Noted filmmaker Jake Boritt is coming to Carlisle on Wednesday, May 7, 2014 for a special free public showing and discussion of his latest film, “The Gettysburg Story,” a state-of-the-art documentary about the pivotal Civil War battle narrated by actor Stephen Lang. What makes this film especially unique and cutting-edge is Boritt’s use of high-definition camera-enabled drone aircraft. His innovative project quite literally depicts the 1863 battlefield from a perspective that you have never seen before. You will be amazed at the visual spectacle and fascinated by Boritt’s discussion of how 21st-century technology helped bring to life this classic 19th-century American story.
Digital Scholarship Lab. University of Richmond, 2014. http://dsl.richmond.edu/projects/
Reviewed by Leah Miller, Dickinson College
The Digital Scholarship Lab at the University of Richmond uses technology to digitize and present historical data in a way that reveals hidden patterns. The lab consists of eight main projects which present various insights into American history:
While the data covered by these projects spans all of American history from Columbus to the present, particular focus is devoted to the nineteenth century. Rather than presenting the large-scale, political history which is available in the average classroom textbook, these projects analyze the movements and actions of the common person. The result is a series of new stories about the experience of the average American—white, black, male, female—who worked, migrated, fought, and suffered for their freedom.
The most recent project is the digitized Atlas of the Historical Geography of the United States, originally drawn up in 1932 by U.S. naval historian Charles O. Paullin and geographer John K. Wright. The print edition of the atlas—which includes over 700 maps on 166 plates that cover American history from 1492 to 1930—has greatly impacted many historical publications even to the present day. Recently for the New York Times, project director Robert K. Nelson explained that “Paullin’s maps show ordinary people making a living, moving across the landscape, worshipping at churches, voting in elections.” This new, digital edition changes the way we can interpret these maps. Each map has been georeferenced and georectified to provide accurate and optimal web-viewing, but the viewer can switch to a high-quality scan of the original plates. The user can also toggle a sidebar with Paullin’s original text and legends, as well as zoom in and out and adjust the transparency of the map overlay. Permalinks save all these preferences and ensure they can be accessed in the future. Series of maps that show progression of movement or activity through time have been animated. For example, the animation of slave populations from 1790-1860 shows the concentration of southern slave power and its expansion westward concurrently with gradual emancipation of slaves in the North. Furthermore, the statistical annotations provided for this map declare the exact numbers and percentages of slaves in each county, and by 1820 provide a breakdown of the slaves’ genders. Some maps are accompanied by additional analytical blog posts. “Vanishing Indians,” by lab director Robert K. Nelson, discusses the atlas’ shortcomings when it comes to portraying Native Americans in their relationships to each other.
The Visualizing Emancipation project is another interactive map which highlights slavery’s end during the Civil War. The map “presents a history of emancipation where brutality is sometimes easier to see than generosity and where the costs of war and freedom fell disproportionately on the most vulnerable in the South.” Users can filter through different types of emancipation events (i.e. African Americans helping the Union, their captures by either army, fugitive slave-related incidents, etc.), as well as different types of sources, including books, newspapers, official records, or personal papers. Like the Atlas, this map is animated, so as the user toggles pins and filters on and off, she can follow the relationship between emancipation and the position of the Union army, or the agency of slaves in obtaining their own freedom. The project also features certain events and figures as starting points for understanding emancipation, with the ability to pinpoint each event on the map. I only wish that there were at least one featured example where a person or group were involved in multiple events, so a user could follow their physical journey using the map. For those teaching emancipation, there is an accompanying lesson plan and worksheet. Students are encouraged to contribute by submitting information they find in primary source documents, since the map, which covers “only a small slice of the available evidence documenting the end of slavery,” could never be complete.
Voting America also makes use of animated maps to show changes and differences in voting preferences for presidential and congressional elections (1840–2008). The key factor is scope, which illuminates different patterns and trends. For example, changing popular votes at the state level show which parties won each election, while at the county level show how each state was politically divided. The dot-density maps are even more democratic, as 1 dot=500 votes in an area; this way, more third-party votes are recorded. For these types of maps, every legend shows important political events in history; so, one can watch the progression of voter turnout since 1840 and note the effect the Fifteenth and Twentieth Amendments had. The user also has the option to view individual elections in each of these capacities. Population maps show the location and movements of black Americans (represented—a bit stereotypically—as black dots) and white Americans (represented by pink dots). Unfortunately there is no option to view these populations together, nor is there any representation of immigrant populations. The project is accompanied by an interactive map which can be used to compare presidential election years, but my computer, running Adobe flash player version 126.96.36.199, was unable to open it. An alternative version is available through Google Maps, but currently this feature is down. Finally, a “Scholars Corner” provides expert analysis by DSL staff on certain voting trends.
Three other projects in the lab focus on the American Civil War. Mining the Dispatch uses topic-modeling, a computerized method of pulling together multiple documents that have the same key words within them. This can reveal interesting categories and patterns among texts. In this case, Nelson ran every issue of the Richmond Daily Dispatch from November 1860 to Lincoln’s death in April 1865. Some of the more interesting topics are fugitive slave ads, anti-northern diatribes, military recruitment versus conscription, humor etc. Nelson juxtaposed line graphs showing the frequency of similar topics, and, tentatively, relationships emerged. This project is still in its preliminary phase and because of its algorithmic collection process, the data is imperfect. Still, it is a good jumping off point for research questions.
The Virginia Secession Convention project seems to diverge from the site’s aim to tell the average American’s story. It seeks to explain the decision of the VA delegates to secede from the Union through their full-text searchable speeches and the Convention’s proceedings. However, as the Data Visualizations page shows, their decisions were likely influenced by their constituents. Each county is annotated with statistics about the constituents: percentages of slaveholders and the enslaved, average farm value per acre, and pro- or anti-Union stances.
Finally, though Hidden Patterns of the Civil War largely highlights many of the projects already discussed, it also includes other mini-projects and tools, like a collection of maps that shows the migration patterns of black Virginians who married after the war, a Google Earth tour of the Richmond slave market developed from a sketch by painter Eyre Crowe, and a full-access digital database of the Richmond Daily Dispatch during the Civil War.
While the two remaining projects are less relevant to the nineteenth century, they are great tools for the classroom. Redlining Richmond maps and annotates the racist categorizations of the Home Owners’ Loan Corporation (a New Deal agency) in the late ’30s. The assigned value of each neighborhood is based on race and nationality, and shows the lingering effects of slavery in the Jim Crow era. The History Engine is a “moderated wiki” where students generate three-paragraph “episodes” (rather than arguments) about people, places, or events in American history, drawing on local university or online archives and secondary sources. Because registration is required, each submission is carefully screened for quality and accuracy. The project’s aim is to place students from around the world in conversation with each other and their work.
The eight projects of the Digital Scholarship Lab thoughtfully and extensively explore the individual experiences of Americans during the nineteenth century. The Lab’s innovative use of technology illuminates otherwise obscure patterns of growth, contest, suffering, and change. This is an invaluable resource for studying the social history of our nation, and a must for anyone teaching or learning about the American Civil War.
Last year, nearly 750 participants signed up for a unique online learning experience. “Understanding Lincoln” was the first open, online graduate course offered in partnership between the House Divided Project at Dickinson College and the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History. Taught by historian Matthew Pinsker, the course focused on classic Lincoln texts –not just his great speeches, but also his most important personal and political letters. The participants studied and debated these documents through a series of live, interactive online sessions and helped create a brand-new website: Lincoln’s Writings: The Multi-Media Edition. Now, as we are getting ready to launch the 2.0 version of this exciting course (REGISTRATION CLOSES ON MAY 27, 2014), we think it’s worth sharing some of the comments from those who joined us during Fall Semester 2013.
From our auditors:
“I have seen the future, and it is “Understanding Lincoln.” Thanks again, and keep going with this approach as far as it will go!”
“I originally was just going to give the general kudos already stated above on a highly educational, interesting, and enjoyable course. But having started to take [another] MOCC more recently in which I was very disappointed, I’ve decided it is important to re-enforce some of the particular techniques you used that were noticeable by their absence in the other course. [Most important], the use of live interaction in video classroom sessions including on-line participation….The [other] course restricted live videos to semi-scripted sessions with teaching assistants, while “discussion” sessions were simply non-video chatrooms, sometimes with a 2nd level teaching assistant throwing in an occasional question, sometimes totally unstaffed. In the video classrooms, Matt’s active role as discussion leader was very effective, particularly given your ability to actively monitor the chatline.”
“My goal in doing this was to add to my own knowledge, of course, and to provide some material to the greater community in the class. This whole experience has been a very positive one for me and I thank you for all of your hard and good work in putting it together.”
From our graduate participants:
“I just wanted to thank you again for the great academic experience provided through “Understanding Lincoln.” I really learned a lot from the class and enjoyed every minute of it… I only wished I’d had more time to devote to my research! I loved the amount of freedom we were given to create our own projects and having never designed a Web site before, I learned a great deal not only about historic content but also about 21st Century presentation! There’s a lot more I still have to learn, but this was a good start! In a strange way, I found all of our writing assignments to be a great release from my day-to-day school and family demands, so I really am sorry to see the class come to an end!”
“I’m so glad I took this class — living with Honest Abe these last four months has been a really moving experience in more ways than I can count and frankly, has made me realize that I need to keep pursuing history research and exploration as much as I can.”
“I just want to express my thanks in offering a challenging and yet rewarding course. My multi-media project has been shared with 100 other history teachers in my district and I have utilized it many times in my own classroom. The students are tickled at seeing their “teacher’s work” for a class on display in addition to its usefulness so I appreciate your multimedia project assignment. I look forward to learning more…isn’t that the key to a successful class?”
“I’ve taught professional development courses and taken a lot of them myself, but I honestly found this to be one of the best classes I’ve taken since I was an undergrad 11 years ago. I appreciated the expertise, depth of content and the flexibility you gave us to find our own areas of interest. I also thought the online format was just a really interesting way to take a class. Most helpful to my teaching, though, the website is already proving to be an amazing resource. It’s a great project that is really going to help a lot of teachers across the country.”
“I am really proud of what I have learned through the course of this project and I thank you for the opportunity to do this for my students. I have very much enjoyed the course!”
“I really enjoyed the format of the class and the material presented within it. It was a logical arrangement of topics and primary sources, and I hope that our work helped you get closer to reaching your goal of creating an in-depth website that looks closely at Abraham Lincoln as both a person and president.”
“I want to also thank you for the experience provided by this course. I feel like it has enhanced my confidence teaching Lincoln and made me step out of my comfort zone and embrace the technology. I learned a great deal, love the Lincoln writings site and will use your close readings in my classroom.”
“Thank you for an exciting past few months. Not only did I learn quite a bit about Lincoln, but I also learned some great technology programs to use with my students.”
“I know that I am a better teacher from the time I spent working on this course.”
Registration for the 2014 edition of the “Understanding Lincoln” course will remain open until May 27, 2014. Full graduate student tuition costs $600. Auditors pay a small fee of $25. To sign up or to find out more details, go to the course registration page (http://gilderlehrman.org/programs-exhibitions/understanding-lincoln-graduate-course) and see for yourself.
Created by participants in the “Understanding Lincoln” open online graduate course (offered in partnership with the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History), this site (still in development) features 150 of Lincoln’s “most teachable” documents and offers a full array of multi-media resources designed to help teach them in the K-12 and undergraduate classroom. This site is especially useful for Common Core alignments.
Created as part of the Lincoln Bicentennial anniversary, this site offers a snapshot of where the “Digital Lincoln” stood as of 2009, and includes a host of examples of research and presentation tools, especially designed for serious student and academic scholars.
Created in part to help transform insights from James Oakes’s prize-winning study, Freedom National (2013) into use for the modern-day classroom, this site presents an array of primary and secondary source tools for studying the complicated but fascinating subject of emancipation and abolition.
This “unofficial” guide includes access to Tony Kushner’s script, a full cast of characters (with photo comparisons to actual historical figures), and extensive analysis of the artistic license in the film and the historical reaction to Steven Spielberg’s important movie project.
This site offers a clickable word cloud of the Lincoln-Douglas Debates and host of other rare primary sources for use in studying these critical texts.
The House Divided Research Engine is a Drupal-based content management system that contains over 12,000 public domain images and tens of thousands of documents and other historical records. The link above takes users directly to Abraham Lincoln’s main record page and offers a well-curated gateway for Lincoln research.
This short but compelling exhibit came together as part of the 150th anniversary of the Gettysburg Address and helps visitors understand the evolution of the document, including a sharp analysis of all five manuscript versions of the address in Lincoln’s handwriting.
Dickinson College students Leah Miller and Will Nelligan helped create short but engaging tools for studying Lincoln’s most important autobiographical writing –a sketch he produced in late 1859 to help launch his presidential bid. There is a six minute YouTube video of the sketch and an annotated edition of it through the new platform at RapGenius.
Michael Burlingame’s prize-winning Abraham Lincoln: A Life (2008) is the most important new multi-volume study of Lincoln, but it is difficult to teach because it is so lengthy. With permission, however, from both the author and the publisher (Johns Hopkins University Press), we have created short visually enhanced excerpts from the work that focus on the election of 1860 and include clickable footnotes, allowing teachers and students to “see” Burlingame’s sources directly.
Created by technologist Rafael Alvarado, this mash up includes an integrated interface allowing users to see the online edition of Lincoln’s Collected Works (his known writings), Lincoln Day-By-Day (his daily schedule), and The Abraham Lincoln Papers At the Library of Congress (the bulk of his extant correspondence) for the essential “one-stop” shopping experience. There is nothing else quite like this “timemap” available on the Internet –a must-see for serious and aspiring scholars.