Diversity in the Women Airforce Service Pilots of WWII: Poster and Reflection

Hi everyone, we did it! This has been quite a semester, but I am seriously impressed by all of the final projects so far. Thank you everyone for the support and for making this such a wonderful class.

My final project has a WordPress website at https://wasphistory.wordpress.com/ where you can click onto the interactive timeline.

Here is my project poster:

This project definitely tested my abilities in many ways, but I am ultimately grateful that I chose my digital project because I was able to delve further into a history I am really interested in and experiment with different digital tools, including Timeline JS and WordPress. I was not sure exactly what my project would look like in its final form, but I think that it has come a long way from my original idea. Although there are minimal resources on a couple of the WASPs, especially Ola Millie Rexroat and Verneda Rodriguez McLean, I was able to find enough non-scholarly and scholarly secondary sources on all four women across the categories that I used in my timeline.

In the future, I would love to continue to build upon this research and my end products to include even more about Gee, Lee, Rexroat, and Rodriguez McLean’s lives. Additionally, my original idea was to include the stories of Mildred Hemmans Carter and Janet Harmon Bragg, who were not accepted into WASP because it did not allow African American women into the organization. It would be valuable to extend this project to include these women’s lives in some capacity.

My goal with this timeline and its accompanying WordPress website was to create an accessible and succinct history of the ethnically diverse women who flew in the WASP. Most of this history is included in the interactive timeline and the WordPress website serves as a place to host the timeline, as well as it including a description of the project, an introduction to the history, and a quick look at the servicewomen.

Because the WASP in general is relatively underrepresented in military histories and the four women I highlight in this project are even more so, I hope that this project and future scholarship will contribute to a more inclusive history. It was an honor to research Hazel Ying Lee, Maggie Gee, Verneda Rodriguez McLean, and Ola Millie Rexroat, and I was thrilled to engage in this history again after researching Lee and Gee in my undergraduate honors thesis. In the future, I also hope to continue using these digital history skills and my experience with Timeline JS and WordPress in future projects.

I was very new to digital history coming into this course, so it has been a really interesting semester across the many different practicums, tools, and topics we have covered. It is rewarding to finally be at the end of the semester, but I am grateful for this learning experience! Thank you again to everyone for making this a memorable semester! I look forward to seeing everyone’s presentations and projects! Congratulations everyone!

Digital Project Draft: Minority WASP Timeline

Since my last post on my project, I have made a lot of progress and a few changes to my work. To recap my project, I am using Knight Lab’s Timeline JS tool in order to document the lives and service of the ethnically diverse women who served in the Women Airforce Service Pilots in World War II, specifically Hazel Ying Lee, Maggie Gee, Verneda Rodriguez McLean, and Ola Mildred Rexroat.

I originally proposed also including two women who were not accepted into WASP due to the restriction of African American women, Janet Harmon Bragg and Mildred Hemmans Carter. After conducting research on each of these women, I have adjusted my plan and how I will organize my timeline. I did this for a few reasons, one of which being that the Timeline JS tool website recommends that your timeline is shorter rather than having too much information. With the lives of the four women I mentioned, as well as including some of the broader history of WASP in order to give some historical context, my timeline is already over the 20 slides that the website recommends. Perhaps if I continue this into a bigger project, I could include more women (including someone like Frances Gustavson Dias, who is incorrectly reported as Mexican American in a few sources, where her family was Portuguese/Portuguese American.) Therefore, for this project, I am zeroing in on the ethnically diverse women who were accepted into WASP in order to be more succinct, which is necessary for this digital tool.

So far, I have finished my research on each of the WASPs, inputted most of the history into the timeline, and worked on the design of the timeline. My categories for research, which translate into the groups of slides I have for the timeline, included broader WASP history and the following parts of each pilot’s life: their birth, an important part of their life that led them to WASP, when they trained for and entered WASP, a distinctive moment of their life post-WASP, and their death. I am considering adding a couple more categories, such as a significant moment during their time flying for WASP, but this depends on the sources I have and the amount of history I will already have in the timeline.

This slide is on Hazel Ying Lee’s birth. My plan is to include a photo of Lee with the picture of her birthplace Portland, OR in the background.

I have a few important steps left to finish my project. I have emailed with the official WASP archive in order to get permission to include some of their materials, especially their photographs, for my project. I hope to hear back from them as soon as possible because while I have most of the information inputted into my timeline, I do not have the photographs of the women that will make the history come alive. Because of this, I recognize that my timeline needs some work visually, so my goal is to improve this by including photographs of the women themselves and their experiences.

A screenshot of the introductory slide in the timeline (as you can tell I am waiting to be given permission to use the WASP archive’s photos!)

Additionally, when I am finished with my timeline, I plan on housing the timeline on a WordPress website. Timeline JS does not let you link directly to your timeline on WordPress, so my updated plan is to have a simple WordPress page with a description of the project and a brief history along with an image of the timeline. Then, a user could click onto the timeline from the image. I have the language for the description of my project and a brief history already included in my timeline and in my previous post, which will allow for a relatively easy transfer to the WordPress site. Lastly, while I have everything cited on each slide of the timeline, I have not yet fully added each of the citations as footnotes and formatted them correctly. 

Here is what it looks like on the back end of the Timeline JS tool…

To conclude, I have encountered a few challenges so far in this project, including the lack of many primary or secondary sources on a couple of the servicewomen, specifically Verneda Rodriguez McLean and Ola Millie Rexroat. Also, the timeline itself is fairly simple to figure out, but there are definitely parts of it that took me a while to learn! With that said, I look forward to getting access to the photos that I need and making my timeline look more interesting! Please let me know what you think! Thanks everyone!

Here is a link to my interactive timeline draft: https://cdn.knightlab.com/libs/timeline3/latest/embed/index.html?source=1qk7H1lbCk7sHJb1gepf4-gSOYozDREVgA2h0FMNojZg&font=Default&lang=en&initial_zoom=2&height=650

Flanagan’s Critical Play: A Deep Dive into Gameplay History

How should we critically analyze games? Are computer games like The Sims, or doll houses, or chess worthy of historical analysis? In Critical Play: Radical Game Design, Mary Flanagan argues that “there is a need for a critical approach not only in examining such games but also in creating them” (1). Flanagan works to fill in this gap in scholarship in the book as she claims it is the first book to “examine alternative games and use such games as models to propose a theory” about radical game design (1-2). Critical Play studies “games designed for artistic, political, and social critique […] in order to propose ways of understanding larger cultural issues” (2). In this blog post, I lead you through the first six chapters of the book (chapters 7 and 8 will be discussed in Shaan’s blog post!) as Flanagan explores the idea of critical play relative to different types of gameplay. 

Anyone else play way too much Sims in high school? No?

First, in her first chapter “Introduction to Critical Play”, Flanagan conceptualizes the terms most important to her research and explains her intervention in research on this topic. She offers the various definitions of “play” and “games” yet it is perhaps most significant to understand what she means by “critical play”. Flanagan describes it as the processes related to “play environments and activities that represent one or more questions about aspects of human life” (6). The “critical” part of the term refers to the “careful examination of social, cultural, political, or even personal themes that function as alternates to popular play spaces” (6). Flanagan is perhaps most interested in the “radical” gameplay that “can be considered the avant-garde of the game as a medium” (16). 

The second chapter focuses on games where you “play house”, which ranges from computer games like The Sims, to dollplay, to the puppet shows of the Dada movement. Flanagan explains that playing house has a long history in gameplay and this reworks “paradigms of the status quo by experimenting with artificial identities, self-expressive environments, and humorous scenarios” (18). Flanagan argues that the ways Victorian girls played with dolls carries over into modern computer gameplay in terms of the ways players create subversive play scenarios (such as “killing” your dolls or your Sim family!), among other types of play (48). 

Next, the third chapter delves into the history of board games, from ancient burial grounds, to pinball as a “popular past time for military men” (94), to the evolution of chess. When you play a board game, you might not consider the deeper historical or cultural significance to the gameplay you are engaging in, but Flanagan argues “board games embody fundamental differences in philosophy” (64). For example, in her study of American gameplay from the 1840s to the 1920s, historian Margaret Hofer states that these games “offer a fascinating window on the values, beliefs, and aspirations of a nation undergoing tremendous change” (78).

In chapter four, Flanagan jumps into the world of language games and how wordplay, including puns, codes, Surrealist writing, and other art forms, is a “fundamentally expressive and rich” example of critical play (117). Language games span “across global linguistic systems, geographies, and cultures”, which allows for a distinctive study of language and how it can be used in play (117). This type of critical play is seen on the stage, in poetry, and in various art forms. One example is the Dada art movement, which is featured extensively throughout the book. Flanagan argues that “Dada’s subversive practices in its reworking of authority and authorship were one way social norms were pushed and literally ‘at play’” (139). This can be seen in their unique art style, including photo collages, paintings, and performances, among other examples. 

Chapter five focuses on performative games and objects, which Flanagan describes as “games that achieve critical play through a significant sense of performance in their attempt to influence society, or to provide utopian and playful visions and revisions of the world” (149). The Dada and Surrealist art movements are both featured in this chapter as prime examples of this type of gameplay. Flanagan clarifies that “the Surrealist definition of a game, and the route to the discovery of a game, differs significantly from the rigorous frameworks put forth by recent game scholars” (157). The Surrealists challenged the common conceptions of game play in their experiments and their emphasis on the process rather than just the outcome (157). In this chapter, Flanagan goes much further into the history of performative games and art, from postwar innovation to the new rules and experiments that served as a subversion of classic understandings of gameplay. 

Lastly, in chapter six, Flanagan studies locative games and more contemporary game interventions. These types of critical play differ from past forms: “physical movement […] and the active use of space are frequently used as interventionist tactics as well, and location-based games are also often designed to unplay the dominant systems of control” (189). This includes public game projects using mapping technologies, mobile media, and other forms of “media-rich experiences” (202). The broader category of “locative media” centers the space and location of the gameplay: “play’s ability to empower, build community, and foster collaboration and cultural change has been cited as a significant motivating factor in many location-based media projects” (197). Because a lot of this type of gameplay is meant to be interventionist or activist work, Flanagan does emphasize that players are “agents of action and change” in play (206). Because of this, it is important to recognize that “while art must indeed break borders, there are many instances where the borders broken are misguided and actually reinforce existing class, ethnic, and other power structures” (207).

To conclude, you may be able to tell that Flanagan covers a great deal of the history of gameplay, the different types of critical play, and the evolution of subversive and interventionist play. From all of this, there is much to consider when thinking about the social and cultural relevance and importance of all of these types of games. While I am less familiar with some of the more conceptual examples of play, I am more knowledgeable about board games and computer games. I was particularly interested in her analysis of The Sims because I used to play it a lot, and I had not thought much about the game being a little world of capitalism and how the types of play might match Victorian era dollplay. Ultimately, it is fascinating that Flanagan explores these games through the lens of critical and radical play. 

I am so interested to hear your thoughts on the book and to discuss Flanagan’s approach to studying gameplay! Why was it important for her to study games from ancient times all the way to modern day? What did you think of her intervention in the study of gameplay and how she applied her argument in this history? If you are a fan of computer games, board games, or another type of play, how do you see the deeper implications of these games play out in your own experience? How does the study of gameplay relate to the work of historians and public historians? What can we learn from Flanagan’s conceptualization of critical gameplay?

Bracero History & Shelley-Godwin Archives Practicum

Hi everyone and welcome to the world of digital archives! I am sure we are all familiar with a variety of different digital archives, with different topics, tools, and setups, but today we are looking at the Bracero History Archive and the Shelley-Godwin Archive. These have quite different topics yet both are fairly straightforward and user-friendly.

The Bracero History Archive

First, the Bracero History archive is part of a collaborative effort from different universities and institutions, most notably the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media, to document the history of the Bracero guest worker program. This program involved millions of Mexican agricultural workers coming to the United States as guest workers between 1942-1964. With an online archive, these contributors, including community members, could upload and make accessible the history of these workers, which was especially important due to a previous lack of source material and an underrepresentation in historical research.

Home page of the Bracero History Archive

The archive itself was created on Omeka and is fairly aesthetically simplistic. There is an option to view the whole archive in Spanish. From the main page, the first tab you can click on is the archive, which has a way to view all of their items (with 3,209 total!), as well as images, documents, oral histories, and contributed items specifically. The archive’s specialty is its oral histories, as there are 737 currently available, with interviews of the braceros themselves, as well as their wives and families. Many of the interviews are conducted in Spanish and some are conducted in English, especially ones with younger generations of family members.

Oral history section of the archive

Another strength of the archive is its availability of teaching materials and a lengthy bibliography of secondary sources on the Bracero program for educators and researchers interested in learning more (in the tabs Teaching and History). The archive also seeks contributions from the community itself as there are videos and documents leading someone through how to submit materials with access to the archive’s Omeka page (in the tab Resources). There is even a Contributed Items section of the archive where these materials (there are 47 items here) came from the public. The archive also clarifies which sources are which with a comment at the top of these items: “This item was contributed by a user and has not been curated by a project historian.”

An example of one of the contributed items

Lastly, there is also further information about the Bracero program, the staff involved in the project, and the site, virtual, and collecting partners that helped this project come to life. Overall, it is apparent that many different institutions came together to create this digital archive in order to help ensure that the Bracero program was documented in a digital space. I would argue that a digital archive fits this project well for a few reasons: it seeks to include contributions from different institutions and individuals in one digital space, the site houses its hundreds of oral histories, and it is able to provide further resources for those interested in delving more into Bracero history.

The Shelley-Godwin Archive

Now to Frankenstein. No, seriously, my next digital archive is the Shelley-Godwin Archive, which houses digitized manuscripts of the writings of Mary Wollstonecraft and her husband William Godwin, as well as their daughter Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley and her husband Percy Bysshe Shelley. The archive calls them “England’s First Family of Writers” yet perhaps the most popular is Mary Shelley for authoring Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus. The archive is a partnership between the New York Public Library and the Maryland Institute for Technology in the Humanities, as well as other contributors, such as the Victoria and Albert Museum. Impressively, “in total, these partners libraries contain over 90% of all known relevant manuscripts.”

Home page of the archive

From the home page, you can delve straight into exploring the archive, but our first stop is the About page, where we get a deeper look into the development of the project and a brief biography of the Shelley-Godwins. Next, the Explore the Archive page lists each of the works and manuscripts available for use, which are arranged by title and then by manuscript shelf mark.

For example, if you click on the Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus link, it will take you to a brief description of the work, a few secondary sources on it, the manuscripts of the work available on the archive, and a timeline of Mary Shelley’s writing process, with links to the different manuscript drafts and copies in the archive. From the page of a certain piece of work, or back on the Explore the Archive page, you can discover the manuscripts available. One of these is Bodleian MS. Abinger c. 56, which is from one of the notebooks Shelley used to draft Frankenstein.

A view of one of Mary Shelley’s digitized manuscripts

When you click on one of the pages, you get to perhaps the most distinctive and interactive part of the digital archive. You can see above an example from the same Bodleian MS Abinger c. 56 manuscript. For each page, you can see both Shelley’s original handwriting and a transcription of what she wrote. There are many interesting things you can do on this page, such as view it as metadata or have it highlight either what Shelley wrote or what her husband commented on the pages in each step of the writing process.

One thing I do want to mention is that the availability of metadata and transcriptions depends on the manuscript. While Frankenstein has extensive transcriptions available in order to view the tools I mentioned, others, such as a few of William Godwin’s pieces, have much more limited or even no transcriptions. There are even a few pieces of work that are listed yet are only shown “in the physical order of the manuscript leaves.”

Moving on, the search function is currently off as they are switching to a different system. On the last tab Using the Shelley-Godwin Archive you can see their old search system in the tutorial video and it appears to be a pretty classic search setup, with ways to refine your results and a view of the search terms in the different works. The Using the Archive page also has tips for accessing the materials and tutorials for how to use the different features of the archive.

Overall, I was pretty impressed by this archive and it was interesting to view one that was focused on literature and manuscripts of famous writers rather than a historical topic. I particularly enjoyed the way you could view manuscripts with both the original writings and the transcription, which helped the piece come alive and showed the progress of each writer’s work.

I had to include a Frankenstein gif…

To conclude, these were both interesting examples of digital archives and ones I could see being useful for research projects, educational programs, and personal use. The Bracero archive highlighted its collaborative approach to documenting Bracero history, especially within its oral history projects. The Shelley-Godwin archive had distinctive tools and ways of visualizing these writer’s works as they transitioned from the drafts to the final piece.

Minority Servicewomen in the Women Airforce Service Pilots of WWII: An Interactive Timeline Proposal

World War II was a significant period of transition for minorities and women in the United States in positive and negative ways as economic opportunities expanded, the military allowed more groups to serve, and American society’s views on women and ethnically diverse populations fluctuated. After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and the entry of the U.S. into World War II, the military recognized the need for more manpower (that word is ironic here) in order to free more men into overseas service. Therefore, women’s auxiliary programs for each of the different branches of the military were developed, which mostly created noncombatant roles for servicewomen. One of these was the Women Airforce Service Pilots, or WASP.

Image of four WASPs from the National Archives

WASP was active between 1943 and 1944 and was considered an auxiliary program of the Army Air Corps. Thus, these 1,074 pilots were technically civilians yet they were also some of the first women to fly for the United States military. According to the WASP digital archive, WASP “logged more than 60 million miles and flew every plane the Army Air Forces possessed and every type of mission a male pilot flew during WWII except combat.” These trips often consisted of flying military planes across the country in order to deliver aircraft to and from military bases and factories. Even so, these trips could be dangerous as 38 WASP pilots died in service. Unfortunately, these servicewomen were not only not given military benefits or military status during the war, they were also deactivated in 1944 when it was deemed that they were not needed anymore. WASP was only given veteran status in 1977 and President Obama awarded them the Congressional Gold Medal in 2009.

President Obama awarding WASPs with the Congressional Gold Medal (Official White House photo by Pete Souza)

For my undergraduate university honors thesis, I researched the two Chinese American Women Airforce Service Pilots, Maggie Gee (1923-2013) and Hazel Ying Lee (1912-1944). Out of the 1,074 WASP pilots, there were only a small number of minority women. Other than Gee and Lee, the other minority women include Native American (specifically Oglala Sioux) Ola Millie Rexroat and two Mexican American women Verneda Rodriguez McLean and Frances Dias Gustavson (there is very little information on these two). African American women applied and even interviewed to join yet were rejected. In one of these interviews, the founder of WASP Jacqueline Cochran explained to applicant Janet Harmon Bragg that WASP was already facing enough gender discrimination that she felt it would be too difficult to include African American women. Another African American woman that was rejected is Mildred Hemmans Carter, who was actually retroactively accepted into the WASP program seventy years later.

Hazel Ying Lee, one of the two Chinese American WASPs (U.S. Air Force photo)

Not only are the WASP in general fairly underrepresented in research and in military histories, its minority servicewomen are even more so. I became aware of this issue while researching for my thesis, in which I stated: “The scholarship that has focused on or at least mentioned WASP often failed to include or elaborate on Lee and Gee or any of the other minority servicewomen. While there were only a small number of minority women in WASP, this unfortunate trend whitewashes American history” (21). My proposal for this project is to develop an interactive timeline on the Northwestern University Knight Lab’s Timeline JS tool. I learned of this program through the official WASP digital archive as they do have their own WASP history timeline using this tool yet this part of their website, as with many sources on WASP, neglects highlighting its minority servicewomen.

A screenshot of the WASP archive’s interactive timeline for its history (https://twu.edu/library/womans-collection/collections/women-airforce-service-pilots-official-archive/history/)

I contend that the Timeline JS tool is one prime example of how I can document these women’s stories in an interactive and distinctive way. In my timeline, I hope to both include the 5 minority women I mentioned while perhaps also featuring the African American women like Bragg and Carter that were rejected yet are still important to WASP history. The timeline would allow me to include pictures, descriptions, dates, links to further reading, and other information that would relate to these women’s lives and their experiences in WASP. While most of these materials would come from the WASP digital archive itself (I used many of their primary sources in my thesis, so I would hope to be able to do this again), I would also draw from other archives and various secondary sources. While I would be thrilled to continue this project as its own thesis, I think that this interactive timeline, and perhaps an accompanying website on WordPress, is another unique way to document this history. With an interactive timeline, we are able to both visualize these significant minority women in American military history as well as learn about their lives and time in service to their country.