experienced vast gentrification as part of the city’s goal of becoming a tourist destination and historic area away from the bustle of Washington, D.C. As a result, these communities have largely been displaced due to rising housing prices as well as redevelopment. Information online about these historic communities is largely hard to come by, and there are no interactive maps available to show the locations and history of where these neighborhoods once were. That’s where my project comes in!

Scratchboard image of Alexandria’s Hayti neighborhood, via alexandriava.gov

This project was research-heavy, particularly in finding the locations and backgrounds of each community. As I discovered more about these neighborhoods, I realized the importance of historical events in the creation of Black communities. For example, the Black communities of Petersburg and Grantville were founded by people escaping slavery during the Civil War who found safety in Union-occupied Alexandria. Because of the importance of history to community foundation, I included the timeline for greater context on Alexandria’s role during particular historical events such as the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, and the Civil War. I also color-coded neighborhoods on the map; warmer colors represent older communities, while cooler represents newer, 20th-century communities that rose up against the backdrop of housing segregation.

Overall, I am pretty proud of the work I did on this project and feel I learned a lot in this class! I especially see the need for digital history in telling largely forgotten histories. By creating sources such as these, these histories are illuminated to a larger audience to discover and learn from.

–Claudia Faith

Practicum: The Shelley-Godwin Archive

Hi everyone! This week I will be showing you how to use the Shelley-Godwin Archive. This online archive, created by the New York Public Library and the Maryland Institute for Technology in the Humanities, catalogs over 90% of known handwritten manuscripts relating to the Shelley-Godwin family. It also features a relatively easy-to-use platform and search functions to make research a breeze. As someone who majored in English in undergrad with a strong focus on Romanticism and the Romantic poets, this archive was super interesting to explore!

Off the bat, the archive features 5 highlighted tabs on the top of the page for easy navigation– “Home”, “About”, “Explore the Archive”, “Search”, and “Using the Archive.” I will be going through each and explaining its contents in this post.

The five front tabs featured on the Shelley-Godwin Archive.

The home page serves as the main landing site for the archive and includes introductory information on the database’s contents. This page is a good place to start if you know you want to use the archive, but are not sure yet on what to look up.

On the left, the main page features a short “About the Archive” section that is a shortened version of the introduction posted under the “About” tab. It also features a link to the “Using the Archive” tab page and to a short introductory video on how to use the database. Finally, an “Explore the Archive” icon is posted underneath the “About the Archive” section. This takes you to the “Explore the Archive” tab, which will be discussed later on in this post.

A look at the archive’s home page

There are two areas where featured archive documents are suggested– on a top banner slider and to the right side of the page under a “Featured Works” section. While the top banner focuses more on drafts of works and information on each of the writers within the Shelley-Godwin family, the featured works section shows completed works of the authors (for example, Frankenstein or Prometheus Unbound). Clicking on one of these works will bring you to the writing’s corresponding dedicated database page. This page features a short background on the writing and a dropdown menu with documents relating to the work, as well as fair copies of the work itself.

The About tab explores more into the legacy of the Shelley-Godwin family and explains the reasoning behind the project. This page is a great place to visit if you want to learn more about the Shelley-Godwin family in general and their influence on English literature. Next, the technological infrastructure of the database is listed, as well as the reasoning behind the technological choices used.

The About page also lists contributors to the database as well as encoding contributors, or people who have worked on the technological side of maintaining the archive.

Under the “Explore the Archive” tab, users have the choice to browse the archive by work or by manuscript.

The Explore the Archive tab categorizes archive materials between “By Work” (left) and” By Manuscript” (right). Accessing a work by manuscript will show you page sequences in the order they are in in the actual manuscript, while accessing a page by work will show you pages in the order they appear in linear sequence the particular work (such as by acts or chapters). Clicking on a particular work (such as in the picture, Caleb Williams (William Godwin) or Bodleian MS, Abinger c.56) will bring you to the dedicated database page for that work.

Now, let’s explore these dedicated database pages a little more. As I stated before, each database page for a work includes a short introductory explanation of the work and its significance in the larger world of literature. On the bottom of a database page, you will find thumbnails of the manuscript’s scans. Clicking on these will bring you to a reader page, which will be explained in more detail later. On the right sidebar of the dedicated database pages are a plethora of possible helpful links depending on what text you are looking at. For example, academic resources corresponding to the work, reconstituted sequences that can be formed by linking several related manuscripts together to tell an overall story, or a link to other manuscripts a text is found in can be found here.

A closer look at the database pages. On the left, an introduction to the text and its significance is available. On the right sidebar (in red), helpful links to additional scholarly resources and corresponding manuscripts are posted. These links vary based on the text the database page is about.

Now let’s look at the reader pages. Clicking on a thumbnail of a manuscript scan will direct you to a reader page, which lines the manuscript’s scan up with a text translation.. There are also options on the top of the reader window. These options are “search translation”, zoom in and out (of scanned image), flip scanned image, “view image only” and”view text only.” On the top of the page, important information about the scan including the author, date written, title, state (draft/published), and institution where the manuscript is located is available.

The reader page for a scan from the Volume I draft of Frankenstein. This page allows the user to zoom in and out of the scan, search the text written, and view a typed translation of the scan.

As of the writing of this article, the search function, typically available by clicking on the “Search” tab, is no longer running as the website transitions to a new system. Because of this, browsing is limited to the tabs listed on the “Explore the Archive” page. However, based on the site’s introductory video, it seems like this function would have allowed users to search for specific manuscripts as well as search for particular words within a text.

Finally, the Using the Archive tab explains detailed instructions on how to use the database. If you are interested in exploring more about the Shelley-Godwin database, I would definitely suggest starting here! On this page there is a video that explains more in-depth instructions on using the archive as well as explanations on each of the site’s features.

Overall, the Shelley-Godwin Archive is an excellent place to research and explore more about the works of the Shelley-Godwin family. While the archive is definitely still an ongoing project, it still is an easy-to-use online resource for taking a closer look at these manuscripts. If you are a fan of Romanticism or just a literature lover in general, it’s certainly a treat to spend some time exploring the site!

–Claudia Faith Santa Anna

Week 7 Readings: Digital Ethnography and HiPSTAS

Digital Ethnography Toward Augmented Empiricism: A New Methodological Framework by Wendy F. Hsu demonstrates the importance of digital practice in the study of cultures in the modern world. Hsu, who is a professional ethnographer with the Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs, writes that technology, such as with social media, allows for ethnographers to discover various discrepancies of different experiences within cultures as well as allow for a greater connection to the communities they are looking at. Hsu states that scholarship on digital ethnography balances between practical theory and methodology, with more researchers using digital methods as only a small piece of their overall analysis. Because of this, Hsu argues that the methodological use of technology in the field is far underdeveloped and attempts to expand the definition of digital ethnography in her article and “shift the focus of the digital form from a subject to a method of research.”

Hsu highlights scalability and intermodality (or multimodality) as two ways computers excel at capturing information for an ethnological purpose. Scaling, or the collection of information to reveal patterns, allows for greater insight into a culture that otherwise would be difficult to perceive relying solely on cognition. This allows for a deeper look into patterns within and between different sets of information. Multimodality, or the act of looking at multiple different sets and types of data, allows ethnographers to further engage in cultural study while also exploring relations between two separate datasets. Hsu argues that the combined use of scalability and multimodality allows for augmented empiricism, a new perspective on micro and macro data sets, thus extending field observations. This allows for a more accurate depiction of variables and inconsistencies. Augmented empiricism allows for empirical immersion in ethnographic depictions of culture.

Hsu uses her own personal experiences of digital ethnography as examples of finding scalability and multimodality in online data. These experiences include the use of mapping and visualizing soundwaves through audio programming in ethnographic studies. She leaves several questions, both through her discussion of her personal use of digital methods and by questioning her reading, for discussion throughout her article.

  1. Hsu mentions that computers are ill-equiped in understanding meaning in expressions and emotion. How can ethnographers account for this when engaging with digital methods?
  2. What are the advantages and disadvantages of deploying software in an ethnological project?
  3. How does geography play a role in digital ethnology, both in Hsu’s personal experiences and in general? How does this open and expand on conversations of place and space within culture?
  4. How are maps powerful tools in exploring the influence of cultures and subcultures? How does zooming in and out of mapped geographical data change the story told? Think of Hsu’s use of maps in her exploration of Asian partipation in the punk rock music scene through webscrapping MySpace.
  5. Hsu writes that she primarily works with sound. How does close listening through looking at soundwaves (with Audacity or other audio recording programs) reveal further stories within music production?
  6. How do visual aids such as the use of mapping or soundwave imaging expand the inquiry of ethnographers?

Next, I looked at the High Performance Sound Technologies for Access and Scholarship (HiPSTAS) website and project grant with the National Endowment for the Humanities. HiPSTAS is an excellent example of how technology plays a large role within historic preservation in the digital age. The HiPSTAS project, started by the School of Information at the University of Texas at Austin (and assisted by Illinois Informatics Institute at the University of Urbana-Champaign) intended to create a virtual research environment to analyze and create access to sound archives using digital resources. Hosted in 2013 and 2014, the HiPSTAS Institute brought together both sound scholars and computer scientists to discuss how to advance the scholarship around voice and sound recordings. This has led way towards developing specific programs through later grants, such as ARLO, as open-source tools for use in archives and special collections.

The main focus of HiPSTAS is preservation in conjunction with technology. HiPSTAS notes in its program introduction the correlation between scholarly use and preservation by citing a 2010 Library of Congress study on the conversation of sound recordings. As such, HiPSTAS encourages the use of these recordings in scholarly study and has supported projects relating to sound archives. These recordings, dating as far back as the 19th century, include oral histories, interviews, poetry readings, and speeches. HiPSTAS asks several important questions within its proposal:

  1. How is perservation related to digital technology? How have specific programs led to the perservation of media that otherwise might’ve been lost?
  2. How can research lead to a greater desire to perserve media such as sound files?
  3. In what ways are sound recordings critical to humanities-based scholarship? What do we gain from using historic sound recordings?

— Claudia Faith Santa Anna

Digital Project Proposal: Mapping Alexandria’s Black Communities

For my senior project in undergrad, I researched the role of my hometown (Alexandria, Virginia) had during the Revolutionary War. Through this research, I learned more about the rich history of Old Town (or downtown) Alexandria’s free black neighborhoods, which began to grow following the conclusion of the war and remained a large force in the community up until the late 20th century. However, these communities were largely displaced following the development of Alexandria’s waterfront as a tourist area in the 1970s. Since then, Alexandria’s population, especially in Old Town, has grown to become largely white and upper-class, gentrified to the point that small apartments will go for well over a million. For my digital project, I would like to create a website mapping these communities and the movement of people as the city shifted towards becoming a tourist destination. 

Alexandria was founded as a port city, which during the late 17th century rivaled in prominence with Baltimore as the area’s main port. While Baltimore ultimately surpassed Alexandria as the preferred port as Alexandria’s location inside of the Potomac River made access more difficult, the city still remained a vital spot in the growing suburbs of the Nation’s Capital. During the 19th century, land closer to the waterfront attracted free blacks and poorer artisans for its proximity to business and cheaper price compared to more inland areas which were desired for their privacy. In the 20th century, as waterfronts began to become more attractive as public spaces, plans were made to develop Alexandria’s waterfront into a tourist area.

 For my project, I plan to research more on the development of Old Town Alexandria as a tourist destination and the effect this had on the city’s black communities starting in the mid-20th century. This development included the restoration of historic houses, as well as the area becoming a hot spot for restaurants and other businesses like boutiques and hotels. The development of Old Town into a tourist destination also created a shift in the city being advertised as a historic place. After all, George Washington considered Alexandria his hometown. Only a 10-minute drive from the first president’s mansion, Mount Vernon, Old Town Alexandria has become known for its more tourist-based businesses and museums, such as being home to various historic ghost tour companies, a restored Gadsby’s Tavern, and the Stabler-Leadbeater Apothecary Museum. Due to Alexandria’s proximity to Washington, D.C., the area has been advertised as a more historical-minded, laid-back city compared to the hustle and bustle of the capital. I plan on looking at how Old Town Alexandria shifted from a largely black waterfront town into a historic destination.

I plan on using StoryMap to show the previous locations of these communities and indicate shifts in the area’s demographics. This will allow for Alexandria’s gentrification, and as a result the city’s black communities, to become fully visual to my website’s viewers. Through this, I hope to highlight and preserve the legacy of Alexandria’s black communities as vital to the city’s rich history.

Print Project Proposal: Analyzing Historical Accuracy and Public Reaction to Historical Fiction Media

The public interacts with history not only through participation in academic study but through popular culture. Despite the common issue of historical inaccuracies, historical fiction films and television shows have allowed for an up-close and personal view of history. Through a visual medium, audiences can picture what life might have been like in days gone. It also allows for audiences to find a greater interest in the historical period or subject depicted. Personally,  history came to life for me through an admiration of historical costuming in my favorite films.

For my print project, I would like to analyze the intersections between popular culture and history through the lens of historical-fiction films and television. Particularly, I want to look at the question of historical accuracy within historical films and TV to determine whether the general public tends to take these depictions of history as full truth, be inspired by these depictions to research more about a particular period, or if they just see historical films as fiction for leisure. In the public history program, we have spent a considerable amount of time discussing Roy Rosenzweig and David Thelen’s 1994 study on the American public’s relationship with history. While the study ranks “watching a movie or television program about the past” as a less popular (and therefore less authoritative) way the respondents interacted with history, I have been curious if this has changed in the past 30 years with the rise of streaming services, allowing greater access to a larger number of historical programs in most American households. 

Streaming services such as Netflix, pictured above, have led to greater access to films and TV shows set in the past. Notable Netflix shows include The Queen’s Gambit, The Crown, and Bridgerton (the latter two sparking conversations over historical accuracy on social media sites upon their release).

To answer these questions, I plan to take advantage of online discourse surrounding these films and shows. Review blogs, fansites, and social media (particularly Twitter and Reddit) are all helpful tools in gauging who the audience of a film or show is and their reactions to it. Through these sources, I will also be able to analyze whether or not historical accuracy is important to the viewers of a particular film or TV show. I would also take note of how much a particular film or TV show is mentioned, and how much historical accuracy is a common topic amongst online discussions of each media. I think it would be interesting to see if how popular a particular film or show has an effect on how authoritative it is seen by the general public in terms of portraying accurate history. 

The introduction of social media and greater access to media via streaming services have changed how the public interacts with media. The sheer prominence of historical fiction films and TV shows in the general public’s interaction with history indicates that this subject is worth taking another look at beyond Rosenzweig and Thelen.