Final Project — The Abandoned DC Archive

I began this project knowing that I wanted to combine my interests in abandoned locations with analysis of the past and present and use the digital history skills we developed in this class. Hence, the Abandoned DC Archive was born!

Here is my poster on this project:

This digital archive works as a space for the abandoned locations to exist. I broke the location archives down into three sections:

  1. Historical Timeline — This area is where I included a quick and generalized history of the locations, dates, important figures in its history (defined by national and local importance), and other names the locations went by.
  2. Archive — This area is the core the website which includes any and all information found digitally and publicly on these locations. The amount and type of sources varies for each location.
  3. Preservation Today — This area details the present history of the location and the preservation history of the location too.
aerial photo of the Mallows Bay shipwrecks

A Note on Sources:

The sources used for this archive were completely reliant upon their availability and if they were digitized.

The core resources I used to gather these sources came from the following places:

– Library of Congress
– Flickr
– Wikipedia Page References
– National Library of Medicine
– DC Planning Office
– National Park Service
– DC Preservation League
– Local preservation groups
– Maryland State Historical Society

The importance of linking the sources to their origins was to show how this archive was an additional resting place for these sources. We had studied in this class the issues of dead links and not updated websites. We lose access to these sources if their original holdings refuse to update with the very changing technology. So, this archive pulls upon others to create not just a digital space for these locations, but for a way for them to live on digitally too.

photograph depicting the construction of an underground trolley system under DuPont Circle


The locations for the archive were pulled from websites like Atlas Obscura (a fantastic website to find the odd in your local area) and through books like Abandoned Washington D.C. and Secret Washington D.C. Luckily, the locations had a wide variety of histories from political to social to LGBTQ+ to gender to disability studies and much more!

Some of my favorites to look at for this were Forest Haven Asylum, St. Elizabeth’s Hospital, the Iran Embassy, the Capitol Stones, and the Benjamin Franklin School.

the contemporary conditions of Forest Haven Asylum

The unfortunate part with majority of these locations is that they are still rotting away, or they are planned to be destroyed. Some have taken on a new life as people buy these places for other needs.

Whether or not they are physically saved, the abandoned can live in on digital archives as a digital reality to support their existence even when they made fade around us.

the stones and columns removed during the expansion of the Capital would be moved to Rock Creek Park and the National Arboretum.

Link to final project here
Abandoned DC Archive

Museum on Mainstreet, Practicum

Museum on Mainstreet is the Smithsonian’s attempt at preserving local culture and heritage by “bring[ing] traveling exhibitions, educational resources and programming to small towns across America through their own local museums, historical societies and other cultural venues.”

The Smithsonian has created connections with over 1,000 communities since 1994 when this program was started. There are two ways that people can get involved: first by visiting these exhibits created from the program and second by submitting your story to their website. Museum on Mainstreet is part of the Smithsonian’s Traveling Exhibition Service, which provides connections to the museum through exhibitions already.

So, what makes Museum on Mainstreet so different from other traveling exhibits?

They focus on rural communities!

They focus on broad topics!

They are free standing 500×800 feet exhibits!

They are designed as a “spring board” for future public history projects in the community!

Currently, there are several exhibits traveling the U.S. One called “Water/Ways” explores the complexity of the meaning of water from sanctuaries, politics, economy, and much more!

The website however includes more detailed exhibitation of the individual story. When the visitor clicks on it, they can read, listen, and/or watch media about this said story. Take for example Arianna Gomez from Maryland, who submitted her story on being Gen Z and being a first time voter in the 2020 election.

But, how do I get involved? How do I share my own story?

The pathway for this is quite fascinating and shows how the Smithsonian aids you in building public historian and folklorist skills.

You begin on the “Share Your Story” webpage where they provided you with a ton of information that may seem overwhelming at first, but will aid you in publishing your story.

It is also suggested you read their submission rules before you begin.

Here they help you in formatting your story, creating your story, and guide you in telling your story. It’s important to remember that the story needs to connect with their research topics at the current time (located here), they need to connect with local history and culture, need to tell a story, but need to be brief as well. They also suggest that you conduct an interview and/or provide video, but this isn’t necessary.

Once you have these things in mind and have gathered your materials, you will need to create an account. This is just so you can save your draft and so the Smithsonian can see who is submitting the content.

Now that you are in the site, you will need to fill out some information about yourself and about what you are uploading and contributing. For this example, I am going to be uploading a photo I took at Yellowstone National Park in 2021 to talk about visitors coming to the park. Forewarning, you will need to work quickly or the site will log you out.

Fil out your information above of yourself and the content you are contributing.

Hit “Next Page” and you will be taken to an empty block. This is where you enter your text. Forewarning, I would type it up separately and then copy and paste it into this section. After a certain amount of time, the website will log you off and you will loose your work. Trust me on this, I lost what I wrote above save for this screenshot (you will see that the text will change in the screenshots to come in this review of it).

Further down the page from the block text is where you will upload your content.

The last thing you will need to do is add media release forms for children under 18 that are included in this project. Additionally, there is a section for you to add a link if this project also exists elsewhere for you.

The last page is where you can review what you entered. Once you hit submit, you will wait for Smithsonian to get back to you for approval.

Overall, this website is very simple and is not a huge and extravagant thing that the Smithsonian is doing here. In fact, historically, this is something that has been done for hundreds of years, take for example the early recordings of folk music we have from Appalachia (termed “song-catching”) where people were desperate to preserve the music from Appalachia and considered it the last authentic part of America.

However, while there are evident concerns about bias throughout this, the project is a great way to gather material about rural America and about everyday individuals.

Histories of the National Mall, Practicum

If you lived in D.C. in 1891, chances are that you may have found yourself basking in the cool waters of the Reflecting Pool on the National Mall. Now, this risks the Secret Service, DC police, some hateful looks, and perhaps a few minutes of Internet fame (though I definitely don’t suggest it).

It is hard to imagine locations like the Reflecting Pool and others on the National Mall as representing something else a hundred years ago. But, with the mapping website Histories of the National Mall, you can do just that from the comfort of your laptop or phone.

Whether you are on your morning route on the Metro or a tourist walking past a Smithsonian or generally just curious as the history of the National Mall, this website provides a collection of photographs, maps, people and more.

The home page gives visitors multiple avenues to pursue. I’ll go over each section quickly:

Home Page


This section depicts an interactive map of the National Mall with numbers covering it. These numbers represent how many digital markers are in that spot. These digital markers appear as dark blue map logos which visitors can click on to discover a unique part of National Mall history. Each has a button that a visitor can also click on to learn more and can do so twice before coming to a final page that details the digital information of the subject matter.

Maps section of the site


This section is more about collecting articles written on the site. These include scavenger hunts and articles that answer a question.

There are five pages of these types of items.
Example of an article


This section details a list of people that are mentioned in the site. At the top, the visitor can toggle between looking up a person by their picture or through a list (shown below in the red cricle). When a visitor clicks on a person, it provides a biography of the person and some other additional information. A neat aspect of this website is that you can input these items into other formats, listed under the photos on the detailed page of each “item.”

This is what a typical “Item” page looks like. These are used for biographical information, object identification, and further location information.


This section is dedicated to  the events of the National Mall and the visitor can control what time period of the history they can look at. In other words, it works like a massive interactive timeline.


This section highlights a story on the archive. Currently, it is a history about swimming in the Reflection Pool and other leisure activities that were once normal.


Lastly, this section is an About Page of the Archive. The History of the National Mall was created through George Mason University with Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media and funding provided by the National Endowment. They break down the site like I did here provided some additional information. Sadly, this archive has not been updated since 2014, but unlike some other archives we have seen– at least they are honest they are inactive.

Overall this website is easy to use, has some unique features, and great for a general audience looking to expand their knowledge of the National Mall.

Digital Project Proposal: Mapping Abandoned Locations in the Nation’s Capital

St. Elizabeth’s Hospital being torn down in 2015/2016

Imagine Washington D.C. in your head.

What is the first visual you think of when you hear our nation’s capital?

Cherry blossoms? The White House? DuPont Circle and the fabulous architecture of the various embassies? Our National Mall and the Smithsonian’s?

Jefferson Memorial at sunset surrounded by cherry blossoms

Okay, now that you have that image– I want you to forget about it.

Washington D.C. like so many other urban centers has it’s beauty, but as the 1980s rock-n-roll band Poison says “every rose has its thorn.” Throughout D.C., there lays a variety of locations– abandoned and decaying— waiting for something to happen to them. Some buildings are lucky and are preserved for people to enjoy now, but others are not so lucky. Perhaps nothing ever comes to them except animals, teenagers, mischief makers, homeless, and urban explorers, and they are swallowed eventually by the environment around them. Perhaps development company sees the value in the land and maybe the building and the history of the place is swallowed by the newest apartments, Starbucks, or Wegmans.

As so many people flood the capital seeking jobs, there is always an increase need for new apartments. While developers may not always want abandoned buildings as places to rebuild (as there is always the cost to destroy what is there), some buildings get turned into other things and breathe a new life. We have heard the pros and cons of gentrification a thousand times over.

What I’m more concerned with is not whether developers or the environment may destroy these buildings, I’m more concerned over the loss of history. Of course, we can never save every building. The United States is not at that level to do so.

So, if there is nothing to do on a physical level, how else may we save these buildings?

For my digital project, I propose creating a digital archive and mapping database to preserve these buildings and locations within Washington D.C. We can save these historical buildings in a digital space where they may live on. Of course, it would be fantastic to take 3D mappings of these places and create virtual tours of these places, but I do not have the power to do this. Instead, I would be creating a digital space for these places to exist, whether in photographs, videos, letters, or through other archives and resources. I also want to highlight, if possible, the lives these buildings have now currently as abandoned buildings; this would include the future of these buildings and if there are preservation efforts being made on them.

Searching online and reaching out to historical societies, I want to collect this information in a place to be used to preserve the local history of Washington D.C.

As an example of this, I’m taking the abandoned St. Elizabeth’s Hospital:

St. Elizabeth’s Asylum, Washington, D.C. National Archives

Quick history on it:

  • Established in 1852 as the first federally-funded mental hospital in the United States
  • Doretha Dix was one of the influential people behind its establishment
  • It became a model for all mental hospitals in the U.S.
  • Parts of the campus were designed by the architect of the capital Thomas U. Walter, who purposefully designed the campus to segregate races. However, at the time, a campus that would treat all races was unheard of.
  • It was a hospital during the Civil War, WWI & WWW II
  • 1955 — the hospital was treating over 7,000 patients
  • Some famous patients include:  Richard Lawrence (attempted assassination of Andrew Jackson), John Hinckley Jr. (who shot Ronald Reagan), Charles J. Guiteau (the assassin of James Garfield), actress and screenwriter Mary Fuller, William Chester Minor (a Union Army vet who from paranoia and contributor to the Oxford Dictionary), early modernist poet Ezra Pond, and James Swann (the 1993 Shotgun Stalker serial killer).
  • Between 1970 and 2003, the hospital lost funding
  • Currently– a third of the campus is still a mental health facility, another third is run by Homeland Security, and the other third is being demolished and turned into apartments

Read a full history of it here.

It’s future lays in uncertainity.

Without a digital space for this, the history of the hospital may as well be thrown into the Anacostia. The same can be said for any abandoned location in Washington D.C.

Also, to note, there is a great deal done already on this hospital, but other locations I want to look at may not be so lucky. In these cases, there just may not be enough information, or I may not be able to share it without some sort of fee to an archive or wherever. The unfortunate part of this project is that it will be an attempt at preserving these places, in so far as my ability to extract and display the information for the public.

I think a great aspect of this project is that is has the ability to be something more than just D.C. based. This is something that can be done anywhere in the U.S. and even across the world. It’s a new way for preserving places that we may not have the ability to physically save (whatever those reasons may be).

Some of the other locations I am looking at for this project include:

  • Capital Stones
  • Foundry Branch Trolley Trestle
  • Columbian Cannon Foundry Ruins
  • C&O Boat Elevator
  • Aqueduct Bridge Abutment
  • Forest Glen Seminary
  • Patowmack Canal
  • Washington’s Underground Tunnels (includes DuPont Underground)
  • Abandoned embassies
Abandoned South Campus of St. Elizabeth’s Hospital
The abandoned stones once used in the Capital Building before they were replaced by the present day marble.
The DuPont Underground is currently now a contemporary art display and comedy theater, but was once an abandoned underground trolley tunnel
This is the abandoned Forrest Glen Seminary, once an Inn and then a girl’s school. Now it has turned into partial apartments, but hosts tours in the abandoned parts.

(if you know any more locations in the D.C. to check out, let me know down below in the comments!)

Paper Project Proposal — Social Media at the Dakota Access Pipeline Protest 2016

In 2016, thousands gathered near the Standing Rock Reservation, protesting the construction of a pipeline that would carry oil between North Dakota and Illinois.

The “black snake” (used in direct correlation between Plains Indian religious beliefs and the crude black oil traveling through the pipeline) would cross into the Sioux Nation (the overall name given to the many reservations in the area that share similar linguistic roots). The protest was just as much about environmental concerns as it was about Native sovereignty.

This is a map showing where the pipeline cut through native lands

Social media was an incredibly important part to the protest, as it allowed for protestors to share their support and spread the word. By looking at the social media tag #NoDAPL,” I would be drawing conclusions about the usefulness of social media in the protest as a digital presence of the protest. Additionally, I will be considered what people are posting under the tag, what they are trying to get across through that post, and how others interact with the post.

Using social media as a basis for research comes with its problems. It’s definitely not a traditional history archive, but it can provide us with tons of information since social media is so much part of our lives in the twenty-first century currently. We use it to tell others what we are doing in our lives. We use it to leave a digital signature that we existed. We use it to talk with others, stretching our voices across the air in ways we could not do in the centuries past. Of course, we must consider the biases of these posts, taking into consideration who is posting it, the motives these individuals had for being a part of the digital presence of the protest.

I’ll be using these following social media websites to look at the use of the hashtag:

  1. Facebook (+16,000 posts)
  2. Instagram (+550,000 posts)
  3. Twitter (unknown exactly — explains more here)

Just looking at these numbers, it would be an absolute adventure going through every single post, but considering the amount of time I have to work on this– I will only be looking at the ones at the very top of the pages. Most social media sites use an algorithm that pushes the popular posts to the top of the page. This will help me to see what most people are seeing and talking about. By also looking at the most popular, it will give me a better idea as to what the face of the digital presence of the protest looks like.

Lastly, it may be interesting to also consider the legacy of the protest in the digital world. It has been several years since the protest, with only recently there being a pause to the construction. The “black snake” however continues to slither through the Sioux Nation.