Final Post

History often feels like a passive subject. It is something that had happened in the past, of course has influence on the present, but it is something unchangeable. Besides being considered from different points of view, historic facts are facts. History is also static and learning history is often through textbook or lecture. And so the phrase “doing history” is a bit uncommon. Before this class I had never considered how involved one could be in learning history. Doing history suggests taking an active part in understanding the material and not just reading and writing notes. Doing history could be anything from making data maps, graphs (anything interactive) to even just engaging in mediums beyond text. As a history major I have had a lot of experience in college in learning the subject, but I can not say that before this class I have ever interacted with the material like I did here. My experience was heavily based on textbooks and lectures. Maybe a bar graph or data map used every now and again, but I never paid much attention to them. I would skim the visualization, figure out what they were about, come to a conclusion and move on. A visualization is a much different interaction with the material then the traditional textbook. It is much more engaging; it encourages the viewer to actively look through the information and to process it. At the same time, numbers in textbooks are easy to skim over. A textbook explanation of how the population in the United States has changed (population in 1800 is___, 1810___, 1820___) is much different than a map showing population density in different areas over time or even a bar graph showing the increased population over time. The viewer engages more fully in using this method. Through this class I have a deepened appreciation for using visual data to better understand history. But reading the information is not enough on its own, the experience is enhanced when you understand what goes into making good data visualizations. Anyone can make a data visualization, but when using it for historical learning, it is important to know what good data looks like as they can be easily altered to show the narrative the author wanted to portray. And for this reason, knowing what to look for in good sets is so important. 

The topic of this class was incredibly important. In my experience with history classes, those which talked about the Civil War and slavery (and related topics), slavery was almost always referred to as the institution. The purpose, structure, outcome, and politics are often what are discussed. Here and there individuals would be named and their narratives told, such as Nat Turner, but more often than not individual narratives were not taught. Instead this class approached slavery in such a way, at an individual level, that made using data sets and visualizations useful. In the books we read, Unrequited Soil by Calvin Schemerhorn and The Dawn of Detroit by Tiya Miles, the enslave narrative is set at an individual level. The Dawn of Detroit explores a number or individual narratives but really focuses on the lives of the Denison Family. Unrequited Soil looks at several different individual narratives throughout the history of slavery in North America, including Nat Turner and Henry “Box” Brown, along with lesser well known individuals. This is what I really enjoyed about this class in particular, it allowed me opportunities to learn about slavery not as the institution but more on how it influenced individual lives, beyond the usual teachings of ‘they were enslaved and had an awful life’. These readings and the activities we used put enslaved individuals at the center of their narrative, people who took active roles in their own lives. And so, the lessons and readings being centered around the topics talked about in class materials, the portfolio activities were much more beneficial. It gave us the opportunity to work with the information (or similar information) to what we were learning, creating an active learning exercise for a more in-depth understanding. As the purpose of the class is to “do history” this was incredibly important. Doing history brought many of the materials we used to life and allowed us to actively learn. 

The project I want to revise is Portfolio 14. This visualization compared the number of and job held by enslaved individuals compared between Martha and George Washington. I did this because I was interested in the gender dynamic where, in this case, Martha holds more enslaved individuals and thus more wealth in the marriage. This was a result of her dowry from a previous marriage, but I was still curious as to whether or not this was a common thing. I liked that this visualization does indicate the difference in their “holdings”. This was shown by the size of the circle, the total population circle and then the circles within indicating the occupation and the number of people who did that work. Martha’s circle is bigger than George’s, though not by much, but it serves as a visual representation of the population. Within the larger circle, the occupational ones change size depending on the variables, male or female and by age. But I wanted to take this further to see where there was a difference between genders, within the population of enslaved workers. I wanted to see if there was a difference between Martha and George to determine if there was a job which fell in their category more often than the other and to see if there was a gender difference as well. I also wanted to see a comparison between adult or child enslaved individuals, and what jobs were more common. Using this data, there are a variety of questions that could be asked. I learned through this class that every detail, no matter how small, is incredibly important in understanding history. My initial model was not as accurate as it could have been, it only measured the number of workers. While this was useful data it did not get as detailed as I would have like. To fix that I took it a step farther and broke down the categories to gender and age. Unfortunately I was unable to put gender and age on the same visualization as I felt that would have been most beneficial to what I wanted to do. That being said, I felt using specifics told a better story than my initial visualization.  

Going forward, I would like to continue working with metadata and sites like Omeka or the online exhibits we looked at. With online exhibits it is much easier to reach a wider audience and so it is incredibly important that the information is presented accurately and easy to go through. Or being able to work with metadata would be useful with cataloging artifacts. After college I am interested in working in a museum or a similar setting and I want to be able to use what I have learned in this class going forward.

Enslaved Individuals Compared Between Martha and George Washington – Gender

Enslaved Individuals Compared Between Martha and George Washington – Age

Portfolio 14

Enslaved Individuals Compared Between Martha and George Washington

I chose a dataset from George Washington’s Mount Vernon, this transcript is an account of the enslaved individuals who labored on Washington property. In those transcripts they are split into two groups, one George Washington and the other Dowery. Following the death of Martha’s previous husband, she inherited a number of enslaved individuals. In the Washington household, Martha did provide much of the wealth. I found it interesting that a woman may bring more to the table, so to speak, than her husband. If this was the case for the Washingtons, I wondering how common this may have been. A visualization of this population is useful to really appreciate the differences between Martha and George. Martha’s circle is bigger, indicating that she has more enslaved individuals. Within the circle you can see the differences in occupation, where there is a larger number of Spinners + Knit in Martha’s circle than George’s. This may suggest a difference in what kind of work their respective enslaved individuals did, Martha’s tend to be more within the domestic sphere whereas George’s were more laborers (such as carpenters, ditchers, coopers, smiths).

Portfolio 13

I have not had much experience using data visualizations with regards to historic content. If it was available I would normally glance at it and move on. But I do understand the importance of data visualizations when researching history. So much of it could be best taught through visualization and not just by text. Now looking at visualizations I make sure to take note what exactly the information is that they are presenting, essentially what is on the x and y axis. I also check the standards by how they measure the information and how it is divided and organized in the visualization. This is way in which visualizations can be untruthful, creators can exaggerate or minimize the the information to best fit the narrative they wish to present. In some instances they create visually appealing data, but it is not accurately depicted. It may suggest a relationship in the data where there isn’t one and mislead the audience. Despite this, data visualizations of historical content are incredibly useful as an aid to learning history.

Portfolio 12

Tidy data is particularly useful for historians as it is well structured and is easy to work with. Because it is structured, it allows for modeling and visualizing of the information. It can reveal patterns in the data which are historically significant and can help historians better understand the events they are researching. Depending on what is needed from the data determines what type of data needed to be used and how it was organized. In my experience, I have tended to shy away from data and instead used the traditional method of textbooks. That being said, with tidy data more quantitative questions can be asked, such as what a population was in a certain area. This question could be asked with different traits of the population in mind to enhance their findings. With regards to contemporary data, these methods would remain useful. Organized data can provide detailed information that is easy to work with and to understand and can be used beyond historical databases.

Portfolio 9

Often with historical research, events are presented chronologically and not much is provided for the geography of those events. Beyond a city name or region, or in relation to other locations, normal historic texts do not provide much in the way of geological insight. And so with something as regionally diverse as slavery and its rise and fall in American history, maps providing a visual is incredibly useful especially in seeing the physical expansion. These maps can sometimes be misleading as well. When using census maps, and separating the states into counties, a county may show a high population of enslaved individuals compared to the overall population (which may be small itself). It is useful when they provide density information. Scale can be one of the biggest issues when it comes to mapping. This is what I found to potentially be an issue with the Spread of Slavery map. With the Visualizing Emancipation map, three important variables are considered which include emancipation events, union army locations, and legality of slavery overlay. While the information is interesting, there are some issues with the way they’re presented. As for “emancipation events” there is a wide range of possibilities for what that could be, posing the question of what should be considered an emancipation event. As a whole, projects such as these are helpful in developing a greater understanding of a topic such as slavery in the United States by allowing the user to visualize on a larger scale the scope of the institution. 

Portfolio 8

I really liked the idea of using the interactive map as a way to teach about the Battle of Gettysburg. In most cases history is taught through texts and specifically when learning military history I find that to be difficult. Whereas with this program, the movements which were described in writing are now visible to the user alongside a short summary of what is happening that time. In addition to the illustration of the military movements, they provided view-shed and panorama images to allow the user to see what the individuals, such as General Lee, at the battle saw. I feel these aspects of the program are incredibly useful and provide the user with an opportunity for a more in-depth learning experience.

That being said, a few details of the program could be altered. I wish it provided links for further reading on the different topics covered and not only focus on one side of the fight for that topic, such as a decisive moment for the Confederacy and not mention what the Union forces were doing at the time. As for animation, the ability to see the troop lines and their general movement serves its purpose but I feel a full animation (maybe on a loop) would be more effective, to see more exactly how the troops moved on the battlefield. And the symbols for the troop lines are not indicative of exactly how big that unit is, which would be helpful in comparing the units facing off. Visually, I found that the size of the map was a bit small and that I had to change the zoom settings often to be able to see everything and to see the map in different details. 

Overall, I really liked the program and how it used visual media to present its information.

Decisive Moments in the Battle of Gettysburg

Portfolio 7

The use of programs for text analysis is incredibly useful in aiding researchers find correlations and ties between documents. Such as the documents I had chosen from the database, Documenting the American South, such programs help develop a clear tie between documents which were not originally associated. This creates a sort of narrative for a researcher to follow. Topic words such as law, justice, governor, court, and case, provide some indication as to what the document is about. These documents include enslaved individuals and related court cases. Using programs such as Voyant, the user can see how common those words are used throughout the documents, not just that the words are similar.

Portfolio 6

In constructing my exhibit I considered the areas of interest which fit within the topic I had chosen, The Lives of Females in Slavery in the United States of America. For much of my education on the topic of slavery in the United States, the focus has often been on slavery as an institution and not so much on the individual lives of people (other than the historical figures whose stories have been told). Due to this, I would use personal stories and not just a generalized narrative. In my exhibit I would like to focus on both their work (whether be field or domestic labor) and their personal lives away from that work. As a conclusion I would want to look at how the institution of slavery has influenced the lives of African American women since its abolition.

A rough draft of the exhibit organization.