Digital Project Proposal: Cleopatra 2.0

Hey everyone! For my digital project, I would like to take my original print project proposal and turn it into a digital one. I will quickly summarize that proposal here. I essentially want to dive into the social debates surrounding Cleopatra’s representation. In my personal opinion, this seems like a polarizing topic that people are generally invested in. People are constantly going back and forth about her skin color debating whether she was Macedonian, Egyptian, or both. These debates came up again recently when it was announced that Gal Gadot would play Cleopatra in an upcoming film. Here is what Gadot had to say during an interview with BBC Arabic’s Sam Asi, “First of all if you want to be true to the facts then Cleopatra was Macedonian. We were looking for a Macedonian actress that could fit Cleopatra. She wasn’t there, and I was very passionate about Cleopatra.” Throughout this debate over Cleopatra’s race, people make claims like Gadot based on facts. Well, what are the facts? I want this project to explore the different claims that people make regarding Cleopatra’s race and trace how those claims are based on historical facts or lack thereof.

I originally wanted to trace these debates over a variety of media forms and I would still like to do that for this version as well. I would like to collect tweets using the Twitter API and twarc2. This will allow me to collect tweets that reference Cleopatra. I also want to look through blog posts, scholarly and non-scholarly ones, to consider how historians insert themselves into this public debate. Finally, I wanted to consider the nature of this debate on Reddit using the Pushift Reddit Search tool which will allow me to search for posts and comments about Cleopatra. Here comes the experimental twist.

Using either WordPress or Medium, I want to create a blog that is dedicated to exploring this debate. I could have one blog post dedicated to my search on Twitter and another dedicated to my search on Reddit. However, I want this blog to be styled in a similar way to the blog from the film Julie & Julia. If you haven’t seen the film, Julie decides to write a blog about her journey cooking the French recipes from Julia’s cookbooks. I want my blog to not only explore the debate surrounding Cleopatra’s representation but also explore my methodology and overall process linking the claims of the debate with historical evidence. Public documentation of my documentation of the debate on Cleopatra’s representation could create a trail for other people to explore the debate.

It would be amazing if my search led to the ultimate discovery of Cleopatra’s race, but this is highly unlikely. Overall, this debate seems to get a lot of people interested in the field of Classics (Egyptology should be categorized under Classics in my opinion). This blog has the potential to create discourse around public historical debates. I think it is particularly interesting for public historians to understand the nature of public historical debates and I hope that this blog could provide useful commentary on this debate in particular.

Print Project Proposal: Remembering Southern Temple Bombings

Growing up in Charlotte, North Carolina, I belonged to a tight-knit and thriving Jewish community; I spent many days of my week teaching Hebrew to children or partaking in multiple social justice initiatives at “Shalom Park,” the center of Jewish life in the city. Here, the Reform synagogue, Conservative synagogue, Jewish Day School and Jewish Community Center (JCC) were all right next door to each other, allowing for easy collaboration and fostering of friendships among families. I also had the opportunity to visit other southern synagogues and meet many other Jewish teens in nearby states, like Florida and Georgia, all throughout high school.  

However, it was not until last year that I discovered my synagogue and all the others I visited had something dark and tragic in common: they were all targets of bombings during the Civil Rights Movement.

From The Temple Bombing in Atlanta, Georgia in 1958; https://www.gpb.org/news/2014/03/25/remembering-the-temple-bombing-and-how-it-changed-atlantas-jewish-community

According to historian Clive Webb, white supremacist groups, such as the Confederate Underground and the Ku Klux Klan (KKK), believed integration was part of a Zionist-Communist plot that would allow Jews to take over the country. Of course, this antisemitic theory was baseless, but southern white supremacists also began to feel increasingly threatened by rabbis who were outspoken advocates of Black civil rights. Such beliefs and fears resulted in *8 southern Jewish temple bombings from November 1957 to October 1958.

*Note: While Webb states that are 8 temple bombings, he only mentions 7. I need to do further research to try to find the eighth temple targeted.

The Temples Targeted:

  • Temple Beth-El in Charlotte, NC on November 11, 1957
  • Temple Emanuel in Gastonia, NC on February 11, 1958
  • Temple Beth-El in Miami, FL on March 16, 1958
  • Temple Beth-El in Birmingham, AL on April 28, 1958
  • B’nai Israel in Little Rock, AR (date currently unknown)
  • Agudath Achim in Alexandria, VA (date currently unknown)
  • Hebrew Benevolent Congregation (The Temple) in Atlanta, GA on October 12, 1958
From the Temple Bombing in Atlanta, Georgia in 1958; https://www.gpb.org/news/2017/02/25/janice-rothschild-blumberg-on-the-150th-anniversary-of-the-temple-kate-tuttle-on

How could I belong to a synagogue and be so involved in the community for years and not know anything of this history? After I learned this information, I began to ask my friends at the other targeted synagogues, and they also had no idea about the bombings.

This dilemma inspired my main research questions:

  1. How do the southern temples discuss the history of the bombings on their personal websites? Do they work to keep the memory of the attack alive? Or do they attempt to bury it and silence it?
  2. How do mainstream websites, like Wikipedia, discuss the history of the bombings and attempt to preserve the memory of the attacks? Do they have any information on the attacks at all?
  3. How do the two websites differ in their information and retelling of the attacks? Is there a clear bias? Significant historical gaps?

To answer the first question, I will examine the personal websites of the synagogues listed above. Many of them have “About Us” or “History” pages online.

Screenshot taken from https://www.the-temple.org/history

For the second question, I will search the incidents on Wikipedia, as well as conduct a basic Google search to see what other websites may appear. I am willing to examine current (last ten years) news articles written on the incidents for this project. Many outlets discuss the incidents on their anniversaries or to connect them to current antisemitic events in the country.

Screenshot from personal Google search

For the last question, I will mainly look at the sources the two websites use. I will also compare their historical facts to the scholarship of Clive Webb, the author of Fight Against Fear: Southern Jews and Black Civil Rights, and Leonard Dinnerstein, the author of “Southern Jewry and the Desegregation Crisis, 1954-1970,” to properly assess possible historical gaps. Webb and Dinnerstein are the only two scholars who have thoroughly researched the bombings.

As far as I know, there are no existing projects that are similar to mine — this topic is severely under researched and historians of the field rarely go in-depth on the incidents. On the bright side, there is an archival collection of the Atlanta temple bombing in the Civil Rights Digital Library, but it only contains a singular news clip.

With this project, I hope to bring more awareness to these incidents. I would also like to inspire others (and myself) to further research southern temple bombings, possibly correct wrong information of these attacks online, or even provide the crucial historical information to the websites, in order to expand public knowledge of this time period and the southern Jewish communities.

-Rachael Davis

Who’s Working in “The West Wing”: Using MALLET to Assess Representations of Work | A Print Proposal from Contributor Lauren Pfeil

The American family room is oriented towards a television screen, a setup made for entertaining the home audience and creating water-cooler fodder for the next day on the job. Many viewers can find personal connections with characters and events depicted on television shows; this is reflected with Halloween costumes, the dating profiles of Jims looking for their Pams, and of course, in the recently revived claim “I’m a Samantha.” With both work and television being so central to American culture, I’m hoping to look at the impact of a setting that exists across genres: the workplace. 

Setting aside any main and side plots which are not specifically about workers, working, or being in a workplace, certain elements that are worthy of evaluation appear across workplace television shows. Analyzing the biographical details of television characters—such as employee demographics, reporting structures, wardrobe—as well as their actions—like landing a big sale or microwaving salmon in the break room—would allow critical analyses to be made about how a series portrays the work that forms its basis. Naturally, the selection of the literature to be reviewed would impact the results gained. 

Evaluating the script of a show where the main cast of characters find themselves working on the same level or in similar positions might allow for an interesting assessment of the characters and their relationships when faced with the same tasks. Reading through scripts of NCIS might implore a historian to count how many times Gibbs tells Kate and Ziva to “sketch and shoot” and compare it to how many times he barks the same order at Tony and McGee, perhaps demonstrating a skew in gender or seniority. Jim, Dwight, and Andy’s sales tend to get more minutes of an episode of The Office than those of Phyllis, Stanley, or Pam, and the sales careers of Michael Scott and Todd Packer are heavily celebrated. How significant is this portrayal of the white, male sales representatives’ career trajectories at Dunder Mifflin? 

On the other hand, evaluating a script from a show where the positions of the characters are varied invites a vertical analysis where one could consider who works in which role or how much screen time that individual’s work is given. Mad Men’s interpretation of strict societal roles, for example, is explained as a statement on another time (though I’d invite everyone to consider the employment and pay gaps that persist to this day, as they might be closer to Don Draper’s world than we’d imagine). 

The West Wing is one of my favorite television shows of all time, and not just because my high school choir student teacher said that I bear a passing resemblance to Janel Moloney. A variety of people surround the White House, spanning industries, generations, and Congressional districts, and because the show focuses so heavily on the work of West Wing staffers, there is a wealth of Sorkinese to sift through. If afforded a good sabbatical to repetitively binge-watch seven seasons, I could go about this research question in the old-fashioned way—from my couch. However, digital transcripts and topic modeling would allow for much more expeditious data collection to be done. 

Happily, a fansite exists which boasts transcripts from every episode of The West Wing, aptly named www.WestWingTranscripts.com. Using MALLET (MAchine Learning for LanguagE Toolkit, linked here), I would feed in episode transcripts and get back Mallet’s perceived topics. If I ventured a guess, I would imagine that amongst these would be directives (keywords perhaps including Margaret, Carol, Bonnie, Ginger), legislative (votes, aisle, Hill, bill), and public opinion (survey, poll, Danny Concannon). The findings that Mallet would collectivize would allow me to evaluate the nature of the work being done and the workers who were doing it, without hearing that catchy theme song one hundred and fifty-four times. 

As the Executive Branch is one of the most important workplaces in the nation, it certainly merits scholarly attention. With the success of The West Wing as a series, the fictional President’s fictitious staff were invited to join many Americans’ Wednesday (later Sunday) nights on their La-Z-Boys. Considering the prestige of both the White House and NBC’s stake on primetime TV, I’m hoping that the use of topic modeling and digital transcripts will provide effective quantitative analysis of work on The West Wing

Lauren Pfeil is a graduate student at American University. A native of Des Moines, Iowa and a proud alumna of Butler University, she hopes to push the field of public history towards a more inclusive & accessible landscape.

Reach Lauren on Twitter: @lauren_pfeil
Reach Lauren via email: laurenspfeil@gmail.com

Print Project Proposal: Cleopatra

Hey everyone! For my print project, I would like to dive into the social debate surrounding the representation of Cleopatra. As a Classics and Africana Studies major during undergrad, I have always been interested in this debate. People constantly go back and forth about whether she is Macedonian, Egyptian, or both. The debate specifically revolves around her skin color. This debate was recently sparked again when Israeli actress Gal Gadot was casted as Cleopatra in an upcoming film. As a co-producer, Gadot publicly defended their decision. Gadot stated in an interview with BBC Arabic’s Sam Asi, “First of all if you want to be true to the facts then Cleopatra was Macedonian. We were looking for a Macedonian actress that could fit Cleopatra. She wasn’t there, and I was very passionate about Cleopatra.” Like Gadot, people have very strong opinions about the “facts”, and this leads to (probably) the largest social discussion regarding the Classics field.

I want to investigate the variety of arguments that people have made regarding Cleopatra’s representation on Twitter, blog posts, and Reddit while tracing how those arguments are based on historical facts. This is a truly fascinating discussion that shapes how Cleopatra is represented in films, video games, and classrooms. To analyze tweets, I plan to simply use Twitter’s search function to find the latest posts that include Cleopatra’s name by hand. If time permits, I may use the Twitter API and twarc2 to collect tweets using Python. From my preliminary research, I noticed a number of articles and blog posts dedicated to Cleopatra’s race. There were a few that appeared to be scholarly. This would be a great way to consider how scholars participate in this debate. Finally, using the Pushift Reddit Search tool, I hope to analyze how Reddit users are discussing Cleopatra’s representation. The Pushift Reddit Search tool will allow me to search through all the posts and comments that mention Cleopatra throughout Reddit’s history as a platform.

Discovering Cleopatra’s race would be the best possible outcome for this project. More realistically, I think this project could highlight a few key things for public historians. Public historians consider how the general public interacts with history. The debate over Cleopatra’s race is a really interesting case study that gets a lot of public attention. Like Gadot, people often rely on the “facts” when discussing it. Where are these facts coming from and how are people getting access to them? Classics scholars do not have the definitive answers, but many people believe that they do. As a public historian, how would you go about curating an exhibition on Cleopatra when people have their minds set on who she is? More generally, how do you insert yourself as a historian within this debate or ones like it? I hope that this project can explore the nature of the arguments and historical evidence behind Cleopatra’s race while providing commentary on how public historians can insert themselves within public historical debates.

Mapping the Ancient Roman Empire: Digital Proposal

Hello everyone, I am planning on constructing a digital mapping project displaying the Ancient Roman Empire and highlighting multiple moments throughout my presentation in which I think makes sense since the Roman empire was active for so many years, and makes up an important part of human history. As for programs to use for this project I am thinking of using either Word Press, Google My Maps, or ArcGIS Story Maps. I think it would be a cool way to spend my time refreshing my knowledge on what I know about Roman history especially since I was fascinated with the history of civilizations since I was a teenager. I’m also thinking about pairing up the map with a piece of writing to go along with it that expresses the progressive evolution of the ancient empire, and I would like to provide more details about priorities for the empire in its efforts to sustain itself for how long it eventually did. I want to talk about the empires major success and failures, and maybe even include some memorable people that took over powerful roles in their life.

The Rich History - Map of the Roman Empire at it's Height | Roman empire, Roman  empire map, Byzantine empire
Roman Empire

I am thinking of presenting the class with images to present a picture or model of the span of the growth of the Roman Empire throughout the centuries and briefly touch on reasons why things change and why some things stay the same. I think some of the questions that I can ask myself with how to go about this project could possibly breed a creative side in my project development skills when coupled with a topic like this and for that, I would like to say that I enjoy this kind of proposal type blog because it gives us an opportunity to organize our thoughts on what ideas could work best for a digital history project. I also have developed a deep sense of comfort in deciphering the meaning of a map as I was taught early in my education to do so. I think it’s a valuable thing I could add for more value.

Pompey (Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus)
Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus

Finally, I can wrap up the most memorable parts of the history in the written add-on whilst creating the map to create a better visual representation of the memorable events and turning points in the Roman Empires’ existence. If anyone that likes my idea would like to work with me or give me suggestions or pointers on something I could include let me know in the comments I would greatly appreciate a comment with a suggestion. Fascinated with the topic and I’m confident I can do a good job as I organize my plans on execution through this proposal.