Digital History Final Project: The State of the Union

Hello all! I look forward to reading your final posts and looking at your very cool digital history projects! As for mine, I had a blast working on this project. The use of a digital component in a traditional research paper allowed me to delve further into the topic and go places I would have otherwise been too time restricted to explore. This project has certainly taught me the value of incorporating digital history in projects going forward.

The ease and speed of Voyant Tools, the digital asset I used for my project, was incredible. It was amazing how something thought up and designed so many years ago it still relevant and usable on the Internet. So many websites parish on the Internet from a lack of use or maintenance. However, the team at Voyant Tools have made an incredibly reliable and user friendly digital tool. I used Voyant Tools to do a text analysis of each State of the Union address I used in my research paper. It allowed me to have access to word count, most frequently used words and phrases, and exactly where they appeared in the text for further context. It was amazing the amount of data I was able to pull out of these primary source documents.

The main aspect of my paper was to highlight how digital tools could be used in a traditional academic style research paper. I could have technically done this project by gathering all the State of the Union addresses, reading each one individually, counting each word, and looking for frequently used words…. yeah, that as never going to happen. Especially in just one semester! The power of a digital tool allowed me to do all of that in a matter of hours, not weeks. Also, digital tools are just as important to the overall project as the documents themselves. The stigma that the digital components do not belong in academia is just crazy!

The most difficult part of the project was the limit of texts you could search at once on Voyant Tools. That made the process a bit more time consuming and difficult. However, I was able to save each segment as a new corpus so that made organizing them in the end easier. But all in all, a very easy tool to use! I would for sure use it again in the future!

This class and project as a whole really exposed me to the vast possibilities of the digital side of history. As a future public historian, making use of the digital components will be vital going forward. That is where the world is headed. We are in the information and digital age. Why not make full use of that? Museums, history departments on college campuses, high school classrooms, and beyond could be making better use of technology to explore history. We have huge amounts of primary source material digitized and waiting to be studied and examined. Students and museum visitors have the opportunity to lean in new ways with this digital technology as well. Why not utilize it?

Thank you all for a great semester!

Opening & Expanding Forms of Scholarly Communication

Hello all! Hope you are all doing well in this time of uncertainty and global pandemic. This week, I will be discussing and breaking down three articles pertaining to the new “modern” ways scholars are interacting with one another, presenting their work, and engaging with one another over a digital medium.

Usually, scholarly writing takes place in a traditional monograph setting and they are seen as the primary and “authentic” forms of scholarship. Historians are very picky about who they like to include in their small circle of accepted and trusted friends and traditional publication of research papers and monographs have been their longest and closest ally over the years. This is a very ivory tower approach that excludes many from their field. Getting your research published as a book is only achievable by a small sliver of the historical community. Those historians are placed at a higher level than the rest of the field because they had their work formally published. But this is 2020, and things are a lot different than they were just a decade ago. This field prides itself on facts and knowledge and evidence. However, the books published do not have a monopoly on the facts.

The Association of Research Libraries (ARL) is a nonprofit organization made up of over 100 research libraries in the United States and Canada. Their mission is to influence the changing environment of scholarly communication and the public policies that affect research libraries and the diverse communities they serve. In their online journal, ARL published an article by Rikk Mulligan on how digital scholarly publication has evolved and adapted to changing technology. Mulligan is affiliated with the Carnegie Mellon University studying digital scholarship and digital humanities. This article also frames the ARL’s mission and proves why it is so important going forward.

Mulligan breaks down his article into short form/journal articles and long form/monographs. The short form communication between scholars is undergoing a crisis starting in the 1970s. Journal publications and subscriptions have sharply risen to keep up with the inflation, growing U.S. economy, and the with the sheer number of journal selections out there in the world. This explosion of scholarly journals between the 1970s and 1990s also made it nearly impossible for universities to keep up with ordering every issue and journal for their faculty and students to have access to. It also became WAY too expensive as well. There was no effective or efficient to comb and sift through all of the journals and various issues to find the nugget of information a researcher needed. This lead to what is known as “the serials crisis.”

To combat this overflow of mounting expensive scholarly work, universities and research libraries banded together to expand the inter library loan system and experimenting with digitizing their journals for faster research access and their limited physical storage space- the early form of JSTOR and the like. The research and collaboration of these libraries and like minded thinkers paved the way for a more digital world we live in today. The digitized articles and journals we take for granted every time we need to do research for a paper, have their start in the serials crisis ending in the 1990s.

With the world of online journals becoming more widespread and influential to the historical community, JSTOR commissioned a report in 2006 outlining the impacts that they have had in the community. Their findings were surprising for the 2006 era. Although books and traditional monographs being published were still the requirement for tenure tracks for universities, the main secondary sources used in research were journal articles. These journals are more easily accessible and searchable for the researchers which made them a more popular choice. Adding to the success of these online journals was the uncertain health of university presses. Researchers and scholars were not sure if they would stay open should their funding continue to be cut.

The article also points to the slow transition to electronic media, especially in the history field. This slow transition will have a massive impact on the next generation for scholars who become ever more reliant on sources being online to conduct their research. In an era where the internet is everywhere and everyone is using it, why should the humanities be any different? They need to continue to publish online and make more sources, primary and secondary, available online to everyone.

Since the age of digital information is upon us and even the slow to react field of history acknowledges that digital forms of history are ever more present in our research lives, the AHA has established a Digital History Working Group to come up with guidelines on how digital scholarship should be evaluated by historians. (There are always standards and rules in history…. even online).

These guidelines are designed to help future scholars use digital tools effectively and properly while at the same time allowing other historians in the field to evaluate digital work in a fair and proper method equal to that of traditional print materials. This allows for an even playing field in allowing digital publications to be used for tenure consideration and other prominent scholarly awards and recognition.

These considerations and the usefulness of digital history cannot be overstated. Especially in this time of craziness and every library and museum being closed, we as researchers have never been more grateful for the digital history access we have. We have all used it, JSTOR, EBSCO, and the like. They have saved us before and they are saving us now. We have come to take them for granted or even to expect some sources to be online. However, now that we rely on them, we realize how important they really are to the field as a whole. Who knows when the libraries will open again? Until then though, we have access to digital scholarship thanks to the pioneers who came before us to make sure that online publication was just as important as physical books or monographs. I hope you all enjoy the last few weeks of the semester and stay safe and healthy!

State of The Union Rough Draft

Hello all! I hope that you are doing the best you can under these strangest of circumstances. After seeing all of the great digital projects that have been created and your posts on this blog, I present to you all…. my research paper. (sorry it’s not as fun) It uses Voyant Tools to do text analysis of some of the State of the Union addresses. I focus on three areas: which presidents were the most successful in their first address to the nation and to Congress? I also looked at Presidents Adams, McKinley, and Clinton’s first and second addresses. Why? They were in office at the turn of the century. Did their State of the Union speeches reflect on such a momentous occasion? Lastly, I compared the youngest and oldest presidents’ State of the Union speeches. I defined age at the start of their presidency. Teddy Roosevelt was 42 when he took office after the assassination of President McKinley and President Trump was 70 when he took office. (JFK was the youngest president elected: 43 years old, and President Reagan was 77 when he left office but only 69 when he took office. Those are thought to the traditional oldest and youngest presidents. I took a different approach). I could have looked at so many more aspects of the presidency. Voyant Tools was a great digital text analysis tool for this project. It made the research project feasible.

Stay safe out there!

Project Proposal: DC’s Lost Cemeteries

Washington DC’s history is plagued with the cloud of gentrification. From the massive SW Urban renewal project to the more recent developments in Chinatown, the urban ;landscape has undergone massive changes that have altered entire neighborhoods and populations of people in the process. Gentrification is its own can of worms and a debate for another project. Although the impacts and urban renewal projects in the District have been well documented and researched, for the most part, one aspect has flown under the radar of researchers: cemeteries.

Cemeteries can tell us amazing things about the population that lived in the area: the predominant religion, ethnicity, race, and class of the individuals (that can be determined by the size and how elaborate the headstone is). They give us a view into the past without being overtly historical in the traditional sense. That is one of the more interesting parts of a cemetery!

For this project, I am proposing a digital mapping project using Historypin, Google Maps, or a similar tool to show where the cemeteries of DC used to be. Each pin would have the name, picture, and brief history of the cemetery. When was it founded? By whom? Who is buried there? Who owned the cemetery? When was it destroyed? What happened to the land/bodies once it was slated for removal? Those types of questions can guide researchers to other questions based on the findings. Where there any cemeteries removed for racial or religious reasons? Was there a trend of removing a particular type of cemetery? Etc. The answers to those questions combined with seeing where the cemeteries used to be based on the digital mapping will allow users to get a better understanding of a lesser thought of just how destructive gentrification can be.

As of now, it appears to me that there has been little to no research done on this topic specifically. I would need to create my own database in essence to accomplish this project and do it justice. That would involve hitting the archives and the DC city records to get an idea of older maps and layouts of the city prior to urban renewal.

Now, I have not landed on a time frame as of yet. I will have to see what the records say. I could expand it to include cemeteries that were destroyed not due to urban renewal. Again, I have not made up my mind on that yet.

I think this project provides a great opportunity to see the history of the city through a unique lens and perspective that incorporates both archival research, digital history, and to an extent, community history as well. All things that Public Historians need to keep in mind when working on and framing a project.

Print Project Proposal: Dissecting the State of the Union Speeches with Text Analysis

The State of the Union has been a presidential tradition since the days of George Washington. He was the first to deliver an address to a joint session of Congress in 1790. However, in 1801, Jefferson decided to give his STOU Address in the form of a letter fearing annual speeches too reminiscent of a monarchical speech. President Wilson cemented the tradition of addressing Congress in person in 1913. He moved away from the written letter to push Congress on his agenda as president. The new technology in the decades to come (radio and television primarily) changed the nature of the STOU. It was now more readily accessible to the average American citizen.

The STOU undergoing so many changes from its inception in the 1790s makes it a fascinating primary source to study. And since every president gives an address, it is a consistent speech in each year of a presidency across each president. It will be very interesting to look at how the STOU differs in substance when it was delivered in written form vs in front of Congress and now in front of both Congress and the nation. How does the wording change? The contents? The phrasing and word choice? All of these seemingly subtle changes can have a massive impact on the speech itself and the reaction of both Congress and the people.

It will also be useful to look at the STOU address given in a president’s first year vs his 3rd or 4th year. Or, if he served multiple terms, comparing his 1st and 5th year speeches. It would also be worth looking at the wording and commonalities between presidents from the same region of the nation. I wonder if they use the same language or similar styles of writing. Another cross examination and comparison would be how different presidents talk about the same problem or crisis. Or even how different Republican presidents talk about the same issue or different Democratic presidents. The inter-party divides might be illuminated in those cases.

I would use a text analysis program to accomplish these research goals I have set for myself. Something like Voyant Tools or a similar program (still working that out. Any suggestions would be welcomed with open arms). The text analysis would allow me to track the most commonly used words or phrases for a given president during his administration, compare him to his successor, or even the most commonly used words by Democratic presidents between 1960-1970 for example. The possibilities are endless, and these questions are worth looking into.

All of the speeches are out there on the web. They just need to be tapped into and looked at against one another. This historical context and research paired with the digital component of text analysis shows just how powerful digital history can be with endless potential at the tips of our fingers.