Guastavino Tiles in Washington D.C. : A Digital Exploration

Hi everyone, I can’t believe this semester is already coming to a close. I’ve had so much fun learning about digital history and discussing with you over the course of the semester. I’ve also greatly enjoyed watching your projects grow and take their final forms. I thank everyone for their comments, answers to troubleshooting questions, and overall support as I’ve constructed my digital project this semester. Without further ado, here it is, Guastavino Tiles in Washington D.C. : An Architectural Feat on Display in the Nation’s Capitol. 

I’m calling this project a digital exploration. When I originally conceived of the idea, it was meant to be a map of all the public buildings in Washington, D.C. that featured Guastavino tile work. After the map was completed, with all the points plotted, and each point featuring an interpretive label, thanks to your comments I realized an added layer of interpretation was needed for the project to be successful. Following my last blog post I turned to John Allen Ochsendorf, Guastavino Vaulting: The Art of Structural Tile (New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 2010). From this incredible work I was able to construct interpretive panels that helped to explain what Guastavino tile architecture was, who Rafael Guastavino and Rafael Guastivino Jr. were, and their contributions to the American Beaux-Arts movement, that shaped Washington, D.C. and many other cities in the United States. I added 6 interpretive panels, which tied the project together and also made it more than a map, morphing it into a ‘digital exploration’. I am excited that this can be a stand alone resource for anyone interested in Guastavino tile architecture or looking to explore some beautiful architectural work throughout Washington, D.C. I am also excited to see how this map works in conjunction with the larger digital exhibition on the Carnegie Library on Mount Vernon Square (as soon as that project is finalized I will comment the link so anyone interested can view it). 

I am very glad I chose to do this digital project, as it pushed me out of my comfort zone of academic writing and provided me with more skills I did not yet poses. I now feel comfortable working with ArcGIS, a software I had no prior experience with, and hope this will be a transferable skill to other mapping and digital exhibition platforms. I was grateful for the opportunity to challenge myself to write for a broad audience, versus an academic audience. The thing that provided me with the most anxiety in this new form of writing was the lack of typical footnote citations, which I instead substituted for links for more information that would take you to the organization occupying the building, the sites where I did the majority of my research. In addition, I supplied a bibliography and a for more information section. John Ochsendorf has done wonderful historical research on Guastavino and I am very grateful that this digital exploration can add to the conversations he has begun in remembering Guastavino and encouraging audiences to experience his architectural work. It’s my hope that through this project audiences will remember to look up in their daily lives, as you never know what architectural ingenious is above you. 

I’m very proud of the work I did in this class and I am so excited to share this resource with you all. I have a new found interest in digital history and hope to continue to expand my digital skill sets and utilize the many wonderful platforms and software into my public history work. Thank you all again for being a wonderful group to share in this strange COVID-era experience with. 

Guastavino Tiles Map Update

Hi everyone, here is the update on my Mapping Guastavino tiles project. As a reminder of the project, my practicum group is working with the DC History Center to create a Digital Exhibit about the Carnegie Library Building on Mount Vernon Square. Part of this exhibit will examine the architectural history of the building, while providing context on the Beaux Arts architectural movement. The Carnegie Library is one of multiple buildings in Washington, D.C. that features Guastavino tiles, an architectural feature perfected and popularized by Rafael Guastavino Sr. and Jr. in the early 1900s. For this courses requirements (and to be featured in the exhibit) I am building a map of all the public buildings in Washington, D.C. that feature Guastavino Tiles. I am using Story Map ArcGIS software to do this. To view the map click here.


While preliminary research informed me of multiple buildings with tiles, it did not inform me of all the buildings in D.C. A few years ago the National Building Museum hosted an exhibit about Guastavino tiles. I reached out to the curatorial department to ask if they had a list of all the buildings in Washington, D.C. that had the architectural feature, and luckily they did and graciously shared it with me. There are 24 public buildings in Washington, D.C. that feature Guastavino tiles. Seen here. 

After doing more research into the buildings on their various websites, in news articles, etc. I decided to eliminate the Lawerence Residence, the current home of the French Ambassador, from my map. I decided to eliminate it because I wanted this map to serve as a tool that people could use to find buildings they could have feasible access to see the Guastavino tiles. During COVID 19 this may not be an option, as many of the buildings are closed to the public. Some buildings like the U.S. The Department of the Interior needs security clearance, but since they were Federal Government buildings I decided to leave them on the map.

The Map: 

The first step of my process was to plot the points on the map. Seen here.

I then added interpretive information, which and an image which appears as you hover over the point on the map. The “Read More” function allows you to expand and see the rest of the interpretive text. When appropriate I added the link to the building’s website so people could read more about the history of the building, the organization that occupies it, or potentially schedule a visit. Unfortunately, due to COVID-19 I was unable to take my own images of the Guastavino tiles as I had originally hoped. Due to this I had to use images I found online. Therefore, I included an “Image courtesy of,…” line at the bottom of each interpretive panel, as you were unable to add it directly to the photograph when plotting points. Due to having to rely on photographs from the website I was also unable to get photographs of the tile work in each building, so some building photographs are of the exterior. While this was disappointing, I do not think it takes away from the impact that this map can have.

Revised Proposal: 

Since the map points are plotted, include photographs, and interpretive information, the bulk of the project is complete. I am open to any suggestions on revising the interpretive information if necessary. The bulk of the panels are short, featuring just a few sentences, in an effort to provide relevant information without overwhelming viewers with text, especially since there are so many panels.

I realized after posting my proposal that there was not much of a ‘so what?’ aspect to my project. After thinking about it, it is my hope that this map will show how influential the Guastavino family and their tile technique was to the architecture of Washington, D.C. in the early 1900s. Guastavino tiles are a main feature of the Beaux Arts architectural movement, a movement that can be seen in monuments and buildings throughout the city, including many on this list (The Supreme Court, the Cannon House Building, the Carnegie Library, the DC War Memorial, etc.). I think this tool, especially the spatial aspect of the map can help viewers learn about how buildings in the city came to be and how they were constructed over time. Each interpretive panel includes the date of the building’s construction, which allows viewers to see what buildings were being built in what parts of the city at what time. Since this map features many federal government buildings that were built during the great depression it adds to existing literature on Franklin D. Roosevelt’s administration’s efforts to create construction jobs to help pull the country out of the Great Depression. While the buildings mainly represent the Beaux Arts architectural style, some of the churches represent other architectural movements, which have been noted where appropriate. This may allow viewers to contrast and compare different architectural styles, while recognizing that Guastavino tiles were used throughout. 

In order to help audiences better understand the story of the Guastavino family I have included two interpretive panels on the home page below the map. These panels are not yet complete. I hope that they will be complete within the next week, as I’d like to have a very close to complete draft to demonstrate to the DC History Center. To complete the interpretive panels of this section I am planning on consulting John Ochensdorf’s book, Guastavino Vaulting: The Art of Structural Tile, which provides biographical information on both Rafael Guastivino Sr. and Rafael Guastavino Jr. 

Questions: Is there anything else you would like to see that provides context for this map? Are the visuals okay? Are the interpretive panels okay? 

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. 


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!