Digital Project Reflection: Mapping Access to Abortion in D.C.

Hi, pals! My website and the accompanying map are officially finished (for now at least), and can be found here. You can take a look at my conference poster below.

I really enjoyed working on this project throughout the semester, and I found it to be a fun practice in seeing how digital history and public history can intersect. Access to abortion is something I’m very passionate about, and I believe my project is uniquely served by being on a digital platform. Perhaps the most valuable part of my project is the crowdsourcing aspect – I seek to involve women who have had abortions in D.C. to share their stories to help fill out the map and, more importantly, work towards normalizing abortion. This ability to have community input would be close to impossible if this was not a digital project, and I believe its being digital allows me to call it a true public history effort.

That said, the crowdsourcing aspect of my project is also currently the least developed. Filling out the map and building the website took significantly more time than I expected, and coupled with stressful times due to COVID, I was unable to fully explore how I might publicize this project to gain community input. I do hope to continue this effort in the future, posting the website on my own social media accounts, and asking my friends who agree to do the same. I may also reach out to local organizations like the D.C. Abortion Fund and women’s advocacy groups to see if their networks feel comfortable in participating. I think this will be very important for a few reasons. First of all, I continued to find it difficult to locate addresses to abortion clinics from the 80s to the early 2000s. Practically, community members could help me nail these down. Next, I don’t want this project to be mine alone; I want it to be helpful to community members, and be a place where they feel safe sharing their abortion stories. Finally, I believe the more voices there are on the site, the closer we may be to normalizing abortion in the District. While D.C. has historically been a very liberal city with far more clinics than other places throughout the nation, I hope my project makes clear that access and secrecy can still be issues surrounding abortion.

I expressed some concerns in my previous post about my source data and issues that my audience might face when interpreting my map. I was really unsure what to do about this, but it turned out to be a valuable learning moment. Based upon Trevor’s advice and after doing our readings on openness theory, I decided to simply be clear about my struggles and the struggles visitors to my website might face; this actually just became another way for my project to embrace openness. I think the fact that this never even occurred to me as an option is indicative of being entrenched in academia. I’m so used to doing “traditional” academic work (which is basically only ever seen by those within the academic community), that I never thought to admit fault and let that be an opportunity for greater interaction.

I thus see my project as a culmination of a lot of things we discussed this semester. I hope that in creating this digital project, I embraced openness theory, practiced responsible public history, and maybeeeee helped put a few dents in the ivory tower.

It’s been such a pleasure working with and learning from you all this semester! Stay well!

Digital Project Draft: Mapping Access to Abortion in D.C.

As of now, my website is up and running! It includes the map (made through Google Maps) that plots access to abortion in D.C. from the 1960s to 2020, and pages for community members to contribute their own points to the map, share their stories, and read and interact with others’ stories.

I haven’t veered too much from my original proposal; that text actually forms the majority of my website’s introduction. I did, however, choose to only map places within the District of Columbia for practical reasons. While I’m sure individuals living in D.C. have historically obtained abortions outside of the city’s boundaries, I didn’t have the bandwidth to map those locations for the time being.

For the map, I was able to get a good start on obtaining the locations where people have historically received abortions in D.C. from articles in The Washington Post. However, I’ve had some issues with this methodology. Before abortion was legal, access to abortion was often only reported in the newspaper if an illegal provider (usually an individual) was arrested. In later years, especially as the 1990s approached, it then became much harder to find addresses to places or people that provided abortions. I’m worried that these issues might create a bit of a false narrative when people look at my map — who were the people in the 1960s who provided abortions and didn’t get caught? How many of them were there? How many places in general are missing from the map if they were not reported in the newspaper and/or easily findable via Google? Did individuals still operate in certain locations once abortion was legalized that weren’t reported in the news/online? This is where I think having community input will be really important.

There are additional issues, too, that are hard to present on a map alone. When toggling back and forth between the 1960s and 1970s, it looks like access to abortion drops even though it became legal in 1973. This is because there were (presumably) less individuals providing illegal abortions as clinics and hospitals began providing the service. I tried to mark this difference by assigning different colors to the types of providers, but it’s difficult to simply express how experience and access changed after legalization. In some ways, access did decrease as these providers began to open only in certain neighborhoods. Yet it’s possible that people who used these services felt much more secure (and safe?) in having their abortions performed there. In a lot of ways, this project has taught me that access to abortion is maybe not about location alone, although it is certainly a crucial factor.

I’d love to hear y’all’s thoughts on how to express some of these complicated issues on my map/website. I’d also love any feedback on the user experience/design! I also tried to be really conscious of ethics in asking people to share their stories, and would appreciate any insight on the language used.

My next steps are probably trying to fill out the map a bit more from the 1990s on, thinking about how to express some of the issues I’ve faced to the public, reworking the language and any user experience flaws, and perhaps publicizing the project a bit to get some community input!

Exploring Historic Decisions Through Gaming

Hi, friends! Hope you’re all doing well. In this Practicum, we’ll take a little break from reality by exploring games that will take us to two distinct time periods where historical actors had to make quick-fire decisions that shaped the course of history.

First up: 1066. In this game, it’s the year 1066 (shocker) and we’re transported to the bloody battlefields of the Battle of Hastings, during the Norman conquest of England. The game, designed to “educate and engage teens in a historical gore-fest,” begins with some truly rousing battle music and gives users the choice to play as a single-player or multiplayer. It also gives you the chance to read up on the game rules, which I’ll go over a bit here.

You’ll play the game as the English, Viking, or Norman army. The goal of the game is to defeat your enemy army by killing and/or scaring off as many soldiers as possible. To do this, you need to learn about the different sections of your screen. The top portion is the Battle View. This shows the battle as it plays out, and you can use the arrows on your keyboard to shift your view at any point during the game.

Next up, in the middle section, is the Army Info and Mini-Games Panel. This small section contains a lot of information including: your army morale, the game timer, and your unit info. Each unit has an icon that corresponds to important measures like your attacking strength, defensive strength, and the number of troops you have left. You can also check out the number of troops your opponent has left by looking at the right side of the screen.

Finally, you have your Battle Map, which is where you plan your troops’ actions and issue commands for the battlefield. You’re also able to see your enemy’s actions and thus plan accordingly. The game is played in rounds, which are then divided into two phases. Each round begins with the Select Commands phase (which is when you issue orders to your troops), followed by the Executing Commands phase (which is when the orders are played out on the battlefield).

So, what are the commands? During the Select Commands phase, you can click on your units and choose to move, fire, taunt, fortify, or break. Each command affects both your army and your opponent, in terms of number of soldiers and morale.  Moving your troops directly next to enemy troops leads to hand-to-hand combat and (likely) the most deaths. The game is over once either army is killed or scared off.

So, let’s play (or…fight?)!

I first chose to play “Story Mode,” thus starting a new battle campaign and, because I’m a noob, I opted to play an Easy game. Before fighting, the game gave a little history lesson about the Battle of Hastings and its impact on early European politics and geography (though there’s the option to skip this).

I got assigned to play as the Vikings (dope!) and the game gave me a brief overview on their historical fighting techniques, plus the option to randomize the number of units I had. After that, it’s battle time!

Alright… unsurprisingly, I lost my battle and was awarded the battle rank of “Peasant.” Rough. However, the game was pretty fun to play, though there was a bit of a steep learning curve in mastering the commands. It was longer than I expected, lasting about 20 minutes, but moved really quickly. The Executing Commands round consisted of a bunch of “mini-games,” where you would have to perform actions (like typing in a phrase or hitting the correct keyboard arrows) to actually execute the command.

For example, you could change the angle and power of your arrow shots using your mouse. My arrows usually killed more of my own army than my opponent’s. Sorry, Vikings.

Overall, I wouldn’t say 1066 is very educational (maybe about battle techniques, but you don’t learn much at all about the Battle of Hastings unless you watch the intro), but it is a good way to spend some time, especially if you’re into war history.

Next up: Jamestown Adventure. We’ll jump about 600 years into the future to 1606 Jamestown, where we’re a captain setting up the colony. The introductory page gives a brief overview of the settling of Jamestown and its failed early years. Your job is “choose your own adventure” by making a number of key decisions to see if you can do better than the actual colonists. You’re able to consult the London Company’s Charter, or ask fellow colonists or Native Americans for advice. At the end, you’re scored on the food, health, wealth, and morale of your colony, which you can then compare to the historical Jamestown and “learn from the mistakes of history.”

Alright, let’s play!

This game is a lot less complicated than 1066 – I was done playing in about 3 minutes! It also seems like it’s geared toward a younger audience. The first question asks where you want to land to set up your colony. I chose to live on a protected bay island, since the colonist I asked said Spain might attack land directly on the coast.

Next, I was confronted by Native American chief, Lord Powhatan. Because I know my history, I offer to trade with him rather than attack. The Native American I consulted also counseled me to be a good neighbor, and this is just good advice for everyone.

Good question, Lord Powhatan.

Next, I’m asked what kind of structure I want to build. Once again, I listen to the natives and decide to build a town rather than a wood fort or a small castle.

Next, I choose to make everyone (including gentlemen!) work, doing hunting and fishing, and planting corn, wheat, and tobacco. Once again, I mostly consult the natives on these decisions since they’ve already lived there.

Then, it’s time for my results and…

My colony’s a success all around! I’m not sure if there’s a rating better than “Good,” but compared to the real Jamestown, I’d say I did alright.

Overall, Jamestown Adventure (while not as fun to play) is definitely more educational than 1066. I imagine it would be a good, interactive way for elementary/middle schoolers to learn about the failure of the Jamestown colony, and also makes for a good springboard into topics such as Native American history and the detrimental effects of colonialism.  What’s interesting about both games, though, is that you actually can lose both of them – and are expected to learn from your failure. This is something that I appreciate about both games and (regardless of the amount of educational historical content) seems like an important lesson to learn young.

What did y’all think of these games?

On Paper (and Documents)

Before we delve into Paper Knowledge, just a note to say that I hope you’re all staying safe in these wild times! Please feel free to reach out to me for anything: course-related, or if you’re just feeling lonely.

My last few brain cells trying to hold it together after this week

But for now, I hope we can all distract ourselves for a bit by working through the complex (and fascinating!) issues posed in Paper Knowledge. Gitelman offers an alternative form of media history in this book by studying documents and paper. In addressing four specific episodes of the past 150 years, she fleshes out the history of what she calls the scriptural economy, or “the totality of writers, writings, and writing techniques that began to expand so precipitously in the nineteenth century.” These episodes represent moments when new devices and media were created specifically for the production and reproduction of writing – which in turn gave meaning to the documents that were being produced.

So this leads us to one of Gitelman’s main questions: what exactly is a document?

I must admit this question, though seemingly SO simple, kind of blew my mind. Gitelman offers a few definitions, all centered around the idea that the core function of a document is its “know-show function.” In other words, the purpose of a document is to, well, document. Documents are framed and reframed, produced and reproduced, to serve as evidence; they thus become meaningful in these ways. Under this definition, as Gitelman shows throughout the book, we can view even unexpected things like receipts, ledgers, and tickets as veritable documents. Gitelman shows how these documents were and are “integral to the ways people think as well as to the social order that they inhabit.”

An interesting facet of Gitelman’s argument is how deeply paper is tied up in the meaning of documents. She examines how people often confuse “the text” and “the work” when thinking of documents, which becomes especially complex in the digital age when documents are often on Kindles, iPads, etc. What exactly is the relationship – and difference – between paper and documents? How has this become murkier with the rise of digital technology?

Gitelman looks to history in an attempt to answer some these questions, and also brings up matters concerning access. In the 1920s and 30s, she shows, academics and managerial workers both began to explore new ways to reproduce paper documents. Universities, using new technology such as microfilm, began to make these documents available to a wider scholarly community. Secretaries using tools such as mimeographs reshaped how documents were used “as means of both internal and external forms of communication.” This trend, in which new media were used to expand the production and reproduction of documents, extended through the use of the Xerox machine in the 60s and copy shops throughout the rest of the twentieth century. These advancements have muddled the line between documents and paper, all while (sometimes) making documents more accessible – and perhaps more meaningful?

Gitelman frames the final chapter of the book, on the rise of the PDF, as cumulative of this history and the issues it raises. She asks us: “how is the history of PDFs a history of documents, of paper and paperwork? And what are the assumptions about documents that have been built into PDF technology, and how does using that technology reinforce or reimagine the document?” I’d love to hear your own thoughts about these questions in the comments. Gitelman, for her part, leaves no doubt that the history of paper and documents has shaped digital technology, and that digital technology has and will continue to shape our perception of paper and documents.

Listening to History on SoundCloud

SoundCloud is a digital platform where anyone can upload and listen to music, podcasts, radio broadcasts, and/or other forms of audio. While I’m most familiar with it as a place for overly confident frat boys to drop their “rap albums,” I’ve learned that it actually houses quite a bit of historically-minded content.

I started my foray into SoundCloud with a simple search for “history.” The first account to come up (once I scrolled through songs by One Direction and Madonna) was BackStory with the American History Guys, with a whopping 803K followers and 2,176 uploaded tracks. BackStory is a weekly public radio show broadcast from Charlottesville, Virginia. Each week, the hosts pick a topic that people are talking about and do a deep dive into its roots in American history. Popular episodes include histories of horror in America (102K listens) and data and surveillance in America (92.3K listens). Since this content is traditionally only on air in Charlottesville, uploading it to SoundCloud makes it more accessible to a wider audience. Win-win!

As I enjoy the occasional history podcast, I next decided to search for some of my favorites on SoundCloud. I was disappointed to see that Stuff You Missed in History Class had only 7 tracks uploaded (when, in reality, they have over 1,300 episodes). However, they do have their episodes available on Apple Podcasts/iTunes, Spotify, iHeart Radio, and their website. It led me to wonder that with so many platforms available, why would podcast creators choose to upload on SoundCloud in particular? Curious to hear your thoughts. I did find a TON of content from the BBC, though, including a fascinating podcast called A History of the World in 100 Objects. I don’t know if I’ll switch over to SoundCloud from Spotify (where I currently listen to most of my podcasts), but I do appreciate SoundCloud’s efforts to make this content available to those who don’t have Apple products or don’t want to pay for the benefits of a Spotify Premium account. SoundCloud also seems to have some lesser-known, but equally as interesting, history content maybe not on these other platforms.

Probably the best part about SoundCloud is that organizations – or individuals! – without an actual podcast/radio station/etc. can also upload content. Many museums (such as the Guggenheim) have SoundCloud accounts where they upload audio such as lectures and/or museum staff talking about the collection. SoundCloud is an easy way for them to make this content accessible to those outside the walls of the museum.

The fact that anyone can upload and listen to audio also makes SoundCloud an exceptionally good platform for oral histories. The top search results for “oral history” include the Southern Oral History Program, NPS Oral History, and the DC Oral History Collaborative. In uploading the oral histories they have done, these organizations use SoundCloud so that the interviews can go back to the communities in which they originated. Working on the Humanities Truck, we always upload video interviews to YouTube to share back with the narrators, but it’s great to know there’s an alternative for audio files.

Overall, while SoundCloud may not be the spot for the hippest history podcasts (and I may be proved wrong here if we have any avid SoundCloud users in the class), it does provide an amazing platform for historians looking to share their work with wider audiences and communities.