I’m sitting down to tackle my introduction, and wanted to say something specific about the timeline for famine philanthropy. Tableau helped to track the total number of donors by organization. This is a better measure than the total amount of donations – at least until I go back and standardize British pounds and U.S. dollars, but it gives a good sense of time timeline of relief.
I wanted to work through the NYPL’s mapping tutorial, so I built this. Still working on color coding the markers for different themes, but they can be toggled via the drop-down menu in the upper right hand corner.
I’m teaching a class on early American communication technology/introduction to digital history next (almost this!) semester. For one of the early classes, I wanted to drive home how books (and pens and paper and presses etc.) fit into a history of technology. While there are some great theoretical articles on book-as-tech, I ended up going with an extended quotation from Jasper Fforde’sThe Well of Lost Plots, on the genealogy of books – and then I made an infographic:
“First there was OralTrad, upgraded ten thousand years later by the rhyming (for easier recall) OralTradPlus. For thousands of years this was the only Story Operating System and it is still in use today. The system branched in two about twenty thousand years ago; on one side with CaveDaub Pro (forerunner of Paint Plus V2.3, GrecianUrn VI.2, Sculpt- Marble VI.4 and the latest, all-encompassing Super Artistic Expression-5). The other strand, the Picto-Phonetic Storytelling Systems, started with ClayTablet V2.1 and went through several competing systems (Wax-Tablet, Papyrus, VellumPlus) before merging into the award-winning SCROLL, which was upgraded eight times to V3.5 before being swept aside by the all new and clearly superior BOOK VI. Stable, easy to store and transport, compact and with a workable index, BOOK has led the way for nearly eighteen hundred years.
When we first came up with the ‘page’ concept in BOOK VI, we thought we’d reached the zenith of story containment — compact, easy to read, and by using integrated PageNumberTM and SpineTitleTM technologies, we had a system of indexing far superior to anything SCROLL could offer. Over the years . . . . we have been refining the BOOK system. Illustrations were the first upgrade at 1.1, standardized spelling at V3.1 and vowel and irregular verb stability in V4.2. Today we use BOOK V8.3, one of the most stable and complex imaginotransference technologies ever devised — the smooth transfer of the written word into the reader’s imagination has never been faster.”
Perhaps it’s just that reading organizational records means more bureaucracy than I’m generally used to, but I’ve been intrigued by entries in the monthly meeting minutes of the Philadelphia Society of Friends that report on general levels of attendance at meetings throughout the week. I’ve just moved on to the yearly meeting, and found that those reports were aggregated, with the conclusion “The hour is generally well observed. All the meetings notice instances of sleeping, but in other respects little unbecoming behavior.”
I’ve been writing/learning to write history for a bit now, but I don’t think that I’ve ever been as aware of my language as I am this semester teaching American history. I find myself, more and more, using North America in my U.S. survey, in part because the borders of the United States shifted so quickly in the 19th century that what counted as outside of the United States one year mightn’t be the next. But also, I think that orally centering North America reminds students that United States history does not consist of the inexorable filling of the borders we have today. If I weren’t already worried that I too-often reference cultural products that my students can’t relate to, I might ask them to think about how this Douglas Adams quotation, which actually describes Adams’s concerns about humans’ ideas about their place in the universe, can apply to our understanding of American westward expansion:
“This is rather as if you imagine a puddle waking up one morning and thinking, ‘This is an interesting world I find myself in — an interesting hole I find myself in — fits me rather neatly, doesn’t it? In fact it fits me staggeringly well, must have been made to have me in it!’ This is such a powerful idea that as the sun rises in the sky and the air heats up and as, gradually, the puddle gets smaller and smaller, frantically hanging on to the notion that everything’s going to be alright, because this world was meant to have him in it, was built to have him in it; so the moment he disappears catches him rather by surprise.”
It’s not a perfect metaphor, but I think that there is a tendency, especially after the American Revolution, to think about a United States shaped hole in north America that is being slowly and correctly filled by the new American nation.
It turns out, tracking down the addresses of 19th c. New Yorkers is a pretty time consuming process. Here are the first 20 or so, laid over a 1845 map of New York City. Purple represent work addresses, yellow represent home addresses.
Building on the patterns I’ve been trying to track in famine donors, I also noticed today that of the thirteen individual donors from New York City, nearly a quarter lived within a few blocks on Henry Street. I don’t know what it’s about, or if it’s just a random happenstance but I’ve got a whole other list of NYC donors and I look forward to finding out!
For those history of science types out there, I just finished working on a project with David Hubbard, Anouk Lang, Kathleen Reed and Lyndsay Troyer for the (now completed) IVMOOC on the History of Science Society’s journal, Isis. We ended up with a visualization that tracked changes in authors’ locations from 1913-1937 to 1988-2012, and also mapped the dominant themes in Isis article titles from 1913 to the present. There’s probably still a lot to do with the history of the journal, but I think we made a pretty good start.
I’ve just received word that the Atlas of the Great Irish Famine – to which I contributed a chapter on the impact of the famine on the demography and infrastructure of New York – was presented by the Irish Taoiseach Enda Kenny to President Obama yesterday. I find it unfathomably cool that either of them might have read something I wrote.