Digital History Presentation: Mapping the Tracks of Serial Killers, Reflection

            When it comes to projects on forensics and crime, there is always the same concern: how do you examine a criminal, without focusing too much on the individual? Including too much information about a criminal, especially a serial killer, can lead to the glorification of the killer. Still, the perpetrator of the crime can inform readers about the nature of or reasons leading up to the incident.

            In my project, I repeatedly ran into this concern. Even when I attempted to limit how often I named the killer, since the project involved examining their killing sprees, the killer had to be included.

            That’s why I decided to start the project by making the website’s landing page about defining geographic profiling. In doing so, I hope the page gives a purpose to the map, which otherwise would be just a series of pins. Furthermore, although I include a short biography about the killers, I tried to limit it to information that would inform the map, such as which incidents were included and why, as trends in the murders and why the trends disprove theories that geographic profiling is based upon. In the map itself, I attempted to focus on the victims, both by provided information as to what happened to them and a profile photo, when possible.

            If I were to continue with this project, I’d want to include more killers to further examine trends. Additionally, I’d like to expand the site to include more information about the forensics behind geographic profiling. Given the timing of this project, I was only able to seek out and include information on four killers, who were chosen due to their prominence in American culture.

            Due to the randomness of the killers who I did choose, I did find it interesting that they did disprove geographic profiling theories to such an extent. Being able to visualize their crimes on a map both pulled the project together, and confirmed my theories surrounding the forensic technique.

            As a result, making the map was probably my favorite part of this project. It remains the main focal point, and the website simply provides additional information to support it.

            The main technical issues that I had with the map, however, was that I was unable to properly embed each individual map. While the main map could be embedded, the individual pins related to an individual could not (or if they could be, I could not figure it out).

            I hope that the full map can be a resource for historians, forensic scientists and those interested in serial killers in general. In promotion, I hope to distribute the map through social media sites, like Twitter and Facebook. If I were to expand the site, I may also create social media handles related to the project. For example, I think that this would be a great opportunity to create a Twitter bot that would share each victim and drive attention to the website.

Anyways, here’s my project:

And here’s my poster presentation (this was also my first time making a poster presentation) :

Digital Project Draft: Tracing the Tracks of Serial Killers

Here is a draft of my map of some the most infamous U.S. serial killers. Mainly using newspaper clips from each assault, I’ve been able to track where each killer was and when.

The few difficulties that I have run into, however, include having trouble finding images for a few of the victims, as well as having differing amounts of information on each crimes. However, I think this map does a good job of demonstrating the flaws of geographic profiling.

What remains to be done:

  • Place the page on a wordpress site. This would both support the map, as well as provide some definitions and analysis of geographic profiling.
  • If possible, given timing, I’d like to add one more serial killer to the map. I’m currently considering John Wayne Gacy

Argument Wars Engages Students in Civics

            Icivics is a platform that creates and hosts civics-oriented games to promote student interest in history and government. Some of the current games highlighted on the website are related to law, the founding fathers, journalism and immigration. The platform strives to be nonpartisan, in order to foster conversations around current events in the classroom.

            In Argument Wars, the user plays as a lawyer in front of the Supreme Court. As such, you choose your position in cases, including Bond v. United States, Brown v. Board of Education, Hazelwood v. Kuhlmeier and Miranda v. Arizona, and make arguments that support your stance.

            Once you choose your character and position, you decide which amendment the case relates to. In this example, I’ll be arguing the United States’ side of Bond v. United States, an issue of states’ rights relating to the Tenth Amendment.

            Throughout the game, each player makes arguments support their position. Each player has certain cards, which either support an argument, or may be unrelated at all. You can click on each card to read more about what the argument would entail and dismiss cards that are unrelated or would support the other side instead.

Once you choose the proper card, the judge rules on whether the argument is valid. If the judge wants to hear more, you match tiles to connect the supporting evidence or arguments with the point at hand. You are given three rounds to do so.

            Additionally, whenever the opposing player makes their argument, you can choose to object. However, be careful when objecting! An incorrect objection can result in a reduction of points.

            The final results of the case depends on how many points you earn throughout the game. Points are given for correct arguments and support of those arguments.

            Overall, Argument Wars, and the icivics platform in general, seems like a great way to teach students about civics and how the legal system works. Although it does little to teach about the structure of the court system, each round of the game presents the main concepts of a Supreme Court case. Additionally, by arguing in favor of one side, users are taught critical thinking skills, as well as why the case was controversial or important at the time that it was argued. By being a game, students are provided with an interactive way to learn about cases, which otherwise is usually done by writing a case brief.

            Furthermore, the game cannot be easily won. The player must read through what the judge and opposing side says in order to choose their argument. I think that this is especially important in games for students. I remember playing math games in elementary school that were fun, but failed to connect the curriculum to the activity. In addition to the games, icivics has a section on their website that lays out lesson plans for teachers based around the games. The platform, which provides evidence and methodology on research about the games’ impact on students, seems to be both engaging and thoughtful.  

Curation and Organization of Digital Archives

            “Big Data, Little Narration” is a transcript on digital archives and presentation by Dragan Espenschied, who defines himself as an “electronic musician and internet artist.”  

In the transcript, Espenschied discusses the differences between performance and activity, with performance being the thing that the computer does, and the activity being what the user does. However, somewhere between the two, Espenschied highlights that there can often be a disconnect. In demonstrating this, the author uses a visualization of a globe that shows users popular search terms from a certain location at a certain date (At least I think that’s what it does? There site is now down). The visualization is comparable to automated search terms or Google Maps. However, when users try to make sense of the information, such as by determining why a term was popular at a certain point in time, they are relying on pure assumption, which can lead to inaccuracies.

            To avoid this, archivists and researchers have to have a method of organization to their database. There has to be a purpose or a point to displaying information in the way that they do, rather than just posting it (not doing so would be like spreading physical artifacts on a table and telling visitors to figure it out). By doing so, users are better able to draw the lines between the “performance” and the “activity.”  

            However, it’s important to acknowledge that the internet is constantly evolving. The way that websites look, for example, are extremely different than what they looked like 10 years ago. As such, digital collections can be reorganized in order to provide users with more information. Espenschied gives the example of Artbase, which originally was a crowdsourced website where users could post their own art. Now, it is heavily curated, with introductions and categories, which provide users with more information and room for new interpretations. I assume, that this also means that someone had to go back to earlier posts and categorize them.

            However, an interesting point that the author brings up is whether updating or republishing artifacts that are native to the internet is a threat to the authenticity of the artifacts. For example, if an artist makes a graphic for Windows 5, is it right for curators or archivists to republish the graphic for Windows 10, even if Windows 5 no longer works for the art? Is it the responsibility of curators to find a Windows 5 computer to display the art properly? What if the artist does not have a say in the matter, but not doing so would risk the preservation of the graphic? What about historians or researchers republishing the artifact online for a new interpretation? Is that a threat to the artifact’s authenticity?

            Lastly, Espenschied emphasizes the importance of context in preservation. You can’t simply say “follow this link for more information,” because what if that link stops working? Something that I think is always important to consider is that you can never expect users to click on that link in the first place.

Podcasting with Anchor

            Anchor is a website and app that allows users to create, host and distribute podcasts. Unlike most apps of its type, Anchor offers unlimited free hosting, distribution to major platforms, such as Spotify and Apple Podcasts, and monetization.

            I personally use Anchor for The Eagle’s podcast “Beyond the Byline.” I’ll use our account to demo this, since we already have episodes uploaded (and it’s a chance to shamelessly self-promote).

Step 1: Making the Podcast

            The challenge that many face when making a podcast is the editing process. Although there are free and fairly straightforward apps that make editing easier (see the post on Audacity), it’s easy to feel overwhelmed.

            To start recording and editing, go to the “New Episode” button in the top right corner of your account. Here you’ll find four buttons: record, messages, library and transitions. By navigating these options, you can start putting together the recordings, sound effects and transitions that will eventually make up your episode.

            For those who edit with another software, you can upload an already edited audio file by dragging the file into the “Your Episode” space.

            Once you’ve put the finishing touches on your episode, you’re ready to upload! Click “Save Changes,” add a title, description and choose when you’d like to publish (now, or at a later date and time).

Step 2: Distribution

            The great thing about Anchor is that your podcast does not only have to live on Anchor. Most podcast-listeners have a go-to platform, where they listen to podcasts. For many, this is Spotify or Apple, but there are also plenty of podcast-specific platforms, such as Podbean, Google Podcasts and Pocket Casts.

            To get your podcast on more platforms, go to your settings and scroll down to “Where your podcast can be heard.” Once you’ve chosen to distribute your podcast, Anchor will do all the work of connecting your episodes with other platforms. Usually the first distribution takes a couple of days, since your account must be verified and approved.

            However, once you’ve chosen to distribute, and you’ve gone through the process once, every time you post a new episode to Anchor, your episode will be posted on all platforms without you having to manually post.

Step 3: Monetization

            Quite honestly, monetizing a podcast is what I know the least about (The Eagle does not monetize due to bureaucratic reasons), but here’s what my research shows:

            To start monetizing go to the “Money” section in your settings, the same way you did for distribution. Here, you can enter a message to encourage listeners to donate to your work.

            Anchor will also connect you with potential sponsorships. These are companies that would advertise during your episode. You can decide who can advertise in your episodes, where in the episode you’d like to place the ad and which episode will have ads. You can also record the ads yourself to make them more interesting to your listeners.

            Once you start monetizing, go to the “Money” tab at the top of the website. This is where your wallet lives. It shows how much money you’ve made from your podcasts and allows you to cash out whenever you’d like.

Step 4: Analytics

            When you’ve accumulated a few episodes and have given your audience some time to actually listen, you can check out your analytics. Analytics are the first thing that come up on your dashboard when you open Anchor.

            Analytics give you a few ways to looks at how your podcast is doing, what’s working for your audience and what’s not. On the page you can see the total plays, plays per episode, plays over time, comparisons of downloads per episode and on what platforms your audience is listening to your podcast.