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August 11, 2015

Wheelwomen at Work 2.0 is live!

August 11, 2015 | By | No Comments

It has been a busy summer plugging away on Wheelwomen at Work, my digital humanities project mapping women’s involvement in the nineteenth-century bicycle industry. This summer I completed twogandflamps major tasks. First, I nearly doubled the amount of pins on the map. Much of my new material highlights women’s work in factories, and I also added some new women inventors as well. Tracking down more women mechanics and saleswomen has not been easy. Records on women’s wage work from this period come with tons of challenges and limitations. But, I did find some, such as the 60 women who worked at Amos Shirley’s large bike shop in New York City.  I was also hoping to find more geographically diverse data. But I am happy that I added new types of factory work, like small clothing operations such as  he Vinestine and Goldberg Sweatshop and the Fayetteville Glove Company, and leading bicycling corporations of the time, like Hartford Rubber Works and Gormully & Jeffery Manufacturing Company. For my second task, I added to the site with an essay titled “Women in the Nineteenth-Century Bicycle Industry” found under the brand new “learn more” tab. With this essay, I provide a big picture view on women’s work in the bicycle industry and discuss how each category of wheelwomen’s work was key to the industry as a whole. I’m hoping this helps the user add context to the individual pins and see the big picture of the project.

While I have completed the big tasks for my project, Wheelwomen at Work will be far from static. I plan to keep adding pins to the map and images to the gallery as I work on my dissertation. I hope it leads me to find even more ways to unearth and document women’s contribution to the bicycle industry and bicycling culture more broadly.

Image source: Advertisement. “Bicycle Lamps.” The Wheel and Cycling Trade Review, Vol. X, no. 21, January 13, 1893, 57. Google Books.

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May 4, 2015

Wheelwomen at Work is live!

May 4, 2015 | By | No Comments

I am excited to announce that Wheelwomen at Work is live!

Over the past academic year, I’ve been researching, writing and developing my CHI digital humanities project Wheelwomen at Work: Mapping Women’s Involvment in the Nineteenth-Century Bicycle Industry. For my launch post, I am going to recap why I developed the project, what tools I used, and future directions for the project.

My dissertation explores how nineteenth-century women used bicycling as an activist strategy. While conducting research, I uncovered how women’s involvement in the nineteenth-century bicycle industry was multifaceted and key to the industry as a whole, even though men held leadership positions in bicycle companies. I have found evidence of women who designed and produced bicycle accessories and clothing, while others developed frames and components. Women also worked in bicycle shops in sales and even as mechanics, and it was common for bicycle corporations to hire women as sales ‘agents’ to promote their brand. Other women quietly worked their way up to management positions in local factories. Young, working- class women were the invisible laborers behind most components and accessories, working long hours in dangerous machine shops and factory floors. I found a wealth of sources on women in the bicycle industry, yet they were largely scattered across archives. I believed these sources could be much more useful to scholars and lay enthusiasts in an accessible and organized format. I hoped that digitally curating these sources could allow for a deeper and richer understanding of women’s contributions to the bicycle industry, instead of reading individual women’s work as an outlining example isolated from one another.

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April 16, 2015

Map Building from a Non-Visual Learner

April 16, 2015 | By | No Comments

This month I’ve been making a ton of progress on my project, including building my actual map. I often hear people on campus, especially my students, identify as a “visual person.” Personally, I’ve never felt like I work that way. I think of myself more as an auditory learner, and I rarely find myself naturally thinking about my research data in a visual way. This has been one of the reasons I have found doing a map project so interesting, because it has helped me see my work in new ways and connect different dots that I might have overlooked.

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March 16, 2015

Thinking Research & Preservation at the Library of Congress

March 16, 2015 | By | No Comments

photoThis spring break I was lucky enough to visit the Library of Congress in Washington, DC to conduct research on my dissertation, and to specifically look at materials for my CHI project.
At the LOC, I worked my way through thousands of pages of documents from the bicycling industry and nineteenth-century bicycle culture. The LOC has a collection of rare cycling magazines and periodicals from the 1890s which have yet to be digitized. Most of the sources for my project have already been digitized, such as major newspapers, government reports, popular magazines, and women’s rights documents. My major tasks involve reading them, organizing them, and building bridges to connect brief mentions of my topic into a larger narrative. My work at the LOC was quite different. With nothing but stacks of periodicals which filled up many shelves, I spent my week flipping through each volume page by page, looking for any discussion of women cyclists. I read article after article from what then were popular magazines such as The Wheelman’s Gazette, American Cyclist, and Cycling Life. These periodicals were designed and published primarily for male bicyclists, but members of the bicycling industry also read them regularly. While men’s cycling dominated these magazines, reporters did discuss women’s cycling at times, and some magazines even published regular columns specifically by and for women riders. In these columns, women shared bicycling tips, discussed new gear, and extolled the pleasures of riding to those new to the sport. The columnists often highlighted women’s role in the bicycling industry, especially as inventors and work in retail.
Digging through all of these periodicals page by page made me even more appreciative and passionate about digital preservation. Many of these periodicals are damaged and showing great signs of wear. Some are falling apart at the binding, and others are so fragile that LOC staff was unable to let me view them. One periodical was even lost in the stacks, and despite the help of a few librarians, was unable to be found. These materials are increasingly at risk for decay and damage as time passes, and they seem like a perfect candidate for digital preservation so they can be available to future scholars and scholars who cannot access the LOC.
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February 17, 2015

Women’s Bicycling Patents

February 17, 2015 | By | No Comments

Nineteenth-century patents may not seem like the most thrilling subject for scholarly inquiry, but they  tell us much more than just meets the eye. Most of us would probably assume that white men filed the majority of patents in the nineteenth-century United States. This is true. Filing a patent required a number of privileges including advanced literacy skills and technical training, but also money to finance the related court costs, especially hiring a lawyer. This does not even include the time and funds required to design and test one’s actual product. As such, Americans who filed patents in the nineteenth century were in many ways not representative of most Americans who lacked such resources.

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January 26, 2015

Vizicites: A New Way to See the City

January 26, 2015 | By | No Comments

One of our responsibilities as CHI fellows is to present a workshop on a digital humanities program, tool, or app to the group. I chose to present my workshop on Vizcities, a somewhat new city-based data visualization platform. I was drawn to Vizicities for a few reasons: my scholarly (and not so scholarly) interest in maps and cities, and my desire to take a break from history and discuss a platform that uses contemporary data.

What sets Vizicities apart from other DH map platforms? It combines 3D and live data in one browser-based map. Inspired by SimCity, the creators wanted to build maps which showcase the 3D reality of cities (such as building heights and river depths) and capture live data in those maps. In their development diary, Vizicities has build 3D maps of London which capture live tweets, incoming planes, and even trains in the London Underground.

The creators are particularly excited for the Vizicities’ combination of live and 3D data to assist in urban planning and disaster relief efforts, such as floods, in which it would be key for emergency professionals to have live updates of water levels.

Given my interest in transportation, public space, and urban history, I was struck by the potential of Vizicities for historians. I can easily see historians using Vizicities to study contemporary movement in their city of interest and comparing this data to the same city in their period of study. I can also see sociologists, anthropologists and other social scientists diving into Vizicities to study urban areas in a variety of ways. Perhaps as the platform grows, the creators can develop its usability in rural areas as well. Vizicities is currently still in development, and I am looking forward to seeing what scholars can do with this powerful addition to the digital humanities world.

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December 15, 2014

Paper-based Productivity and Digital Research

December 15, 2014 | By | No Comments

As I dive into the world of Digital Humanities, I am exposed to an increasing variety of programs, apps, coding languages, and platforms to digitize my research and see my work in new ways. I’ve always been interested in productivity, and paper and pen or pencil have long been some of the most valuable tools in my academic life. For the last few years I have become interested in thinking about digital tools not just as the end result of research, but also how they shape my workflow and daily routines. I’ve found Zotero to be quite helpful in organizing the thousands of newspaper articles on my hard drive, I use Evernote for organizing just about everything related to my teaching and research, and Scrivener is without a doubt my favorite program for writing articles and dissertation chapters.

 

Yet, the more I use digital tools, the more I continue to appreciate to my analog systems of paper and pencil. While most of my research puts me in front of my laptop screen, I find being tied to screen all day far from ideal. My laptop and other gadgets often seem as efficient as they are distracting. When I teach I run my sections as a laptop-free zone and I explain to my students the flaws of assuming we are all “good at multi-tasking.” I also find it funny to be in an academic meeting of some sort and see many in attendance using their laptops to check Facebook or email, rarely even making eye contact with the presenter.

 

Key to designing and maintaining a productivity system is to think about what goals you want to accomplish and what are the ‘tools of the trade’ you will enjoy using on a daily basis. I’ve found one of the most challenging things about being a PhD student is keeping on top of all of the little things, while also keeping an eye on the big picture and making steady progress towards my overarching goals. This is especially true because I have to balance both my research and my work as GTA, in which I am usually assigned to a class of about 100 students. Before I was ABD, I had all of my coursework to balance as well. I have adjusted my analog system as I have worked my way through my program, and here are two major components of my current system:

 

    1. Daily Tasks Journal: While I keep all off my important dates and deadlines on iCal, I also have a notebook in which I have to-do lists for each day of the week. I’ve found this very helpful in managing small tasks so they don’t eat up my day and developing an manageable plan for the week.

 

    2. Dissertation/writing/research Journal: My advisor (and lots of grad student blogs) suggested I start a dissertation journal when I became ABD, and this was very good advice. I don’t use this journal to collect any actual research, but rather to document how the process is going, including my work on my digital project for this fellowship. I have a pretty loose format for this journal. I document what I am working on, what seems to be going well, and what challenges I am encountering. I use this journal also to explore ideas or connections I’m seeing in my sources, as well as for topics or questions I’m just starting to think about. I find it helpful to be able to look back and see the patterns of days in which I was more productive versus less productive, and days when I felt stressed while writing compared to the days when my writing came pretty easy. When I became ABD, one of my biggest challenges was getting used to a completely different kind of schedule, in which I have tons to do but it is all on my own time. Documenting my day-to-day process has been very helpful in trying to figure out what works (besides lots of great coffee) and what hasn’t been as successful.

 

Both journals could easily work in a digital format. I prefer using paper not just so I get a screen break, but also because I feel that break allows me to think more deeply about my work while I am visually away from it. I like being away from email, social media, and other distractions so I can thoughtfully assess my work, even if I am just writing for ten minutes. Field Notes are my favorite notebooks for paper-based productivity. Not only are they beautifully designed and made in the USA, but I’ve found the size is small enough so I can easily carry both with me but large enough so I don’t feel cramped. Clearly I’m not the only person using analog tools to think about digital research — I’m looking for an excuse to buy these awesome stencils. I am more of pencil person versus pen, and I am a huge fan of Blackwing pencils. Many scholars and students may find it easy to give up on paper, and ultimately we should all develop systems that work best for us. But I’ve found that as I become more well versed in digital tools, I find that they greatly compliment, not replace, the joys and tangible benefits of writing by hand in a notebook.
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November 17, 2014

Movement Across Disciplines: Inspiration from the Migration with Borders Conference at MSU

November 17, 2014 | By | No Comments

A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to attend and chair a panel at the Migration Without Borders Conference here at Michigan State. I do not consider migration as a central theme of my work, nor I am particularly well versed in the historiography of migration beyond the books I read for my comp exams last year. I listened to papers on wide array of geographic areas, time periods, and disciplines. Often I find opportunities such as these types of conferences, in which I am exposed to scholarship quite different from my own, as a refreshing break from my work. I assumed this much needed interlude would be my major takeaway from this conference. Yet while listening to the panels, I found that many of the big ideas, questions, and themes resinated with my project and my growing interest in digital humanities. I was particularly intrigued to hear the panelists discuss the connections between movement and identity, which are two major themes of my work on women’s bicycling. It was interesting to see how migration scholars conceptualize physical movement, often across vast geographical spaces, as a fuel which shapes their subjects’ understanding of themselves and how they fit into the broader terrains of citizenship, family structures, and popular culture. Not surprisingly, the migration scholars at this conference were particularly attuned to the nusauces of these physical, cultural, and ideological movements in ways new to me as someone formally outside of this field of study.
Listening to these papers got me thinking about how to represent movement in digital projects. In my dissertation, I understand movement as an perpetual, embodied experience, and I have found a wealth of sources which indicate how women’s bicycling practices transformed their political and social identities as women, Americans, ‘moderns,’ and activists. Yet as I have been researching and planning my digital project on women in the bicycling industry, this project seems a bit more static. I am planning to create a map, or a digital atlas of sorts, in which the user can explore the variety of ways women were involved in the nineteenth-century bicycle industry throughout the United States. Yet, I have recently been considering ways to add movement into my project. Perhaps I could track women’s inventions to see the popularity and location of their use, or include information about the commutes of factory workers who rode their bicycles to work.
As a graduate student, it can be such a challenge to carve out time for academic activities not directly related to our own work. Yet my experience at the Migration Without Conference was a good reminder of the fresh perspectives gained via exposure to scholarship seemingly beyond the boundaries of our own work.
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October 24, 2014

Uncovering Isolation in the Archive: Women Workers in Bicycle Factories

October 24, 2014 | By | No Comments

I have begun diving to a variety of sources for my project “Wheelwomen at Work,” in which I am digitizing women’s involvement in the bicycle industry from the 1880s to the 1910s. One of my most striking findings so far has come from factory inspection records. Starting in the 1880s, many states established departments in which state officials visited factories to document the working conditions and ensure the factories were meeting the relatively new safety requirements mandated by law. These visits  were part of larger efforts from Progressive reformers and labor activists of the period. They believed that they needed physical access to the factories to truly understand the working conditions, and they used these visits to collect extensive amounts of data on each factory. They documented demographic data on the workers as well as detailed information on their working conditions, wages, hours, and tasks. They believed that collecting, cataloging, and reporting this data was the foundation for all of their reform efforts.
These reports provide valuable information on workers’ lives, especially given that so many working-class historical actors can easily get lost in the archives. This is particularly true for women workers. Much of what we know about women’s factory work in the nineteenth and early twentieth century centers on factories in which women made up the majority of workers, such as garment factories. Inspection reports of bicycle factories, as well as factories which made bicycle parts and components like wheels and saddles, present a different view of women workers. Strikingly, many of the women working in these factories made up less than half of the workers as a whole. For example, in 1896 inspectors reported that the North American Rubber Company of New York employed 239 men and 92 women in their bicycle tire division. Often there were only a few women workers in small factories and workshops. In the 1898 report of the Lindsay Bicycle Company in Indiana, the inspector documented that the factory employed 25 male workers and only one female worker. Such accounts suggest a few interesting themes that warrant further investigation. First, the documents imply that women were engaging in many of their tasks along side men, and perhaps even completing the same tasks as men. I am interested in trying to uncover their specific tasks and how their responsibilities compared to male workers. Second, it suggests a sense of isolation; I imagine that the single female worker at the Lindsay Bicycle Company had a very different work experience compared to women working in factories surrounded by fellow women. I have yet to find evidence of formal labor organizing among women workers in bicycle factories, and perhaps this isolation was a factor. Both findings provide a glimpse of women’s factory work in this period that I plan to explore further in my project.
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September 22, 2014

CHI Fellow Introduction: Christine Neejer

September 22, 2014 | By | 2 Comments

When we think about business and industry in the nineteenth-century United States, a few archetypes come to mind: the wealthy tycoon, the factory worker, the inventor, and the small business owner. Most of us usually imagine these people as men. This is not an accident, but a result of what we learned in high school and college history courses about nineteenth-century life. Images of young girls working in textile mills may come to mind, but rarely do we picture nineteenth-century women filing patents of their own inventions, running a store or building complex machinery. Yet, with a little detective work, one can find a variety of sources which showcase the diversity of women’s engagement with business in the nineteenth-century.

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