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doyleras

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March 20, 2017

SQL

March 20, 2017 | By | No Comments

I have not updated the blog about my project in a while. Its scope has been pared down significantly – as Ethan has said from the start that it would. The main change is that in order to make the creation of a database manageable within the time parameters of the program, given my total lack of experience with SQL, I have had to identify one highly uni-variant form of data within the corpus of economic and environmental statistics that exist in relation to the Lake Victoria basin. I selected tables relating to the production and consumption of electricity in East Africa, for historiographical and methodological reasons. The generation of hydropower at Owen Falls is an emerging point of emphasis in the historiography of East Africa, and will likely have considerable significance within the context of my dissertation. Therefore, I think that data from Owen Falls and other sites in East Africa offers a useful point of focus for this exercise.

 

It also offers a relatively accessible point of entry into writing SQL, because the information consists mostly of simple X-Y tables with recurring categories, e.g. Power (Horsepower) produced, Light (Kilowatts) consumed. Still, I have had to do some data cleaning, because these observations were not necessarily made to be compared with one another and were not produced in a standard form like Blue Books (at least, I haven’t digitized any relevant Blue Books). This data includes some tables that are pre-grouped. The largest bodies of information among these groups are a time-series that charts power and light production at sites across Kenya and Uganda across a decade, and a set of revised projections for the demand for electricity based on a revised estimate for the cost of power generation. These groups of tables seem to offer the most low-hanging fruit for the linking of tables through SQL – and the most historically-sound use of the language in this context, given the fact that the creators of these tables intended to group them.

 

The tables in these groups have also categories in common with other tables outside their own groupings, and so through the use of SQL these data can reveal an integrated picture of electricity production and consumption. This can give researchers increased access to the history of the region, but can also impose an ahistorical image onto the hydropower industry in East Africa, because historical actors did not necessarily see the industry in the ways that a database might present it. Then again, this tension can also be valuable in trying to understand the historical trajectory of hydropower.

 

doyleras

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March 20, 2017

Archivaton

March 20, 2017 | By | No Comments

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-38324045

 

I attended the event described in the article above. The general purpose of this series of events is to preserve scientific environmental knowledge that is supported by the US federal government and is therefore at risk of loss under the Trump administration. The last sentence of the article best captures the specific purpose of the Toronto event: to create a “prototype” for a process that its organizers neologized as an “archivathon” (a Google websearch of the word doesn’t return any uses outside of the context of this project; a Google ngram doesn’t plot any uses). Around 80-100 people volunteered at the event, which occupied the entire floor of the School of Information’s information library. The volunteers included a core group of organizers including faculty from the University of Toronto and the University of Pennsylvania, and people like myself, i.e. those responding to the organizers’ call for volunteers. Many of the volunteers were vocally uncomfortable with the presence of communications media, both conventional and social, but also said that their presence was necessary (the media being what got us there, anyway).

 

The organizers asked us to split into three working groups: 1) a group of people doing the heavy lifting of going through the EPA website in advance of a webcrawler program, once the program had been written; 2) a group called “hacker’s corner,” which was geared towards writing the webcrawler and split off into its own separate room; and 3) a group oriented towards overseeing the logistics and structure of the data processing that was occurring in the information library that day. Additionally, the organizers also asked that a small number of people create two ‘floating’ teams of volunteers to go between the three working groups in order to document their work – one team via social media, and one via ethnography. I decided to take ethnographic notes, documenting volunteers’ experiences with the archivathon. I spent most of my time listening to people in the third group.

 

The third group divided into three subgroups. One included some of the lead organizers, each managing specific logistical tasks; this end of the table was fairly quiet. The other two groups included those who were creating a schema for an inventory of the EPA website. The first was tasked with creating an inventory of the EPA website, and the second with creating a rubric for libraries and other organizations to use in order to identify and prioritize materials for digital preservation in case federal support is cut. The inventory group worked mostly in pairs, each taking a specific section of the EPA website to map out conceptually (again, the character of the Toronto event was preliminary). The rubric group worked as a whole. Its members were heritage institution workers and/or digital humanities specialists, and seemed familiar with the interests and limitations of the people who would be using the rubric. Balancing ease and efficacy in the use of the rubric was an overarching theme here. Listening to each group offered different, albeit brief views into the practice of cultural heritage informatics in a sharply political context.

Autumn Beyer

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March 1, 2017

Capturing Campus Cuisine: The Interactive Atlas

March 1, 2017 | By | No Comments

Over the past several weeks I have made significant progress on the final detail of the Capturing Campus Cuisine website: the interactive atlas! Originally, I was planning this interactive user feature to be a timeline map, that would allow visitors to move through the Early Period on campus (from 1855-1870) exploring different locations on campus related to food production, processing, and consumption. However, as I have been compiling the data for this project with CAP fellow Susan Kooiman, we realized that many of our sources date to the Early Period, but did not have a specific date associated with the photo or information. Read More

pebbles1

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February 3, 2017

Responsive Rhetoric

February 3, 2017 | By | No Comments

This week has been a hard one and the year has had a rocky start for me: I have been sick, and I am concerned about the recent news that overlaps with my community and research. President Trump is making way for Keystone XL and the Dakota Access pipeline (DAPL). Opposition to these two pipelines is the basis of the Native movements around Idle No More and Standing Rock (Mni Wiconi) which pushed for the stoppage of both Keystone XL and the Dakota Access pipeline. This is particularly discouraging as this action would threaten tribal sovereignty and break treaty law.

The result of this decision to allow the pipelines to move forward has yet to be seen. However, I am interested to see that protests occurred immediately after the announcement was made; the announcement was made two days ago and, since then, there were protests in New York two days ago and in Washington D.C. yesterday, and one in Minnesota today against the decision to encourage the continued development on these pipelines with hundreds of protesters at each event, despite it being part of the work week and extremely short notice to organize and react. This means that support is still strong and there is a clear alliance of the over 150 Indigenous Nations who support this movement as well as the millions of Americans who stand united with us.

The chairman of the Standing Rock tribe, David Archambault II, responded to President Trump’s permission for the Army Corp of Engineers to bypass the environmental analysis by writing:

Your Memorandum of January 24th instructs the Secretary of the Army to direct the Assistant Secretary for Civil Works and the US Army Corps of Engineers to review and expedite “requests for approvals to construct and operate the DAPL,” including easements. It also directs them to consider rescinding or modifying the Memo of December 4th, which calls for an Environmental Impact Statement and consideration of a reroute. There is more, but perhaps most astonishingly it calls for consideration of withdrawal of the Notice of Intent to prepare an EIS.

President Trump, the EIS is already underway. The comment period does not close until February 20th and the Department of the Army has already received tens of thousands of comments. This change in course is arbitrary and without justification; the law requires that changes in agency positions be backed by new circumstances or new evidence, not simply by the President’s whim. It makes it even more difficult when one considers the close personal ties you and your associates have had with Energy Transfer Partners and Sunoco.

Your memorandum issues these directives with the condition that these actions are carried out “to the extent permitted by law.” I would like to point out that the law now requires an Environmental Impact Statement. The USACE now lacks statutory authority to issue the easement because it has committed to the EIS process. Federal law, including the requirement of reasonable agency decision making, prevents that.

He continues to hold to Tribal and legal sovereignty with the following comments:
The problem with the Dakota Access pipeline is not that it involves development, but rather that it was deliberately and precariously placed without proper consultation with tribal governments. This memo takes further action to disregard tribal interests and the impacts of yesterday’s memorandums are not limited to the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. This disregard for tribal diplomatic relations and the potential for national repercussions is utterly alarming.

This gives encouragement to the millions of people who are members of Tribal Nations and those who stand united with them. This unity is the strength of the movement, the nations, and the communities; may these voices continue to speak out and exercise their sovereignty and independence while encouraging considerate and thoughtful civility on the part of the U.S. Government and the Tribal Nations.

However, our survival is our resistance; our survivance is our voice, our sovereignty.  Life is basic part of nature and nature is the most basic of laws.  When life is threated by endangering life-giving, life-maintaining water, we resist to survive. We resist for our children and the next seven generations.  Our survivance is ongoing and we will not stay silent.

Jack Biggs

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January 30, 2017

Wading Through Skeletal Aging Literature and Raphael.js

January 30, 2017 | By | No Comments

Apologies for my tardiness in posting!  It’s been an incredibly hectic semester so far and time keeps on slipping away!

Since my project is focused on subadult skeletal age estimation, I’ve really started going through the literature and publications over the subject.  On one hand, this is a great way for me to conduct in-depth literature reviews for my methods section of my comprehensive exams and prepare for my dissertation since I’m focusing on the growth and development of ancient Maya subadults and how social, environmental, and biological stressors affect those processes.  On the other hand, I’ve been running into a few academically-related brick walls.  One common thread I’ve found throughout most of the literature is that there really is no single-agreed upon method for most of the transitional age-related changes for any single bone or bone element.  Academia, especially Victorian and early 20th century academia when many of these studies originally took place, is full of researchers and their own opinions or just blasting other scholars’ methods.  Additionally, the racist roots of physical anthropology focused on non-white populations as a curiosity while only conducting comprehensive and in-depth studies of white European or American populations.  This is an unfortunate trend that extended embarrassingly far into the 20th century and was not until post-WWII that things began to change.

However, the vast majority of skeletal studies, as a result of large institutional collections, are still comprised of mostly white individuals which limits the degree of applicability for those studying cultures in non-white areas of the world where different cultures and environments greatly dictate development of the human skeleton.  As a result, the majority of the methods employed in this interactive website will be pulled from studies comprised of mostly white individuals, as those have most often been heavily researched.  For me, this is an unwanted convenience as it does not actually represent the full breadth of human variation that we see across populations and cultures across the globe.  (However, population-specific studies have become very popular and standards for specific regions and populations have increased, but not enough to the point yet to where I could effectively implement them into my website.)

An additional unwanted event occurred in which I accidentally discovered that another researcher is using the title ‘OSSA’ as well for his osteological software that statistically estimates ancestry.  It has not yet been published and is still in its beta test phase which is why nothing originally came up in my search for anyone else using that acronym.  Although I think I may technically finish my website before him and could thus use the name, this researcher is on my dissertation committee and I felt it wisest not to make them mad!  So for right now, the working title of the project is ‘Fontanelle’ in reference to the spaces on the cranium of incomplete closure on infants.

One last aspect of the project I’m working through is the interactive graphic on the landing page.  Ideally it will be a juvenile skeleton to where when the mouse hovers over a specific bone or element, such as the skull, the skull will change colors and clicking on it will take you to a new page specifically focusing on aging methods of the bones of the cranium and mandible.  I have been trying to accomplish this with raphael.js which allows you to draw vector graphics on webpages.  Since I have had a slower-than-expected start to the semester, I’m a little behind in my execution of being able to do this and it is still weighing me down.  I know that once I am able to map out a single bone, the rest of the skeleton should be relatively pain-free (although this might take a while with all the bones in the body!)

pebbles1

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December 3, 2016

Decisions, decisions, decisions.

December 3, 2016 | By | No Comments

One of the challenges I have when doing research is focusing my work and narrowing the topic. I do not think this is an unusual issue to have. However, it is one I have struggled with this past month. I think this is obvious from my last post.
When I first talked with Ethan about my possible topics for this project, we talked about narrowing it; however, we also discussed some other potential areas of research and I left our conversation with even more ideas than I had going into it. Ethan pointed out that one of the challenges in my project ideas is the relative paucity of research for me to lean on for my project, but there is so much potential in what I can do and there is much to explore.
This is part of the challenge. I keep finding myself being distracted by the openness of the topic: I understand and know the need to make sure my project is contained and focused, but I keep seeing all the open space beyond it. So, as I limit my topic to aspects of rhetorical sovereignty around Idle No More and Standing Rock, I see the issues of water, oil corporations, Native American studies, treaty law, government, tribal and community alliances, gender studies, as well as the linguistic and rhetorical structures and patterns that are present in these areas of study on the activist movements I am working with in my project.
One of the things I have been struggling with is thinking about what topic I want to explore after this project is completed. I want to set it up to make it easy for me to add on to it later. This, too, means I am aware of the open areas beyond the limited scope of this project as I see potential connections in my future studies. However, these decisions are difficult to make, as they are all interesting subjects that I want to delve into and explore. In the meantime, I continue to focus and try to not get distracted by the space all around me.
But, then again, …
SQUIRREL!!

Jack Biggs

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November 10, 2016

Subadult Skeletal Age Estimation

November 10, 2016 | By | No Comments

As it gets later and later into the semester, I’ve started trying to put together ideas for my CHI project.  While I’ve been thinking about what specifically I would like to do, there was one notion that kept popping up in my head: make accessible, usable, and relevant for other people, not just myself.  Sometimes as researchers, we get so buried in our niche fields and specialties that although we view our own research as interesting and significant, others obviously do not.  I feel that this is especially true in anthropology and archaeology given how technological advances of the past few decades have allowed us to create even more specialized areas of research.  Though these new methods can greatly add to our understanding of how populations of the past interacted and moved within, through, and around cultural and physical landscapes, we must be careful not to disenfranchise other researchers in the process.

As I discussed in my previous post, I study subadults’ social identities as well as skeletal growth and development within Late Classic Maya society.  To me, this is absolutely fascinating and necessary for understanding the ancient Maya.  To other bioarchaeologists, archaeologists, or even the general public, it is not, just in the way that other people put emphasis on their research as an essential tenet of their field.  In other words, not everyone places the same level of importance on specific aspects of research as you do.  The specialization of your methods and research should be approached very cautiously so as not to make you too generalized on the one hand, or too specialized on the other.  This is what I want to avoid while thinking about my CHI project.  If it’s too generalized, it will just become lost in the sea of similar online tools.  If too specific, then it has the potential to be relevant to a very small number of people and therefore useless to most archaeologists, bioarchaeologists, and students of human osteology my target audience.

Taking all of this into consideration, I’ve been thinking about how to effectively integrate my specific research into a much broader capacity for my CHI project that would be useful for people other than those who study ancient Maya childhood (of which there are very few).  However, since I do focus on skeletal growth and development I feel that I can use that knowledge and hopefully translate it into a tool that is useful and educational.  My most likely idea would be to create some sort of minimally interactive repository for estimating the age of subadult skeletal remains.

Subadult skeletal remains are much easier from which to obtain an age-at-death due to incredibly well-documented processes that the body undergoes during the first 18-20 years of life.  These mainly include the incredibly specific timing of teething events (down to a few-month window) and tracking growth plate fusion.

Dental eruption chart from "Human Osteology", Academic Press, 3 ed. (2011) - Tim D. White, Michael T. Black & Pieter A. Folkens

Dental eruption chart from “Human Osteology”, Academic Press, 3 ed. (2011) – Tim D. White, Michael T. Black & Pieter A. Folkens

In adults, it is much more difficult to estimate age-at-death since the body has stopped growing and you are then looking at degenerative changes over time which are affected by health, occupation, status, etc.  Although studies over estimating age are numerous, there is not a dedicated repository focusing on subadult remains.  I feel it would be beneficial to create some kind of age estimator where the user would indicate what levels or stages of growth and development an certain bone presents (that is being physically studied by the user) and the website would crank out an estimated age range based on the most updated or accepted age-estimation studies.  Ideally this would be most heavily geared towards students but also used by other researchers as a way to quickly estimate the age based on multiple bones which otherwise would cause them to wade through different publications.  My goal is for this to potentially be used as both a learning interactive experience and a tool for the user.

This might sound all well and dandy, but why is estimating age-at-death so important?  Estimating the age-at-death of skeletal remains is one of the first tasks when encountering these materials, be they modern or archaeological.  Understanding the age distribution of a past population is invaluable to how you interpret that population.  Different cultural, biological, and environmental factors, all of which affect one another, will determine what the age distributions are within that population.  For an archaeologist, this helps reconstruct who this population was and how they functioned and interacted.  For example, normal age distributions for the ancient Maya show high infant mortality rates, low death rates among young adults, but higher death rates among older adults.  Compare this to the plague pits of Europe during the Black Death – everyone was affected almost equally so the age distribution is more or less even.  Since we are able to more accurately determine the ages of subadults, researchers can ask age-specific questions and better understand what kind of stresses juveniles and infants are experiencing at what specific ages in their childhood. Overall, understanding the age distribution is essential to understanding the people themselves.

 

 

pebbles1

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November 5, 2016

Looking forward

November 5, 2016 | By | No Comments

Hello!
O’siyo!
こにちわ!
It is November and we are moving further into web design and interactive visuals in our cohort work. I am getting excited about planning my project. I know I want to do something with visuals, space/place, and water.
I am still holding onto the idea of working with the water systems in Flint. However, I am still looking at some other possible ideas of place and space with my colleague and classmate, Stephanie Mahnke. We both have strong interests in Asian and Asian American studies and are both members of Asian Pacific American Graduate Association (APAGA) and may do something related to that.
Likewise, the water rights issues surrounding Standing Rock and the movement behind No DAPL has emerged this semester. This is reflective of the issues I have been looking at for the past few years around Indigenous social movements and water rights issues.
 
Whichever way I go on this project, I will need to think about place and space as well as digital presence and presentation. Additionally, I believe rhetorical sovereignty is an essential part of this project. So, I should make sure this project is one that incorporates the voices of the community it represents.
In short, I must ask myself some questions to start working on this project:

  • How will the topic of my project be presented? What kind of digital space will be most useful in promoting the topic of the project?
  • What community will this digital presence represent? How will the community be reached and represented in this digital format?  How can the community interact with this online presence?
  • How can it be useful and informative for both the community it represents? What needs does it meet for the community?  How will it encourage community engagement?
  • How will the visualization of the data explore the issue in new and useful ways that will develop and clarify connections within the data? How will this format be more effective than any other format that could be used?
  • What kind of interactive design on the website will help create activism and unity within the community? What new understanding and development of the topic will this digitization be able to present to help the community?

No matter which community I end up supporting with this project, I know I want to promote activism and engagement. All three of these communities have strong links to my world and life. It is a difficult choice and one I must make soon.
Any feedback you want to give is very welcome!
Thank you!
Wado!
どうもありがと!

doyleras

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November 4, 2016

Introducing John Doyle-Raso//Building a database of Lake Victoria’s environment and economy

November 4, 2016 | By | No Comments

Hello all! I am a second-year doctoral student in the Department of History. I am especially interested in studying environmental history and histories of science and technology, focusing on water politics in Africa. I am interested in historicizing the water politics of Lake Victoria as part of the broader water politics of the Nile Basin. I plan for my dissertation to address the policy shift from swamp reclamation to wetland preservation in Uganda in the second half of the twentieth century. I will conduct archival and oral research in English, Kiswahili, and Lusoga. My supervisor is Dr. Laura Fair; the other members of my comprehensive examinations committee are Drs. Walter Hawthorne (to round out my major field in African History), Jamie Monson (for Environmental History), and Georgina Montgomery (History of Science).

I began my postsecondary studies at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, majoring in peace studies and sociology and minoring in biology (I have an abiding interest in ecology and evolutionary biology). Thanks to an Undergraduate Student Research Award, I was able to do four months of oral research about village-level water politics in Dodoma Region, Tanzania, at this time. After my bachelor’s degree, I completed the dual master’s degree program in world and international history at Columbia University and the London School of Economics. My thesis addressed the final years of colonialism in East Africa, 1953-63, in light of the completion of the Owen Falls Dam across the Victoria Nile in 1954.

I plan for my doctoral research to extend my master’s research to address the transition from colonialism to independence in East Africa, to narrate people’s experiences with the changing politics of the lake aside from those of a narrow class of development experts, and to be the first book-length study of Nile water politics to foreground changes in East Africa. I will focus on the change in environmental policy from one of swamp reclamation to one of wetland preservation, bookended by the dates 1954-1986. This change was happening globally at the time, but had uniquely wide-ranging significance in East Africa due to the position of the region at the source of the Nile.


For my project for the CHI fellowship, 2016-17, I will build a database to document and visualize economic and environmental changes in the Lake Victoria basin. The database will both inform my analysis and serve as a way to access freely information that I have collected in Africa, Europe, and North America – a vital issue in African studies, wherein research participants and other local people often lack access to research findings.

I participated in the HILT 2016 digital humanities training prior to joining CHI this year. At HILT, I learned about an array of programs and tools for analyzing and representing data digitally; the CHI fellowship continues my exposure to these approaches. I am especially interested in programs such as CartoDB, Cytoscape, and Google Fusion Tables. Network analysis programs like Cytoscape would enable me to analyze the dynamics of overlapping networks, including: the relevant scientific communities; government, activist, and other political actors; and relationships between political and scientific leaders. Programs such as CartoDB and Google Fusion Tables would let me map these networks, and the resources about which they communicated. Environmental history is highly amenable to such approaches, given its focus on space across time.

I intend to focus on data regarding water as well as the energy and commodity industries in the Lake Victoria region in the late colonial and early postcolonial eras. I will pull this data from sources that I digitized from African, American, and European archives. This corpus contains disparate information on economic variables, such as the inputs and outputs of different industries, as well as environmental variables, like rainfall and lake level. Creating the database will help me better understand the historical context I will research for my dissertation, by structuring these sources of data spatially and temporally.

I will be able to add to this database as my research advances. For example, this summer, I visited a number of different government scientific offices in East Africa and learned that many continue to update environmental records dating to the colonial era (with some gaps). In particular, there are long-standing government programs for hydrometeorology and limnology – two disciplines with major economic and political implications in the Lake Victoria basin. The database and skills that I will develop in the CHI program would help me to ascertain what scholarship I can and cannot produce based on such sources.

In particular, my work in CHI will advance two of my primary goals for my scholarship. First, it will help me represent changes in water and land use in East Africa in an integrated manner. Land politics are central in the historiography of East Africa, and water politics were integral in shaping land usage, e.g. agriculture, forestry, mining, and wildlife conservation. Yet, the relationship between land and water in the Nile basin has received little attention, and so our understanding is incomplete.

My second goal is to produce knowledge about changes in environmental policy that occurred during the transition from colonialism to independence. Historians of development, environmental politics, and water in this context have focused on projects started by colonial governments and continued into independence. Most depict continuity, emphasizing the power of the twinned discourses of development and modernization. Thus far, historians have tended to argue that postcolonial governments continued the forceful drive for modernization begun under colonial rulers without significant changes occurring. Yet, the history of Lake Victoria affords opportunities to study historical change in this context. For instance, the collapse of the East African Community in 1971 ended a number of long-standing organizations aimed at integrating economic, political, scientific, and other activity in the region. Additionally, the policy shift from swamp reclamation to wetland preservation has reversed the valence of state objectives regarding a key link between land and water. By focusing on the shift from reclamation to preservation, I will challenge the prevailing depiction of development and modernization in Africa as extensions of the colonial state. A database of economic and environmental data over time would make it easier to analyze these changes.

 

swayampr

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October 28, 2016

Changing Gears

October 28, 2016 | By | No Comments

When I first began thinking about a prospective CHI fellowship project, I wanted to map the Underground Railroad between Detroit and Windsor, specifically spatializing where and how people escaped. In the last few weeks however, I have begun to think about fundamentally changing my project. My primary reason for this is that I am studying 20th century US and Canadian history and feel that I would not be able to do justice to a project that is temporally so removed from my doctoral research.

Although the alternative has not fully germinated in my head, at this point I am gravitating towards understanding the impact of photographs on architecture and built form. Let me add a little context to this: I have been researching the Farm Security Administration’s photographs from the Great Depression era, in specific photographs that relate to the Resettlement Administration in their effort to relocate sharecroppers to other locations and break Poster of the Resettlement Administrationaway from land tenancy. Often criticized for being ‘socialist’ in its mindset, the Resettlement Administration made way for the Farm Security Administration.  Before that however, there was a proliferation of ‘company towns’ throughout the Unites States, thanks to the Resettlement Administration. At their peak in the 1930s, company towns housed about 2 million Americans, including as many as one in five adults in places like South Carolina. But most made way for the post World War II suburban sprawl.

These company towns embody a certain kind of welfare capitalism, in form and philosophy. Often built and designed in conjunction with large infrastructural projects such as the Tennessee Valley Authority’s dam projects. Often these towns claimed to use local materials, and embody a vernacular architectural form. For my CHI project then, as a preliminary thought, I would like to map these company towns in the South, especially in Tennessee. The company town, in the early decades of the 20th century, especially, represents a specific moment American history when welfare capitalism was able to dictate every aspect of life.Often, these company towns were a response to a certain kind of industry, and thus supported specific kinds of industries and transport infrastructure. I think digital tools, provided through open-source platforms Github, Leaflet, and Mapbox, and enhanced through JavaScript programming will help spatialize these company towns in novel ways. Specifically, I think an interactive map of these company towns placed in a larger regional context will help tease out relationships of these urban forms with other New Deal infrastructural projects, such as large dams. In specific, it might help us question the model of the company town itself. Refreshments concession inside the Norris visitors' building

Some of the projects that guide my evolving project are:

  1. How can digital tools be used to spatialize historical data? Specifically, how can we use digital mapping to tell an effective story of company town planning and form?
  2. How might it be possible to integrate the FSA photographs with the plans of company towns? What will this tell us about the ways in which the Great Depression was represented in popular culture?
  3. How might we re-think the suburban sprawl in relation to these company towns and big infrastructure?

While the specifics of my project are still being worked out, I would like to point out the ways in which I think digital tools are especially useful in redefining scale and impact of my project:

  1. Digital tools, especially GIS have helped re-open spatial questions across disciplines, but especially in History. Indeed, by scraping spatial data from archives, researchers can address a variety of questions. These tools help researchers ask old questions anew with greater analytical depth and context.
  2. Through spatializing and visualizing data, these tools help tease out connections that might have otherwise seemed latent. Visualization of data is an underused tool, in my reading, especially in the humanities. Just being able to see things on a large canvas often times makes connections far more explicit.
  3. Interactive interface. To me, the most exciting part of the project is the ability to design a user interface that lets the user interact with historical act in tactile ways. In a sense, a well thought out and designed interface can help the archival material speak for itself.

And now, I will go back to figuring out the specifics of my project. Any feedback/inputs/comments are always welcome!