Mapping Suffrage History: Reflection

Project Goals:

The goal for this project was to collect and share the stories of African American suffragists at the turn of the 20th century, something that is especially important as we approach the centennial of the 19th Amendment. When talking about women’s suffrage campaigns it’s necessary to speak about those who were excluded from mainstream (white, elite) suffrage organizations.  To share these stories, I created a historypin collection and tour and a wordpress blog. I chose historypin because I was interested in the ways maps in which could be used to display the connections between suffrage organizations and women – where did they live? Where did they for clubs and work on campaigns? Who did they interact with? Because historypin is not a commonly known website outside of digital history circles, I built a very simple blog to host the maps and provide more context.

Research Notes:

Through my research I was able to identify several possible learning. Sharing the stories of these women can help users to identify where prominent African American suffragists lived and campaigned, what suffrage and social organizations they formed and participated in, and how to analyze the factors that motivated African American suffragists to interact with (or avoid) organizations like NAWSA and NWP.

Many of the women I studied were from well to do and prominent black families in northern cities, but others were born to formerly enslaved parents, or were enslaved at birth themselves. The majority of these women became teachers or were involved in education, one of the only paths open to women, and especially African American women, at the time. There were several “hubs” of activism; Baltimore, Philadelphia, Chicago, New York and D.C. featured heavily. Finally, African American female suffragists were almost always involved in other social and civil rights organizations, and often were part of abolition, anti-lynching, and anti-segregation movements. Thus, suffrage was one aspect of their pursuit for equal rights.

Project Notes:

While I was initially excited about the mapping aspect of this project, it came with its own issues. These women often travelled extensively throughout the country, and often lived and worked in different cities throughout their lifetimes. Using a single pin to represent a lifetime of movement and experience creates a static experience that does not necessarily accurately represent reality. Sometimes, even locating a specific address for a woman was hard. Because many of these women were club organizers or influential in rights campaigns, some of their houses are National Park Service sites or otherwise marked as an important landmark. The addresses of other women though, who were less involved or less recognized, have not been preserved. In those cases, I tried to locate an organization or philanthropy they were involved in (for example, the foundation of a school, settlement house, or hospital) but often these had been lost to time as well. Because of this, while some pins are highly accurate, some of them are more generally placed. When given a generic location such as “Philadelphia,” historypin selects a specific geographic location to place the pin. This may lead to confusion from users, as some pins appear to be accurately located while in reality they are not.

Issues with Historypin:

Initially uploading the pins was not difficult. The upload/edit function of historypin is really well thought out, with instructions about what information is required (title, date, location) and what is optional (description, license, tags). Editing a pin after it is uploaded is also easy and uses the same form. What I had a challenge with was getting all my pins to show up on the screen. Unless the map is zoomed out to include the entire US, visitors to the site can only see pins shown in the section of the country they can see. This is both intuitive and not; visitors may not understand the necessity of zooming out to include the entirety of the map, and so may miss a number of biographies. This issue was mostly solved by creating a tour version of the biographies, which ensured a visitor could click through all of the pins, and still see their location on the map.

Overall, I was happy with how the maps turned out on historypin, but if I repeated this project, I would consider using ArcGIS StoryMaps, which offers many more diverse editing functions.

Project Connections:

There were readings from several weeks that particularly influenced my thinking about this project. First of all, and most obviously, was the week on mobile media, place and mapping where we discussed the different ways museum and public history professionals are thinking about place and space in their work.

I was also especially impressed with Dragan Espenschied’s article “Big Data, Little Narration,” which included a discussion of Google’s Zeitgeist globe. I found the globe super interesting, but Espenschied had important questions that made me think more deeply about my project: why is the data arrange the way it is? Why is it on a globe? What has been left out? What is the most authentic way to share this information? How can we make representations of data meaningful?

Finally, the week on crowd-sourcing captured my interest. While the project as it stands does not include crowd-sourced material, historypin has a function where you can add a pin to a collection that already exists. I’ve chose to keep that function open, so that anyone can add a pin to “Lifting As We Climb.” While the women whose stories I shared were leaders or prominent members of suffrage organizations, there are thousands of women who participated who have gone unmentioned. By encouraging people to add their own pins to this map, we can perhaps learn these stories.


Despite the issues I encountered and have shared in this post, I am really happy with how this project turned out. The map and tour successfully share the stories of women who often do not get the recognition they deserve, and in doing so create a more complex and nuanced narrative of women’s suffrage.

A Timeline of Scholarly Blogging

Looking at Scholarly Communications in the History Discipline by Rebecca Griffiths, Michael Dawson, and Matthew Rascoff, The Ivory Tower and the Open Web: Introduction by Dan Cohen, and Supporting the Changing Research Practices of Historians by Jennifer Rutner and Roger C. Schonfeld gives one a fairly strong timeline to follow depicting how historians have slowly began to interact with digital practices. They also demonstrate the practices in the field of historical scholarship that is holding back this transition.

Scholarly Communications in the History Discipline was published in 2003 and was commissioned by JSTOR to discovery the main ways in which historians research and share their findings. The report, maybe unsurprisingly, found that books – mainly understood as monographs – were the dominant form of published scholarly communication because they have been deemed the critical component for attaining tenure. In contrast, journal articles and other sources such as conference proceedings, multi-author volumes, and abstracting services serve as the main secondary sources for research. The article discusses the perceived “crisis” of the monograph industry as well as the blossoming of the scholarly journal. The end of the article turns to look that electronic resources, and argues that as a field, history is significantly behind the sciences and social sciences in transitioning from print to electronic format and argues that this is for two main reasons. First, they implicate the publishing industry: a transition to electronic journals would decrease print subscriptions and lead to decreased revenue, and so these industries are slow to chase that change. Secondly, Griffiths, Dawson and Rascoff note that a fully integrated electronic resource (bypassing just digitized text) would require researchers to learn a wholly new way of interacting with and consuming history, which they are reluctant to do. The article largely does not overtly suggest that historians should turn to digital scholarship but includes it as a possible avenue of communication. However, but indicating that history is lagging behind the sciences in this area, implies that history should make some efforts in catching up.

Dan Cohens introduction to The Ivory Tower and the Open Web, posted in 2011, has no such reticence; the very point of his book is to encourage historians to become active on the web. He argues that early stereotypes of blogs as recreational and information-based instead of educational and serious has negatively impacted their standing with academic communities. While he celebrates the openness of the web, he argues that scholars see this as a dangerous free-for-all. Like Scholarly Communications, Cohen too tracks the way historians communicate, and notes that while most academic journals have moved online, they have simply mimicked their print editions by uploading pdf versions of their published articles. He argues that historians remain focused on publishing books and “show an aversion to recent digital tools and methods.” For Cohen, the openness of the web holds untold possibilities for free communications outside the restriction of current communication structures and provides a way to more easily share work and to point to what is “good and valuable.” While, like Scholarly Communications, Cohen notes a significant shortfall in online communications, unlike the earlier report he definitively argues that historians should address this as an issue in need of correction.

Finally, Supporting the Changing Research Practices of Historians provides another point along the timeline of transition. Published in 2013, the report finds that “day-to-day research practices are digitally enabled, a transformation that has had in some cases substantial implications.” Rutner and Schonfeld find that throughout the research process, from searching for possible archives online to snapping digital pictures of sources in archives to organizing notes, scholars are integrating digital practices. The authors argue that interaction with digital scholarship takes many different forms, through different research practices, communication tools, publishing strategies and more, and that many scholars using digital methods are self-taught. They point to GIS and text mining as emerging technological methodologies and collaboration in digital projects as changing how historians engage with scholarship. Like Cohen, they also investigate how historians use online communications like blogs and find a much more positive outlook. Although they acknowledge that blogs are not viewed as a substitute to formal publications like books or journal articles, they are seen as a significant form of scholarly communications among some historians. They point to the ways in which blogging is seen as a way to engage more people, find a community of like-minded scholars, or develop new ideas and methodologies. Like both of the previous articles, they also point to the tenure process as a significant sticking point in the transition to digital communication. They suggest that the sense of not earning “credit” when using non-traditional forms of scholarship is a significant barrier to more historians exploring and adopting new methods and communication strategies.

Just through these three articles, published in a seven-year time span, we can see the significant growth of the use of blogs and online communication as well as the persistent problems (for example, the way that the tenure process is based on book publications) that hold this process back. What do you guys think? Should the tenure process include review of online blogs, or should they stick with traditional monographs and articles?  Cohen argues that “good is good” and the very best blogs will rise to the top, but with a digital landscape that is both so huge and so cluttered should more professors and graduate students publish blogs? Sound off below (on this blog that we’ve joined to communicate in scholarly ways).

Project Update: Mapping Suffrage History

What’s the Update?

My goal for this project is to add to the traditional narrative of white middle-class suffragists. To do so, I originally proposed a historypin map with both African American women and working-class women to add a new layer of historical information. While I was researching and creating the map, I realized that a combined map might lose its clarity and power. Because of this, I decided to create a single map with only African American suffragists and women’s rights advocates, which you can find here. I’d love to get some feedback on it! I’m really excited about the number of variety of women whose stories I was able to capture, but there is always room for improvement.

What’s Next?

There are a couple things I need to do for this project to be complete:

  1. Update the “About” text with more contextual information.
  2. Decide how to cite my sources. For example, should I create a bibliography section a the bottom of each pin?
  3. Figure out why the map keeps glitching – when you look at the whole map sometimes it shows many more pins than I’ve created, but not always.
  4. Decide how, if at all, I should incorporate working class women back into this project, for example by creating a second map that displays their history.

Social Memory and Digital History

Social Memory

In Re-Collection: Art, New Media, and Social Memory, the authors define social memory as “how and what societies remember.” On the grand scale, social memory is essentially the continuity between generations that allow civilizations to persist over time. It’s a way for people to transmit traditions, ideas, beliefs and agreements. Scholars of social memory argue that it is consciously sustained through the efforts of individuals, groups, and institutions. For example, when people visit museums, they view the artifacts or artwork there through a framework created by social memory.

The authors argue that there are two different types of social memory. The first is “formal memory,” and is the type the above-mentioned visitors to the museum are engaged it. Formal social memory is how history and art institutions most often engage with social memory, and it focuses on accuracy, integrity, and the object in its fixed form.

However, there is also “informal memory” which is distributed through popular forms of remembering. People engaged in informal social memory, the authors write, “often [emphasize] updating or recreating the cultural object as a way of keeping it alive.” We can find examples of this in Dragan Espenschied’s website emulator project, or the way Cope and Chan worked to acquire the Planetary App not as a graphic design object but as a “living” system of interact-able code. While these tactics might not result in the most “accurate” representation of a digital artifact, they allow those interested in them to interact with and learn from them in ways they could not if they were frozen in time.

The Digital History Link

Why do we care about social memory in a class on digital history? Mostly because digital culture threatens to disrupt it. With new digital technology, cultural objects that used to be physical (artwork, newspapers, letters, books) are now increasingly digital challenging the stability of their future preservation. Not only that, but the way we interact with these objects, through documentation, archives, storage, and management systems are also increasingly digital. This causes concrete concerns because of how quickly digital technology grows and changes. Saving a piece of hardware is not enough to preserve a digital object, because in the not-so-distant future, that hardware may be unusable. The same issue can apply to software – in the Planetary App example, an iOS update caused the Planetary to become nonfunctional on iPads. Digital objects, then, change the way we have to think about preservation.

We’ve read a number of articles so far this semester discussing how challenging the preservation of digital objects is – the various ways they deteriorate, how important file-types are and more. Sometimes the authors give practical advice, for example, chose a file type that is especially popular, because it will be more stable. What I appreciated most about our readings in Re-Collection was the concrete steps the authors suggested as possible ways forward in collecting and preserving digital culture. These steps, importantly, were not just for archivists or curators: options for lawyers, dealers, sponsors and academics were all included. Some suggestions are seem relatively easy, especially when you’re not the one doing them, such as the one asking archivists to modernize metadata standards. Others are big asks, such as suggesting institutions begin building repositories of digital culture. As we begin to confront the realities of preservation in a digital age these suggestions – both big and small – are important starting places.

So what do you think about social memory and digital objects? Are there ways to keep digital objects alive without sacrificing accurate representations of their original state? Are there ways that we as public historians can contribute to these conversations? What do you think of the twelve suggestions the authors offered to “future-proof contemporary culture?” Do you have a hot new idea on preserving digital culture based on this reading?

September 11 Digital Archive

What is it?

The September 11 Digital Archive was launched in January 2002 with the intention of collecting, preserving, and making accessible the history of the 9/11 attacks through digital means. The Archive was originally created by the American Social History Project at the City University of New York Graduate Center and the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media, funded by a grant from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. Since 2002 the project team has taken steps to preserve the digital archive in a rapidly changing field. The first step, taken n 2003 was a partnership with the Library of Congress, which acquired the Archive as part of their collections. The second step, in 2011 was funded by a Saving America’s Treasures Grant and necessitated a migration to Omeka.

The Archive includes both “born-digital” material such as emails, audio recordings, digital images, first-hand stories recorded on the site, and digital representations such as scans of written visitor responses recorded at the National Museum of American History at their 10th anniversary temporary exhibition.

How do you use it?

There are five major was a visitor to the digital archive can access its materials.

1) Featured Collections

On the Home page, along with a scroll bar featuring 11 images from the collection, are three featured collections. These collections change when you refresh or return to the page, but the ones I saw were “Here is New York Photos,” “Voices of 9.11,” “Michael Ragsdale Flyer Collection,” and “FDNY Incident Action Plans Collection.” Clicking on these collections takes a visitor to a description of each collection, its origins, and its contents.

2) Items

The first option on the navigation bar at the top of the website is “Items.” Following this link allows you to browse the material collected through the archive. It is unclear how the material is organized when you land on the page, but you do have the option to sort by Title, Creator, or Date Added. Selecting an individual item takes you to the listing of that item. Depending on what it is (email, story, image, etc) a visitor can read the title, what collection the item is part of, how the person who uploaded the item learned about the archive, a citation, and view the item itself.

3) Collections

For a more structured browsing experience, visitors can also choose the “Collections” tab, which organizes the material on the website into categories such as “Art,” “Audio,” “Personal Accounts,” “First Responders,” “Video,” and “Photography.” Clicking on one of these categories leads you to a Collection Tree, which breaks the category down even further and allows you to browse the materials in each sub-category.

4) Research

The most structured search experience can be found by using the Search bar at the top of the website, or by clicking on the “Research” option on the home page. Selecting this option allows you to search by keywords, narrow by specific fields, search by collection, type, and tag, and categorize by ID range or if the item is part of a featured or non/featured category.

5) Contribute

The final way to interact with the archive is through contribution. The archive is built of individual and organizational contributions. Individuals can upload photos, videos, audio recordings and stories. In each category the contributor is asked not only to upload their item, but answer three questions: “How has your life changed because of what happened on September 11, 2001?” “How will you remember the September 11 attacks on the anniversary?” and “How did you hear about this website?” The answers to these questions are included in the item’s individual page. The contributor is also asked to include simple metadata for their item, such as a title and description of the photo, video, or audio file they are uploading. These descriptions and titles are important, but the uploading system does not require that they be filled out. This in turn complicates the browsing and searching experience: some material lacks a title, a description, or both, making it unclear what a visitor may find when they select the item to view it.

Example of item without title or description.

A lot of our class articles this week asked the reader to consider the differences digital and traditional archives and how the term “archive” is used to mean a variety of different things. In one article, the September 11 Digital Archive was described as a “collection of user generated born digital primary sources (Owens, Digital Sources and Digital Archives, 2015).”  These readings convinced me of the importance of definitions, but I wonder who would benefit from calling this collection the “September 11 Digital Collection of User-generated Primary Sources.”