Finding Our Place in the Cosmos: From Galileo to Sagan and Beyond

“We are a way for the cosmos to know itself”- Carl Sagan

According to Wikipedia, Carl Sagan was an American astronomer, cosmologist, astrophysicist, astrobiologist, author, science popularizer, and science communicator in astronomy and other natural sciences. His achievements include contributions to the discovery of the high surface temperatures of Venus, hypothesized that Saturn’s moon Titan might possess oceans of liquid compounds on its surface and that Jupiter’s moon Europa might possess subsurface oceans of water, and he is also known for his research on the possibilities of extraterrestrial life. Sagan’s life and work are the connecting factor in Finding Our Place in the Cosmos: From Galileo to Sagan and Beyond.This online collection, which can be located on the Library of Congress’ website, explores “changing models of the universe through time, ideas of life on other words and Carl Sagan’s place in the tradition of science.” This collection consists of a few hundred digitized items which include manuscripts, rare books, celestial atlases, newspaper articles, sheet music and movie posters. The thematic collection includes three primary sections which I will discuss below:

1.“The Cosmos: Its Structure and Historical Models”

“This section showcases rare books, manuscripts and celestial maps from the Library of Congress collections illustrating the history of modeling the cosmos. Starting with ancient Greek astronomy, then following developments in the Islamic world, this collection depicts the work of Copernicus, Kepler, and Galileo, as well as Descartes and Newton’s developments. The goal of this section is to provide a general overview of the history of our understanding of the universe and offer a view of how our knowledge of nature develops over time.”

The screenshot above depicts “The Cosmos” front-page- the page the user see’s after clicking on the link. From here, one can read the related articles and essays, find “teaching resources”, as well as continue one’s research through “expert resources”.

2. “Life on Other Worlds: History of the Possibility”    

“This section showcases early science fiction books and pop-culture items like sheet music, movie posters and trailers alongside newspaper articles, astronomy books and items from Carl Sagan’s papers. Through these materials, the section explores the relationship between imagination and science in how our ideas about life on other worlds have developed over time. The primary goal of this section is to illustrate the important connection between imagination and rigorous science and present how our ideas about life in the universe have developed over time.”

The screenshot above depicts the page the user arrives at after clicking one of the links under “teaching resources”. Here, the user is taken to a blog entitled “Teaching with the Library of Congress”. The Library of Congress does not control what is posted, however they monitor the posts as well as the comments. This specific guest post comes from Trevor Owens.

3. “Carl Sagan and the Tradition of Science”

“Primarily showcasing items from ‘The Seth MacFarlane Collection of the Carl Sagan and Ann Druyan Archive’ this section contextualizes Carl Sagan in the tradition of science. It starts by presenting how Sagan became interested and passionate about the universe as a young child and then follows the development of the depth and breadth of his interests in high school and college. From there it focuses on his connections to mentors, and concludes by exploring the many roles Sagan played as a mentor and role model to scientists, science communicators and the public at large.”

The screenshot above depicts what can be viewed after clicking on a specific article under one of the three primary sections. This image depicts part of the table of contents from the second Draft of Carl Sagan’s book Pale Blue Dot. This image offers a point of entry for understanding Sagan’s writing process. Additionally, you can read and review some of Carl Sagan’s drafts and ideas online in this collection. As noted on this page, Sagan was an extensive reviser of his work, for example, this digitized draft of Pale Blue Dot is the second of twenty full drafts in the archive.  Each of those 20 drafts is heavily annotated with edits, revisions and changes.

Finding Our Place in the Cosmos provides an array of options for its users, such as viewing its’ featured content, finding lesson plans under the “teaching resources”, and continuing one’s studies with the help of the “expert resources”. However, this online collection is only a fraction of the archive’s contents. It is not intended to be comprehensive. Instead it is intended to view various topics and serve as a point of entry to a wide array of primary source.

The Complexities of Paper

What do Kindles, telegrams, and restaurant menus all have in common?

They are all documents.

In Paper Knowledge: Toward a Media History of Documents, Lisa Gitelman explores significant historical events in which the use of a document, set of documents, or genre of documents was as key to the shaping of those events as the people who utilized them. Thus, she creates a brief history of the ‘‘scriptural economy’’ through anecdotes at its most crucial moments in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

Therefore, I will begin by asking a simple question- what is a document?

You probably all just rolled your eyes at that question, right? Well, this childish question has been analyzed, examined, and reconsidered for the past century.

Gitelman states that the word “document” comes from the Latin root docer, to teach or show, which suggests that the “document exists in order to document.”

Additionally, Gitelman argues that “scriptural economy” is an ever-expanding realm of human expression. The document can be manipulated, reproduced, counterfeited, saved, formatted etc. by people. Thus, communication has grown and transgressed across structural borders, from paper through photocopies, and into digital documents. Imagine all the documents you have in your possession right now…you probably have your driver’s license in your wallet, a PDF file saved on your laptop, and an electronic bank statement on your phone. Think about that…all the different forms of documentation and means of communication you obliviously have on you at all times.  

Paper Knowledge also largely focuses on printing. Gitelman argues that the nineteenth century job in printing is crucial to the history of media. Today, it still has never been fully defined what impact printers had on subjects, authors, editors etc. being printed. Therefore, many questions are still left unanswered in media history- Who was reading these prints? How were they being preserved? Etc.

Moreover, printing history can be traced through its transformation during Industrialization and its’ competition with smaller, amateur printers. Gitelman states that during the managerial revolution, secretaries in offices “produced and reproduced documents as means of both internal and external forms of communication”. Consequently, the 1930’s is recognized as an era of “new media for the reproduction of documents”. This can be seen through the use of mimeographs, hectographs, and microfilms.

Now let’s fast-forward to the twenty-first century when “printable documents on the web” become widely popular- Gitelman argues that the PDF File is interesting because it is so sutured to the genre of the document: “all PDF’s are documents, even if all digital documents are not PDF’s”. Therefore, Gitelman continues to ask, “how is the history of PDFs a history of documents, of paper and paperwork? And what are the assumptions about documents that have been built into PDF technology, and how does using that technology reinforce or reimagine the document?”

Before reading this book, I was completely oblivious to the complexity of paper. Paper can be paradoxical, ephemeral, literal, figurative, theoretical etc. So, I ask you, what do you think the difference between paper and a document is? Where is the document going to be in the future and what new forms will it show up in? Lastly, will the tactile feature of the document be totally erased in the future? Gitelman’s description of a death certificate explains its’ physical characteristics, such as its’ raised intaglio printing, elaborate watermark, and thermochromic ink. She makes the argument that you do not just read this document but you “perform calisthenics with one”. Will this phenomenon be lost in the future as society is moving toward a more digital, online presence?

Digital Project Proposal

A few weeks ago, Samir Meghelli, chief curator at the Smithsonian Anacostia Community Museum, told our practicum class that the wall of flyers and advertisements near the end of his exhibit was a last-minute decision made just days before the exhibit opened. Meghelli found hundreds of postings, flyers, papers, and advertisements while doing his research on DC neighborhoods for this exhibit. Instead of letting them go another fifty years without seeing day light, he quickly taped them to an empty wall near the end of the exhibit and created a huge collage. I propose to digitize this section from the Anacostia Community Museum’s “A Right to The City” exhibit to make it more accessible to the public and encourage public interpretation. I believe these should be made accessible to the public because it is, in fact, the public’s history. These signs were created and made by the people of DC, for the people of DC.


The audience for this digital project will be the Anacostia community, DC locals and natives, museum goers, and various online researchers.

Example Project

I would use Cornell University’s “Hip Hop Party and Event Flyers Collection” as a comparison project. Just like Meghelli’s collection, Cornell’s collection was created and collected entirely by hand. Their flyers preserve “raw data from the days when Hip Hop was primarily a live, performance-based culture” in the Bronx. They contain information about early “Hip Hop groups, individual MCs and DJs, promoters, venues, dress codes, admission prices, shout outs and more”. To make these important historical documents more accessible to students, researchers, and enthusiasts, Cornell University Library is in the process of making digitized versions of these flyers freely available to the public.


This project would be enhancing and adding to the Smithsonian’s online collections database. In addition to the digitizing of artifacts and archival accumulation, I propose that a public dialogue be open to the public to discuss and remember the events that the flyers pictured. This dialogue would be open to the public in the form of a blog, using WordPress. Here, guests would be invited to comment, ask questions, convey memories, and remember the stories behind these flyers. This blog will thus create a data resource for the public.

Outreach and Publicity

This digital project will practice outreach and obtain publicity through social media sites. By using sites such as Facebook, Twitter, and even the Smithsonian websites, the newly digitized collection and associated public blog will be highly publicized. People love to remember features of their past, see long-forgotten artifacts, and revel in memories. Therefore, highly accessible resources, such as Facebook, are the perfect way to advertise this digital project and reach many people.


I will evaluate the project through the amount of activity the blog attracts. If the blog is not receiving many comments or views, I will know that the collection is not being publicized in the right context and that changes need to be made.

Print Project Proposal: The Evolution of Jazz Terminology

“He is a ‘moldy fig’ and he’ll never dig the new sounds”

Today, if someone described their taste in music by identifying themselves as a “moldy fig” you would probably be extremely confused and reply with a burst of laughter, right? Well, during the Bop era, fans and players of the earlier New Orleans jazz were commonly described using this term.

So much of Jazz is entwined in language, and so much of that language also has to do with coded language around race and culture. Beginning in the 1920s and 30s, the Jazz Age effected every aspect of life it touched. Its cultural repercussions could be felt through the prohibition era, fashion, art, women’s rights, African American’s fight for equality etc. The Jazz Age brought African American culture to the white middle class and that introduction, blending, and apprehension can be analyzed through the era’s terminology usage.  

Using Time Magazine Corpus, I plan to look at how jazz terminology has changed over time. I will explore the trends and their use by using collocates as a way to explore relationships between terms over time in publications.

The Jazz Age’s evolution can be seen through time by looking at its progression through the Bop era, ragtime, blues, and jazz-rock fusion in the late twentieth century. The vast array of African-American music in the 1900s incorporated the new technology of the century, new instruments, and perfected lyrics. Likewise, artists began to publicly take political and humanitarian stances through their music.  From Ragtime to Jazz Rock Fusion, the politics and fight for rights remained apparent through the twentieth century as well as into the twenty-first century. As R&B and Urban Music encased the 1990s, the beginning of the twenty-first century led to the hip-hop generation. Hip hop music, commonly referred to as rap music, is a genre developed in the “United States by inner-city African Americans which consists of a stylized rhythmic music that commonly accompanies rapping, a rhythmic and rhyming speech that is chanted.” This new form of music was a more aggressive and explicit form of expression than the music of the twentieth century. However, like the early 1900s, musicians took to music to express their emotions about race, politics, and religion. (shout-out to my undergraduate-self for finding this topic interesting and beginning this research in my paper entitled “Evolvement of African Slave Spirituals into Modern Day Songs,” 2017)

Thus, I will look at the use of words common in jazz culture such as zoot-suits, cats, jam, jive, and licks. I will also look at phrases such as boogie man, popsicle stick, and Tea man. I hope to analyze and find the trends within this terminology to shed light on the evolution of culture, language, music, and people through time.


As we are using it for this very blog, we all have the slightest knowledge on WordPress by now.  However, if you are at all like me you are still clueless to most of WordPress’s assets and tools.

Hopefully, we all recognize the two tabs in the left corner of our screens entitled “My Site” and “Reader”. These tabs will always be visible on your screen when you are logged into your account (making the site easily navigable!). As Kaylee will be covering the “My Site” tab, I will be going over the “Reader” tab.

As it is states on WordPress’s support page you can “read posts from all the sites you follow (even the ones that aren’t on, find great new reads, and keep track of your comments and replies in one convenient place: the Reader”. To put it simply, you can find and follow blogs here. And yes, if you take the time to read the directions on the support page WordPress will become a thousand-times easier to use…shocking, right?

Thus, I will identify and define the list of links that appear after clicking on the “reader” tab below:

Followed Sites (Manage): the first link you will see once you click on “reader” is this one. This is WordPress’s equivalent to Facebook or Instagram’s public page. Here you will see the newest posts from the sites you follow in the order they were published.

Conversations: here is where you can keep up-to-date on the posts you have liked or commented on. Content will appear on this page when they have new comments or edits. This allows you to read and reply to all conversations that you have already expressed interest in in one place.

Discover: here, you will be propelled into the world of distinguished content and fascinating reads. You can view the editors’ picks, recommended sites, and resources. (AKA come here if you are ever bored and want to roam the wild world of internet bloggers)

Search: this one is self-explanatory. You can search for posts and sites on any topic that you so desire.

My Likes: once again, self-explanatory. This page will display a list of all the posts and sites you have ever “liked” (this page can tell a lot about a person, if you ask me)

Tags: Here you can “add” a tag to find relevant posts for you

Like Dr. Owens’s states in our syllabus, digital tools are affecting nearly every aspect of historical work. The “reader” tab on WordPress collects, organizes, and presents publications in an easy and accessible manner. This not only allows for more content to be published, but it allows for more people to find and read more material from a broader range of sources. Just like any other form of social media, you can like, comment, share, or visit blogs through this tab. Therefore, I like to think of WordPress’s “reader” tab as a more “intellectual” version of Twitter or Instagram…so next time you mindlessly click on your Twitter App, click on WordPress instead and find a new and stimulating topic to delve into.