Power of Place in Washington, D.C.

The research question I had throughout this project was: how do DC residents feel and think about famous landmarks and neighborhoods in the nation’s capital? I wanted to highlight the stories of local Washingtonians since when people think of D.C., they think about the Mall, the Capitol, the White House, etc. and less about the local history of the capital. I was inspired to do this project during my summer internship at the Department of Homeland Security where I came across several oral histories of Anacostia and Congress Heights residents from the 1989 reflected on how they thought of the federally owned, historic hospital – as the unofficial dividing line of segregation between Anacostia, a historically Black neighborhood, and Congress Heights, a historically white neighborhood. St. Elizabeths Hospital was a psychiatric hospital established in 1852 by an act of Congress to treat Navy and Army personnel and D.C. residents, but the residents in those oral histories didn’t view the site as a historic place or as a hospital. Instead, the interviewees showed posterity how they viewed St. Elizabeths Hospitals in their daily lives. Through this project, I wanted to highlight similar stories of how D.C. remember and feel about famous landmarks and neighborhoods in the nation’s capital.

For this project, I delved into oral histories conducted of Washingtonians from the AU Humanities Truck, DC Public Library, DC History Center, and the Ruth Ann Overbeck Capitol Hill History Project. I also included two oral histories conducted of American University students from the Class of 1969 since they resided in the District for a chunk of time during college and shed light on what was occurring in the city and at the university during a tumultuous time in U.S. history.

In order to find stories, I looked at various oral history transcripts. I looked for any mentions of specific places and neighborhoods in D.C. that detail how the resident felt about a specific place or remembered a specific place. The oral histories at the DC Public Library were largely organized by neighborhood, such as Barry Farm, Chinatown, and Marshall Heights. The oral histories from the DC History Center were also organized by neighborhood, such as one folder detailing oral histories from Anacostia residents and one for Congress Heights residents. In the oral histories from the Ruth Ann Overbeck Capitol Hill History Project, the collections were not organized by location, so I read through each oral history to see any mention of a place, such as the Library of Congress, the U.S. Capitol, and Inauguration Parades. The AU Humanities Truck was organized by event, such as the Class of 1969 Reunion and the Knickerbocker Theater 100th Anniversary Commemoration. Even as several collections were organized by location or event, I scanned through the transcripts to view if the residents in that particular oral history mentioned a specific site or neighborhood in recalling various life events. In the end, I added over 60 stories to this project on the map.

In order to show these stories, I created a Google My Maps that shows each site. I chose to note each site with a red star to make it stand out on the map for people and to not confuse it with other icons Google Maps uses to designate different places. For each site, I included the name of the resident being interviewed, the excerpt from the oral history, and the link to the full oral history recording and/or transcription from the archives the oral history originated from. For some locations, I included a note about the historical context for certain sites that are not as well-known outside of the D.C. area. For instance, I included historical contexts for Ben’s Chili Bowl, St. Elizabeths Hospital, and the Knickerbocker Theater since many D.C. and non-D.C. residents might not know about these sites and their historical significance to D.C. local history. Additionally, for sites with numerous oral histories about it, I included a number on the label in order to make it easier for people to keep track which oral histories they have already read about that site and showing how many people have reminisces about this site or neighborhood. Barry Farm, St. Elizabeths Hospital, and the Capitol Hill Neighborhood all have the most recollections with seven each.

Overall, I really enjoyed this project. I learned so much about local D.C. history through these residents’ oral histories. Since I have lived and attended school in the District, I have been interested in uncovering and learning more about local D.C. history. It is important to remember that while D.C. is the nation’s capital, it is also equally as important to highlight and document the rich local history of America’s capital. For instance, I learned about the Knickerbocker Theater disaster and Camp Simms, which was a former D.C. National Guard site in Southeast D.C., due to this project. It was incredible to hear in Washingtonians’ own words how they felt and viewed national and local landmarks and neighborhoods, providing a view into what it is like to live in America’s capital.

For further research and if I continued to add to this project, I would add more oral histories from the Ruth Ann Overbeck Capitol Hill History Project I did not get to this semester. Additionally, I would add oral histories from the Rainbow History Project. I would also visit the Chevy Chase Historical Society to comb through the numerous oral histories that have been conducted of their neighborhood’s residents and look through the Washington Metro Oral History Project and The Lessons of the 1960s Oral History Interviews collections at George Washington University’s Special Collections. Since Google My Maps does not allow for me to add audio files, I would either look at other platforms that would support audio files or create an accompanying website (as Professor Owens suggested to me) or SoundCloud account for the Google My Maps.

Here is the link to the Power of Place in Washington, D.C. project: https://www.google.com/maps/d/u/0/edit?mid=1X12_GLzbFX29uL2xbFyij4nPBxh-w0Q&usp=sharing

I hope you all have a great time perusing the site and learning more about our nation’s capital and the city we attend graduate school in!

-Meredith Jackson

Project Draft – Power of Place in Washington, D.C.

Hello, everyone!

So far, I have compiled a list in a Word Document of oral histories from the DC Public Library, DC History Center, American University’s Humanities Truck, and the Ruth Ann Overbeck Capitol Hill History Project that detail how Washingtonians feel about landmarks and historic areas in the District. I hope to further explore the Ruth Ann Overbeck Capitol Hill History Project’s oral histories about Capitol Hill and look for any other databases that would be helpful to my research.

In my research, I have run into a couple of roadblocks. I realized that I could not add audio to the maps, so I instead included an excerpt from the transcript and placed the link to the full oral history at the end of each explanation. Additionally, some databases are more extensive and accessible than others. For the Chevy Chase Historical Society, one must visit in person, but the oral histories just have the name of the person interviewed and the date with no other information, so it is difficult for me to understand which interviews would be the most helpful before arriving at the historical society, which has approximately 100 interviews. Therefore, looking through this historical society’s oral histories might be difficult this semester. Additionally, the Rainbow History Project wants people to request an audio file of the oral history instead of having the link directly on the website. This project does include summaries of the interviews, so I am planning on looking those over and sending an email for the files of a few oral histories that would aid in this project if they can be added in enough time before the semester ends.

For the draft, I added 10 places to the Google My Maps I created. On the map, each landmark has a pin. I chose a red star as I felt that each pin would stand out and would be easier for people to find on the map. I also chose the base map as the same one that is found on Google Maps for both Washingtonians and non-Washingtonians to be able to situate themselves in the city, especially if that person wanted to visit the landmarks and historic neighborhoods. Here is the link to the map: https://www.google.com/maps/d/u/0/edit?mid=1X12_GLzbFX29uL2xbFyij4nPBxh-w0Q&usp=sharing

Moving forward, I plan to place all of these oral histories I have found on the Google My Maps before the semester ends. In delving into other databases, I hope to add more stories and landmarks as I plan to research more oral histories in April before the final project is due. I want to find landmarks in all of the quadrants and hope to highlight stories from people of varying backgrounds and perspectives.

I hope you enjoy the map so far, and let me know what you think in the comments!

-Meredith Jackson

Digital Archives

What are digital archives? Advantages and disadvantages? How they can change with the times, both adding new collections and with new technology? How will digital archives be preserved? These are the questions that this week’s readings endeavor to answer.

First, we must understand what a digital archive is and isn’t. In Jennifer Guiliano’s A Primer for Teaching Digital History, she wrote in Chapter 8: Archives, Exhibits, and Collections that historians use “the word ‘archives’ to mean any collection of documents,” which in the author’s opinion is misleading since not every digital space that houses sources can be held to or meet the standards of an archive (133). Instead, Guiliano uses the terms “digital historical representation,” “digital collections,” or “digital exhibits” because the terms respect the work of archival professionals while “still achieving our goal of creating historical scholarship that leverages digital collections and databases” (134). In “Critical Digital Archives: A Review from Archival Studies,” Itza A. Carbajal and Michelle Caswell, who are both archival practitioners, define digital archives as “(1) born-digital records (such as emails, Word documents, and tweets) that have been selectively collected by archival institutions or organizations and preserved and (2) analogue records (such as those created in paper, analogue film, and other nondigital formats) that have been selectively” digitized, collected, and preserved (1104). Furthermore, the authors believed that it is not a digital archive “unless there is a plan for preserving them across space and time, maintaining the context of their creation through metadata, and ensuring continual access to present and future users” (1105). As the world and its sources become increasingly more digital, historians, archivists, and other professionals are still grappling with how to define “the digital archive.”

In creating a digital archive, many aspects should be considered, such as its organization and infrastructure. Jefferson Bailey’s article “Disrespect des Fonds: Rethinking Arrangement and Description in Born-Digital Archives” traces the history of archives from the French Revolution to the present-day. Bailey focuses on the term respect des fonds, which is the “the principle of grouping records by the administration, organization, individual, or creating body in which they originated,” since it emerged in the creation of new archives in France after its revolution. Bailey examines the term while also detailing its uses and effects on digital archives. Bailey found through examining several case studies that in rethinking respect des fonds, practitioners “gain a better awareness of the extent to which the material affordances of paper records have had an undue influence on how we conceptualize and practice grouping and describing collections.” For instance, arrangement of objects in a digital archive is “no longer a process of imposing intellectualized hierarchies or physical relocation; instead, it becomes largely automated, algorithmic, and batch processed.” Bailey’s article shows that archivists cannot just transfer their practices of preserving, labelling, and cataloguing objects from the physical archive to the digital one.

Similar to Bailey’s article, Jerome McGann’s “The Rationale of the HyperText” also emphasizes how to arrange and catalog digital archives to ensure they operate correctly. McGann shows the importance of the HyperText by stating is allows “to navigate through large masses of documents and to connect these documents, or parts of the documents, in complex ways.” This statement means that each document can be connected to another document. From a researcher’s perspective this is highly helpful as one can find and read sources faster than if the HyperText were not present. Both Bailey and McGann’s articles shed light on the technological organization of the digital archive in a way to ensure its effectiveness.

Another aspect that one must consider in the digital archive is what will be placed in it. Archives – both physical and digital – have been criticized over time for prioritizing collections primarily from straight, white, wealthy men. Archivists, activists, historians, and others have called for creating a more inclusive archive. For instance, “Archival Challenges and Digital Solutions in Aboriginal Australia” by Kimberly Christen highlights the efforts of Indigenous communities with scholars, technical consultants, archives, and others to create solutions for making their cultural sources available to their community as many of them lack reliable access to the internet (21). Specifically, Christen details the efforts from the Mukurtu Wumpurrarni-kari Archive in Tennant Creek, Northern Territory Australia. The project’s purpose was to create a “digital archive to house returned digital materials as well as newly produced digital content” (22). Christen concludes that “this type of virtual repatriation is beneficial for museums and archives” and local Indigenous communities as it not only adds their stories to the archives, but allows the community to more easily access their history (25). Additionally, in “Expanding #ArchivesForBlackLives to Traditional Archival Repositories” by Jarrett M. Drake, it describes how archives should highlight African American voices already in the archives before they can properly document the Black Lives Matter (BLM) Movement. Drake states that the archives must accomplish these two tasks before properly documenting BLM: “their complicity in upholding patriarchy, white supremacy, and other structural inequalities” and “must build trust with the people, communities, and organizations around whose lives the movement is centered, a trust they should pursue not under the guise of collection development but under the practice of allyship.” Drake states that archives should examine their locations & their accessibility/inaccessibility, business hours, and the finding aids to ensure that they are highlighting the materials already in the archives pertaining to African Americans and their history. Similar to Christen’s article, Drake also highlights the importance of working with the community to add and highlight stories that have been obscured and missing in the archives and to make the archives more accessible to that community, such as hosting events and creating a welcoming space for all. Both of these articles not only highlight the importance of adding more sources and stories to the archives, but working with communities in regards to both physical and digital archives.

Now that the digital archive has been created, how does one preserve it? Professor Trevor Owens’ book, The Theory and Craft of Digital Preservation, and Carbajal and Caswell’s article discuss this idea. Owens wrote the book as a “basic introduction to the issues and practices of digital preservation” and provide a basic framework for digital preservation (3). The book describes the author’s 16 axioms on what digital preservation is and is not (4-9). Owens structured the book as a conversation between the author and reader in the hopes that the book “will be of use to activists who want to start practices to ensure long-term access to their records, or scholars, who want to make sure that their work has a life beyond them” (11). In addition to the 16 axioms, the book defines what digital objects are, challenges and advantages to digital preservation, and managing and arranging digital archives. In his conclusion, Owens outlines what he believes are the challenges to digital preservation in the future, such as fast-evolving technology, how certain industries will drive the newest technological inventions, and climate change (187-200). Carbajal and Caswell discuss many of the same challenges in their article, but they also highlight copyright issues (1113), adapting in providing new collections to engage with existing and new audiences (1114), and historical debt, which is the labor of re-doing another person’s work in the archives, such as new cataloging and new finding aid (1113).

All of these readings show us what a digital archive is (or isn’t), how they should be written in code, what objects and collections they should have, and how to preserve these digital archives for future generations. In an increasingly digital world, these are valuable tools and skills to know as historians and scholars.

-Meredith Jackson

Project Proposal: The Power of Place in Washington, D.C.

When people think of Washington, D.C., they think of the White House, Capitol, the president, Senators, Representatives, etc. People hardly think about the people who call D.C. home, so this project would center around Washingtonians and they think of prominent landmarks in the nation’s capital.

The questions I want to answer with this digital project is: How do Washingtonians view prominent landmarks in the city? What do these places mean to them, and what does that tell us about D.C. as a city instead of a federal entity?

For instance, when I conducted for my summer internship at the Dept. of Homeland Security. I was reading oral histories pertaining to St. Elizabeths Hospital from 1989, and I noticed a pattern: many residents in the area regarded the psychiatric hospital as the unofficial segregation line between the Black neighborhood of Anacostia and the white neighborhood of Congress Heights. It was fascinating to read how the residents in the neighborhoods thought of the then-prominent psychiatric hospital. This finding inspired the idea for this project.

For sources, I want to mainly focus on oral histories that show how D.C. residents think of landmarks, such as the museums, memorials, monuments, government buildings, and other historic sites. In this way, the project would compile the numerous oral histories into one place that have been conducted over the decades at numerous places in the city. Here is a list of a few sources that would be helpful for my research:

  1. The DC Public Library has numerous oral history collections that bring to light Washingtonian’s stories of their lives and experiences in the District. Collections include narrators discussing churches, neighborhoods, gardens, Soldiers’ Home, and other well-known landmarks and buildings in D.C., illustrating how they think of various places in D.C. These oral histories are more recent as they were conducted between 2013-present day.
  2. The DC History Center also possesses the Neighborhoods Survey Oral History Collection, which were conducted from the early 1980s-1990s. The collection would further illuminate how D.C. residents in those neighborhoods viewed landmarks in their own area and around the city.
  3. The Ruth Ann Overbeck Capitol Hill History Project has numerous oral histories from Capitol Hill neighborhood residents. It would be fascinating to hear and read their oral histories as they are close to one of the symbols of American democracy, so their perspective of the area is highly enlightening. While the oral histories were conducted in recently in the 2000s, the stories that are told go as far back as 1886, which would be helpful in understanding how the neighborhood has changed.
  4. Lessons of the Sixities Oral History Project from George Washington University would also be fascinating to read as activists in D.C. advocated for a better, more equitable city.
  5. The Chevy Chase Historical Society has conducted oral histories since the 1980s. These oral histories would be helpful in showing how people who reside on the border between D.C. and Maryland view that border, as well as the capital and the state.
  6. Rainbow History Project conducts oral history interviews with LGBTQ+ D.C. residents. The collections include an LGBTQ+ walking tour of the city and the history of the D.C. High Heel Race.
  7. I will also search for oral history projects from local historical societies, neighborhood societies, and other historic groups in the D.C. area to see if they have oral histories in their repositories.

In order to display these findings, I want to create a map with pins located on the sites that are discussed in the oral histories. For instance, a pin would be placed at St. Elizabeths Hospital for every oral history that mentioned the site. The pin would include an excerpt of the portion in the transcript where that landmark is discussed, the narrator’s name, the date the oral history was conducted, the archive that the oral history resides in, and if possible, the link to the online recording and transcript. In this way, visitors can visually see on a map which sites have been discussed around the nation’s capital and can read about those experiences in one central place. As for the format I would like to use, Google My Maps and make the project publicly available so that anyone who is interested in D.C. history can learn more about the city and its residents.

When the project is finished, I would like to send the information to the DC Public Library and the DC History Center as a resource they can use for visitors and to spread the information about this project to their many visitors.

This project is important in shedding light on the history of D.C. that is often overlooked: its local, neighborhood history instead of federal history.

-Meredith Jackson

Print Project Proposal: Historians React to Period Shows

Have you ever wondered how historically accurate a period show is on TV? How does the historical accuracy or inaccuracy affect audience’s perceptions of the past? As a person who loves history and history TV shows, I am curious about these questions as well. I remember talking to one of my favorite undergraduate professors and colleagues at the Omohundro Institute about our feelings on period shows. In this project proposal, I will endeavor to uncover what historians think about these popular period shows: Bridgerton (Netflix), Turn: Washington’s Spies (AMC), Little House on the Prairie (NBC), Downton Abbey (PBS Masterpiece), and Deanwood (HBO). Their thoughts on historical accuracy can pertain to any of the following: set design, clothing, historic words and phrases, shooting location, and accuracy of events and their impacts in the show, such as the American Revolution’s effects on families across what would become the United States.

In regards to the TV shows I chose, I want to analyze shows that are set in different time periods. In this way, multiple historians with different specialties can have their reactions analyzed. I also wanted to choose TV shows from multiple different networks and streaming services instead of just one to observe if there is any variation present in how these shows display the historical time period they are set in. For instance, is there a difference between how AMC and HBO show history, such as which network has more historically accurate content? Additionally, I wanted to choose popular TV period shows from different decades that they were aired in to observe if the era they aired had an effect on how they displayed history. For instance, how did producing Little House on the Prairie in the 1970s impact how that show displayed 1870s America to audiences? What would be different if it was aired today?

In order to analyze what historians have been and are discussing about these popular shows, I will send out a survey to historians I know who are interested and/or have their specialty in that time period, as well as historians who have researched period TV shows. For instance, I will send the survey to one of my professors at William & Mary who was in an episode ofTurn and has a strong research interest in clothing, dancing, and Regency Era Britain. I can also send the survey to my former colleagues at the Omohundro Institute, especially for Turn as it takes place in Colonial America. After sending out those surveys, I will also ask if they know any other historians who have strong feelings about these TV shows and/or are specialists in that particular time period and place. In this way, I could analyze their various reactions to these popular TV shows and what they are correctly and incorrectly conveying to audiences.

Additionally, I would also utilize Twitter. During my time at the Omohundro Institute, I learned from historians who worked there that Twitter is a great place for historians. It is a place where historians share their work, share their research and sources, and share their thoughts on current events, including TV shows. For example, I could search for the Twitter accounts of prominent historians in that particular field and view their posts if they discussed one of the period TV shows I want to analyze. I can also follow different hashtags to view the conversation, such as the hashtags of the show’s name and others, such as #HistoryFail, #HistoryTVShow, and others. While this would be more time consuming and includes the reactions of non-historians, this method would be another avenue to collect data on how historians are reacting to these popular shows.

I can also analyze history blogs. For example, Commonplace – the blog run by the Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture – published a piece in July 2015 pertaining to a William & Mary Education/Film & Media Studies professor’s reaction to the accuracy of Turn. Additionally, the panel who edited and published the article had historians on it. Blogs written and moderated by historians personally and from academic presses would be another avenue of analyzing historian’s reactions to the period TV shows I have chosen to study.

In an increasingly digital world, it is important to analyze how history is being portrayed to audiences. People learn about history and historic topics from places outside of the classroom, such as TV. Therefore, it is important to analyze those TV shows as to how they are portraying the past to audiences around the world. If those TV shows are not producing an accurate depiction of history, what does that say about the contemporary society’s feelings towards that time period? How will it affect people’s thoughts and sense of the past?

-Meredith Jackson