[Trigger Warning]

‘Tis the season for making spring semester syllabi, and I thought I’d share the trigger warning statement that I’ve developed over the past year or so.  I’m sure it’s far from perfect, but I’m hoping that it addresses the needs of students who do have PTSD (or other traumatic) reactions, while still maintaining a rigorous classroom environment.  Many things have been written about trigger warnings, and I tend to fall into the camp of thinking that the good they do for students who really need them is bigger than the harm caused by students who abuse them.  So far, this policy has worked fairly well (at least, from my perspective) – allowing students the flexibility to attend to their own mental health while unpholding accountability.



There has been a lot of discussion recently about “trigger warnings” – indicators that something so disturbing as to make participation difficult (i.e. death, dismemberment, assault, gore) will be covered in a particular class. To the best of my knowledge, we will not be dealing with these types themes in this class, but the history of [class topic] can be complicated, and I can’t guarantee that any of your projects or our readings won’t brush up against something that might be triggering. During the semester, I’ll do my best to be transparent about when we’ll be engaging with issues that I anticipate might be particularly troubling, and I ask you to come see me if you have any concerns about topics that might actively disrupt your ability to participate in this course. If such issues do arise, I will work with you to find alternate assignments, or to strategically pick which classes to skip. Remember that you may skip up to three classes with no attendance penalty, and that you are free to use those absences for whatever purpose you wish – inclusive of potentially triggering material. [my school mandates that student athletes be allowed to miss a certain number of classes depending on the frequency of course meetings – I extend this to all students]

Some more almshouse data – admittors vs. diseases

I am almost done cleaning the almshouse data – the past few days have been spent tracking down the “admittors” – those men (and they were mostly men) who were responsible for sending the destitute and sick of New York to the Bellevue Almshouse. These men were recorded in the almshouse register in the column “by whom sent” and I’ve long been interested in how the identity of the sender related to other aspects of Bellevue admittants. Was one admittor likely to flag one disease more than another? Send patients to one public health site over another? Were admittors from different wards more or less likely to send people in their districts to Bellevue?


I’ve just finished processing the “by whom sent” data, and while more work remains to be done, I thought I’d share a visualization that correlates the person responsible for dispatching inmates to the almshouse, and the reason they were sent:  The selection columns on the right and left allow filtering by disease.

Up next: mapping admissions by ward.


Demoing the Digital Almshouse

For the past few months, first at HILT and then at Davidson, I’ve been working to clean and process the Bellevue Almshouse Dataset.  The data is not quite ready to go live – I’m still writing data dictionaries and README files – but I recently got to sit in on a demo of Tableau, and thought I’d use it as an excuse to visualize some of the attributes of the data that I find most compelling – the relationship between the professed (or attributed) “disease” of almshouse inmates and the site within New York’s public health system to which they were sent.  I have an idea about the influx of Irish immigrants in the nineteenth century forcing the development of a more robust public health infrastructure, but in order to get at the significance of institutional changes in the post-1848 period, I need to have a much better sense of what happened in the first half of the 1840s.

So I built a thing!  A thing that visualizes the relationship between time, site and disease: