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

Even 40-plus years after the passage of Roe v. Wade, abortion remains inaccessible to many women across the country. State-imposed restrictions have led to fewer clinics, and a lack of resources has disproportionally affected poor women and women of color’s access to abortion.

Source: Guttmacher Institute, 2019

Reproductive justice scholars, working in tandem with activists, have long engaged in conversation on this issue. They critique mostly white feminists, who they argue wrongly champion the issue of abortion, and contend that the discussion should be less about choice and more about access. In focusing solely on the pro-life/pro-choice debate, popular narratives exclude marginalized women who, despite the legality of abortion, may not even have the right to choose. Reasons include oppressive conditions and/or a lack of options that limit their access to essential services. In shifting our conversations from choice to access, it becomes evident that access more comprehensively defines women’s lived experience and how they seek reproductive justice, including obtaining an abortion.

For my digital project proposal, I seek to work within this framework to examine access to abortion in Washington, D.C. from before the passage of Roe v. Wade to the present day. Starting in the 1960s, I will do research to find out where women could receive an abortion in D.C., whether it was at a hospital (such as Georgetown Hospital), a clinic (such as Preterm), or an individual’s discretion (such as Dr. Milan Viutch). D.C. provides a unique case study because its 1901 abortion law differed from other states; it permitted abortions necessary to preserve a pregnant woman’s life or health. Most other jurisdictions at the time had prohibitions with life-saving exceptions, but did not mention the health of the woman. The inclusion of “health” often acted as a loophole that provided justification for some cases of legal abortions in D.C.

Counselors answer phones at Preterm, D.C.’s first abortion clinic, in 1971. Source: Washington Area Spark, Flickr.

If possible, I will track down the locations of places that provided abortions in D.C. over the years and use Google Maps to visually display them. Users will be able to toggle back and forth between different years to see just how (in)accessible abortions were in D.C. over an extended period of time. Did access to abortion actually increase after Roe v. Wade? What options existed for women before Roe, when abortion itself was illegal but women could obtain “therapeutic abortions”? An additional aspect of this study is the contribution it will make to understanding social justice in the context of Washington, D.C. It will be important to note the location of institutions and other resources which provided abortions. Did some neighborhoods lack access to these resources? How do demographics, including race and socioeconomic status, inform this study?

Following the model of projects like PhilaPlace, I will embed my map in a WordPress website to provide context for my project. This will include background information on the reproductive justice movement and the history of abortion in D.C. I imagine that I will experience some difficulties in finding places where women could historically obtain abortions, and it will likely be impossible to identify all of the locations. It could thus be worthwhile to have a crowdsourcing aspect to the website, where women who have had abortions in D.C. could add sites on the map, with the option to do so anonymously. I would also like to create space for these women to share their stories on their own terms and have conversations about their experiences, along the lines of Shout Your Abortion. I plan to do a social media campaign to publicize this project, and would seek feedback (perhaps via an anonymous form) from the women who interact with the site. This collaborative aspect would demonstrate my commitment to doing this project for and with the women who have experienced abortion in D.C.

Source: ACLU

Print Project Proposal: History, Memory, and Vichy France on Wikipedia

In 2014, I spent a semester abroad in France. Fresh off the heels of an undergraduate course I had taken on the Vichy regime during World War II, I arrived eager to get the French perspective on this contested period of history. Yet when I brought it up with my host family or in my modern French history class, I got a lukewarm response at best. When I returned again in 2018 to teach for a year, I knew better than to engage in conversation about Vichy, but I sensed even more that there was an aura of shame surrounding this history in France, with the general awareness that “it happened, it was bad, it’s over, and that’s it.”

Map of Occupied France. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Many scholars have studied collective memory following les années noires in France. Between 1940 and 1944, France suffered a devastating military defeat which resulted in German occupation in the northern half of the country, and a puppet government led by Phillipe Pétain in Vichy in the southern half. Building on Pierre Nora’s exploration of the complex relationship between “history and memory,”[1] historian Henry Rousso refers to the pall over the memory of this time in France as “the Vichy syndrome.” He defines this affliction as “the complex of heterogeneous symptoms and manifestations revealing, particularly in political, cultural and social life, the existence of traumas engendered by the Occupation […] traumas that have been maintained, and sometimes heightened after the events are over.”[2] As a result of this intensifying trauma, Rousso argues, collective memory of the Vichy regime has often been forged through the “organization of forgetting.”[3] Rousso’s work has since inspired scholars to examine what the French have chosen to remember and conceal about the Vichy regime among feelings of shame and recollections of defeat, occupation, and repression.

I aim to join these scholars in exploring the constructed memory of Vichy France, though through the lens of Wikipedia. As an open-source, collaborative platform, Wikipedia is an ideal place to examine where history and memory meet. The unique nature of crowdsourcing offers insight into what (theoretically) everyday people have chosen to remember about a contested past, as Wikipedia serves as a community-built space to engage with this history.

I will look at the French, English, and potentially German Wikipedia pages to examine what national narratives have been fashioned about Vichy France. How is this history told on these pages, each with likely different stakes in what is remembered? How have these pages operated under Wikipedia’s standard of neutrality, when memories of difficult pasts are never neutral? I will study the content of the pages themselves, but will also spend time on the talk pages to discover what topics regarding the history of Vichy France have been and are being debated. Preliminary research has revealed that the English page currently has 9 topics of discussion and the German page has 16, while the French page has over 50. What can this tell us about the nature of the history and memory of the Vichy regime in France? Even amid efforts to forget, the French Wikipedia page shows that Vichy France is clearly “un passé qui ne passe pas” – a past that lives on in different variants of memory to this day.[4]

Footage from the Fall of Paris, June 1940. Source: AP Archive.

[1] Pierre Nora, “Between Memory and History: Les Lieux de Mémoire,” Representations, no. 26 (1989): 7–24,

[2] Henry Rousso and Arthur Goldhammer, The Vichy Syndrome: History and Memory in France Since 1944 (Cambridge.: Harvard Univ. Press, 1991), 18-19.

[3] Ibid, 12.

[4] Eric Conan and Henry Rouso, Vichy: Un passé qui ne passe pas (Paris: Fayard, 1994).

Two Cool Resources for Digital Humanists

This week’s reading focused largely on the planning and development of digital projects. The NEH’s web page about its Digital Humanities Advancement Grants and Tom Scheinfeldt’s blog post “Omeka and its Peers” provide some insight into how these projects can actually become feasible for digital scholars.

The National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), through its Office of Digital Humanities and with funds from the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS), offers grants (of up to $325,000!) for digital projects that “enhance scholarly research, teaching, and public programming in the humanities.” Non-profit organizations such as universities, archives, museums, and/or libraries are encouraged to apply for a total of 25-35 grants. There are three levels of grants, each with different monetary awards based on the proposed project’s period of performance, and proposals are welcome from projects at all different stages of their life cycles.

Applications include the creation of a budget and narrative for the proposed project. The NEH offers successful sample application narratives from projects at each level to aid organizations in the creation of their own. One such sample narrative is the University of Georgia’s Freedom’s Movement: Mapping African American Space in War and Reconstruction.

Go dawgs!

This Level I project, a collaboration among scholars from a variety of universities, museums, and digital platforms, aims to unite and expand upon a number of digital projects concerning African American movement during and surrounding the Civil War. The end goal is to link three existing databases – Visualizing Emancipation, African American Civil War Soldiers, and the Last Road to Freedom – “as points and layers on an online map that tells the story of African American mobility during the War.” The application states how this will ideally broaden the audience of these databases beyond academic scholars, making information about formerly enslaved individuals accessible to demographers, social scientists, genealogists, descendants, and the general public. The application narrative includes a brief scope of similar digital projects (to demonstrate the projects’ feasibility and uniqueness, I assume) and a very detailed project plan/schedule. It’s interesting to note, though, that the expected final product is not the completed project, but rather a white paper and a blueprint for the open access, online project. The NEH is flexible in its expectations for final outputs and is open to articles, digital materials, workshops, reports, teaching resources, digital infrastructure, and/or software.

The Freedom’s Movement project exemplifies some of the ideal outcomes for an NEH-funded digital project. Funded projects are expected to “advance preservation of, access to, and public engagement with digital collections and services to empower community learning, foster civic cohesion, and strengthen knowledge networks.” The project, when complete, will achieve almost all of these goals. It seems the NEH, through its Digital Humanities Advancement Grants, is committed to making the digital humanities more accessible and accepted as scholarly work. My only query is if these grants (or some version of them) should be made available to individuals or groups not a part of established non-profit organizations. Thoughts?

Scheinfeldt’s “Omeka and Its Peers” basically serves as a ringing endorsement of Omeka, but also examines some other resources for digital humanists looking to create compelling and functional digital projects. Scheinfeldt argues, though, that these resources only do one or some of what Omeka does in one easy-to-use product.

The Venn diagram above does a good job of illustrating Scheinfeldt’s case. Different digital humanists such as archivists, museum staffers, and interpretive professionals have tended to gravitate towards platforms that only serve their most immediate need (e.g.: WordPress, Fedora, PastPerfect). As such, these groups’ toolkits have remained largely isolated as the products they use are really only good at one thing. Omeka aims to bridge this gap “by providing a collections-focused web publishing platform that offers both rigorous adherence to standards and interoperability with the collections professional’s toolkit and the design flexibility, interpretive opportunities, and ease of use of popular web authoring tools.”

Without stealing the spotlight too much from this week’s practicum presenters, Omeka provides an open, simple platform for building online exhibits that includes space for information and collections management. Best of all, it’s FREE (#blessed) and brings different digital scholars together in one place, encouraging collaboration, convergence, and conversation. I’d be interested to know if anyone is planning to do a digital project using Omeka!

Hi, I’m Jenna!

I’m a first year Public History MA student here at AU. My path to this program was a bit untraditional. I have a BA in English and French from Davidson College in North Carolina, and I originally wanted to work in journalism. Right out of undergrad, I got a fellowship covering the 2016 Presidential Election with PBS. Needless to say, that experience was a whirlwind and I found that political reporting wasn’t quite my thing. However, I discovered that I was still interested in writing and communication, yet wanted to work in a more cultural/historical setting.

I then got a job working at a local exhibit design firm. I worked both in their marketing department, primarily helping to craft proposals for new work, and got to do some content development for a few museum projects. I was also able to get some digital experience, as I crafted posts for social media (Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram primarily) and learned a bit about how technology can be used to create unique, interactive visitor experiences in museums. Around this time, I realized that grad school would be a good next step for me to continue exploring how to best use my skills and develop new ones to work in museums or other cultural settings. But first, I spent a year teaching in France (because pourquoi pas?)

Live footage of me trying to fit in with the French

That brings me to now, at AU, where I’m studying women’s history and local history, with a particular focus on reproductive justice, and working on the Humanities Truck. I came to the Public History program hoping to learn more about using history as a lens to understand issues of race, gender, and power and how to work collaboratively with communities to interpret and share their stories. I aim to become a more responsible storyteller, crafting history that is for, by, and with the public. More practically, I’m interested in learning more about what types of careers are available for those looking to work in museums and/or cultural institutions. At this point, I’m particularly intrigued by content development, programming, and/or education.

I’m hoping to learn more about how digital media can be used to accomplish these goals in this class. Technology is an amazing tool that connects people like never before. I’m interested to see how it can be applied to make museum and cultural experiences more interactive, accessible, and democratic, and make more people excited about history. I’m looking forward to working with and learning from you all!