Walk a Mile in My Shoes: LGBTQ Edition

At the risk of centering queerness as the entirety of my personality and professional career, I have decided to focus on a digital project that foregrounds the experiences of the LGBTQ community in Washington, D.C. Historians, sociologists, and psychologists have recognized a pronounced generation gap between LGBTQ-identifying youths and the previous generations. Within a minority group that often cannot not rely on their biological families for support, it is still important for those coming to terms with their sexuality or gender identity to develop a “found” family, or a support system of mentors within the LGBTQ community. The current disconnect can be attributed to the HIV/AIDS epidemic that wiped out nearly 10% of the gay male community, but also to the disappearance of physical queer-centric meeting spaces. This has led to increasing misunderstandings and judgment between generations, that leaves each feeling frustrated. I believe that part of the divide stems from the younger generation’s lack of historical perspective and perceived absence of recognition of the struggles of the older generation.

Within Washington, D.C., LGBTQ history is being preserved and collected by the Rainbow History Project (RHP) and Ty Ginter’s DC Dykaries. Information about gay-owned businesses and venues can be found in collections at the Washington Historical Society and DCPL. Publications like Metro Weekly and the Washington Blade publish articles about activism and LGBTQ landmarks, and there are numerous podcasts with episodes devoted to D.C.’s queer past. While RHP has an extensive interactive map of LGBTQ places and a well-researched walking tour, I feel that there’s still a detachment in the way people remember their history.

I plan on developing an interactive Story Map Tour on ArcGis Story Maps that follows the course of several 1960-1970s LGBTQ individuals through a day/night in Washington, D.C. This virtual walking tour will be shaped by oral histories and other primary source materials from the Rainbow History Project (RHP) archives, DC Dykaries, articles from the Washington Blade, and other caches of D.C. LGBTQ history. ArcGis is an open source platform that offers a series of barebones templates where I can embed photographs, maps, oral history excerpts, and even music (with proper copyright agreements) from RHP’s digital archives. I am still in the process of identifying which community members to highlight, but RHP’s walking tour pamphlets and access to physical and digital collections will be instrumental for constructing profiles for a Story Map Tour. By centering the tour through the perspectives of real people active in the D.C. LGBTQ community, I hope to foster empathy and further engage queer youth with the past.

ArcGis allows for users to make a profile and share their Story Maps on social media. Posting the StoryMap to LGBTQ-centered pages Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram are all conducive for attracting the attention of individuals interested in this history as well as facilitating comments or critiques. The scope of the audience will also depend on the people I select to highlight as main characters. In terms of evaluation, I’ll measure my success by how much foot traffic the page acquires and the responses I receive from those participating.

There is only one existing project on the ArcGis site devoted to LGBTQ history. This Story Map, called “Taking Pride,” was created by the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission to detail the 150 year LGBT history of Greenwich Village. It begins with an embedded map of LGBT sites in the area and as you scroll, images of notable people and buildings appear next to narratives from the 19th century, early 20th century, and the period since the Stonewall Riots. Highlighted plat maps of Greenwich next to photographs of the buildings track the movement of businesses catering to LGBTQ individuals as they emerged or closed. I anticipate using some of this methodology to track the path of my own historical actors as they move through D.C.

So, after all of that–I’m still unsure how to completely construct a intersectional narrative tour that will appeal to a broad population. I hesitate to cast the perspective as a cisgender [person who identifies with the sex they’re assigned at birth] white gay man or woman, because of their historical reputation of gatekeeping and trans-exclusion. I also don’t want to ignore the numerous diverse African American LGBTQ experiences in D.C., but I recognize that as a white (mostly) cisgender gay woman, I don’t want to exploit or misconstrue the lives of LGBTQ people of color, and I hope that following a few people’s lives rather than just one will help bridge multiple perspectives.

As of now, I have a list of individuals who were active participants in the D.C. LGBTQ community during the mid-20th century of which to base a tour around:

  • Wayson Jones
  • Eva Freund
  • Bruce Pennington
  • Helene Bloom, or Fran Levine
  • Essex Hemphill
  • Meg Christian
  • Charlotte Bunch

Any additionaly suggestions are greatly appreciated!

Digital Project Proposal: Digital Mapping of Personal Stories during the Holocaust

An Online Exhibit of Jewish Evacuee Paths from Soviet-Occupied Poland to the Gulag during the Holocaust

By using Google MyMaps and PowerPoint, my digital project aims to create an annotated map and a graphical depiction of the paths taken from Soviet-Occupied Poland to the Soviet Gulags in Central Asia and Siberia by Jewish evacuees during the Second World War. Joseph Stalin sent over 200,000 Polish Jews to the inner parts of the Soviet Union because: 1. He considered them to be “suspect nationalities” prone to treason, who needed to be far away from the front line; 2. There was labor shortage, so they were used for forced labor. Dynamic cartography can better display the development of the their movement because it considers time and space in a different manner. Print maps do not show the fluid and changing relationship between pace, geography, concentration, movement, and place. Moreover, digital map annotations provide more information about the changing events and conditions. Lastly, a graphical depiction clarifies a complex series of events and improves the audience’s visual understanding of the process that evacuees had to undergo. These tools could facilitate new findings by assessing numerous geographic and topographical factors that affected the evacuees: for instance, if an evacuee was released from the Gulag on the terms on Polish Repatriation of 1946, the proximity of a town could be a matter of survival.

In particular I want to focus on a family history that depicts that displacement. Ellen G. Friedman’s Seven: A Family Holocaust History tells a story of one extended Polish-Jewish family that survived the Holocaust in the Soviet Union. The title of the book comes from the closeness that set seven individuals apart from the hundreds of thousands of other refugees in the Gulags of the USSR. The Seven—a name given to them by their fellow refugees—were Polish Jews from Warsaw, most of them related.

The project will complement the digital mapping dedicated to the book with a more general digital map of Polish Jewish evacuees’ journey. Their displacement tended to begin with 1. the arrest of Jews who fled from Nazi-occupied Poland on charges of spying. It was followed by 2. an interrogation, and the subsequent 3. train journey to 4. a prison where they awaited “a trial” as a “suspect nationality.” After that, many women and younger children were sent to 5. Soviet settlements, while Jewish evacuee men were typically placed in Stalin’s labor camps. Soviet guards and a resentful local population were likely to be a part of their daily lives. 6. The Polish repatriation act of 1946 allowed Polish evacuees to try and make their way back to their homes where Polish Jews were likely to find hostile and murderous neighbors. Every experience was different, and this project merely hopes to help people learn and understand their stories by using the available digital tools.

My project aims to create a more detailed digital map of the movement that would include Eastern Europe.

Google MyMaps would allow me to add points and draw shapes, which would be useful to differentiate between a Soviet labor camp, a prison, and a closed settlement. It also lets you add pictures and videos, which opens up an enormous and exciting opportunity to use digital archival collections (e.g. USHMM Online Photo Archive and Fortunoff Video Archive of Holocaust Testimonies). My project is about communicating and telling people’s stories through digital maps and graphic depictions. The project would result in an online exhibit of Jewish evacuee paths from Soviet-Occupied Poland to the Soviet Gulag during the Holocaust.


General public and scholars interested in the Holocaust and the Soviet Union

Existing projects

There are several related existing projects, including Holocaust History animated maps and Holocaust Geography Collaborative. USHMM uses animated maps such as the map on the Aftermath of the Holocaust to help the viewer understand the enormous scope and impact of the Holocaust. While the Holocaust Geography Collaborative underlines the importance of location, scale, resolution, territoriality and the space/place dichotomy for an expanded understanding of the Nazi genocide. The scholars of the collaborative use the dynamic digital environment and the use of GIScience to allow for visualizations of these spatial concerns in more robust and innovative ways. Another important inspiration for my project is Waitman Beorn’s graphical depictions. His project A Geography of Complicity concludes that the more willing soldiers often found themselves closest to the killing, spatially. It shows that extended physical contact with the Nazi genocidal project over time led most soldiers to become more deeply complicit.

A graphical depiction using PowerPoint of the positions of Wehrmacht soldiers during mass killings in Belarus. —Waitman W. Beorn, 2010

Plan for Outreach and Publicity

For outreach I aim to create a WordPress blog post about my project. In my description, I will kindly invite people to the readers to express their thoughts and suggestions. This should allow to get some feedback from the general public. The post will include the relevant tags and categories to make it easier for people to find it. I will also kindly write emails to scholars involved in the spatial geography project for some possible feedback and hopefully even a discussion.

Evaluation Plan

I aim to evaluate my digital project by assessing my WordPress blog post’s comment section. Another important type of feedback would be my email communication with the scholars of the Holocaust on their thoughts, questions, and suggestions regarding my project. I also hope to take advantage of living in Washington by making an appointment with one of the specialists on the Holocaust museum’s digital map project. I am particularly excited by the prospect of collaboration. Hopefully, it would be someone who perhaps holds a different set of technical skills or is interested in contributing in other ways,

Digital Project Proposal: Mapping the Paths of Serial Killers

            In “Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes,” Netflix follows the footsteps of serial killer Ted Bundy, both before and after his crimes. At one point in the series, Bundy’s murders are shown on a map, demonstrating Bundy’s movements across the country. In addition, the victims’ names, faces and locations are shown in chronological order, alongside those who Bundy confessed to killing, but whose names are unknown.

            Geographic profiling is a forensic technique that examines the locations of a series of crimes to determine the location of the criminal. The technique relies on the idea that a criminal will commit crimes outside of the neighborhoods that they live in, but close enough to allow for a quick escape. The theory also states that murderers must know the area to be able to successfully commit their crimes. Bundy’s murders demonstrate the exact opposite to this theory, which is a basis for a common method of investigation.

            This project would examine the paths of several prominent serial killers in order to explore whether geographic profiling is an accurate method of investigation. Furthermore, it would provide a look into the psych of serial killers. Questions to ask are: Do murderers feel comfortable committing crimes in the area that they live? Is having a home base necessary to commit a crime? Does escaping from an area or state allow murderers to evade conviction?

            In the case of Ted Bundy, travelling from state to state prevented investigators from tying crimes to him, in part due to police officers’ lack of communication. Although he faced charges in Colorado, during his escape from prison, he committed three more murders in Florida. Even then, Florida officers did not think of Bundy as a suspect until the time he was found.

Audience: For this project, the audience would be forensic scientists, psychologists and historians.

Existing Projects: Texas State University has a similar project examining crimes committed to Jack the Ripper. On their site, researchers provide a map of the murders. Unlike this project, I hope that mine will follow several killers on an interactive site.

Plan for Outreach and Publicity: This project could be shared by researchers and forensic scientists in the field. Additionally, social media, such as Twitter, could be used the share the final project, especially due to public interest in serial killers.

Evaluation Plan: Success of this project would be based on how possible it is to find and spread information. Finding the specific location of murders, as well as whether they are confirmed to be tied to a certain killer may be difficult. Furthermore, the project may overlook crimes that may have been committed by an individual, but never successfully attributed to them. However, once this information is found and presented as best as possible, success would be measured by the number of clicks and amount of time individuals spend interacting with the map.

Prototyping an Oral History Archive: NATO Bombardment in National Memory and Nostalgia

Like many graduate students, I am currently in the midst of applying for summer fellowships and research funding. One of the fellowships I just applied for would grant me funding to conduct an oral history project for the 20th Anniversary of NATO’s bombardment of Serbia. In the event I’m awarded this grant, an important part of this project down the line is building a digital space for these interviews to live. I want these stories to be publicly accessible so that people can hear and engage with them, educators can use them as teaching tools, scholars can utilize them as primary sources, and policy makers can reference them when making important decisions in foreign affairs. For my digital project for this class I’d like to build a prototype of what this site would look like and how it would function.

Project Description: This online oral history archive would live on an Omeka S server (access provided by American University.) It would host the fifty or so oral history interviews collected through my (potential) summer fellowship research. The site would have important contextual information about the project and NATO’s bombardment of Serbia. It would also provide a timeline, so users can understand the series of events that took place and a glossary to provide reference for terms that often appear in interviews but are unfamiliar and/or unique to this event. The archive itself would host each oral history interview. It would provide biographical information on the interviewee and eventually a transcript of the interview. Each video would be tagged based on interview content and the oral history archive would be key word searchable. Users could search based on theme, places, gender, and birth year. An educational section of this site would later be created and geared towards high school and university instructors.

Audience: This site would be built for several audiences. First and foremost, it’s for the interviewees themselves. Having a space where interviewees can go and listen to their interviews and share them with people important to them is a vital aspect of this project to me. The second audience this site would be built for is the public. This would be a site that anyone trying to learn more about the NATO bombing could easily access and navigate, but also a space useful to educators, scholars, and policy makers.

Existing Projects: So many oral history projects are now hosted online as either archives or through digital story telling platforms. My vision of what this site would look like draws both on the Croatian Memories Project and Oral History Kosovo. Both of these sites are well done and easy to navigate. They make different historiographical interventions than this project, but they provide good models of what a successful online oral history space looks like.

Plan for outreach and publicity: This online oral history archive would be shared among its interviewees, which would hopefully produce a ripple effect and allow its reach to grow. It would also be advertised to the numerous former-Yugoslav communities in the U.S. and abroad. Links would also be sent to secondary education facilities and universities. Specifically, I’d try to be in touch with university libraries who could link the projects on their main sites. I’d also utilize social media, particularly Twitter and Instagram (#twitterstorians) to gain a base of followers.  

Evaluation Plan: The success of this project would be measured over time and in a variety of ways. First, I’d most want to see traffic on the site grow, as long as there is a steady increase of traffic, that’s progress. Second, I’d be interested in receiving feedback from instructors who use the site. Their comments would indicate how useful the site actually is to the public and what changes need to be made. Finally, down the line, I’d be interested in seeing if/how these interviews are being utilized by scholars. I’m not yet certain how this would be tracked, but I think it’s a reasonable way to measure success since this project aims to add to the historiography and body of literature on the former-Yugoslavia.

Print Project Proposal: “The Changing Language of Reproductive Justice”

The language used to talk about reproductive rights is changing. Last semester I studied the historiography of reproductive justice to understand how it has emerged from studies of reproductive rights and reproductive politics to the more inclusive and activist-oriented term “reproductive justice.” As a field of historical study, reproductive justice is closely related to activism which makes it a particularly interesting and fast-changing area of study.

A major aspect of this field is understanding how language is used when talking about women’s reproductive rights. Oftentimes, reproductive rights is framed only through the lenses of abortion or the falsely framed pro-life versus pro-choice debate. Reproductive justice activists advocate for a more inclusive approach to women’s reproductive rights by thinking about the entire matrix of issues affecting a woman’s right to autonomy over her body and ability to make choices relating to her reproductive health. Historians like Laura Briggs have followed this lead by studying, for example How All Politics Became Reproductive Politics. Demonstrating how historical scholarship can parallel and inform women’s reproductive rights advocates, collectively shifting towards a reproductive justice framework to better encompass women’s experiences through an intersectional lens.

Briggs’ history built upon early works done by leading historians of reproductive rights who have long understood the relationships between reproductive rights and other politics, many of them approaching the study with an intersectional approach which accommodates women’s variety of reproductive experiences and concerns. It makes sense then that, overtime, historical scholarship has joined with reproductive justice activists to identify and name a historical field of study: Reproductive Justice. Historian of reproductive politics, Rickie Solinger, teamed up with human rights and reproductive rights activist Loretta Ross to publish Reproductive Justice: An Introduction in 2017, indicating a shift in the relationship between scholarship and activism in this area of study. With that publication, they kicked off a series published through the University of California Press: Reproductive Justice: A New Vision for the Twenty-First Century.

So, with all of that, you may be wondering what my project is! To be honest, I am struggling with how to use these digital tools productively, so in the spirit collaboration I’ve been finding in the digital history field, I am looking forward to feedback on this project idea in terms of digital tools to use and feasibility. I know that it is worthwhile and probably could work for this project, but the nuts and bolts are harder to wrap my head around. My pitch is something along these lines:

Using digital tools, perhaps the TIME Magazine corpus and Google Ngram, I will look for trends in how the language around reproductive rights and politics through activist and scholarly lenses have shifted towards the social justice framework up to the culmination of “reproductive justice” as the new vision for activism and then historiography.

What’s important about these trends is the language we use as activists, scholars, and as people who generally talk about women’s reproductive rights and how that affects policy and more importantly women’s lives. I hope this idea will work for this project because I think we can all benefit from understanding why we use the terms we use to talk about these issues.