Mapping a Reflective Narrative of D.C.’s Gay Liberation Movement

Welcome, Darlings, to the Gay Movement,” is a reflective timeline of DC’s Gay Liberation Front. The tour uses ArcGIS StoryMaps and content from the Rainbow History Project’s digital archives to offer insight into the brief radical movement with the intention to highlight the similarities with the current young queer community.

The appplication begins by situating GLF-DC within the wider national movement and history of queerness before moving into the spark that initiated the formation of a DC branch. Users are invited to explore the maps and click on pushpins to reveal additional photos and blurbs about the locations frequented by GLF members. The central narration of each event concludes with a series of reflective questions that prompts the user to think about their own experiences within the LGBTQ+ world.

The app concludes by asking how radical queer organizations have contributed to the world today and “how [users] will continue the fight.”


What began as a virtual mapped tour of a queer activist’s “day in the life,” turned into a reflective jaunt through the timeline of the DC Gay Liberation Front. Although this was not exactly what I envisioned, I still believe that the project benefits those interested in queer history by grouping together available archival documents and recordings, pinpointing the places of significance, and linking together queer radicalism with activists of the present.

I used RHP and former GLF member, Brian Miller’s pdf timeline of the GLF-DC movement as a storyboard to draw out main themes of the movement and zero in on various events around the city. Then I created a list of links to photos, oral history clips, addresses, and newspaper clippings. This master list described where I found the material, who was featured, and allowed me to link the content directly through the ArcGIS map. After much trial and error, I created 14 points for users to explore themes of pride, protest, discrimination, mental health, religion, and more.

Once I finished the app, I enlisted the help of several queer friends (EJ, Tabitha, Rachel, and Erin) to beta-test it. I made important changes to the usability and points of narrative using their feedback.

Both EJ and Tabitha are trusted friends hailing from Indiana, and as I thought about their perspective of the app, the more I realized that I could connect with them by asking more open questions about GLF-DC events, such as “Where did you first attend Pride? How has religion affected your life? Have you experienced discrimination within queer spaces?” The questions remain open for each user to answer for themselves.

In the future, I’d love to add more points to the maps and of course, more photographs once the RHP physical archives reopen to the public. Additionally, I’d like to put more research into creating a more interactive component of the app, where users can actually submit answers to the posed questions. Once I embed a commenting feature, I’d like to share it more widely within the queer community.

Rossetti Archive Overview

Welcome to your overview of the Dante Gabriel Rossetti Digital Archive, devoted to providing free access to Rosetti’s works for students and scholars alike. For those of you–like myself–who have never heard of this Rossetti fellow, here’s a brief introduction:

Dante Gabriel Rossetti was a poet, painter, and translator in Victorian Great Britain. His family was expatriated from Italy prior to his birth, and so each of the Rossetti children made a name for themselves in Great Britain. Along with several other painters, Rossetti founded the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood in 1848. From my elementary understanding, the group was formed to discuss artistic practice and culture and essentially rejected the Classical art scene. Rossetti’s melancholic influence on Victorian poetry and art reflects the period’s sense of despair and social uncertainty.

Why was this created, by who, and for what?

Rossetti’s reputation as an artistic force of reckoning inspired scholars at the Institute for Advanced Technology in the Humanities, University of Virginia to establish a digital archive containing images and textual works from between 1848 and 1920. The impetus for the archives began in 1993, however the final import of materials did not occur until 2008.

The site was published in four installments–the first launching in Spring 2000, followed by additional installments in 2002, 2005, and 2007. Each installment added volumes of digitized poems, translations, and illustrations with transcriptions, allowing for users to search through the database with ease. Additionally, there are scholarly commentaries for many of the materials, offering supplemental scope and content as well as historical context for less knowledgeable users (like myself).

The Rossetti Archive uses a platform called NINES (Networked Infrastructure for Nineteenth Century Electronic Scholarship) and was fundamental in the development of the software. NINES allows scholars to link archives and develop software tools using Collex–an interface that gathers resources and provides an online collecting and critical analysis tool.

The website provides six main tabs:

  • Home
  • About the Archive
  • Exhibits and Objects
  • Search Engine
  • Bibliography

As you can imagine, the main place for accessing content is the “search engine” and “exhibits and objects” tabs.

Search Engines

In 2007, the Rossetti Archive launched a search engine that features structured searching, where users can manipulate the search terms for certain years, genres, phrases, etc.  

Exhibits and Objects

On the main page, the materials are separated in chronological and alphabetical categories–with a separate section provides contextual sources that historically situate Rossetti in 19th century Britain.

In the “Pictures” section, creators of the site provide interpretative information of Rossetti’s artwork, reminding us that his images were greatly influenced by his life as a poet. The images themselves can be sorted chronologically or alphabetically. I prefered chronologically, because it allowed me to see what Rossetti was focusing on during a particular period.

Some of the profiles do not have images uploaded, scholarly commentary, or current physical location–but most have imported metadata listing the date, physical description, and source of the image.  

Example: MacBeth Contemplating the Aerial Dagger has no image, but does have commentary.

Dormouse surnamed Dwanging has both an image and commentary.

In the “poems” section, each document is characterized by the known date as well as the intended genre, meter, and rhyme.

The Rossetti Archive also has a page devoted to a bibliography for further research.

Final Judgement: 5/10

The Rossetti Archive may have been magnificent in its heyday, however 2008 has come and gone, and despite the amount of content uploaded the website itself seems simplistic and like it hasn’t been updated since. While it is doubtful that Rossetti will return from the grave and create more materials, a possible revamp could include more options for interactivity. It begs the question as to whether a digital archive (or project) is ever really finished. And if it is, who is left using this outdated website? How can it be improved?

HiPSTAS Tagged Audio Before It Was Cool

Now that you’ve learned all about the theories behind conducting, using, and preserving oral history interviews from Alex‘s post on sound studies, let’s dig into some other innovative things digital historians have been doing in terms of making audio files more accessible.

High Performance Sound Technologies for Access and Scholarship, or HiPSTAS, is a project created by the School of Information at the University of Texas at Austin to “develop a virtual research environment in which users can better access and analyze spoken word collections.”  

This initiative began out of a 2010 report by the Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR) and the Library of Congress (LoC) that identifies the risk of audio deterioration as a result of unprocessed and inaccessible audio acquisitions in archives. The report echoes the concerns about the life of audio files after the oral history project has been completed, as laid out by Doug Boyd and Michael Frisch.

Titled “The State of Recorded Sound Preservation in the United States: A National Legacy at Risk in the Digital Age,” the report identifies the paradox of unprocessed audio files: if researchers don’t use them, archives are less inclined to spend time and money processing them. But if the files remain unprocessed, researchers won’t be able to access them. While most of these issues stem from insufficient indexing of audio files from the time of donation, the report also places blame on the lack of developed software for analyzing and generating metadata.

Since 2013, HiPSTAS has sponsored three conferences (called the HiPSTAS Institute) to discuss issues facing archivists, librarians, and technology scholars when dealing with digital sound files. Hosted both physically and online, these workshops aimed to create a network of scholars, build up published studies in the field, and develop new software tools and techniques to help label unknown recordings.

The HiPSTAS creators set two goals:

  1. To “produce new scholarship using audio collections with advanced technologies such as classification, clustering, and visualizations”
  2. To contribute “to recommendations for the implementation of a suite of tools for collecting institutions interested in supporting advanced digital scholarship in sound.”

So, how do they plan on doing this? I’ll tell you how: Beta-testing, collaboration, and hosting several meetings of the minds (i.e. academics, graduate students, archivists, and other digital humanists).


The major component of the HiPSTAS Institutes was to develop a program known as ARLO (Adaptive Recognition with Layered Optimization). ARLO is an open source machine learning application that was originally created to study and classify bird calls by extracting audio features and displaying the data as a spectral graphs.

HiPSTAS pushes ARLO’s disciplinary bounds from science to the humanities by sponsoring a project where 20 participants experimented with the application to analyze spoken word recordings. The intent was to develop a program that would be applicable to humanities scholars by supporting longer files, implementing play-stop-fast-forward keys, and allowing multiple users to create and share tags. The participants used ARLO to record time and frequency information into a spectrogram, like so:

This graph is brought to you by the HiPSTAS Final White Paper, courtesy of Gertrude Stein saying “some such thing” from a reading of her novel, The Making of Americans.

In what is described as “instance-based learning,” participants trained ARLO with 27,000 sample clips from PennSound and 150 hours of folklore from the Dolph Briscoe Center for American History. ARLO then matches the patterns in sound clips based on pitch, rhythm and timbre. Colors are assigned to a numerical value of energy—white is the highest energy whereas black is the lowest.

Results of unsupervised learning and clustering of the Radio Venceremos Collection from the  Guatemala Police Archives by ARLO, as explained by Abhinav Malhotra.

Through collaboration with WGBH Educational Foundation and the Pop Up Archive (a speech-to-text tool), HiPSTAS has made strides in facilitating the use of ARLO to identify raw footage in collections such as the American Philosophical Society of Native American Projects and the Lyndon B. Johnson Library. The HiPSTAS website currently hosts a series of blog posts with Audio Labeling Toolkits and highlighting projects using ARLO to tag previously unidentified files.

The Ongoing Process

Currently, HiPSTAS is funded by National Endowment for the Humanities Preservation and Access and Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) with the long-term goal to inspire digital innovations that will one day instantly convert speech to text. While this goal is still out of reach, the implications of this technology would make archives searchable and accessible for researchers, with a particular benefit to people with hearing or reading disabilities.

So, in what ways have you seen people and repositories responding to the issue of unlabelled audio files and deterioration? What kinds of problems do you think will accompany unsupervised computer batch classification?

Walk a Mile in My Shoes: LGBTQ Edition

At the risk of centering queerness as the entirety of my personality and professional career, I have decided to focus on a digital project that foregrounds the experiences of the LGBTQ community in Washington, D.C. Historians, sociologists, and psychologists have recognized a pronounced generation gap between LGBTQ-identifying youths and the previous generations. Within a minority group that often cannot not rely on their biological families for support, it is still important for those coming to terms with their sexuality or gender identity to develop a “found” family, or a support system of mentors within the LGBTQ community. The current disconnect can be attributed to the HIV/AIDS epidemic that wiped out nearly 10% of the gay male community, but also to the disappearance of physical queer-centric meeting spaces. This has led to increasing misunderstandings and judgment between generations, that leaves each feeling frustrated. I believe that part of the divide stems from the younger generation’s lack of historical perspective and perceived absence of recognition of the struggles of the older generation.

Within Washington, D.C., LGBTQ history is being preserved and collected by the Rainbow History Project (RHP) and Ty Ginter’s DC Dykaries. Information about gay-owned businesses and venues can be found in collections at the Washington Historical Society and DCPL. Publications like Metro Weekly and the Washington Blade publish articles about activism and LGBTQ landmarks, and there are numerous podcasts with episodes devoted to D.C.’s queer past. While RHP has an extensive interactive map of LGBTQ places and a well-researched walking tour, I feel that there’s still a detachment in the way people remember their history.

I plan on developing an interactive Story Map Tour on ArcGis Story Maps that follows the course of several 1960-1970s LGBTQ individuals through a day/night in Washington, D.C. This virtual walking tour will be shaped by oral histories and other primary source materials from the Rainbow History Project (RHP) archives, DC Dykaries, articles from the Washington Blade, and other caches of D.C. LGBTQ history. ArcGis is an open source platform that offers a series of barebones templates where I can embed photographs, maps, oral history excerpts, and even music (with proper copyright agreements) from RHP’s digital archives. I am still in the process of identifying which community members to highlight, but RHP’s walking tour pamphlets and access to physical and digital collections will be instrumental for constructing profiles for a Story Map Tour. By centering the tour through the perspectives of real people active in the D.C. LGBTQ community, I hope to foster empathy and further engage queer youth with the past.

ArcGis allows for users to make a profile and share their Story Maps on social media. Posting the StoryMap to LGBTQ-centered pages Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram are all conducive for attracting the attention of individuals interested in this history as well as facilitating comments or critiques. The scope of the audience will also depend on the people I select to highlight as main characters. In terms of evaluation, I’ll measure my success by how much foot traffic the page acquires and the responses I receive from those participating.

There is only one existing project on the ArcGis site devoted to LGBTQ history. This Story Map, called “Taking Pride,” was created by the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission to detail the 150 year LGBT history of Greenwich Village. It begins with an embedded map of LGBT sites in the area and as you scroll, images of notable people and buildings appear next to narratives from the 19th century, early 20th century, and the period since the Stonewall Riots. Highlighted plat maps of Greenwich next to photographs of the buildings track the movement of businesses catering to LGBTQ individuals as they emerged or closed. I anticipate using some of this methodology to track the path of my own historical actors as they move through D.C.

So, after all of that–I’m still unsure how to completely construct a intersectional narrative tour that will appeal to a broad population. I hesitate to cast the perspective as a cisgender [person who identifies with the sex they’re assigned at birth] white gay man or woman, because of their historical reputation of gatekeeping and trans-exclusion. I also don’t want to ignore the numerous diverse African American LGBTQ experiences in D.C., but I recognize that as a white (mostly) cisgender gay woman, I don’t want to exploit or misconstrue the lives of LGBTQ people of color, and I hope that following a few people’s lives rather than just one will help bridge multiple perspectives.

As of now, I have a list of individuals who were active participants in the D.C. LGBTQ community during the mid-20th century of which to base a tour around:

  • Wayson Jones
  • Eva Freund
  • Bruce Pennington
  • Helene Bloom, or Fran Levine
  • Essex Hemphill
  • Meg Christian
  • Charlotte Bunch

Any additionaly suggestions are greatly appreciated!

Print Project Proposal: Mapping Queer D.C.

In June 2017, the Kate Rabinowitz partnered with the Rainbow History Project (RHP) to launch the virtual map called, “Places and Spaces.” This interactive map charts locations significant to the LGBTQ community in Washington, D.C. since the 1960s. Hosted by RHP’s online archives, people from around the world can scroll through decades of D.C.’s LGBTQ history, click on individual pins implanted on Google maps, and search through the RHP archives of oral histories and digitized material for more information about a particular location.

This software is reminiscent of Philadelphia’s Philaplace application, although instead of embedding photographs and ephemera into the map, Places and Spaces offers metadata that describes the nature of the establishment (i.e. bar, health center, book store) with the dates of operation and the gender/ethnicity of the core clientele. Anyone is welcome to submit suggestions for additional points on the map, allowing amateur historians and community members to contribute.

Touching on four of Roy Rosenzweig and Dan Cohen’s seven qualities of digital media, this map of queer spaces contributes to the accessibility, diversity, interactivity, and manipulation of digital data to study memory of a marginalized community. Through Places and Spaces, users are able to manipulate the map to view the fluctuation of queer gathering places from decade to decade, highlighting disparities in the community’s public spaces as it responded to changes in the D.C. environment.

As D.C. gentrifies, housing for low- and middle-income residents has become scarce, causing overwhelming rates of displacement (DC Curbed reports a 10% decrease in families living in the district with incomes under $35,000/year). LGBTQ establishments are not impervious to new development and augmented rent, and the map reveals a sharp decline in public queer spaces beginning in the late 1990s and early 2000s. There are many theories towards what has contributed to the decline of “gayborhoods”–the AIDS crisis, the digital culture of dating apps, and increasing assimilation must also be held accountable. However, I plan to focus on the effects of gentrification on physical LGBTQ spaces by comparing the statistics and maps tracing change in D.C., as collected by Governing Magazine, DataLensDC, and an app created by the Urban Institute called “Washington, D.C.: Our Changing City.”

The purpose of this study is to 1) further document a history that has been ignored or intentionally erased, and 2) identify core causes of disappearing spaces and its impact on the present community. Although a far cry from the longue duree research toted by Jo Guldi and David Armitage in The History Manifesto, the availability of these interactive maps allows for the comparison between the queer spaces and gentrification over the past two decades.