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David Bennett

David Bennett

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October 23, 2014

Visualizing Southern Television 2.0: Launched!

October 23, 2014 | By | No Comments

Today marks the official launching of Visualizing Southern Television 2.0, the second version of my project digitally mapping the footprint for television stations in the south between 1946 and 1965. Back in June, I began the process of deconstructing the mapping infrastructure of VST with three main goals: to improve the aesthetics of the mapping system, to introduce a visual representation for station signal range, and to visualize the estimated reach of each tower’s broadcasts, over time, in order to show which geographical areas were within the reach of any given broadcast signal. Read More

David Bennett

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June 13, 2014

Visualizing Southern Television 2.0: Expanding Television’s Reach

June 13, 2014 | By | No Comments

Television is a geographically complex technology, as its signals ignore state and national boundaries and the physical location of a station’s tower is not as important, historically, as the distance traveled by its signal at any given point in time.  While Visualizing Southern Television (VST) 1.0 offers a visual map of television stations’ tower locations, such a map is a limited representation of whether broadcasts would have been received by viewers.

Over the course of the summer, I will be working on VST 2.0, the goal of which is to visualize the estimated reach of each tower’s broadcasts, over time, in order to show which geographical areas were within the reach of each broadcast signal. In order to achieve this, the first upgrade I will have to make is to substitute the Geo Mashup mapping interface of VST 1.0 (see Figure 1 below) with JavaScript (see Figure 2).

As shown above in Figure 2, the new interface will visually display the approximate distance each signal was being transmitted at any point in time, with each upgrade to a new antenna recorded on a separate sub-post. (Note: the above mock-up displays visual capability without regard to data—in other words, Figure 2 is intended to show visual capability of software, not accurate station data.)

VST 2.0 will also project through time as well.  Right now VST 1.0 shows all of the television stations as they were on air in 1965.  VST 2.0 will be more dynamic, showing the map through various points between 1942 and 1965.  This second upgrade will involve the addition of a time-restricted Slider bar (see Figure 3 below and source), which will link the map display to a timeline, allowing the user to move the slider and watch as stations begin operations and signals increase range. Overall, these changes will ultimately result in a far more robust and informative mapping interface (see Figure 3).

These upgrades to the user interface will result in a much more detailed representation of the reach of television to communities in the American South during this period.

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May 9, 2014

Visualizing Southern Television (v. 1.0) Launched!

May 9, 2014 | By | No Comments

In 1987, the University of Mississippi held a symposium entitled “Covering the South: A National Symposium on the Media and the Civil Rights Movement” wherein participants discussed the influence of media on the civil rights movement. During one panel, a group consisting of eleven Pulitzer Prize winners and three Emmy awardees make huge claims about television’s role in the movement. CBS reporter Robert Schakne claimed that “Little Rock was the first case where people really got their impression of an event from television. It was the event that nationalized a news story that would have remained a local story if it had just been a print story.”[1] NBC news correspondent John Chancellor touted that reporters “were able to show [southerners] themselves on television. They’d never seen themselves. They didn’t know their necks were red. They didn’t know they were overweight. The blacks didn’t know what they looked like… [These images provoked] a profound reaction in both the black and white communities, because they’d never seen that, because we never see ourselves.”[2] While these comments are clearly disturbing in their simplification of southern self-awareness, they also illustrate a problematic and commonly held view of television’s relationship with historical events. For these journalists, it seems, television made these historical events important. Read More

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April 29, 2014

VST: Visualizing Southern Television (Update)

April 29, 2014 | By | No Comments

Visualizing Southern Television v 1.0 is almost ready for launch: the framework is stable, and I am in the process of uploading data.  I note its version number as I have recently begun work on version 2.0.  As it stands, v 1.0 documents the southern television landscape between 1942 and 1965, visually demonstrating the challenge southern television news represented for southern print and radio news during this period. Figure 1 shows the current version of the television news station splash map. Read More

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April 13, 2014

The Current State of Louisiana Digital History

April 13, 2014 | By | No Comments

The end of March found me escaping the snow-draped landscapes of my East Lansing, Michigan home to attend the 2014 Louisiana Historical Association (LHA) Conference in Hammond where I was to accept the Hugh. F. Rankin Prize. At the conference, I had the opportunity to survey the footprint of digital history within the LHA community, and to discuss and pitch my project digitally mapping the southern television stations from 1942 through 1965. What I discovered is that 2014 was a significant year for Louisiana digital history.  Read More

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February 24, 2014

Television and Celebritization: A Louisiana Story from 1960

February 24, 2014 | By | No Comments

Television has been turning everyday people into celebrities since it became a fixture in American households. Although reality television did not begin until 1973 with An American Family, television news reporters were putting everyday people in the spotlight long before that. Throughout the later 1950s and 1960s, we can see television news coverage turning local issues into national spectacles, a single person’s voice into the voice of an entire city. One such early instance of television news plucking ordinary people and thrusting them into the national spotlight occurred during the New Orleans integration crisis in 1960. Read More

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January 30, 2014

Visualizing Southern Television

January 30, 2014 | By | No Comments

There can be no question that television news reporting has played a key role in the cultural history of modern America. Since the late 1950s, any written historical narrative must compete in the minds of those who lived through the event with memories inspired by television footage. Yet that footage was not obtained in a vacuum: there have been documented instances of reporters interfering with events, and the presence of cameras clearly leaves a physical footprint on the event itself. In order to truly understand televised historical events, cultural historians need access to television footage. Read More

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November 29, 2013

Television News Cameras and the Observer Effect

November 29, 2013 | By | No Comments

There is a distinct power in the act of observation. Both in the world of quantum mechanics, where the life of a cat hangs in the balance, and in the messy world of human behavior. In my last post, I discussed how the existence of video footage of an event should fundamentally alter how historians write about it, since what they write must compete directly with that footage in the minds of their audience. In this post, I will argue that the television news camera cannot be seen as a passive observer of events, but instead must be recognized as a participating force.
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October 22, 2013

The Visual Image’s Challenge to History as a Profession

October 22, 2013 | By | One Comment

Asked to imagine the trial and death of Socrates, we might conjure up an image of Jacque-Louis David’s oil painting Death of Socrates, or recall Plato’s written accounts. We might even imagine modern day reinterpretations of the event. However, none of these interpretations are perfect reconstructions, and their flaws – be they problems of translation, or questions about authenticity or their creator’s intent – cause us to harbor a deeply rooted skepticism about them. The historian’s role, for centuries, has been to engage in a peculiar type of storytelling which attempts to allay that skepticism.
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September 23, 2013

A Voice from the Technological Borderlands: David S. Bennett, civil rights and technology scholar

September 23, 2013 | By | No Comments

On September 4, 1957, Elizabeth Eckford approached Little Rock Arkansas’ Central High School in an attempt to enact desegregation. A wall of national guardsmen turned her away. None of this initial exchange was able to be recorded by the television camera operators, as their equipment was still being set up. And yet, today there exists footage of Eckford walking up to the National Guard soldiers and being turned away. This is because Elizabeth Eckford made the march on Central High School twice in the same day. As she was turned away the first time, she began to retreat from the guards, but midway through walking away she turned back around to attempt to cross the line of national guardsmen. This time, the television cameras were ready to record. CBS news reporter Robert Schakne shouted at the growing crowd to “Yell again!” as he saw Eckford approach the school again (Roberts and Klibanoff 160). The crowd followed suit, and this is the video footage that we have of the Little Rock attempt to desegregate. While it can never be known whether Schakne’s direction to the crowd had any distinct change on the unfolding of the event, which would be widely televised, this event brings to light many questions regarding the role video cameras play in the creation of historical narratives. Read More