Using blogs for history education: MappingWIMS

When I conceptualized this digital project, ‘MappingWIMS’, I didn’t necessarily realize how challenging building an educational blog could be. The world of blogging- or even just using the blog format- seems to be unstructured and idiot-proof yet requires great attention to detail and know-how. My project was inspired by using personalized mapping tools such as My Maps by Google. The original idea was to have a personalized map which displayed something of a visual trip log of the civil rights project “Wednesdays in Mississippi” (WIMS) which took place during the 1964 ‘Freedom Summer.’ Since the foundation of this historical project was traveling from the North to the South, I thought that a map, with accompanying contextual information would be a great educational tool.

As I began piecing together this project, I weighed using against or Simplicity and accessibility won out here. Omeka ruled out first because I needed something more quick and dirty. I didn’t have the time or vested interest to learn one my own how to navigate and optimize Omeka. Then I considered, which is obviously similar to, but requires you to download the program. That was simple enough, but when it came to adding plugins and manually managing the blog from my hard drive- I just didn’t have the patience or savvy (or admin power on my work computer!) to make work for me. So that left me with Also, I wasn’t willing to pay for hosting for a more premium site like since I didn’t yet know how to use it well. So, since I was already familiar with the basic functions of because of using the online format for class and the blog I run for my interns, I defaulted to that one. Then I really just needed to explore how to make work for “MappingWIMS”.

I was somewhat surprised to find that did not have a map plugin and had blocked <iframe> embedding (which is how Google Maps are written). So what I thought would be a seamless, single site project turned into a kind of dual featured thing. All I managed to do was link the screenshot image of my maps to then navigate to my Google map. The idea was to keep the blog as its own little self-contained, themed experience so that you could reference the other posts and information while moving about this map. For obvious reasons, I was a disappointed with this issue. Perhaps if I had tried an alternative mapping tool, I could have avoided this, but like I said, I’m a dilettante.

I feel that I also allowed the content on my blog become inconsistent. In my head, I had imagined it taking much less work to include all the content and context needed to get the whole picture of what WIMS was. Since there’s next to nothing available about WIMS as far as secondary sources go, I found myself trying to throw up primary sources to legitimize the maps/historical accuracy, but then having to narrate and interpret all of the posts became more of a research project than anything else. As Dennis mentioned with his History Comps website- this is a lot of research and manual labor! The way my blog exists now is not my ideal and I think I might continue to improve upon it just for my peace of mind.

Further, I mentioned during my presentation that I was worried about almost ‘spilling’ about WIMS. I had had a little brush with the daughter of a WIMS team leader which put me on the defense a bit. Then after working with a doctoral student who has been writing her dissertation on WIMS for over five years, I began to feel a little sheepish about so casually using this information like people’s names, former addresses, etc. In the bigger scheme of things, what this predicament indicated to me is that ‘getting published’ at this day in age is as simple as opening a blog account. As we discussed early on in this class, print journalism is no longer restricted to newsprint and official sites. Whether I’m a seasoned, globetrotting, investigative journalist or some random employee at a tiny archive, if I have control over publishing some of the only information about a particular subject on the web- then people will read it, and probably believe it!

Using my privileged access to primary source information and translating it directly to the web and intermixing it with preexisting web sources, rather than writing a full length book, feels like I’ve transgressed some sacred ritual. Even with the advent of WikiLeaks, breaking news by way of Twitter, and the temporal life of Facebook… I’m not sure that a blog like MappingWIMS, as some of the first evidence on a historical topic, is the right way to go about ‘it’. Conversely, perhaps the fundamental idea behind this class is to inform new scholars that all is fair in web and technology?

Maps! Brought to you by Google

Example map from my digital project: Jackson, Mississippi


I have a love/hate relationship with Google My Maps at this point. Of course Google Maps has revolutionized the way humans navigate the world (for better or for worse) and the satellite imaging of pretty much every corner of the Earth, except for the poles, is remarkable. But when it comes to creating your own map using the preexisting Google maps, things get a little sticky. I decided a while ago to use Google My Maps for my digital project called “Mapping WIMS.” I’ll use the experience I’ve had working on my project as a basis for this practicum.

First and foremost, you’ll need to have a google account. After signing in, navigate to, which is just the regular Google Maps site. You’ll see directly under the Google maps title bar “My Maps”, on the right. Click on this, then click “Create New Maps”. First you’ll be promted to create a title for your map, add a description if you want and, more importantly, choose if you want this map to be public or  unlisted. Making a public map would be better  for doing some sort of project, where an unlisted map would be better for sharing specific directions with trusted parties.

OK, now we can start exploring  the primary functions of My Maps by Google:

Place Marks:

When you go about creating a map, of course you’ll want  to have points of interest. The place mark  tool can be used to identify those points and you can change the icon to a variety of generic symbols. If you  have a specific address that you want to put a place marker on, simply type the address into the search bar above and when Google Maps locates it, look to the sidebar on the left of the screen that shows the destination bubble “A” and click on “Save To…” on the bottom line of text. This way, you can choose a map to save this location to without having to manually locate it.

Along with the place marker icon, you can add a title and caption, which especially for a project map, is very useful. You can provide as much or as little information as you wo uld like. By clicking on the “rich text” option in the caption edit bubble, you can import pictures from URLs and hyperlinks. This makes the map much more interactive and illustrative.


You can choose three different types of ‘lines’ to use in your map. There is a straight line, a line that snaps  to roads, and then a ‘shape’ line, where you can sort of triangulate an area of interest.

The lines function, in my opinion, is actually quite disfunctional. Sometimes it is hard to get the line to begin drawing, or worse, to stop drawing. If you try to click away from drawing a line, your map will go flying in another direction and you could end up in Canada before finally having to abandon the effort altogether. Also, there is no function to simply draw a line between two place marks. You have to do it manually, and if the distance between the two is far enough, it is hard to be accurate. Often times, it is difficult to even start a line on a place  mark, because the program seemingly assume you’re trying to switch modes and modify the placemark instead of start the line. It can get really messy and extremly frustrating.

If you’re a casual My Maps user… thats about the long and the short of it. I haven’t had success embedding these maps, although that may simply be a testament to my internet tech skills. There is, although a quick and easy feature for getting your business on a Google Map….which I did with ease. Google even offers to send you a post card when the site is officially “on the map” as they say.

Digitization 101

“The National Initiative for a Networked Cultural Heritage (NINCH) is a US-based coalition of some 100 organizations and institutions from across the cultural sector: museums, libraries, archives, scholarly societies, arts groups, IT support units and others. It was founded in 1996 to ensure strong and informed leadership from the cultural community in the evolution of the digital environment. Our task and goal, as a leadership and advocacy organization, is to build a framework within which these different elements can effectively collaborate to build a networked cultural heritage.”

This guide promotes itself as a long term, collaborative effort among professionals in the business of cultural heritage preservation and the technical support professionals who make it possible to digitize historical materials. This comprehensive survey of and guide to digitization programs can, and probably should, be used as a fundamental reference for any serious effort in digitally preserving cultural history. The six core  ‘Good Practices’ put forth by NINCH are:

1) Optimize interoperability of materials

2) Enable broadest use

3) Address the need for preservation of original materials

4) Indicate strategy for life-cycle management of digital resources

5) Investigate and declare intellectual property rights and ownership

6) Articulate intent and declare methodology.

This comprehensive guide is laden with jargon, technical references and anecdotal evidence about digitization projects for professional historians. When your time comes to manage a digitization project, I encourage you to read this guide in full, but for now let’s stick to the basics.

At the beginning of Chapter V, the author lays out some ubiquitous questions and concerns like, what format(s) is best, how much detail is necessary, and what are the user activities we should be supporting when digitizing? We’re told we should also consider the nature of the original materials, the purpose of digitizing something and the availability of expertise, tech support and funding to succeed with a certain project.

Different original materials will come in different shapes and sizes. Let’s briefly consider some of the issues, variations, tools, etc. that accompany each format of original material.

Text-based manuscript material:

  • Issues: ‘Proprietary Software’- word processing/imaging platforms like Microsoft Word & Adobe whose licensing and longevity are unreliable
  • Solution– “standards-based methods”- new encoding language like ‘Standard Generalize Markup Language’ (SGML) and “Extensible Markup Language” XML, which “avoid the problems of proprietary software, offering data longevity and the flexibility to move from platform to platform freely.”
  • Variation– Page Image vs Full Text
  • Tools– Scanners. Optical Character Recognition Software. Data capture service.


Images/ 2D art:

  • Issues– Delicacy/irregularity of materials. Quality of digital image. Consistent standards
  • Solution– ‘Intermediaries”, Prioritization of researcher’s needs and investment in quality digitization tools
  • Variation– The needs of different mediums to produce the best digital rendering. For example, digitizing an oil painting has a different set of requirements from digitizing a black and white photograph.
  • Tools– High quality scanners or cameras, adequate storage space, specialized software
  • Formats– TIFF, JPEG, PDF


Audio/Visual materials:

  • Issues– Extinction of recording equipment, transmission of files, time, storage and money constraints
  • Solutions– Deal with it
  • Variation– Many different recording methods over the history of audio material come with their own machines, vices and challenges.
  • Tools– Analog playback devices, analog-to-digital converter, editing software
  • Formats– Audio: WAVE, MP3, RealAudio      Video: MPEG, QuickTime, RealVideo    Metadata: METS, SMIL


The NINCH Guide also discusses issues of Quality Control and Quality Assurance that are basically the promises made by contributors to digitization projects to their researchers and audiences. These teams are responsible for “the procedures and practices that [are] put in place to ensure the consistency, integrity and reliability of the digitization process.” Progress and quality standards in a digitization project should be built-in from the start and vetted regularly.

The primary goal of digitization is to preserve the original materials by taking them out of regular circulation. But, much foresight and specificity is required to make a digitization project worth the time and money. The idea is that digitization should only have to happen once and the file format will remain flexible throughout the evolution of technology.

Mapping WIMS

Wednesdays in Mississippi (WIMS) was a program developed by National Council of Negro Women in 1963 to bring Northern and Southern women together with the goal of improving race relations and quality of life for blacks in the highly segregated South. Teams of interracial, interfaith women from Northern cities would travel to various locations in Mississippi on Tuesdays and return on Thursdays. During their stay, these groups would hold meetings with local community members, white and black, lead workshops and implement programs to encourage self-improvement for poor, uneducated members of the population, particularly black women.

For my digital project, I will create a multifaceted blog called ‘Mapping WIMS’ using (unless I can get Omeka figured out). The complete records of the Wednesdays in Mississippi program are held at the National Archives for Black Women’s History (NABWH), where I work as an archives technician. This comprehensive collection includes photographs, audio recordings and manuscript materials that illustrate the efforts and results of the various WIMS teams in aiding the civil rights movement. Thus my blog will present and dovetail each of these sources available in the WIMS materials.

As the study of the Civil Rights Era grows ever more popular, it is important that women’s direct actions in the civil rights movement not be overlooked. There are already some good sources about WIMS on the web, such as the website for the WIMS Film Project. This documentary project has been in the works for a few years and has set forth to gather oral history interviews for use in the film. It has also established a visually appealing website with good basic information and an overview of the project, but little else. In my opinion, this website’s best asset is its promise of ‘more to come’ and raising awareness of WIMS as a scholarly topic.    

The film project page shares a link to the University of Houston’s exhibit website on WIMS. This wonderful site “began as a collaboration between the Virginia Center for Digital History, the National Council of Negro Women, the National Civil Rights Museum, and the Wednesdays in Mississippi Film Project, with Holly Cowan Shulman, Editor in Chief.” Holly Schulman is the daughter of Polly Cowan, a founding member of WIMS. In late 2009, the University of Houston Center for Public History (UH-CPH) took over this web site and it has been incorporated into graduate level course work at the University of Houston. This site touches on many important elements of the WIMS experience and provides interesting primary materials for its audience to browse. It also gives highly detailed information about the members of specific team, something I will also strive to do. But relatively speaking, the web exhibit itself is not particularly sophisticated or visually stimulating. It lacks original photographic material from the WIMS collection at NABWH, which I will have the fortune of incorporating with the click of a mouse.

Last, there is Liza Cowan’s (Polly’s other daughter) personal blog where she posts about WIMS and her family experience with the women who worked on the project, her mother in particular. Obviously this is not a scholarly source, but her posts about WIMS are informative and enjoyable to read. Each of these WIMS sites has brought something different to the web narrative of the program. I plan to incorporate some of the fundamental elements of each of these sites in my blog project

In order to set my WIMs project apart from those already existing, I will take a more fluid, multi-media approach to presenting information about each WIMS team. As a visualization tool, I will create different maps using  My Maps from Google to illustrate the various routes and destinations of each team. I can use the geographical information pulled from manuscript and visual materials to pinpoint the locations of each trip. With this mapping tool, I can also landmark notable locations in Mississippi where other civil rights events unfolded. These maps will be supplemented by photographs, scans of original documents and audio clips. By presenting each team’s unique routes, characters, actions, and narratives, I can provide specific cases studies that will implicitly reveal a broader perspective on the WIMs program.

This blog will hopefully serve as another sounding board for the small pool of scholars working on Wednesdays in Mississippi, as well as those investigating the broader topic of women in the civil rights movement. Perhaps a casual web search on someone’s grandmother will reveal a past of civil rights activism unknown in the family history. A local historian may never have heard of the pig bank set up in a rural Mississippi town. My hope is that this project will enliven the story of the regular women who made it their mission to help desegregate the South in their own way and encourage researchers to dig further.

Documents and photographs that have never been seen by the public will enrich the small body of available WIMS material on the web. Using clear titles and descriptions for various uploaded documents, the content will hopefully get picked up by web searches and linked-to by other web sites. Upon completing the project, I will share it with other WIMS researchers for their personal use and commentary. The ultimate goal would be to spur interest in Wednesdays in Mississippi and the National Council of Negro Women and in turn increase research in the NAWBH.

To monitor the site’s success, I will keep track of how many hits the blog gets and how much commentary is coming in. Ideally the blog posts and links will invite scholarly debate and dialogue, which will encourage people to think harder about this topic in U.S. women’s history. Also, participants in the discussion might bring new information that can then be shared among other WIMS researchers. A win-win for all of us.

Wikipedia’s Querelle des Femmes

Christine de Pisan

The foundation for my print project is in reaction to two recently published articles in the New York Times about the scarcity of women’s voices in online discussion forums, particularly Wikipedia, and the greater implications of this disparity. My project will explore and discuss the various sources that debate and evidence this gender gap in online discussion forums. The original article by Noam Cohen ran in the Business section under Media & Advertising on January 20th. 2011. He reveals that according to a study conducted last year, only about 13% of Wikipedia contributors are women. Cohen questions how this could have happened in such an open, collaborative forum? He submits that it comes down to the, “traditions of the computer world and an obsessive fact-loving realm that is dominated by men and, some say, uncomfortable for women.”

Cohen cites Joseph Reagle, a Harvard fellow at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society who published the book, “Good Faith Collaboration: The Culture of Wikipedia.” Reagle’s stance, according to Cohen, is that the ideology behind the open source culture of Wikipedia, “resists any efforts to impose rules or even goals like diversity,” which can be a problematic. Without active neutralizing forces, this ideal of openness enables zealous contributors to take aggressive, conflicting positions that could manifest as misogynistic, among other things.  Thus the potential for anonymous sexist attacks on woman-generated/woman-oriented submissions probably drives away potential female contributors who are not interested in having to defend their honor. Delving further into Reagle’s text, I will try to unpack this argument more carefully and establish whether he can help answer Wikipedia’s querelle des femmes.     

Another source I will reference is a New York Times Op-ed from February 4th, 2011, written by Susan C. Herring, an information science and linguistics professor at Indiana University. She states that after conducting multiple studies over the past two decades about “gender dynamics in Internet communication,” she is not surprised that 87% of Wikipedia’s contributors are men. Focusing on linguistics, a field in which more than 50% of the Ph.D.s are held by women, there proves to be a disproportionately low rate of participation by women in web discussions.  After surveying a random sample of subscribers to certain linguistic forums, Herring deduced that women do in fact report to be turned-off by the confrontational, mud-slinging, antagonistic nature of the male dominated discussions. She also specifically mentions the Wikipedia ‘talk pages’, where highly contentious bickering wars go on behind the “Neutral Point of View” content of a topic page.

Herring unabashedly makes blunt statements about gendered communication styles in her piece, for better or for worse.  She reiterates some of Cohen and Reagle’s points about women’s aversion to the ‘kill or be killed’ nature of online debates. She reinforces her assertions with the previously mentioned studies on the nature of factual vs. opinionated content of women and men’s posts. Herring posits that women typically submit more factual evidence in their contributions, but are also are more likely to phrase their opinions in a conciliatory manner. The opposite goes for men. She concludes that, “Men traditionally populate the public domain, whether it be in politics, religion, or on the Internet. They tend to feel a greater sense of entitlement to occupy public space.”

When you’re finished rolling your eyes at that last statement, consider her closing argument which explains that women are more present in the blogging and social networking world because they are able to maintain control over who has access to their posts. Based on something of a ‘kinship-network’ appeal, Herring references The Omnipotent Lord Zuckerberg’s theory that, “the future of knowledge sharing on the Internet is social recommendation — people will trust information more if someone they know and like is associated with it.” Therefore information coming from familiar sources is more credible and, in turn, more valuable in the eyes of women. That then will also deter them from jumping into the ring with the cave men beating each other with rhetorical clubs.

Beyond analyzing the writings of Cohen, Reagle and Herring, I will also do primary research. I will examine some provocative Wikipedia talk pages (to be chosen) in order to personally evaluate the content in question. Is this talk space as hostile and discouraging as our authors claim? I will also explore some of the Wiki initiatives like the WikiProject Gender Studies. This forum seeks to engage women contributors in order to counteract the overwhelming ‘masculine’ content and discourse on Wikipedia. Further, I will compare the tone on more private web sources, such as blogs and Facebook pages. This should shed light on Herring’s theory that women’s voices are more pervasive in exclusive forums.  Surveying these various sources should help me better understand the state of gender participation on web discussions. I intend to gain a solid opinion of the current debate over women’s presence in online academic forums, anthropologically evaluate the possible reasons for this disparity and offer substantiated theories that could help restore balance to this gender-skewed world of online debate.