Carto’s Making Me Crazy

For my project, I am tracing the route of the 1872 season of P.T. Barnum’s Great Traveling Exposition & World’s Fair using the mapping software, Carto. Once the map is complete, I will embed it into a WordPress site. The most frustrating aspect of my project has definitely been the volatile, counter-intuitive nature of Carto. It seems like every time I open the program, something has broken, or a change I made has reverted. The program itself also just seems unnecessarily complicated and does not guide the user in any way. Getting sick also didn’t help. I lost some valuable time in class working on my project.

Meeting with Dr. Appleford and working through these issues always helps, at least until the next thing breaks. We will definitely need to meet at least one more time before the end of the semester. My next step is to add some descriptions and images to my spreadsheet. I have this tutorial to help with the info-windows. After that, I’ll need help embedding the map into a WordPress site.

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Tableau

For the visualization section, I chose to work with Tableau (here is my visualization). This is a program I know is used at Creighton, but until now, I had not had an opportunity to work with it myself, and I thought it would make sense to get some experience with it. The tutorial was very easy to follow, and I was able to complete it successfully with the exception  of a couple of tiny steps, due to the fact that the person who created the tutorial was using a different version than the one that downloaded. For the most part though, I was able to follow along, and locate all of the menu options I needed.

In “Principles of Information Visualization,” the authors mention that “visualizations are increasingly common and seem to play a role in successfully passing peer review, receiving funding, or catching the public eye.” I found this to be a very helpful insight and one that I will keep in mind for my own work.

Now that I have a new plan for my final project, I’m ready to dive in and start working with the data. The data set that I will be begin with is the 1872 season of P.T. Barnum’s Great Traveling Exposition and World’s Fair.

Maps & Miscalcualtions

For the spatial history section, I georectified a map of the big island of Hawaii from 1913. I found Map Warper easy and fun to use, but unfortunately, this particular map has nothing to do with my project. Initially, I had found a map of the New York World’s Fair from the early 1900s, but upon closer inspection, I realized that the map did not show actual streets, so at the last minute (during class), I had to find something else to use.

Over Fall break, I had a kind of coming to Jesus moment regarding my project. Without at least two semesters’ time to research performers, collect data, and learn the necessary software to present my findings, I no longer feel comfortable pursuing the project that I discussed with Dr. Appleford. I spoke with Dr. Fryer who reminded me that this is not a research class – it is primarily an introduction to DH and some of its relevant tools. With that in mind, in order to get the most I can out of this semester, I feel I need to refocus.

Since the semester began, I’ve been thinking about interactive maps, and the way in which they enable us to tell stories that allow history to be experienced not just visually, but spatially. As someone who does not have a good spatial sense (but a strong interest in travel), this type of visualization can be very helpful. This interest came back to me during the spatial history section of class.

Since one of the challenges I am currently experiencing is a lack of data, it seems logical to use an existing data set that is need of a visualization. One candidate that is related to my research area is this one, which lists the routes of over 100 traveling circuses in multiple years. I’d be very interested in discussing how to turn even a portion of this data into a DH project, and possibly offer the final product to the Circus Historical Society for use on their website, and hopefully serve as a jumping-off point for further research. At least to start, I would focus on circuses that had a side show component, and would be open to incorporating additional elements, such as images of related photos, posters, and newspaper clippings.

At this point, I’m leaning toward WordPress for my platform, but now that I’ve changed the focus of my project, I’m not sure if that is still the best option. If nothing else, it is the platform I am most comfortable with. Similarly, until I’m able to meet with Dr. Appleford and discuss this new development, I am not ready to choose a domain name.

 

 

OpenRefine

I love OpenRefine! It’s obviously very powerful and will take some time to learn how to use properly if I end up utilizing it for my project. The ways in which the program allows data to be sorted, scrubbed, transformed, augmented, and reconciled is very exciting to me and feeds my perfectionist tendencies. I’m all about looking at data in different ways that might bring to the surface an error, inconsistency, or even a trend that may been missed otherwise.

Data – and historical data in particular – is not always complete or accurate. Primary sources are subject to human error, often difficult to find, and open to interpretation. This is especially true of my project, as its success depends on accurately and systematically identifying individuals and their relationships to other individuals and groups. One of the ways I’ll be doing this is through photographs.

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Since I’ll be using crowd-sourcing and social media polls as some of my techniques for gathering information, the key will be to not only find sources I can trust, but to do lots of cross-checking with other sources and seeking out second (and third) opinions.

 

Medical Spectacles and Missing Links, Revisited

Last year, when I was deciding how to present my paper on hypertrichosis, I was wishing I had a tool like Timeline. It would have been a really nice way to organize the media that I had, in a way that also would have helped to show a progression through time. Given the opportunity to present some version of this paper again, I would definitely take advantage of this tool. Both timelines and story maps allow their users to “do history” in a way that is interactive and gives a visual representation of concepts (time and space) that are not always easy to grasp through words alone. With this in mind, I’ve started to do some basic organization in Timeline to see how my hypertrichosis research might look in a visual format. One thing I really like is how easily I can see the overlap in the lives of the women I am studying – which has potential connections to my current project for this class. What are the chances that some of these women met each other, or even worked together – for example, Krao and Percilla, whose lives overlapped by 15 years? Here’s my timeline, so far.

Freaks on the Fringe – The Project

After our individual meeting, I am feeling much better about my project. While it doesn’t seem as if it would be, my topic is very broad. Freak shows span almost the last two centuries in the U.S. alone.

I will be developing a network analysis of freak show performers using Gephi, looking at how individual performers are related to one another, and determining possible chronological trends in regards to gender, type of physical anomaly, natural-born vs. self-made “freaks,” etc. At some point, I would also like to attach media to this data, such as photo, video and audio files, as well as oral history interviews.

While considering a starting point, I keep going back to Percilla (Lauther) Bejano (1911-2001). One of my fascinations with Percilla is that she’s one of the performers that seems to bridge the gap between what I’ll call the old and new guard of the sideshow. There have not been many performers with hypertrichosis since Percilla, and she was born after  public opinion about freak shows had already started to change. By the late 1800s, for various reasons I will not go into here, the display of human oddities was beginning to fall out of vogue. Most interesting to me is that Percilla is a part of such recent history, that there are still other side show performers around who knew her well.

Percilla as a child
Percilla with husband Emmitt the Alligator-Skinned Man

I can imagine that a large part of this project will be crowd-sourced. I already have a network of performers and historians on Facebook who I know will be able to help identify performers, troupes, and pinpoint dates. Other than that, though, it will involve a lot of research and data input on my part.

My biggest concerns at this point are the time involved in both doing the research and learning how to use Gephi, which I understand has a pretty steep learning curve. However, I’m encouraged by the fact that this project does not need to be complete in order for me to present it, either as my final project for class, or at conference. In fact, I realize that a project of this magnitude may never be entirely complete. I think the best strategy will be to stay focused, on specific performers and/or within a specific time period, in order to be thorough and ensure that what is included is complete and accurate.

What I am most excited about is

  • the originality of this project (I haven’t happened upon anything like it in my research thus far),
  • the fact that I don’t have to choose (this potentially – eventually – could encompass the entire history of the sideshow, and continue to grow, because the sideshow is far from dead),
  • and, in the spirit of DH, the utility of this data for other researchers.

Fair Use – The Golden Rule of Academics

The primary intent of copyright law was to protect the integrity of an individual’s work – to prevent trade secrets from going abroad and undercutting profits. Thanks to efforts by Mark Twain and others, the scope of copyright expanded from industrial patents to creative works. Since then, the original purpose of copyright law seems to have been overshadowed by commercialism and greed.

The main issue here is one of academic honesty. As scholars we have a responsibility to treat others’ work with the same respect we would want for our own – a sort of academic golden rule. As long as we are attributing credit appropriately, not abusing fair use, and building upon – rather than claiming as our own – the creations of others, digital humanists should not be stifled by the fear of lawsuits.

The trouble, unfortunately, with “digitizing everything” is that making an honest profit off one’s own work may become more difficult. However, just because material is digitized doesn’t necessarily mean that it has to be free. Smaller fees could be charged for use. Especially after the original creator has passed away and can no longer profit from their own work, it is unreasonable for their family to continue to profit exorbitantly off work that is not their own. I think it’s safe to say that most artists and scholars aren’t in it for the money, but for their work to be seen and shared, enjoyed and critiqued, and used to entertain and increase knowledge for generations to come. As a friend of mine said just today on Facebook, “writing can, and does, change the world” – and the same can be said for any other type of creative work. If we have that kind of power – and we do – why wouldn’t we want to share?

(Image credit: http://justforspite.blogspot.com/2010/10/fair-use-clause-says-what.html)

Ethics and impermanence in the digital world

As scholars of any kind, we have a responsibility to our readers, or any end user of our research, to do our best to ensure that what we are putting out into the world is accurate. That means practicing due diligence in our research and avoiding confirmation bias. Even when posting to social media, it is ethically irresponsible to blindly share false propaganda, further promoting misinformation (and, often, hatemongering).

byfacomicaa2rox

It is important, for example, to make yourself aware of the limitations of your sources, what their purpose is, and who they are authored and funded by. All of these rules apply, of course, to any type of scholarship – digital or not. However, in the digital world, information is imminently more accessible*, which is, at the same time, a blessing and a curse. We live in the future, where we can visit an archive in London or time travel to [a digital replica] of ancient Greece with just a click of our mouse. But we cannot thoughtlessly trust everything we see there unless we have verified that the source can be trusted.

*A caveat to this idea of accessibility: Not everyone has equal access to digital media. Barriers can include physical impairment, such as sight or hearing, or economic disadvantage. There is also the myth of the digital native – the assumption that “…just because a young person grew up with digital media… they are automatically [technology] savvy.”[1]

Another widely accepted myth when it comes to the digital world is the idea of [im]permanence. For example, my generation and every one after it has been well warned of the dangers of putting the damning evidence of our own lives out on the internet. If you were tagged in a photo of you and your friends doing tequila shots in Rocky Point during Spring Break, then you can forget about the high profile job at that Fortune 500 company. And if you were smoking a joint in that picture, you may as well apply for unemployment right now, because that photo will live on in perpetuity.

But the truth is, the web is not immortal. Servers can shut down, links can break, and hackers gonna hack (hack, hack, hack, hack). This is another way, then, in which our web-based tools can fail us. But that doesn’t mean we should give up on the wealth of digital resources at our disposal and go back to microfiche and mechanical typewriters. We should, however, be diligent about backing up our research and scholarship.

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[1] O’Neil, Megan. “Confronting the Myth of the ‘Digital Native'” The Chronicle of Higher Education. April 21, 2014. Accessed September 10, 2016. http://www.chronicle.com/article/Confronting-the-Myth-of-the/145949/.

September 3

The project I was most intrigued by that my group viewed during class was The Negro Travelers’ Green Book, featured on Miriam Posner’s post, “How Did They Make That?” I liked its elegant simplicity and ease of use, as well as its very powerful ability to allow the user to visualize the relatively limited safe options that were available to African American travelers just a mere sixty years ago. I doubt the guide itself has been seen by many today. Once easily accessible, resources like this now live in archives and antique stores. By featuring this important book, the creators have helped to bring to light the painfully recent history of discrimination in the U.S. According to Posner, the creators used Google Fusion Tables, Google Maps, and some JavaScript, in order to get the map to display properly.

GreenBook

I love resources that serve as road trip guides, giving the user the opportunity to not only read about destinations, but visit them, allowing for the ability to discover hidden treasures that may be right in their own backyards. Another example of this is one of favorite sites, Atlas Obscura. Projects such as these quite literally bring history to life. Atlas Obscura is a more basic, yet extensive site, with contributed articles accompanied by photos and Google Map widgets.

AtlasObscura

Another site I’ve recently discovered is The Quipu Project, an incredibly gorgeous and impactful way to present oral history from a DH platform. The introduction alone made me cry. The site, featuring indigenous oral testimonies from victims of Peru’s forced sterilization program, uses to frame the project a digital quipu, an adaptation of a traditional method of remembering the watersheds in the native oral tradition. The combination of audio and video, as well as the interactive aspect of the site are very powerful, and serve to shed light on an ugly time in the country’s very recent history.

Quipu

All three of these projects feature aspects of DH that I find attractive and would be open to using in my own project. When I was looking at the Green Book, I was thinking about how much I would love to see a similar, interactive map of current, stable sideshow acts and museums, as well as locations of historic dime museums, and other related destinations of interest. Photos of the locations and exhibits, and oral histories and interviews from performers, managers, and museum directors could be included on the site.

 

August 31

My hope is to use this class and the final project to further focus my research area. I’ve recently become very interested in the history and culture of sideshow freaks, which connects to my prior interests in the areas of eugenics, disability, and even superhero culture (just another interpretation of mutation and marginality). In typical fashion, I’m confronted by an overwhelming number of options, so I would appreciate some help narrowing my focus, especially in order to find a project that would be well suited for a digital platform.