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September 20, 2018

CHI Fellow: Lauren Elizabeth

September 20, 2018 | By | No Comments

I am Lauren Elizabeth (LJ) and I am a third-year PhD student in the Curriculum, Instruction and Teacher Education program. My research interests currently include considerations of the cultural epistemologies of New Orleans Black women and youth, Black feminist geographies, storytelling, and English Education. Narratives and stories are essential to my work, if not the work itself, and so I believe that the CHI fellowship will be an invaluable learning experience.

Prior to my time at MSU, I received my Master’s while also working as a Secondary English and Literacy teacher. Working with youth was a constant reminder of digital space and the critical conversations being had already by youth, as well as those that needed to be had by schools.

Because my work is informed by various disciplines and epistemologies, I am not only interested in how I synthesize my project(s), but I am also intrigued by the process, especially the exploration of crafting digital narratives and the ethics involved. This includes critical conversations concerning (at times violent) sociohistorical legacies of archives, mapping, and the representation of particular communities. I also hope to began a deeper exploration of my own pedagogical stances, such as “What is access and whom is it for?” What does it mean to digitize a story—especially when we think of authorship, agency, and ownership? Who are the mappers and cartographers—the meaning-makers of a place? While I do not plan to answer all of these questions or neatly tease them out within the year, I hope that as a CHI graduate fellow of the 2018-2019 cohort, I will be able to attend to these possibilities and tensions.



September 20, 2018

Dave Glovsky: Better late than never

September 20, 2018 | By | No Comments

I am in my sixth and final year in the History Department at MSU. I spent almost two of those years overseas conducting research on rural communities in four West African countries: Senegal, Gambia, Guinea-Bissau, and Guinea. I spent most of a year talking with farmers, herders, and traders about cross-border movement and migration, exploring what these cross-border relationships tell us about life in these twentieth and twenty-first century borderlands. My interest in these rural communities stems out of two years I spent as a Peace Corps Volunteer in a small town in southern Senegal, located near Gambia, Guinea-Bissau, and Guinea.

So how did I end up as a CHI Fellow? I thought about applying to CHI before, but was unable to do so because I haven’t spent both semesters on campus at MSU for three years. I also wanted to wait until I had actual data collected that I could apply to this fellowship. I plan to use the next year to add a digital component to my dissertation, visually tracing how individuals and communities crossed borders to create a larger space outside of the control of colonial and post-colonial West African governments. As an educator, I find students are increasingly interested in digital tools to gain and produce knowledge.

Additionally, maps have fascinated me since I was a child. They provide a template that people can understand in a way that explaining work through text cannot always do. This is particularly true when tracing how, when, and where people moved. Explaining that someone moved from Guinea to Gambia means almost nothing to 99.99% of Americans. But when a map represents that movement, it becomes comprehendible. After having conducted 200+ interviews in over 100 communities, I am ready to gain the technical know-how to put my research online, not just for people in the U.S., but for the communities I worked with in West Africa while conducting research. Check back at the end of the year to see how well I did!

You can follow me on twitter at @glovsky, where I post mostly about West Africa.



September 13, 2018

Why the CHI Fellowship? – Erica

September 13, 2018 | By | No Comments

Digital humanities is experiencing a growing presence in history, but many historians are reluctant to embrace it as more than a method for storing their research or creating graphs. While compiling a digital archive is an important component of the modern historian’s repertoire, myriad digital tools exist to enhance research, presentation, and dissemination. I believe that by ignoring these digital methods, many academics are restricting their potential, both individually and their ability to collaborate with other scholars. So for me personally CHI is an opportunity to locate like-minded scholars, and connect with the academics who are utilizing and developing digital tools.

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May 2, 2018

Introducing “Moscow: The Corner of Communism and Capitalism”

May 2, 2018 | By | No Comments

Today, I officially launch my website, “Moscow: The Corner of Communism and Capitalism,” which uses my dissertation on temporary labor migration to Moscow to examine the interplay between communism and capitalism in Moscow. The project stemmed from both my dissertation research and my observations while living in Moscow. I was always struck by seeing the interplay of the Soviet socialist past and the Russian capitalist present in the architecture as I walked around Moscow. Moreover, I could see the logical outcomes of my dissertation topic spray painted on the concrete as advertisements for dormitory rooms and posted on fences as calls for temporary jobs that came with registration.

My website’s landing page provides an historical overview of temporary labor migration to Moscow, tracing the origins of these practices to end of the nineteenth century. In the imperial period, peasants made their way to the capital to work in factories and send cash, needed for redemption payments, back to families. The opening essay also introduces the Soviet internal passport and domicile registration systems that governed rural to urban migration from 1932 to the end of the Soviet Union. A timeline then provides information on the development of Moscow, as seen through the lens of temporary labor migration and population growth, from 1971 to 2002. The second page explains the changing places of origins of migrants and provides a map. While migrants originally arrived from the areas near Moscow, the near complete depletion of the youthful rural population meant migrants from Siberia, the other republics of the Soviet Union, and even countries beyond the borders of the former Soviet Union replaced arrived in larger numbers from the mid-1980s onward.

The next two pages use a series of graphs to explain population change. The first of these pages explains the centrality of migration to population growth by providing information on birth and death rates as well as the tempo of migration to the capital. If births provided 10,000 new residents annually, migration provided 50,000 to 70,000. The following page looks at the reception of migrants in the capital, paying particular attention to nationality and the changing role of citizenship. The last two pages are case studies – one of automobile factories, the other of the Olympics – of work places in which migrants dominated. I also explain the afterlife of these locations in the post-Soviet period.

It is my hope that my website will provoke its users to consider several important questions, such as the (dis)continuities between the Soviet and post-Soviet periods as well as the Soviet Union’s relationship to the history of postwar Europe, particularly in regards to migration. Before at last introducing my website, I must thank several people. Ethan Watrall, the director of the Cultural Heritage Informatics Program, and this year’s cohort of CHI fellows have helped me every step of the way. My advisor, Lewis Siegelbaum, has helped me conceptualize the research that I display here (and has also written extensively on the car factories that I discuss on my website). Lastly, Ramya Swayamprakash encouraged me to apply for the CHI Fellowship after sharing her positive experiences as a CHI Fellow in the 2016-2017 academic year.

Without any further ago, I give you “Moscow: The Corner of Communism and Capitalism”:

Cody M


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, 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!



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.




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.


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


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:

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.



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.



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.