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Cody M

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March 6, 2018

LGBTQ Video Game Archive Preservation Update

March 6, 2018 | By | No Comments

As I’ve mentioned in past blog posts, I’ve been working with the LGBTQ Video Game Archive, founded by Adrienne Shaw at Temple University, to record and preserve cases of LGBTQ representation in video games since the 1980s. One of the difficulties the Archive has faced in recent years has been the ephemeral nature of many of the digital sources the Archive draws on to provide evidence and information for its entries. Many of these sources are blogs, personal websites, or social media posts, and as soon as their creators stop maintaining them they can disappear suddenly. An example of this was gaygamer.net, a website for LGBTQ players to discuss games and gaming cultures that went dark without notice in May 2016.

To help prevent the loss of queer representation and culture in games, the Archive has been storing copies of the sources its entries draw on for storage at the Strong National Museum of Play. For this blog, I thought I’d lay out the process I’ve been using to do that copying/storing/preserving, and to welcome suggestions for how to improve the process in the future!

The first step of the process is saving all of the webpages that the Archive uses as HTML files.We’ve organized these sources according to type (article, blog, etc.), and I plug the list of URLs for these pages into Chrome Download Manager, a Chrome extension that downloads each URL as a HTML file. Chrome Download Manager makes it easy to do this in large batches, and allows one to designate the filename convention for the resulting HTML files. I usually save them as *URL*.html, where *URL* in each case is the source’s URL. This helps keep them in a specific order to it’s easy to rename them and store them.

Once I have all the HTML files, I first rename them to a simple unique identifier. Something like, A1, A2, A3, etc. for articles, and so on. I then use a Mac Automator script to convert all of them to PDF files (the Strong Museum’s preferred file format for preservation).

This process has made it relatively easy—and fast!—to store sources as both HTML and PDF files. There are a few hiccups usually in doing this with large batches of files, specifically with converting HTML to PDF. But in general it’s easy to fix those issues and to have quality PDFs on the other side. For videos, I’ve been using Youtube-dl, a command-line tool for downloading videos from URLs.

While this process isn’t perfect, it’s functional, and it doesn’t require individually downloading each and every source. If you have suggestions for how to improve on the process (or have gotten wkhtmltopdf, another command line tool, to be more cooperative), please contact me!

ellio252

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February 13, 2018

Introducing the Basics of My Website!

February 13, 2018 | By | No Comments

Since returning for the spring semester, I have been hard at work on getting my website up and running. As I have discussed previously, my website focuses on urbanization and migration to Moscow from other parts of the former Soviet Union from 1970 to the present. Today, Moscow is a world capital with designer boutiques and Michelin rated restaurants, but its socialist past is still visible from the metro system to its prefabricated apartment blocks. In The Communist Manifesto, Marx argues that bourgeois industrialization saved peasants from “the idiocy of rural life.” The 1970 Soviet census recorded that for the first time, more Soviet citizens lived in urban centers than rural ones. Soviet demographers, geographers, and others argued that this “urbanity” symbolized the ultimate success of socialism in the Soviet Union. This website examines Soviet urbanity as it existed and developed in the last two decades of the Soviet Union, tracing its afterlife in present-day Moscow. Drawing upon the research of scholars of second world urbanity, the website demonstrates how the Soviet project of building socialism focused on making citizens both urban and urbane. The socialist city was, in short, a social contract with its residents, providing them with their basic needs.

This website uses temporary labor migration to explore what urban and urbanity meant and still means in Moscow and interrogate who reaped the benefits of the (post)-socialist city. The website will showcase several essays that explain: (1) the centrality of Moscow for access to goods and services; (2) the process of temporary labor migration; and (3) the outcomes and consequences of migration for migrants, Muscovites, and the city itself. The website focuses on the trajectories of 4 locations: the Olympic Village, the Olympic Center, the Likhachev Automobile Factory, and the Lenin Komsomol Automobile Factory. The latter two were built by migrants, and the third employed several thousand migrant laborers. All three have left important traces in Moscow today, offering housing and cultural centers.

This project has two main areas of importance. First, it provides a case study of temporary labor migration, comparing socialist and capitalist practices. Crossing the Soviet and post-Soviet divide is a comparison itself that elucidates what is unique and what is not to socialism. Moreover, this website provides information that will allow others to make comparisons with other guest worker and postcolonial migration patterns. Second, this website both preserves and explains the history of Moscow. Projects for building new apartments and updating infrastructure for the World Cup are recreating and erasing the Soviet legacy. This website explains movement toward these goals while providing a repository of information on part of Moscow’s past.

The website will consist of a landing page that outlines the history of labor migration to Moscow and its economic and social outcomes from 1971 to 2002. The landing page will also host an interactive timeline of events related to population growth, labor migration, and larger events in Soviet history. The website will have five subsequent pages that will each address: (1) the practice of allocating labor in the Soviet Union; (2) changing demographics and borders of Moscow; (3) perceptions of migrants; (4) the history of labor migration related to automobile factories in Moscow; and (5) the history of labor migration related to the Olympics. Each page will act as a stand-alone historical analytical essay that elucidates a specific aspect of temporary labor migration to Moscow through text and interactive elements.

Page one will host two maps, one of the Soviet Union and one of Moscow, illustrating where migrants left and where they worked in Moscow. Page two will consist of four line graphs that will illustrate changing birth, death, migration, and population growth rates in Moscow. Page three will have a line graph to illustrate the changing places of origin for migrants. Pages four and five will show photographs that I have taken.

The website will use a multipage bootstrap to host the various website pages. For the timeline on the landing page, I will use Knight Lab since it allows me to use my own pictures and to illustrate 3 distinct timelines of population change, labor migration, and other events in Soviet history.

For the map on the first page that describes the history of labor migration to Moscow, I will use leaflet.js to construct a map that shows the 15 largest migrant-sending regions of the Soviet Union. Each pop-up will contain the area’s population in each census year (1970, 1979, 1989, 2002, 2010) as well as the number of migrants sent to Moscow in those years. I will also construct a map of Moscow that shows the 12 largest migrant-employing enterprises, and each pop-up will provide information on how many migrants worked there, the size of the overall workforce, and the type of work done at each location.

For the graphs that will chart the changes in birth rates, death rates, migration rates, overall growth of the city, and changing place of origin from 1970 to the present, I will use AM Charts, with Frappe being my backup. I opt to use either because they provide pop-ups that include data information and an explanation if necessary.

 

carlinek

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January 23, 2018

Starting my project: Mapping Consumers in the Black South African Press

January 23, 2018 | By | No Comments

For the next four months of the CHI Fellowship, I will be building my project, provisionally titled Mapping Consumers in the Black South African Press.

As I’ve discussed in previous posts, I’m interested in what we can learn about consumer culture — both the consumption that companies wanted to promote, and the individual values of consumers themselves — through testimonial advertisements in early twentieth-century South Africa.

Project Description

This project will create maps of data that I have already collected, and will continue to collect, from testimonial advertisements and write-in competitions in newspapers. I have already collected data from Umlindi we Nyanga (1934-1943). I will also collect data from Bantu World, (founded in 1932) the black newspaper with the largest circulation in the mid-twentieth century. I will collect data from the World from 1932 to 1953 (the end of the paper’s first editorship by RV Selope-Thema).

The outcome will be a website. The main feature of the website will be an interactive map. The map will display pins marking the location of consumers who appear in testimonials. It will allow users to interact with the data in terms of chronology, geography, and other factors (gender of the writer if stated, what language the advertisement is in). The website will also have contextual short essays about each of the newspapers.

URL: mappingconsumers.matrix.msu.edu

Functionality & Technology

Functionality: The home page will contain a description of the project. The navigation bar will link to three other pages:

  1. The interactive map
  2. A description of my workflow and data collection process, as well as my actual data files (.csv files)
  3. About and contact page

Technology: The website will be built using a Bootstrap template. The main technology on the website will be the map. I will build the map with Bootleaf. At the moment, my working plan is to use a Leaflet map tileset, although if I can find an appropriate historical map I will create my own tileset.

My .csv data files will be converted into GeoJSON files.I will create a different dataset for each newspaper that I collect from. Users of the map will then be able to choose one or both datasets to display. The datasets themselves can also be filtered for different variables (date, product).

Right now, I’ve finished collecting and organizing my data, and now I’m at work tinkering with the Bootleaf code to make it meet my needs.

Jack Biggs

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December 11, 2017

Digital Narratives of The Disappeared

December 11, 2017 | By | No Comments

Since I’m a returning CHI Fellow for this school year, I wanted to do something quite different compared to my project from last school year. That previous project is called J-Skel and it is an online juvenile skeletal age estimator. That project focused more on the scientific side of things and was intended to be useful in an instruction or classroom setting or to be used as a reference for those who are estimating the age-at-death of juvenile skeletons. Although this is a useful tool for those in the field of human osteology, it is not as applicable to people in everyday life. For this year’s project, I wanted to tackle something both technically and culturally disparate, but first, a quick backstory to explain the impetus behind this new project.

As a bioarchaeologist studying the ancient Maya at MSU, my advisor (Dr. Gabriel Wrobel) runs an ancient Maya Archaeology and Bioarchaeology Fieldschool every year called the Central Belize Archaeological Survey (or CBAS) in Central Belize, about 20 km south of the capital city of Belmopan. As a graduate student, I supervise excavations at the rockshelter sites we dig, as well as give lectures to the students and to the general public if they wish to attend. This year, I lectured over the final segment of Maya prehistory through the Colonial Period and ended with the Guatemalan Civil War that resulted in the genocide of Modern Maya people and the destruction of villages during the late 1970s and early 80s that resulted in the systematic targeting and death of over 200,000 indigenous Maya. As I gave this lecture, none of the students had ever heard of the Guatemalan genocide – also known as the Silent Holocaust. I found this to be somewhat of a disservice that none of them had ever been told about these events. It is because of this that I decided to do my project over the Silent Holocaust.

I want this year’s project to be targeting a much wider audience than my last project and to also take on a cultural and civic justice direction. The Guatemalan Army systematically targeted and eliminated poor indigenous communities in the Guatemalan Highlands, where most of the Modern Maya reside today. Because these peoples mostly speak their own regional variations of Mayan languages and because they have been without a voice since the Spanish conquest in the 1500s, this ethnic cleansing has received far less attention than many others. Families were separated and murdered and entire villages were wiped off the map. It is because of this that I want to inform, or further inform, people about these atrocities that should not be silenced.

Victims and members of the ‘Disappeared’ from the Guatemalan Civil War, Image source: https://espressostalinist.com/genocide/guatemalan-genocide/

In order to make this a project with more of a cultural impact, I plan on creating an interactive map that will allow users to track different journeys concerning the genocide, such as personal journeys or testimonies about fleeing and/or surviving, villages that were attacked, villages that were completely razed, events of social outcry in the major cities, modern-day efforts to commemorate and remember, etc. Although this is not an as well known series of events as other genocides such, as the Holocaust or the Massacre at Srebrenica, it has been heavily researched and there are data out there. I plan on using resources that are publicly available to craft and guide my website so as to be as effective and accurate as possible.

Theoretically, this will not be as technically challenging as my last project (knock on wood) since at that time, I had little knowledge of how to code and interact with different coding languages. Though I’m still not an expert in any sense of the word on coding, I think this will be easier due to my gained knowledge from last year – a pleasantly challenging experience. However, I plan on using at least three new (for me) and different tools this year: Knight Lab StoryMap and Timeline as well as possibly Frappe in order to tell these narratives and help visualize the data. Part of this project isn’t just to inform the general public about events that should not be forgotten, but also to inform me as I will be adding in content as I discover it and I’m excited to go on that journey.

carlinek

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December 8, 2017

A captive audience or canny consumers? The stakes in studying advertisements in South African history

December 8, 2017 | By | No Comments

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, the project I’ll be developing over the next year is about advertising in South Africa’s early-twentieth century black press.

But how should scholars and people interested in South African cultural heritage understand the advertisements created by white-owned companies and marketed to black consumers whose consumption choices were, for most of the century, very limited by segregation and apartheid legislation. An enthusiastic editorial announcement in the first edition of the Cape Town newspaper Inkokeli ya Bantu sums up the way that newspaper owners saw newspaper-publishing as a way to get Africans to buy more products:

“It is a known fact in many quarters that the potential market of this country has not yet been scratched. Many articles produced and manufactured in South Africa have become, with the advance of civilisation, “Essentials and Necessities” to the Bantu People. These Products go begging for lack of proper methods of exploitation of that market, or for lack of correct methods how best to bring to the notice of the Bantu the value of these Products.”[1]

One of the early scholars of the black press argued that readers of commercial newspapers were a “captive audience.”[2] Scholars today continue to discuss and debate the hegeomonic power of advertisement, and/or the ways that advertisements were part of “repertoire-formation” for aspirant middle-class buyers.[3]

I don’t see my project as necessarily solving this debate. Rather, by collecting and presenting aggregate information about advertisements, my project will increase what we can know about who consumers were, where they lived, how they represented themselves, and how advertisers wanted to imagine exemplary consumers.

 

 

 

 

[1] Inkokeli ya Bantu, November 1940.

[2] Les Switzer, “Bantu World and the Origins of a Captive African Commercial Press in South Africa,” Journal of Southern African Studies 14, no. 3 (1988): 351–70.

[3] Nhlanhla Maake, “Archetyping Race, Gender, and Class: The Bantu World and the World from the 1930s to 90s,” TD: The Journal for Transdisciplinary Research in Southern Africa 2, no. 1 (2006): 1–22; Sonja Laden, “Who’s Afraid of a Black Bourgeoisie?: Consumer Magazines for Black South Africans as an Apparatus of Change,” Journal of Consumer Culture 3, no. 2 (July 1, 2003): 191–216.

ellio252

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December 5, 2017

Visualizing Change Over Time in the Digital Humanities

December 5, 2017 | By | No Comments

My blog posts thus far have focused on illustrating change over time in some way, shape, or form given that my project grapples with the relationship between Soviet and post-Soviet. My second blog addressed the shortfalls for mapping demonstrating change over time. My most recent blog post discussed how to illustrate changing migration policies and their implications. While I concluded that I had pictures from my research trip to Moscow, I concluded that I needed to explore more ways to show change over time. Our last rapid development challenge reminded me that I had ignored the historian’s most obvious tool: a timeline.

Our last rapid development challenge asked us to visualize data using a JavaScript framework, and we opted to use a timeline to track the addition of locations in China to the UNESCO world heritage sites list. We opted to use the timeline framework provided by Knight Lab. The framework was extremely user friendly. Users can download a pre-formatted Google Doc and insert their data into it. For the data, we were able to note the year in which a specific site was added to the UNESCO list, a brief description of the site, and a photograph. Moreover, we could distinguish variables, so the timeline differentiated among cultural, natural, and mixed heritage sites.

It seems comical that, as a historian, I ignored a timeline as a tool for my website. My proposed timeline on my website will cover major historical events in the Soviet Union, demographic changes, and developments related to labor migration from 1970 to the present. Although I plan to label all three as separate categories, visualizing all three trends together will help both the users and me conceptualize the interplay among migration policies, actual population movement, and broader trends in Soviet history. For example, as birthrates leveled off and death rates began to increase in the late 1970s, officials in Moscow implemented new means of recruiting and organizing laborers. While Mikhail Gorbachev’s policy of glasnost’ encouraged openness and freedom, including freedom of mobility, perestroika, or the restructuring of the command economy, acted counter-initiatively to this principle. Economic liberalization and privatization led to increasing rates of unemployment in Moscow and a temporary hiatus of hiring workers from outside the city on a temporary basis. A timeline links all of these various elements into one visual plane for users to understand migration in context, not in a vacuum.

I also plan to use line graphs to illustrate the changes in rates of births, deaths, and migration. While working in the Central State Archives of the City of Moscow, I collected statistics for each year from 1971 to 2002. Although I am aware of the larger trends in population changes, I hope that graphs will help me in locating smaller shifts and explaining unexpected drops and rises. I proposed for one page on my website to contain graphs for each of these factors and below, I will place my analysis to explain these changes. It is my ultimate hope that visualizing change over time will help not only webpage users but me as I make sense of my research.

Julia DeCook

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December 1, 2017

User Generated Archives as Sites of Knowledge

December 1, 2017 | By | No Comments

The cliché of “the Internet never forgets” and my own work has gotten me thinking about how the Internet itself and its functionalities serve as a giant archive for the netizens that inhabit it. Even if the materials themselves aren’t necessarily being carefully selected, curated, and organized according to archival logic, the way that the Internet allows for users to generate their own content and have it exist for as long as that platform does (or if they choose to remove it) positions it as just one large archive with different sections and materials.

Of course, there is the Internet Archive, whose sole purpose is to share access to materials like books, movies, etc. as well as billions and billions of web pages. But the Internet Archive is just one kind of archive, and it seems as though it serves as more of a catch-all place to remember as opposed to some user-generated communities and archives that serve as a space of socialization. Reading Doreen Lee’s book Activist Archives and then seeing materials on FemTechNet and even smaller subreddits that create their own archives for their members to access, reference, and use to help maintain a political movement is what I want to focus more of my attention on.

How do we conceptualize archive in a place where the very modality of communication and sharing can be thought of as an archive itself? When we think about our own bodies and experiences, do we in our minds maintain an archive of ourselves? In what way are political movements using net-based archives for their cause, and how are they being used to socialize (and sometimes indoctrinate) old and new members? In a lot of ways, I guess the Internet and user-generated archives disrupt previously held conceptions of what an archive is and how it “should” be organized and how it should serve others. One commendation of the Internet was how it would serve as a space to democratize knowledge, but if the epistemic violence that exists in [particularly colonial] archives just follows us from the physical to the digital, is this really knowledge democratization or does it just reifies social institutions that already exist?

I’m not going to say that the Internet hasn’t given people access to unprecedented amounts of knowledge – of course it has – but beginning to analyze Internet archives as merely mirrors to already existing archival logic has made me think of the many ways in which the Internet is a space that is embedded with its own biases in how it is developed and maintained. Is knowledge really democratized when it’s inaccessible by most of the world? Is knowledge really “more” accessible when it functions similarly to “physical” archives in that there are still gatekeepers, violence, and oppression that lie underneath the surface of a “free and open” space?

As it has been said time and time again, for those of us in the world who are on the Internet, the Internet is merely a reflection of social actors and does not exist as a separate space – even though it does provide the affordance of being able to transcend space and time for human interaction and access to events, knowledge, etc. But the Internet, like the archive, is built upon a certain kind of logic that privileges certain kinds of knowledge above others, and algorithms function in this regard as well because they are made by people. Has it made knowledge more accessible? I guess it depends on what kind of knowledge we’re talking about.

Julia DeCook

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November 10, 2017

Ethics of digital data collection: The debate continues

November 10, 2017 | By | No Comments

The conversation around digital data collection and ethics behind it often default to rules/laws that exist in “face-to-face” data collection: if it’s in a public arena, then the rules are the same for observing people in physical public spaces. However, as many within the realm of digital data know, the idea of “public” can vary in the virtual sphere, and further, questions have been raised whether or not we as researchers have the right to use posts and other digital artifacts posted by users if they posted them without the intention of the posts being discovered and used without their consent by researchers. Basically, if someone knew that eventually their content would be used in research, would they have posted it at all? It’s the digital Hawthorne Effect.

This brings up a few issues with the approach of studying online communities, particularly on Reddit where they have the option to go private and the larger issue of there being Discord Servers, IRC channels, Slack channels, etc. where the members congregate. This then brings up the issue of gaining consent from every single member that frequents those closed access communities, and even on Facebook there are a number of closed groups that require membership to view their content. Although we can all agree that when something is closed it is no longer in the “public sphere” of the Internet, there’s one thing that I’ve grappled with in terms of looking for things using hashtags – if I happen to come across, say, an Instagram account because they used a hashtag once, can I then look at their account and use other posts by them if there are no hashtags on any of their other posts?

Basically – is visibility and “searchable”-ness (through hashtags) a facet of what constitutes “public” data, or is the mere fact that the account itself is public (i.e., not locked down and private) sufficient? If it doesn’t have a hashtag, does it exist in the public sphere?

Digital research can become incredibly messy, not just because of the types of content that exist online that help to paint a picture of social and cultural life through multiple modalities, but also because of the questions of ethics that arise throughout these processes. Postill and Pink (2012) talk about “hashtag sociality” in their work discussing ethnographies in virtual environments, and that hashtags are not merely a part of online culture but serve as an organizing function for topics like a web forum does (Solis, 2011). This still complicates my earlier question in whether or not content from an account that has hashtags on some posts but not others are still “public”.

The Intenet as a public sphere has been a topic of discussion for decades now, but laws surrounding internet privacy and mobility still challenge the status of “public-ness” and “open-ness” that the Internet is typically known for. It is more complex, and because of its ever-changing nature, constantly being differentiated from traditional notions of public-ness.

Hashtags are now ubiquitous in online interactions, and may be complicating some of the questions of ethics surrounding what data is “open” and “public” and what is not. I wonder where these conversations surrounding digital data ethics will go, especially since now there are so many concerns about how so much of our lives have gone digital and the risk of privacy involved in using this data in research without the person’s knowledge (not necessarily consent, but maybe even consent). There are clear and defined expectations and rules for what is public and private (open versus closed group), but what is someone just posts something without granting it discoverable markers? Is it still public then? I don’t know if this adds an unnecessary complciation to the ethics debate, but it is one that I’ve been curious about throughout my own research.

Nicole Raslich

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November 9, 2017

Maps and Landscapes

November 9, 2017 | By | One Comment

Having completed a recent digital mapping exercise in CHI, maps and digitization has been a part of my daily thought process for several weeks now. As a kid, I always loved maps. I would stare at them and dream about all the places I wanted to go and the adventures I would have. An entire wall of my bedroom was a large map of the United States, by large I mean at least 6’ x 5’, from the Air Force. It was so fun to stand on my bed and read the names of cities all over the country and see where Air Force bases were located. As an adult, whenever I travel to a new country, a map is the first thing I order to take with me or buy when I land. I have a collection of atlases and maps from everywhere I have traveled, including historic maps of some foreign countries I have been too. My office walls are full of antique map and globes. I even enjoy maps from places that are not real.

For our mapping project, we did the land of Middle Earth and mapped the journey of Frodo and Bilbo, overlapping various points throughout the stories where they intersect. This lead to me thinking about other kinds of maps I use. Being an avid gamer, one of the most important features of any game, is the map. Any massive multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG) requires the use of a map, that’s why it is so important to explore the realms and reveal the map on any game. Even on racing games, a map is essential. The evolution of landscapes, both digital and real are fascinating to look at through topography and cartography. If anyone has ever seen a map of Michigan from the 1600’s, you find it looks like a weird, triangular piece of earth, jutting into the lake.

map of michigan 1600's

Click here for more information about this map.

This looks nothing like the beautiful mitten we all know and love today (unless you’re from Wisconsin maybe).

xray of michigan and wisconsin

 

Click here to learn more about the real mitten state.

Our sense of self-identity is tied to maps and the landscapes we consider home. What do you say when someone asks, ‘Where are you from?’ What image does this question bring to mind? Now this brings me to something I am excited about. At BlizzCon recently, the new World of Warcraft expansion was announced, complete with trailers and new maps.

Much like our own cartography, the maps of our MMORPG’s change and evolve with new continents being discovered. This expansion shows to be no different (Expansion News). Those of us that have played WoW since it’s early beta days in 2003, know all too well the familiar terrains of Azeroth and are only too excited to explore the new lands opened with each expansion. As a player, you become familiar with the capital cities, the paths there and the various terrains and animals encountered in each. We know intimately the homeland of our chosen race and the home continent of our allegiance, be it Horde or Alliance, much as we know the familiar stomping grounds of our physical homelands. These digital landscapes change as much as our own physical ones through time. Compare Azeroth here at the origin of WoW, in the days of old when we could only travel via foot, flight path or boat.

map of azeroth

Here you see the map as it looks now, six expansions later.

draenor world map

As the game has evolved over time, new continents have been revealed along with new races on these inhabited lands, much like the coast of Michigan. This entire train of consciousness has been brought on because the Thanksgiving holiday is quickly approaching, and I hope to have time to flee back into my favorite digital and/or physical glades be they in the eastern Kingdoms, Kalimdor, the Upper Peninsula or somewhere new.

The landscapes we inhabit are our home. We become used to them as we travel the slopes and explore the depths of the worlds around us and sometimes fail to notice the small changes that take place until we are away for a significant time. Over the U.S. holiday, take the time to enjoy your homelands and their associated families, both digital and physical. Notice the landscape both beneath your fingers and feet and appreciate their beauty. Happy Thanksgiving!

For Azeroth!

ellio252

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October 30, 2017

Mapping Moscow’s Past and Present

October 30, 2017 | By | No Comments

For the last several weeks, the CHI fellows have been working on a mapping challenge, in which we have made maps with a specific theme, complete with pop-ups. For my final project, I too hope to have a map to illustrate the locations of Soviet factories and dormitories, while my overall project will examine the relationship between Soviet and post-Soviet, socialist and capitalist. Working on our mapping challenge has made me consider the benefits as well as the limitations of using maps to illustrate how Moscow has changed from the 1970s to today.

The Russian Army Theater (formerly the Soviet Army Theater), located on the Street of the Soviet Army.

During the Soviet period, Soviet socialism was inscribed into the landscape. Streets and squares had names like “the 50th Anniversary of October” and “Dzerzhinsky,” referring to the surname of the first director of the Soviet secret police. Street names constantly reminded citizens of their collective history from the Great October Revolution to victory in the Great Patriotic War, the name given to the Soviet Union’s fight against Nazi Germany in the Second World War. Many Soviet names remain in Moscow. I lived on October Street, a name that denotes the month of the Bolshevik victory over the Provisional Government in 1917. Soviet street names, it is worth noting, replaced tsarist ones. My street had previously been Alexander Street in honor of three of the Romanov tsars. Renaming streets not only served as a reminder of a shared Soviet history but also replaced the previous imperialist one.

The landscape of Moscow has also evolved since 1971, the year in which my research project begins. First, the borders of Moscow have expanded. In 1961, the Moscow Automobile Ring Road opened, demarcating the official boundaries of the capital. Since then, what were once “sleeping suburbs” outside of the Ring Road became neighborhoods of the capital. Second, the advent of capitalism in the former Soviet Union has also refashioned the appearance of streets. Designer shops now line Tverskaya Street the main drag heading north of the Kremlin, and shopping malls have emerged throughout the city. Since the early 1990s, tiny kiosks that served as grocery stores and cafes sprouted up on sidewalks and in alleyways until they were demolished in early 2016. Third, and perhaps most dramatically, new high rises are replacing older Soviet apartment buildings, inciting both the ire and support of Muscovites.

Maps have the power to shape reality, but which reality will I show? Simply comparing the Soviet and post-Soviet periods can obscure the over 25 years that separate the end of the Soviet experiment from today. The kiosks which shade my memories of my first trips to Moscow would be lost in a then-and-now comparison, but they played an important role in Moscow’s post-Soiet history. Maps can also only show so much. Even if Moscow’s landscape is decidedly market-oriented today, red stars and hammers and sickles also adorn that same space.