The project I completed this semester was a walking tour of Washington DC that covered all 8 wards of the city. The goal of this project was to create the longest walking tour in the district and display the rich local history that each community has to offer. I wanted to create a spectacle that would invite a public audience to engage with the history that is all around them.
My methodology for this project was simple but effective. I started by creating an outline of the tour that would see those participants pass through all 8 of DC’s wards. After having an outline of where the tour needed to go I found historic sites that followed that rough outline. I aimed to have a diverse set of sites that covered a wide variety of topics and I am pleased to report that I hit numerous historical topics that displayed the rich history of the local communities. After finding the sites I created the tour in the Clio web app which allows users to create tours that can then be pushed to the public. This way the tour can live on online for the public to use how they see fit. While I don’t think anyone will ever complete the entire tour again I would love to see the public jump in and out of the tour to visit some of the sites. Finally, I completed the tour myself to not only prove that it could be done in one day, but also to see what it was like to complete the tour and what lessons could be learned by walking all 8 wards in one day.
Reflecting on what I learned from this project I feel as though I learned a lot about how to apply digital history to public history. Using tools that were highlighted in the very first week of class (history pins) to think about how to invite the public to engage with the history that is all around them. The tools that we saw every week in the demonstrations really displayed how interactive digital history can be and as I walked and analyzed these sites through my phone it really brought home how digital history can enhance public history.
I also reflected on what some of the sites represented and how their physical absence necessitates the use of digital history so their story can be told. Many of the sites I walked past one would not know the history or the significance of without some sort of digital tool or preexisting knowledge. I am still unsure if we should push to get physical reminders of the importance of these sites, or if we should understand that not everything can be physical and it leaves space for the digital side of history to flourish. I personally lean towards the latter but it is an interesting intersection on how we represent history. Overall I enjoyed not only the project but the class in its entirety. I learned how constantly evolving the field of digital history is and how important it is to understand. A modern public historian must understand the digital world in order to effectively engage and entertain new audiences.
Starting this walk, I had anticipated the obvious, it would take me around 5 hours, I would see parts of the city I had never walked in before, and I would be exhausted at the end. However, after 18 miles, 25 sites, and 6:30 hours of walking, I learned that DC is one of the most fascinating historical cities in the country, and I am wildly out of shape.
This was the intro to the tour, we started in front of the most iconic DC landmark I could think of, the Washington Monument. I go on to rant about the history of the monument but honestly the wind is atrocious and the important takeaway here is how confident we are, this confidence would diminish quickly as the miles racked up.
An important note to make here is I will not be going in-depth on all of the stops; I want to make sure I highlight the more exciting or impactful stops on the journey and not get bogged down in the minutia of the Sidney R. Yates Federal Building (although we did get some jokes in). So moving forward, I will let you know what stop we are on so you can track the progress; with all that said, lets see what we looked at next.
An important lesson learned in this journey was that some sites only exist in the digital world. Take this generic federal building pictured above; it is one block behind the National Museum of Air and Space, hundreds of tourists walk past the building everyday, yet the history isn’t displayed anywhere but online. This building sits on the site of the Williams Slave Pen, one of the most prolific slave trade locations in the city. This is not history one can stumble upon in the district, in fact I walked past this building nearly every week and just now learned what the site represents. This theme of sites only existing in the digital realm would come up again and again throughout the walk but this site set the tone for some of the more stark vacancies seen upon the tour.
Not everything we saw held the same significance. While some sites were monuments to human achievements, some just happened to stand long enough to become historic. So if the NRHP decides my old apartment building is important who am I to argue? This was stop 5 and spirits were still high to see the titanic memorial oddly located in the city.
That’s right, tucked in the back corner of the Southwest DC Waterfront is a Titanic memorial. Although I know that it looks like the visage of a man with both arms out, just like Leonardo DiCaprio in the movie, this memorial was built far before. Constructed in 1931 where the Kennedy Center currently sits it was made to honor the men who gave their lives to let women and children board lifeboats first. It was moved to its current spot in 1968, whether or not James Cameron found inspiration is up for debate but it sure does look a lot like the king of the world.
Part 2: Halfway Home
Ten stops in, we discussed the titanic, a baseball stadium, sewage plant, and a lazy bridge guard that let John Wilkes Booth go. It was now time to enter into our next ward and cross the bridge into Anacostia. We only had one stop in Anacostia, the Fredrick Douglas House. While there were plenty historic places to see in Anacostia this tour highlights the discrepancy between the sites that exist and those that are easily accessible. The Clio App is sorely lacking in underprivileged communities a fact which I recently made known to the founder David Trowbridge.
Finishing the Anacostia portion of our walk pushed us past the halfway point. While our legs were tired out spirits were still high. While they wouldn’t let us explore the Congressional Cemetery both Denzel and I considered the implications of wandering around with senator ghosts haunting us.
This check-in came 14 stops in and revealed a tragedy, Denzel, the Louis to my Clark, was dropping out soon. I completely understood why, at this point we had already walked around 10 miles and still had 11 more stops to go. I would not recommend doing this walk alone, Denzel and I talked about history, politics, community, basketball, app ideas, and I think we even debated Lincoln Park versus Linkin Park. Having a friend with you to keep your spirits high is paramount to completing this marathon of a tour.
One of my favorite sites we stopped at was another one that primarily exists digitally. Behind me is an icon of the LGBQT movement in DC. The Furies House was the publishing center of a lesbian newspaper in the 1970s called The Furies which was instrumental in the lesbian community and defining women’s identities and relationships. While I understand why the current owner doesn’t want a plaque outside for tourists to visit it does feel a bit underwhelming that the history is hidden online.
Union Station was stop number 16 and it was also the end of Denzel and I’s journey together. I was now going to face the rest of the walk alone and I was debating on tapping out myself. However, with the power of a burger and a large soda I pressed on. I don’t record another video until the last 5 stops, I was much more concerned with finishing than recording so I saved my energy. What follows are some of my favorite pictures from the sites I visited between videos all of which are important in their own right.
Part 3: Pictures For Proof
I was wildly upset they were closed but what an entrance!
9:30 Club had an event and I didn’t want to ask a bunch of strangers to pose so this what I went with.
The most beautiful PNC bank building in the world, it was stop 22 and built in 1922 by the now defunct Riggs bank.
I recorded a video of my complaining at the second to last stop about the inventor of the wireless telegraph. The audio is terrible, so you’ll have to take my word that I sound miserable and did not appreciate the beautiful statue. This led us to the last stop, I would write a long paragraph of the journey, but I think I summed it up pretty well in the moment. If you read this far, thank you for joining Denzel and I, if you ever walk the tour yourself remember, it is way farther than it sounds.
My final project was a blog post recounting my history tour of Washington DC which took me through all 8 of the district’s wards. The project was designed to give a deeper understanding of DC history and the diversity of that history. By walking through all 8 wards, I wanted to show how different communities contain their own unique history and to challenge the spatial understanding of the city. Ultimately, the tour is a spectacle, a challenge to overcome, but it also invites engagement. The tour uses public history principles which I honed during my time here at American University. By that, I mean it shows that history can be anywhere; it can be an old apartment complex, a memorial, an unassuming house, or even your local park. It also puts that history into a space the public can actually use. By putting the tour up on the Clio App, it is now accessible to anyone using either the application or the website. While I wonder if anyone else will ever complete the gauntlet of a tour, those who find it interesting could always do a small section or even just read through the sites to understand the history of DC.
Reflecting on what I learned while working on this project is something I had on the front of my mind during the entire walk. I was constantly asking myself, what will I take away from this? The first thing that came to mind was not about the history but the space. Walking through every ward in one day is both jarring and unsurprising. The neighborhoods are wildly different, but in many ways, they are identical. However, how the history is displayed and remembered is very different when comparing communities in the various wards. While other parts of the city had numerous Clio entries, Anacostia had few. Our walk through Anacostia was littered with history, yet much of it is not readily available online, a point I have made known to those who run the app. I also noticed that many of the sites only existed digitally; locations that have great historical significance such as the Williams Slave Pen or the Furies House, both have little to no signage letting the public know what they are. Finally, it also showed just how much history is all around us and how one can design a walk that spans nearly 18 miles and cuts through all 8 wards, yet finding sites to fit this path was easy as history is everywhere.
Overall I really enjoyed both creating this project and walking the tour myself. I got to view the city in an entirely new light and explore neighborhoods I never had. I learned about sites that I may have never realized were in the city, and found sites that I walked past everyday without understanding its history. I think exploring your community and appreciating its history is an amazing way to understand and get a deeper appreciation for the world around us.
Linked below is the first draft of my walking route across DC. As you can see the route crosses through all 8 wards of the city hitting historic locations both big and small. As it stands now the route is around 15 miles long and will take approximately 5 hours (with no breaks) to complete. There are 25 stops on the tour and it explores a wide range of historical subjects. One can learn about local history, African American history, LGBQT, political, Jewish, sports, and architectural history here in the capital. For next steps on this project I will completing the walk on April 18th and documenting the journey on TikTok. I would also like to write a short piece about the lessons we can learn from the representation of history across the different parts of the city.
The only distinct change I have made from my proposal is the change of hosting platforms. While the route still exists in Google’s MyMaps the software was problematic as the number of stops increased. The Clio web app works to accomplish the same goals, but its pre-built tour feature gives not only an audio option, but also allows for printable step by step instructions. This makes the route more accessible and allows it to find a wider audience.
This chapter of Guiliano’s work, A Primer for Teaching Digital History, focuses on the ways in which students can narrate their own version of historical thinking. Guiliano opens the chapter with the now iconic cultural touchstone of Hamilton and shows how this phenomenon is nothing new, citing many other iconic history-based works. In my opinion, you could make an entire top 20 list of just Vietnam War movies. But what does this have to do with digital history? Giuliano ties the entire chapter together by citing how many different formats, from the TV show Drunk History, to games such as Sid Meier’s Civilization, and even projects such as the podcast Ben Franklin’s World, are all examples of digital storytelling within the medium of history. Even though some are more liberal with their depictions of history, they all invite audiences to engage with history. Guilano then goes on to highlight why digital storytelling is such an effective tool for students. Specifically, it allows students to give their work more depth and interact with various forms of scholarship. All of this helps students think more creatively when interacting with sources and how many layers there are when creating works of history. Basically, footnotes are boring, but hyperlinks are rad. Of course, there are also drawbacks to this type of work; when you can interact with infinite audiences, it can become hard to narrow your work down. One key to using these resources effectively is to make sure your audience is clear. This has me thinking about my own digital storytelling as I trek across the District of Columbia; who would want to watch this, what would their motivation be, and how do I make it accessible and entertaining for them? Ultimately I find this article does a great job of explaining digital storytelling as a tool and how to use the tool effectively.
Big Data, Little Narration
Big data, little narration asks the thought-provoking question that classic archives have been asking since their inception. How do we make sense of and provide context for a collection? Through a faux text message conversation with Dragan, we see that concepts such as context, authenticity, and representation are difficult to discern in the digital age. For example, is it authentic to recreate the site as it would have looked in the late 90s, or is it more authentic to see it as it would appear on a search engine today? I think this article demonstrates how context can enhance digital content; for instance,, Dragan discusses how they create the Geocities webpage screenshots displaying the webpage, which invites new internet users to engage with the content. Instead of showing an interesting fact or common searches locking the user into whatever question was asked that was out of their control, the Geocities page lets future historians cringe enthusiasts or just nostalgic millennials ask questions and interact with the data in a more meaningful way.
Re-collection: Art, New Media, and Social Memory
For our purposes Re-Collection: Art, New Media, and Social Memory chapter 2 focuses on the concept of social memory and how it relates to the preservation and the challenge that new media presents within this space. Rinehart invites the reader to inspect how society thinks of and remembers itself and what we can do to help preserve that notion here in the present. By using Toy Story as a case, student Rinehart shows that digital preservation can be a funky practice. Determining which copy is the original, in this case, film versus digital copies, and how preservation still needs to occur regardless of that process. The rest of the book investigates how technology, institutions, and law also affect the idea of preservation and social memory.
Getting to the Stuff: Digital Cultural Heritage Collections, Absence, and Memory
Getting to the stuff does precisely what it says and attempts to show how cultural heritage sites such as museums and archives can show their stuff off in a productive manner. What I appreciated most about this article was the amount of clever data-driven research that Sheila embarks on for this project. Using case samples from actual museums gives valuable insight into the field’s current state. In addition, the article asks the very important question of what other conversations a museum can join, where conversations can happen, and how museums ensure their content can exist outside of a brick-and-mortar building. Grappling with these questions is imperative for a museum field now entrenched in the digital age.
Museumbots: An Appreciation
What do we choose to see when we enter a museum? As someone who now works behind the scenes in what is possibly the most boring role in a fascinating institution, the amount of gears that turn to put an object in front of a visitor is staggering. Museumbots, in many ways, eliminate the human aspect of the museum field; rather than a hand-selected, carefully displayed work, it tweets pictures of just about anything and everything. Lubar not only raises the point about how carefully curated a museum is but also invites conversation on what else could be made random and highlight fascinating aspects of a museum. By using museum bots to showcase the variety of what a museum holds, it invites audiences who would otherwise not know they were represented in a collection to your institution.
Curating in the Open: Martians, Old News, and the Value of Sharing as you go
This article by esteemed digital historian Trevor Owens focuses on the importance of sharing your project as you go and the interesting ways audiences react to curating media on a digital platform. Throughout his conversation on the virality of delicious Martian vegetables, we see that content does not have to exist rigidly in a vacuum that no one can see until the fully polished piece is finished. Rather, sharing content allows audiences to find and interact with whatever themes or issues you are trying to present. In this way, digital media can be a place to post your ideas, progress, concepts, or even your problems. By not pushing this material but still making it available, you can see how an organic audience understands it, what lessons they take away, or the public perception of your work.