Guastavino Tiles in Washington, DC

As part of the public history practicum course I am a member of the team partnered with the DC History Center. Our team is working with the DC History Center to produce a digital exhibit detailing the history of the Carnegie Library on Mount Vernon Square. 

Image Credit: Rosie Cain

The Carnegie Library building was funded by Andrew Carnegie to house the DC Public Library in 1899 and served as the main library from 1903-1972. The Carnegie library was one of the first buildings in Washington, DC to be non-segregated for public use, welcoming Black and white library patrons equally throughout its many years. Currently, The DC History Center’s headquarters are housed on the second floor of the building, while an Apple store is located on the first floor. The digital exhibit my practicum team is producing for the DC History Center will have multiple components including detailing the architectural history, the social history, and the history of the organizations that have inhabited the building; the DC Public Library, UDC, The DC History Center, and now Apple. I would be interested in taking on a specific component; both out of interest for the topic and project and to ‘double dip’ with the digital project for this course.

This proposed component is a map of public buildings in Washington, DC that feature Guastavino tiles. Guastavino tiles are an intricate architectural process from the Medertaranian adapted and popularized by Raphael Guastavino Sr. and Raphael Guastavino Jr. in the late 1800s and early 1900s. John Ochsendorf’s 2014 article for Structure Magazine, titled “Guastavino Masonry Shells” provides a detailed background of the architectural technique. This feature can be seen in multiple prominent buildings throughout the United States; including Grand Central Station in New York City and St. Paul’s Chapel on the Columbia University campus (pictured bellow). This article from Untapped New York, features 15 of the city’s 200 plus buildings that have this architectural feature. 

Image credit: Untapped New York by Michelle Young

The Carnegie library building is one of multiple buildings in Washington, DC that feature Guastavino tiles. Our project partners have expressed interest in connecting the Carnegie library building with the other buildings throughout the city, and my proposed map would aim to do that. I plan to create an interactive map of Washington, DC that has pins of the public buildings that have Guastavino tiles. The viewer would then be able to click on a pin and a pop up would provide information to the viewer about the building with an image of that building’s Guastavino tile work, potentially with a link to the building’s website or the organization of the website within. A resource I have identified as a possible platform to create this map is StoryMapsJS from Knight Lab, as I know our team plans to incorporate other Knight Lab resources into the digital exhibit, as they appear to be easy to integrate into WordPress. However, StoryMapsJS may be more linear, going from place to place in a preset order, and less self guided than I hope for the project to be, and thus I may need to look into other software to create this map. 

Readings and tools we have examined so far throughout this semester will help to guide this project. Tools that we’ve looked at such as History Pin and Cleveland Historical, that Raphael covered for the class, are wonderful examples of what I am envisioning for this project. Martyn Jessop’s Digital Visualization as a Scholarly Activity, argues that spatial visualization can be useful to digital humanities and can provide an added interactive layer to scholarship that just written text does not. Cameron Blevins “Mining and Mapping the Production of Space” is another convincing example of how interactive digital maps can add to user experience and understanding of topics. 

As someone who is incredible directionally challenged and spatially unaware, interactive maps are extremely helpful to me and I think they are a great tool to connect users to the histories of Guastavino tiles and the buildings that house these features throughout the city.

Season 4 Vacation GIF by Friends

#TikTokStorians? Is TikTok the New Platform for Historians and Historic Content?

Similar to Amanda’s proposal on #historyontwitter, I am also interested in the ways in which historians are engaging broader audiences about conversations on history. While the realm of social media sometimes appears to be rapidly changing, TikTok’s popularity as a forum for rapid consumption of entertainment and information, has surged in recent years. TikTok is a platform in which users can create short videos, up to 60 seconds, using their own sounds, or viral sounds. It has quickly become a platform for dancing, comedy, and trends. But it is also a platform that has the potential to engage viewers in short informational videos, and a platform in which history can be and has been presented. 

Proposal: 

For the purpose of this print project I plan to write a research paper that examines the different ways in which both professional historians and non-professional historians engage their audiences with historic content on the app. I think that by discussing both professional and non-professional historians, the paper’s scope will be set to best understand how all historical content is portrayed on the app. To discuss professional historians’ use of the app, I plan to examine the hashtag #historiansoftiktok and to primarily use the account @historyinhighheels as a case study. This account is run by Ashley Buchanan, a historian with a Ph.D in history who lives in Washington, DC and works as a Mellon-funded postdoctoral fellow with Harvard at Dumbarton Oaks. Her videos aim to inform about what being a professional historian entails, featuring videos titled “A Day in the Life of a Historian (in quarantine)!”, “History Degree? What are you going to do with that?”, and videos that talk about her career path, as well as other videos. Ashley’s videos discuss being a historian as a career, less historic content, although she does discuss her research in some videos. She has also used her viral videos on TikTok to create a Facebook group titled “Women in History” and on February 23, 2021 had 822 group members, who could introduce themselves and participate in discussion surrounding pursuing history as a career, higher education, internship and job advice, etc. Ashley’s videos have also been shared by the American Historical Association on Twitter. 

I also plan to examine TikTok videos that discuss historical content, more specifically than the historical profession. To discuss historical content I plan to use popular videos that included hashtags such as #history (which has 8.7 billion views), #historyTikTok, #historyTok. I plan to use engagement statistics, such as the number of views, likes, and comments, to decide which videos reach large audiences and then include conversation about how the comments were engaging with the video. Were they asking further questions? Commenting that they had not learned this information? Making jokes about the information? I am also curious about the way these viral videos, especially ones that claim to be telling ‘unknown’ history, discuss source material, or if they do at all. Often the videos I have seen just make a claim, without any further explanation or evidence. I am curious how these videos are engaging their audiences in conversations surrounding history. A potential case study account that could be used to discuss these videos is the account @thisiscory run by Cory Bradford, which features an account bio that states “The CEO of History”. 

While this project is broad, as I mentioned the hashtag #history has 8.7 billion views as of February 23, 2021, I believe that through examining comments and engagement statistics conclusions can begin to be drawn about some ways in which audiences engage with viral videos on TikTok that discuss both historical content and the historical profession. One historiographical source that I plan to route this study in is, Jerome De Groot 2016 second edition, Consuming History: Historians and Heritage in Contemporary Popular Culture, which argues that historical knowledge in all forms of consumption is important and should be considered as such by professional historians, especially those understanding the various ways people consume historic information. 

Words, Words and More Words Throughout Time

Hi everyone, this week I’ll be walking us through two digital resources relating to the use of words throughout time; The Time Magazine Corpus of American English and Google n-gram. These are both services that attempt to locate the use of certain words or strings of words throughout different time periods. I’ll be honest, I had never experienced resources such as these before and they were a bit intimidating at first but stick with me, with a little experimentation these tools are really interesting!

The first resource I’d like to demonstrate is the Time Magazine Corpus of American English.

To start off I wanted to provide the definition of the word corpus, as it’s important to understand the function of the tool. ‘Corpus’ is defined as “a collection of written texts, especially the entire works of a particular author or a body of writing on a particular subject.” The Time Magazine Corpus therefore provides users the opportunity to search for a specific word throughout the collection of Time Magazine articles from 1923-2006. This is a great tool for any historian looking to contextualize a specific word within this time period or examine how use of a word has changed or varied over time. 

For the purpose of this demonstration I chose the word ‘groovy’. Searching the word groovy produces a timeline by decade that shows the frequency of the use of the word in Time Magazine articles. This shows that the first time the word ‘groovy’ was used in a Time Magazine was in the 1940s, with the decade of most use being the 1960s. 

By clicking on the number below the decade, a list appears that shows you the date of the time Magazine article publication and the sentence that the word was used in. Here you can see ‘groovy’ was used in an article from August 25, 1948 and was used in reference to students and nuns, however that doesn’t tell us all about the context of the use of the word. By selecting the date you can see more information. 

This provides you with a paragraph of context and more information about the article, including the title and a link. Unfortunately the links no longer appear to be correct, so if you wish to find the article in question you may need to search by title and publication date instead. 

The next resource is the Google n-gram search tool. 

Google n-gram allows users to search one or multiple terms and see the frequency of use in books over time. Unlike the Time Magazine Corpus, which displays data in list form, Google n-gram shows data in a visual graph. This helps for visual interpretation, but it is important for users to pay attention to the scale set by the x-axis, otherwise data may be taken out of context. 

Sticking with the term ‘groovy’ a graph is produced that shows how the frequency of the term in published books has varied, as well as an option to search in google books. 

Unlike the Time Magazine Corpus (which again only searched Time Magazine articles), this tool suggests that ‘groovy’ was used in published books beginning in the 1840s and spiked in the 2010s. 

By clicking the time period you can then switch to a search of the term in Google books, with the option to refine the time period further. This shows the research potential sources for further examination on the use of the term. 

Another option is to search multiple terms, which can be done by typing multiple terms separated by only a comma in the search bar. For example, I searched ‘groovy,disco’ to see how the two terms related to each other through use over time. Again, it’s important for researchers to pay attention to the x-axis, which has changed from our first term search, since the term disco appears more frequently throughout all published works. This is a great option for users who want to see how words relate to each other and vary over time. 

Both of these options are wonderful research tools for historians interested in the use of the English language. They both offer advanced search functions for those who wish to use them, I just demonstrated basic functions here. Let me know if you have any question or ideas how you might use these tools in your future research, I’d love to hear!

The Web: Collaborative or Exploitive Readings 5-9 (February 10th Readings)

Hi everyone! I wanted to start off this reading response blog first by saying I so enjoyed reading everyone’s introduction posts and I am very excited to continue to get to know you all over the course of the semester. I also wanted to let you all know that I will be covering readings 5-9 as listed on the syllabus, however for the sake of discussing how they connect with each other I will not be covering them in order as they appear on the syllabus.

The first reading I wanted to discuss is Roy Rosenzweig’s 2006 essay “Can History Be Open Source? Wikipedia and the Future of the Past.” In this essay Rosenzweig gives a brief history on Wikipedia and discusses its success as a platform for democratization of knowledge and collaborative work. Rosenzweig begins by discussing how professionalized historians are highly individualistic, rarely publishing co-authored or multi-authored works, and are highly concerned with authenticity of work, always citing original ideas to their source and avoiding plagiarism (117). Rosenzweig argues that there is a dichotomy between the way professionalized historians have traditionally operated and the ways in which Wikipedia operates; calling for anyone and everyone to contribute their knowledge from a “neutral point of view” or “NPOV”. He argues that despite this dichotomy historians need to care about wikipedia because students care about it, as well as its open-access approach to knowledge, in comparison to so many academic journals that are locked behind paywalls. Overall Rosenzweig concludes that historians should pay attention to Wikipedia, learn from it, and attempt to include aspects of it’s open sourced, democratized approach in their own work. As this article was written in 2006 I’m curious if you all think historians listened? Do you think professionalized historians are open to approaching history in ways similar to how Wikipedia does it? Is there a difference between generations? 

The next reading is Elissa Frankle’s 2011 article “More Crowdsourced Scholarship: Citizen History”. This piece seems to be in almost direct conversation with Rosenzweig’s call for historians to incorporate crowdsourcing into history, Frankle and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum did just that with their “Children of the Lodz Ghetto” project. This project allows for “citizen historians” i.e. anyone who is interested, to access certain historical documents and sources the museum has and do research to attempt to draw conclusions about what happened to the students of the Lodz Ghetto. The project allows “citizen historians” to participate in the research process of history and come to their own conclusions, which are then checked by Frankle, instead of just viewing the interpretations museum professionals have drawn in the form of an exhibit. Frankle predicts that more museums will crowdsource out the research process and search for more ways to engage everyday people interested in history. 

In response to Rosenzwieg’s essay and Frankle’s successful experience with the “Children of the Lodz Ghetto” project, it feels appropriate to next discuss Alison Miner’s 2010 blog post (and the comment thread) “if everything on the internet has to be free, why isn’t my healthcare, too?” More so than any of the other sources I examined this piece challenged me to think about my future as an emerging professional in the field of public history. In this piece Miner, a LIS student, poses the question, “how can i get paid for my profession if there are people out there who are willing to do the work for free?” Miner argues that with a turn towards open-source platforms, crowdsourcing approaches, and the overall demand for free knowledge and free products of intellectual’s work, her hope for her job to continue to be in demand and a paid possession is faltering. Miner and many commenters pose concerns about American capitalism and the devaluation of intellectual work, as a result of many non-tenured humanity positions struggling to maintain living wages. This piece, especially when read in conjunction with Rosenzweig’s call for historians to approach history more in more open-sourced ways and Frankle’s success with her project, made me think… a lot! Where is the line between gatekeeping knowledge (something historians are accused of – think again paywalls to academic journals) and maintaining a level of professionalization? These articles didn’t begin to discuss differing access to education and the need for now (at least) a Master’s degree to enter the field of history and hope to be paid adequately for your labor. How can we as professionals navigate our desires to engage more people but still maintain our jobs? Is this something others are worried about or just concerns of my cynical, over-thinking prone brain? 

The final two sources switch direction a bit and instead discuss the more ‘meta’ ways in which people and the internet interact. The first source, a 2007 YouTube video titled “The Machine is Us/ing Us”, provides a history of digital text and technology and poses many questions to viewers about not only the usefulness of digital text and technology but the ways in which we (we being internet using people not necessarily historians) interact with it. The video points out that interactions with the internet go both ways, we use it to gain information and it uses us to gain information. While this video is a bit dated, I’m interested to hear your thoughts about it. Was it still effective? Did it achieve (what I believe to be) it’s goal of getting you to think about the ways in which you use the internet and it uses you? Are there things you would change or add to the video now, over 10 years later? 

The final source I’ll be discussing picks up on the thread of the above video and is Siva Vaidhyanathan’s “Making Sense of the Facebook Menace” article posted on January 5, 2021 (a date in itself I found very interesting as it was the day prior to the insurrection at the capital, something largely contributed to the allowance for right-wing conspirators to openly plan on online social platforms). In this article Vaidhyanathan begins by discussing and critiquing the “Facebook’s Top 10” list, a twitter account run by New York Times’ journalist Kevin Roose that publishes the sources of the 10 most interacted with links on Facebook in the United States for any given day. Vaidhyanathan points out that the list has been used to point to the propensity for Facebook to disseminate right-wing information, but argues that the lists don’t give a measure for the top 10 nor do they take into account other vital information needed to draw conclusions about how links are being shared, used, and understood. Despite these critiques Vaidhyanathan continues on to argue that as a platform that is constantly using and collecting user information to tailor itself to each user, Facebook poses such an efficient threat to Democracy worldwide, many could not recreate it if they tried. What implications does Facebook, the continued push for regulation of Facebook, and the propensity for Facebook’s undermining of Democracy have for historians? 

Thanks for reading this, I know it got a bit lengthy but I can’t wait to hear what you all thought of these sources!

Rosie Cain Introduction

Hello everyone, my name is Rosie Cain and I am in the second semester of my first year in the Public History Master’s Program. I am originally from Boulder, Colorado. I attended American University for a semester and a half in undergrad, before transferring to the University of Colorado Boulder, where I received my BA in History.

I am interested in public history because of the focus on connecting history to people outside of academia. As a first generation college student, I found access to conversations around history in the academic world somewhat difficult to navigate and found myself turning elsewhere to learn, be it a museum, book, or even historically set television shows. I hope to one day work in a museum doing curatorial work, or in another capacity in which I can engage in interpretive historical work. I currently work at Tudor Place Historic House and Garden in Georgetown in the visitor services department. My research interests span a variety of topics and time periods, including LGBTQ+ history, women’s history, Mexican American history, and Soviet Union history (I know it’s quite the mixed bag).

I am very excited to be taking History and New Media this semester. I do not have much experience with digital platforms and am eager to learn about how to utilize them to help a wider audience access and engage with historical information. I am very curious about the relationship between place based experiences in museums or at historical sights, which initially sparked my interest in history as a child, and how that can (or can not) translate to a digital platform. I also am interested in learning about digital exhibitions, especially since as a part of my Public History Practicum course this semester I will be working with a group to assist the DC History Center in creating a new digital exhibition on the history of the Carnegie Library on Mount Vernon Square.