Horatio Gates: Atlantic Traveller Reflection

Those who know who Horatio Gates was will know him as the American general who organized the militias at the Siege of Boston into the Continental Army, but would fall out of favor in historical memory as the Revolutionary War came to a close.  My digital history project, Horatio Gates: Atlantic Traveller, is a Story Map that follows Gates between 1750 and 1766 as he and his correspondence travel the Atlantic ocean.

Up until the last stages of this project I titled my Story Map “Horatio Gates Worldwide,” but after a conversation with JONAHESTESS1 I realized the papers on the map only surround the Atlantic ocean, so “worldwide” was not really accurate.  I hope this change brings some clarity to the project by narrowing it from a global to an transAtlantic perspective.


“Who is Horatio Gates?”  This was the major question when I presented my poster a week ago.  As a result of this question I realized that bringing light to this mostly forgotten historical figure was one of my main goals from the beginning.  I have been reading Gates’ personal papers since October and I have enjoyed getting to know him through the eyes of his friends and family. This digital project gave me a way to share what I have learned about Gates and give people to opportunity to discover him for themselves.

I also want this project to provide access to these sources for researchers.  By having them online they are more accessible to a wider public. This also makes them available to use as a practice resource for people learning to use primary sources.  By providing notes and transcriptions after the document it gives beginning researchers experience reading and pulling out important material from primary source documents.

At the end of the Story Map I include a few secondary sources.  I provided these to encourage further research about Gates or the time period in which he lived.  These are credible sources that are a good starting point for further research on Gates.

Class Connections:

Many other classmates formatted their projects around mapping.  HSTEIN’s project “Welcome, Darlings, to the Gay Movement” and SJONES’s “Mapping the Track of Serial Killers” also include mapping by tracking people and events.  I feel that my project also aligns with ISAAC MAKOS’ “Washington on the Frontier” not only because they are mapping projects but they also cover a similar time period tracking the movements of a notable American leader.

Personal Reflection:

The most important tip I learned during this process is to be patient with the technology and to work with the platform you are using instead of trying to make it do something it is not designed to do.  I tried a lot of different platforms before using ArcGIS Story Maps and it took longer because I had a particular idea and I tried to find a platform that fit that idea instead of working with available resources.  As a result of switching platforms so many times I had less time to construct the final product so I was rushed in the end. I should have been patient and tried to work with a single platform instead of switching when something did not work the way I wanted it to.  I was very glad to work with ArcGIS because it did exactly what I wanted it to, but other platforms also had possibility if I had given them more time.


I am very happy with the way Horatio Gates: Atlantic Traveller turned out.  I was able to include the papers I wanted and their transcriptions to make understanding the letters easier.  By using a different color pin I was able to separate information, document and transcribed pins on the map so it is easier to use.  I hope this Story Map will be helpful to a wide variety of people.

Digital Project Draft: Horatio Gates Worldwide

So far during this project I have hit a few road bumps, but it seems to be on track at the moment.  I have found a functioning platform for my project after searching our syllabus and the Internet for one that would fit my idea.  Finally, after getting an AU account, I began working with ArcGIS Story Maps

So far I have been able to upload the scans of Gates’ documents that I copied from the microfilm at Mount Vernon.  My next step is to turn my notes for each image into comprehendible captions.  At the moment they are just a bunch of bullet points below each image.  There is less space to work with than anticipated, so my captions will need to shrink. 

I have not included the transcribed documents for each correspondence, but I think it would be beneficial to include them even though my caption will be a brief summary.  This idea is still fluid.  I could include the transcribed documents after the image and have the letter’s caption be about current events of that time or tips on primary source research.  I am open to suggestions on this front.

Each letter is represented by a colored tab.  Green tabs are informational, such as the goal of this project and research tips.  Blue tabs are for documents written by Gates and red is for letters written by someone other than Gates.  These tabs either pin point where the document was written or, if the information is available, where Gates was at the time of receiving the letter.    

Once Again Remapping the World

Many of our Digital Projects this semester have to do with mapping, so hopefully this weeks reading has given some context to the long history of mapping that has evolved drastically since the early 1800s.  Jo Guldi’s article, “The Spatial Turn in History,” briefly covers the creation and changes to nationalist thought between 1833 and 1980.  At this point, take a look at John Russick’s “A Place for Everything: Museum Collections, Technology, and the Power of Place” to consider how location and media and museums all play a role in the modern digital age.  (I read these in the opposite order, but looking back, this would have been a better transition.)

Mapping in Historical Context

Jo Guldi’s brings us back to the beginning of modern history, with the emergence of landscape and nationalism as prominent subjects of history stating, “As nation became the subject of history, landscape description became its lens.”  Jules Michelet’s work History of France (1833) is considered one of the first works in the genre as he looked at the physical make-up of the provinces that made the nation.  These early historians of nationalist landscape toured the country, combing through various archives, to conduct their historical research on their nation. 

The first shift in this nationalist identity based in landscape came in the early 1900s, when historians analyzed the city as modern civilization over the nation, previously defined by its physical descriptions.  The examination of the city valued the social aspect of urban society and middle to upper class construction.  But, by the mid-twentieth century, privileging the city and nation as the prominent forms of study became an outdated practice since the fascination with geography in connection with economy was a result of it being new. 

Postnationalism was another turn in spatial thinking, as historians shifted towards common settings, such as suburbs and domesticity, encouraging a sense of belonging among strangers in shared experiences.  This change, Guldi argues, leads into a cultural turn in the 1980, which is where she abruptly ends her timeline of spatial turns.    

Mapping Today

            Museums are experiencing a change with the growing popularity of mobile media and other digital components.  Russick points to this change and asks a multitude of relevant questions for consideration.  His main question is, “What is the role of the artifact when learning increasingly occurs in a digital form?”  As a father, he sees technology change his son’s learning and as a museum curator, he understandably contemplates what this means for museums.  I have also considered this question and I believe Russick does a wonderful job of pointing out the possibilities, while acknowledging the hesitancies many have about change.

            He begins with the distinction that many curators are not technophobes, but they are also not technophiles.  Technology is new so they are not experts, but this does not mean they fear this transition.  There is room for both the museum collections and digital components in museums if one looks out of the box.  Interacting with artifacts puts up a lot of walls, figuratively and literally, due to preservation concerns, but technology could create a door for visitors to explore these objects without putting them at risk. 

            Technology in museums can be seen as an experiment, to see what works and what can be improved, but this can only work if those technologically inclined and curatorial staff collaborates.  This way the collection continues to be of value to the museum by evolving with the digital era.  Russick uses his own project, Chicago 00, as an example.  It is a digital app that connects artifacts at the Chicago History Museum (CHM) to the surrounding community by showing images or objects where they were made, used, etc.  This connects not only the museum to the community, but the collection itself.

            As an emerging public historian, consider how technology is going to influence your work.  Where do you see the digital and museums in the future?  Where have you already seen examples of digital mapping and public history, similar to Russick’s app?  What other opportunities or questions are there to contemplate?   

Game Changer: “Digital Sources & Digital Archives”

What is a digital archive?  How are they created?  And what are we going to do about them?  In Trevor Owens’ essay, “Digital Sources & Digital Archives: The Evidentiary Basis of Digital History,” he breaks down a piece of the relatively new field of Digital Humanities by explaining digital sources that are either digitized or born digital and showing the different ways to do Digital Archives.  With that said, there is a lot up in the air surrounding this subject because the concept is so new and technology changes so quickly, so I will do my best in explaining these changes to the Humanities game.

Before the digital age, physical artifacts were the primary source of study, but with the increasing production of preserving digital sources, historical research has begun to shift.  The questions surrounding digital sources are the same as physical ones; such as what is a source’s providence or how was it created.  Context surrounding a source remains as important as ever, but the medium of the source makes the process a bit trickier.  Technology as a medium can be difficult to solidify.  Owens uses his Gmail as an example, unlike a letter, where the perspective of the author is represented and it is assumed the recipient read the letter, an email could be set to be marked as “read,” but never actually opened.  Digitizing primary sources and born digital sources have their own respective challenges and questions surrounding them. 

Digitized primary sources are physical sources that were created as digital surrogates

They were selected, which leads to the question of why were these particular sources selected?  The answer could be a number of things based on copyright issues or policies of institution digitizing the primary source.  The quality of these copies is also important based on the research a historian is conducting.  In some cases a simple black and white scan from Microfilm is enough, but in other cases a higher definition image can tell a lot more about the source.  Digitized sources makes searching a lot easier, but finding the context behind these sources still needs to be done and requires working backward to the original source and origin.

Born digital sources are sources that started out digital

The challenges with them are you do not always see everything connected to the source on the screen.  What is on the screen is just the front and there is more information to be found encoded behind the screen.  This encoded information could be information thought to be deleted, but was actually written over with different metadata.  It is also important to look at what could be lost when the source is rendered.  For instance, a source could look different based on the web browser it is opened in.  Understanding the creation of a digital source is as essential to the context as it is with a physical source.  Since technology keeps changing it is important to understand how the source was created at a certain time.  For example, emailing has changed since its initial creation and so have the practices of sending and receiving emails, which adds context to the source.  Even how we search online has changed.  We may know how searches worked at certain times, but we cannot see what content was displayed or accessed with this search.

The big question is what are digital archives? 

This answer can depend on whom you ask.  Some digital historians would define it as “aggregated collections of digitized primary sources,” or digitized copies of archival collections, while others might say it is collection of born digital materials.  There are also Web Archives that are constructed by sources collected by open source web crawler tools, such as Heritrix, that require the online organization’s permission in order to collect from its site.  There is a debate amongst digital archivists over a solid definition of what a Digital Archive is, while archivists like Kate Theimer would prefer it to have a different name all together.

Digital archives are not set in stone, they do not have a clearly defined set of standards or even an agreed upon definition.  What can be done to create more unity in this subject?  Should anything be done at all?  Where will digital archives go from here?

Digital Project Proposal: Horatio Gates Worldwide

As time passes perspectives change, whether it’s over the course of years or a single day.  General Horatio Gates was beloved by the men he commanded and respected by his peers, including General George Washington, but mistakes were made and the view of Gates changed from honorable to disgrace.  The choices of Gates and the people he surrounded himself with are preserved in his personal papers, including journals and correspondence. By using these primary sources one can analyze different aspects of Gates’ life, from his financial situation to military orders.   

I plan to use these primary sources to map where Horatio Gates travelled throughout his life.  Most of his letters and journal entries include the location of the sender and/or the receiver.  Information in these letters tie into historical events, such as the increasing hostilities between British authority in the American colonies, which Gates discusses with his fellow British officers in his letters in 1766.  I propose mapping these locations and imbedding a scan of the letter along with a brief transcription of it contents. By including a scan of the primary source and presenting the information it contains, viewers can gain experience using primary sources to perform their own analysis.  

First I will create the map using ScribbleMaps, an online Google Maps software.  Here I can plot the locations, attach the scans from Horatio Gates’ personal papers currently on microfilm at the National Library at Mount Vernon and include a brief description of each.  Then I will upload the map onto MapSeries, a online map story software. In MapSeries I can create a website format around the maps and include background information that is relevant to the letters.  Once this project is published for the public I can possibly attach the site to the digital encyclopedia page on Horatio Gates.          

This resource will provide primary sources for French and Indian War as well as American Revolution era researchers.  It is also a resource for people who are not familiar with using primary sources. By presenting the source and the information one can obtain from it the viewer can learn the value of primary source research. George Washington’s Mount Vernon conducted similar research tracking George Washington through his diaries.  They constructed a a digital encyclopedia article detailing Washington’s travels, but this does not include a map.  My hope in the future is to overlap Gates’ papers and Washington’s to see where the two intersect, especially during the Revolutionary years.