Project Reflections: Mapping the Pearl Incident

Hi everyone! Thanks for such a great semester. I’ve really enjoyed learning about so many different resources and the mysterious machinations of the digital world. I’ve definitely come away with a better understanding of the ways that digital media can be used to provide historical context and engage with history.  I’m also excited to see how everyone’s final projects!

As for my digital project, I’m excited to share the Pearl Incident StoryMap that I’ve been creating over the semester. Last semester, I began researching the Pearl incident, which was one of the largest attempted escape of enslaved people in the United States. For my research, I focused on the perspective of one of the fugitives named Ellen Stewart. With this project, I wanted to learn more about the seventy-six other fugitives and their experiences after the attempted escape.

Throughout this project, I struggled with figuring out the best way to frame their stories visually on map to give a sense of both the places and the distances that individuals traveled to obtain freedom from slavery. From my research, I piecemealed the places that several of the fugitives would have traveled during the escape on the Pearl as well as after they were caught and returned to Washington, D.C. Since their stories are not widely available online, I wanted to document as many of the fugitives’ stories as possible; however, I soon realized that telling a story about several individuals through a single map might have been a little too ambitious, and that the narrative might be difficult to follow.

I eventually settled on using ArcGIS and StoryMaps to give general historic context about the Pearl incident, the fugitives’ experiences being resold into the slave trade, and their pathways to freedom. Instead of choosing the individual narratives to highlight, I thought it would be best for the reader to choose for themselves. I created several layers of “Map Notes” and color-coded pins depending on the information that the pin provided: before the Pearl incident, involvement in the slave trade, and pathways to freedom. This way, the pins carry the majority of the narrative information that the reader can explore as they explore the map. Unfortunately, this solution may not be the most intuitive for the reader. The pins on the maps carry a lot of information, and I am a little worried that they are difficult to navigate. I tried to include guidelines for using the maps in the text; however, I’m not sure if they help or hinder the audience’s experience navigating the maps. Nevertheless, the process of reaching decisions about the current framework of the StoryMap has helped me realize the benefits and challenges of combining narrative and mapping technology.

Although I am still not entirely happy with the way that the final section, called “Aftermath” is laid out (and I’ll probably do a little more tweaking before turning in my final project), I am glad that I decided to do this project. I have learned a lot about creating a digital resource, and I feel better equipped to tackle digital history projects in the future. Nevertheless, any suggestions would be greatly appreciated!

Here is the current iteration of my project!

And here is my poster!

Mapping the Pearl Incident: Digital Project Draft

Hi all! Since my last update about my digital project, I have decided to focus on the enslaved individuals involved in the Pearl incident for my mapping endeavor. I originally wanted to focus on one or two specific individuals, but I am worried that I would be trying to add too much information into the narrative. I decided to use the narrative to give context to the Pearl incident more broadly, and then use the maps to put more detailed information about individuals involved in the Pearl incident that a reader can explore.

Link to project website.

I tried using StoryMaps as well as a combination of Google My Maps and WordPress to see which option would be easier to use. At first, I enjoyed using My Maps over ArcGIS. It was easier to pin locations, pins assets, and edit textual information. When I tried to draw lines to demonstrate movement of the Pearl schooner down the Potomac River, I also found that My Maps was more intuitive and easier to use since it has a simpler interface.

The beginnings of my project showing the route of the Pearl schooner in Google My Maps and WordPress. I thought both interfaces were easy to use, and I like them a lot. However, it was easier for me to combine maps and narrative with the ArcGIS platform.

However, I didn’t like the way that the maps were embedded into WordPress. I found it more difficult to interact with them, and the editing process also seemed more difficult. If I wanted to edit on both platforms simultaneously, it seemed liked I had to update the embedded code for the map on WordPress each time. As a result, I decided to use StoryMaps as the host for my project. After some trial and error, I was able to do the same tasks that I completed in My Maps while also integrating the information into a narrative on StoryMaps.

This is the same route create with ArcGIS. In StoryMaps, I liked having the ability to include narrative text in blocks on the side. It also seemed a little easier to explore the map with this interface.

For my research, I found a couple of addresses where the Pearl’s passengers may have lived in a report called “The Operation of the Underground Railroad in Washington, D.C., c. 1800-1860.” It was researched and compiled by Hilary Russell for the Historical Society of Washington, D.C. and the National Park Service. Since some of the roads no longer exist, I tried my best to use older maps of D.C. and match up the locations by referencing Google Maps. I tried to find where the addresses may be located and pinned them on an ArcGIS map.

For each pin, I included the names of the Pearl passengers who lived there as well as information about their enslaver and the address of the location. I like how this layer of the map gives a sample of the places where the Pearl passengers traveled to get to the schooner, however, I wish there were more locations or information that I could include about the individuals. If I find more information as I continue researching, I hope to add more individuals to the map.

I thought it would be interesting to overlay a map of D.C. c.1840s onto the ArcGIS map. It seems like it can be done since other maps like Mapping Early Washington, D.C., Law & Family: 1822 have done it before. However, I could not figure out how to do it. I’m guessing it may be a feature of a different version of ArcGIS?

In this map, I thought it was cool to see the overlay of the map of D.C. ca. 1820s.

At this stage of the draft, I feel like my narrative understanding and mapping of the Pearl incident itself is at a pretty good place, but my understanding of the aftermath definitely needs more detail. Luckily, I recently found more research that gives details about the slave traders who purchased some of the Pearl fugitives than I expected. For the draft, the content is very sparse, but I’ve mapped out the types of details that I want to include in the maps. As I continue working towards the final project, I’m planning to add more detail in the maps about the enslaved individuals’ experiences after returning to D.C. and being resold into the slave trade.

Listening to the Music (and History) on Audacity and SoundCloud

As we continue learning about methods for presenting history, another consideration to keep in mind includes methods for producing and interpreting audio. With the rising interests in podcasts, the presentation of audio sources has the potential to help historians reach new audiences.  For this week’s practicum, I’m going to be sharing two resources that can be used for digital audio projects: Audacity and SoundCloud. Audacity is a free audio recording and editing software, and SoundCloud is a free audio distribution website.


To follow the process of creating audio resources, I’ll start with an overview of Audacity. If you are already familiar with oral history or have studied oral history, this information may serve as a refresher!

Home page on Audacity’s website

Audacity was created in 1999 by Dominic Mazzoni and Roger Danneberg at Carnegie Mellon University. In 2000, it was released as open-source software on SourceForge, which is a website that allows software developers share and manage their free open-source software projects. Since then, the software has been continually updated and refined by volunteers and teams of developers. The software continues to be free, so all of Audacity’s features and functions are accessible when the software is downloaded.

Audacity’s interface provides functions for recording audio, editing and rearranging sound files, applying effects to change speed and pitch of recordings, and converting sound file formats. Since Audacity is a multi-track audio editor, the interface also allows you to work with several audio files in one project. Due to its versatility, Audacity can be used for a variety of audio projects ranging from music production to audio storytelling. Personally, I have enjoyed using Audacity to create podcast episodes for class projects.  

Downloading and Using Audacity

You can download Audacity on the team’s website. The software is compatible with Windows, macOS, and Linux operating systems. When I first used the software, I thought that interface was a little overwhelming. However, there are several content creators who have made tutorials for Audacity on YouTube. Additionally, when you first open the software, Audacity links provides a user manual, forums for questions, and a Wiki page with tips and resources.

Although Audacity has a slight learning curve, I found it was relatively easy to use for simple functions such as cutting audio into clips and rearranging sound clips. With some trial and error, it has the capability to create polished pieces such as songs and podcast episodes. You can also use it to clean up audio files with some background noise (within reason).

Screenshot of my oral history project from last semester on Audacity

As a free resource, I think that Audacity is a fantastic tool for digital historians who are interested in oral history, podcast creation, or implementing audio elements into interpretive materials and exhibits. It is relatively easy to use, and it provides the basic functions needed for audio projects.


After you finish editing and creating an audio project in Audacity, SoundCloud provides a platform for sharing the project with your audiences. SoundCloud was created by Alexander Ljung and Eric Whalforss in 2007 to provide a cloud-based audio platform for distributing music. Many amateur and professional musicians, podcast producers, and oral historians use SoundCloud to share their work.

SoundCloud is a free audio distribution platform; however, the website requires payment for some of its features. The free version of SoundCloud allows you to listen to most of the content available on the website, and it also allows you to upload a limited amount of content. Paid subscriptions provide access SoundCloud’s full catalog, audio mastering through Dolby, and offline listening capabilities.

When I created a free account on SoundCloud, I enjoyed exploring the site. Since anyone can create a SoundCloud account and upload audio, there is a wide variety of content, including highly produced songs and musical pieces, experimental audio projects, and podcasts. One of the projects that I found really interesting was created by Leyland Kirby ( as a persona called The Caretaker. The Caretaker used snippets from samples of ballroom music to create tracks that reflect the memory loss of Alzheimer’s patients.

Outside of experimental music, SoundCloud includes a variety of podcasts created by oral history organizations. For example the East Texas Research Center has uploaded several of their oral history interviews. Many of their interviews are organized in playlists by oral history project. I also found the podcast that the oral history initiative at my undergraduate university produced called Sam.wav!

SoundCloud profile for the East Texas Research Center

After exploring the site, I think that SoundCloud is a great audio distribution platform. It seems easy for individuals and organizations to use for free, and it gives people the opportunity to share their work with the public easily. Although there are some paywalls for uploading a large amount of content, the process seems easier than other well-known streaming platforms and podcast hosting platforms like Spotify, Apple Podcasts/Apple Music, and Bandcamp.


I hope that these overviews are helpful! Have you had experience working with Audacity and/or Soundcloud or seen them used in projects by other historians? If so, what did you think of the software and platforms? Are there other audio editing or distributing resources that you prefer? Looking forward to sharing more about these resources during class!

Mapping Slavery in D.C.: A Digital Project Proposal

Last semester, I spent some time researching the history of slavery in Washington, D.C. for my fellowship at the White House Historical Association. One of the topics that I studied was the history of the Pearl incident, which was one of the largest attempted slave escapes in the United States. On March April 15, 1848, 77 enslaved people attempted to leave D.C. on the Pearl schooner, charting course to freedom in the Northeast. Unfortunately, adverse weather forced the Pearl to anchor near Point Lookout, Maryland that night. The next day, the Pearl fugitives were transported back to D.C. Several of the enslaved people who attempted to escape were resold by their owners and transported to the Deep South. Through my research, I have found a couple of newspaper articles that list the names of the Pearl fugitives as well as their owners. I have also found sources and census records that fill in the narratives of a couple of the Pearl fugitives. For example, Ellen Stewart was resold after the Pearl incident and gained her freedom with the assistance of abolitionists William Chaplin and Dr. Joseph Evans. Mary and Emily Edmonson obtained their freedom through funds raised by abolitionist Henry Ward Beecher, and their story contributed to parts of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin.   

Somewhat connected to the people involved in the Pearl incident, I also spent some time researching the enslaved individuals who worked for families at the Cutts-Madison House and the Daniel Webster’s House (currently the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Building) on Lafayette Square. My research primarily focused on Paul Jennings. Jennings was formerly enslaved by James and Dolley Madison. He was purchased in 1847 by Massachusetts Senator Daniel Webster, and the two worked out an agreement for Jennings to purchase his own freedom. Webster arranged similar agreements with some of his other servants, including Monica McCarty, Henry Pleasants, Sarah Smith, and Ann Bean. Before his death, Webster included statements in his will to ensure that his African-American servants obtained their freedom.

For my digital project, I am interested in using a tool like Google My Maps to visualize either the lives of the Pearl fugitives or the enslaved individuals who worked on Lafayette Square.

With the Pearl incident option, I would conduct more research about the lives of the enslaved individuals who attempted to escape on the Pearl to demonstrate the impact of sale and separation that the families and enslaved individuals faced during the aftermath of the Pearl incident. I hope to trace as many of the Pearl fugitives as I can; however, I am unsure of the records and sources available. As a result, I am planning to start with the families and individuals that I know more about such as Ellen Stewart, the Edmonson family, and the Bell family.

With the Lafayette Square example, I think it would be important to conduct more research about the people who lived on the Square as well as the buildings and structures on Lafayette Square as the historic landscape changed over time. I am most familiar with Daniel Webster’s and Dolley Madison’s relation to slavery in the neighborhood. As a result, if I choose to pursue this option, I will conduct more research to gain additional insight into the different people who lived on the Square or had businesses on the Square.

This is an image of Dolley Madison’s house on Lafayette Square where Ellen Stewart and Paul Jennings worked.
Image Credit: Library of Congress

I am unsure whether ArcGIS Story Maps or a combination of Google My Maps and WordPress would present the information more effectively. I would like to include both geographic and narrative information about the Pearl fugitives and/or the enslaved individuals working on Lafayette Square (depending on the option that I choose). I like the narrative functions and presentation style of Story Maps. However, I think that content created in My Maps and WordPress offer more simplified, adaptable presentations that could more easily incorporate additional individuals and narratives if I wanted to continue this project in the future. Part of my inspiration for this proposal comes from the O Say Can You See: Early Washington, D.C., Law, and Family project, which includes an interactive map formed from city directory data. The software that the project uses for the map might be too technical. However, I think it provides a good example as I continue to work out details for my project.

With either option, I hope that this resource will be helpful for anyone studying the history of slavery by contributing to our understanding of the challenges that enslaved individuals faced. I also hope that this resource would help add to the narrative of enslaved individuals by showcasing their experiences through geographic visualization.

Thanks for reading!

Cookbooks and Cuisine in the United States

After growing up attending potluck dinners at family reunions and helping my mom recreate recipes from the annual church cookbook, the community and personal relationships surrounding food has always a memorable and influential part of my upbringing. When I was in middle school, I remember receiving my first cookbook from my aunt. She had filled the recipe cards with some of her favorite recipes as well as some dishes that her parents and grandparents taught her. On the back of each recipe, she wrote about these family connections to the dishes or brief anecdotes about making the food for various events. She also included several pages of blank cards for me to contribute new recipes.

In addition to my aunt’s gifted cookbook, my family has accumulated several cookbooks over time, ranging from commercially printed volumes full of recipes from professional chefs, to culturally specific recipes, to the annual church cookbook crowdsourced for fundraising purposes. Looking through the volumes, some of the cookbooks contain a fascinating range of anecdotes, cultural histories, and community histories accompanying some of the recipes. Others give sparse, direct language for creating the dishes. Due to variety of approaches for sharing recipes, I began to wonder about the development of cookbooks over time, which led me to the Michigan State University Libraries’ Feeding America Project.

Landing page for the Feeding America Project at MSU Libraries

The Feeding America Project, was a digitization project made possible through a 2001 IMLS National Leadership grant. The project researchers carefully selected 75 books out of nearly 7,000 volumes of cookbooks held in the MSU Libraries’ Cookery and Food Collection to represent the history of cookbooks in America. The selected cookbooks cover various themes and include publications from 1798 to 1922. In order to give a broad overview of the cookbooks found in the United States, the digitized collection includes cookbooks published for a variety of audiences and cultural regions (both nationally and internationally). In addition to scanning each page of the selected books, project participants transcribed each of the selected cookbooks by undergraduate teams of typists and proofread. As a result, the full text transcriptions of each of the digitized volumes are easily accessible.

For my print project, I am interested in analyzing the cookbooks found in Michigan State University’s Feeding America online collection. I think it would be interesting to see how the language used in the cookbooks changes over time and/or based on the theme of the cookbooks. Since the cookbooks are tagged by subject, I think it would be particularly interesting to analyze the way that Asian and Middle Eastern cuisine is represented. With the transcription text available for each cookbook, I could input each of the books into Voyant and analyze the texts thought distant reading, similar to Cameron Blevins’ topic modeling of Martha Ballard’s diary.

Example of one of the cookbooks in the collection. This book was published in 1914.

If this scope of Asian and Middle Eastern cuisine becomes too narrow to draw analysis from the texts, I could incorporate other cookbooks found in the collection to draw additional comparisons. I think it would also be interesting to see if I could analyze differences between the cookbooks representing Asian and Middle Eastern cuisine and the cookbooks representing regions of the United States. Through either method, I am curious to see if the language used in the cookbooks can reveal additional historical context to foodways and food culture in the United States.