From Historical Sources to Datasets: A Preview of DataScribe

Scholars in history and related humanities fields are increasingly turning towards data analysis and visualization in order to understand the past. Historians have of course long used sources with quantitative informations, such as probate records, tax lists, bills of mortality, censuses, and the like. The mass digitization of historical records has only made those types of sources more readily accessible.

And yet there is a huge gap between having a historical source (even a digitized one) and having a dataset which can be analyzed. By analogy, you can think of the difference between having an image of a manuscript and having a text transcription of that document. But with datasets, the problem of transcription is even more difficult, because data has structure. For example, historical documents may have many small variations in how they are laid out, but when transcribed they should all use the same variable. Or it may be important to standardize the transcription of a set of categories. Historians and scholars who are creating their own datasets have been transcribing them in software not really designed for the purpose, perhaps in spreadsheets. But those ad hoc approaches have many limitations. (Believe us, we’ve run into them many times!) And those limitations great affect the speed, accuracy, and usability of the datasets that are transcribed.

Enter DataScribe. In September 2019, the NEH’s Office of Digital Humanities awarded RRCHNM a grant to develop software to tackle just this problem. We have been diligently—but quietly—developing this software over the past year. As we approach our initial round of  testing outside of RRCHNM, we are ready to start giving you previews of what this software will be able to do.

DataScribe is built on the Omeka S platform. Many, many humanities projects are already using Omeka S to describe and display collections of historical sources. You will be able to add the open-source DataScribe module to Omeka and use it to transcribe historical sources. You can define what a dataset should look like: the variables you are going to transcribe and the types of data (numeric, categorical, textual, as well as custom data types) that go into those variables. Teams of people will then be able to transcribe the sources, and we are building in a workflow for reviewing and managing transcriptions. Transcribers will see the historical sources side by side with the fields they need to transcribe, and managers will be able to see the status of the project. While this software is in very rapid development and will continue to change, you can get a sneak preview of what it looks like in the screenshots at the end of this post.

So, when can you get your hands on DataScribe? The answer is soon. DataScribe is currently alpha software, and you can follow its development and open issues at our GitHub repository. On November 11 we will move into our first round of public beta testing. If you are interested in testing DataScribe—or even just want to receive periodic updates about the project—please fill out this very brief form. We will add you to a mailing list to keep you up to date about the project, and if you indicate an interest in testing we will be back in touch with the details. Our project website and the draft documentation are also great ways to learn about the project.

One of the ways that humanities discipline is moving forward is by creating (and sharing) new datasets. Very few historians working with data are dealing with off-the-shelf datasets which are already ready to be analyzed or visualized. To create new historical or humanities knowledge, scholars need to be able to create new datasets. And that is what DataScribe will help them do.

 

Screenshots of the DataScribe module (click for full resolution images)

Datascribe's transcribe view

DataScribe allows users to see the documents they are transcribing, to enter the transcription into fields that ensure data accuracy and consistency, and to manage the workflow of the project.

DataScribe's focus mode for transcribers

DataScribe also allows transcribers to focus just on the document and the fields that they need to enter.

DataScribe form builder

Project managers can use DataScribe’s form builder to define which fields should be transcribed and to decide which types of data, such as numbers, dates, and categories, should be associated with those fields.

Consolation Prize — a New Podcast From RRCHNM

When you think of the most exciting, controversial, or salacious moments in American history, your first thought probably isn’t the story of a U.S. consul. Consuls were charged by the U.S. State Department with reporting American trade in cities across the world, as well as taking care of Americans abroad, but they had little official diplomatic power. They weren’t negotiating treaties or starting wars; they weren’t leading charges into battle or changing the political landscape.

Or were they? The responsibility for the United States’ reputation in other parts of the world often fell squarely on the shoulders of consuls, who were the first ones called in when Americans got themselves in trouble or were mistreated while they were abroad. How they interpreted their duties sometimes got them involved in all kinds of complicated circumstances. And often, their actions on a personal level had ramifications far up the chain, even making a difference in national politics or international relations.

The stories of these consuls deserve to be told. Here at RRCHNM, we’re starting a podcast to tell them. Consolation Prize is a narrative-style podcast, hosted by Abby Mullen, who talks to scholars across the historical discipline about consuls and their world. You’ll also hear the voices of these consuls, their colleagues, and their enemies, telling their own stories. In this season, you’ll hear about rhinoceroses, and coffee trading, and hymn writing; you’ll hear about imprisonment, slavery, and oppression. You’ll hear stories of revenge, humiliation, and bitter feuds, but also stories of triumph, joy, and delight. You’ll go places as close to home as Vera Cruz, Mexico, and as far away as Canton and Zanzibar.

Please join us as we travel the globe with nineteenth-century consuls! You can visit our website for more info, including where to subscribe so you don’t miss any episodes. You’ll also find our show notes there, which include transcripts of the episodes, bios of our experts, further readings, and so much more. You can also follow us on Twitter at @ConsolPrize, or join our Facebook group, to get more resources and behind-the-scenes content.

Episode 1 of Consolation Prize takes us to Vera Cruz, Mexico, where we investigate what happens when personal affairs and official duties intermingle; in Episode 2, we head to Liverpool during the height of the impressment crisis before the War of 1812. Episodes post every three weeks on Tuesdays.

Congratulations to Capital Jewish Museum on Groundbreaking Festival

Over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, RRCHNM has been collaborating with a series of partners on its Pandemic Religion and American Jewish Life project. We have been very fortunate to have had the chance to work with these partners to collect and preserve sources about the impact the pandemic is having on American religion.

One of our partners—and neighbors—is the Capital Jewish Museum, which has also accepted a GMU student as an intern. But the Capital Jewish Museum is not even officially open yet! The work they are doing is all the more remarkable, then, and we are all the more pleased to share this announcement of their groundbreaking festival, coming up on September 12 to September 18.

Poster for Groundbreaking Festival at Capital Jewish Museum. Celebrate a new museum breaking ground in Downtown DC with a live-streamed ceremony, family scavenger hunt, conversations with cultural leaders, film screenings and much more. Coming to a screen near you September 12th to September 18th. Register now at www.capitaljewishmuseum.org/groundbreaking

These are no ordinary times. And this is no ordinary event! Be a part of an interactive, multi-day virtual festival to celebrate the Capital Jewish Museum breaking ground on what will become our permanent home at 3rd and F Streets, NW in Downtown Washington, DC. Experience a variety of free virtual events celebrating the new museum and its exploration of the intersection of American Judaism and American democracy. As the centerpiece of the festival, we will livestream the historic groundbreaking ceremony at the site of the future museum, marking the official start of transforming the space into our permanent home.

The festival will feature something for everyone, from online interactive conversations with top chefs, historians, and musicians, to family programming, a film screening, virtual photobooth, trivia and so much more! Explore the full schedule and register now!

The festival will include a film screening, a Rosh Hashanah concert, a panel on the first LGBTQ synagogue in DC, a food festival, a professional development session for teachers, a session on Jewish refugee scholars at HBCUs, a session on museums as agents of change, a scavenger hunt, and at the center the livestreamed groundbreaking ceremony itself. In addition to registering for these events, be sure to take a look at the plans for the museum and how it incorporates a historic Washington, DC, synagogue.

RRCHNM is thankful to have had the chance to partner with the museum since its outset, and we offer warm wishes and hearty congratulations for the groundbreaking of the Capital Jewish Museum!

Laura Brannan Speaks at African American Museum Conference

In August, PhD student and RRCHNM graduate research assistant Laura Brannan spoke at the annual meeting of the Association of African American Museums–the organization’s first ever virtual conference. Laura writes about her experience speaking at the conference:

“Recently, I virtually presented at the Association of African American Museums conference (AAAM). I admit I was a bit hesitant; this was my first virtual conference and I was unsure what to expect. Nevertheless, my experience at AAAM demonstrated the possibilities and slight limitations of presenting and attending a completely digital conference. The AAAM staff built the conference site from the ground up via the platform PheedLoop. This recreated the conference experience to the best of its abilities, with the user able to message and video chat with anyone in the virtual “lobby” room and access all recorded sessions after the fact. In this sense, the digital format was very helpful and made me feel connected to other participants.

As a presenter, overall, I found that the various digital platforms helped me successfully prepare for my roundtable discussion. My co-panelists and I rehearsed beforehand via Zoom, shared notes via Google Docs, and communicated with our panel moderator during the presentation via the chat feature in Zoom. The roundtable was conducted as a Zoom webinar, where I was a panelist and could only see the tiles of my fellow panelists. Though strange and somewhat alienating to not see the faces of the audience members during the presentation, in a way the digital format actually helped me focus more easily on the conversation.

Alongside members of the John Mitchell Jr. Program for History, Justice, and Race from the School of Conflict, Analysis, and Resolution at George Mason, our session discussed the National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) as a site of healing, pilgrimage, and controversies in the context of COVID-19 and the current racial reckoning in the U.S. today. As a scholar of race, gender, and public memory in the U.S., I pointed out the institutional legacies NMAAHC contends with as the first museum to exclusively center African, African American, and Black voices in the U.S. yet still be a part of the Smithsonian, an institution created in the mid-nineteenth century. In the current state of racial reckoning throughout the country, I also spoke of the importance for white people to visit museums like NMAAHC that center lives and stories different from theirs. Through exhibits and programming, Black-centered museums such as the NMAAHC encourage visitors to confront the history of oppression and racism in the U.S. while also serving as potential spaces to promote healing and reconciliation.

Although AAAM was not a typical conference by past in-person standards, its success serves as a model for how virtual conferences can be typical in the world of COVID-19 and remote work. More importantly, AAAM showed how digital tools can facilitate important conversations between people in different parts of the world that would otherwise not be possible.”

American Jewish Life: A Pandemic Religion Project

Today the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media is launching American Jewish Life, a digital collecting project that will document and interpret the experiences of individuals and communities during the COVID-19 pandemic. Part of the Center’s larger Pandemic Religion project, American Jewish Life has been created in partnership with the Breman Museum; the Capital Jewish Museum; the Goldring/Woldenberg Institute of Southern Jewish Life;  Hebrew Theological College; the Houston Jewish History Archive at Rice University; and Yeshiva University. The six Jewish institutions who have partnered with American Jewish Life are broadly representative of the geographic and theological diversity of American Judaism.  

Screenshot of the American Jewish Life website

Most of the initial items on American Jewish Life represent the prior collecting of our partner institutions. Others have been contributed by visitors to the Pandemic Religion site.

You may wish to browse some of the items that have already been contribute:

Collection is only the first stage in this project. In the coming weeks and months, we will also work with our partners to richly interpret the experiences and responses of Jewish communities during this time.

We invite anyone who is interested in the project to make a contribution, or to offer suggestions and raise questions. You can contact John Turner (the project director) and Lincoln Mullen (the project co-director) via email at pandemicreligion@gmail.com.

Pandemic Religion Digital Stories Fellowship: Call for Participants

Lived Religion in the Digital Age, a project of St. Louis University, in partnership with the Pandemic Religion project at the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media, welcomes applications for a short-term Digital Stories Fellowship. The Digital Stories Fellow will work from the Pandemic Religion database to create, compose, and/or curate original material for the Digital Stories platform. The fellowship carries an award of up to $1,500.

Digital Stories prioritizes the study and practice of visual, aural, multimodal, and other embodied storytelling techniques, particularly as they are shaped, transformed, or confronted by digital life and cultures. Preferred contributions include visual essays, short documentaries, soundtracks or podcasts, data visualizations, digital exhibits, multimediated content, and short essays, among other possible modes of public scholarship. The Digital Stories fellow will have expertise in religion, theology, American studies, performance studies, visual studies, or related fields or professions and will contribute a series of original entries to the site during the funding period.

This fellowship is expected to begin immediately and be completed by December 31, 2020.

To apply, please submit a letter of interest (1–2 pages), current CV or resume, and brief writing or multimedia sample (links to digital content are encouraged).

Please submit fellowship application materials or general queries to LRDA Administrator Dr. Samantha Arten at livedreligion@slu.edu. Applicants may also apply through this form. Applications received by June 15 will receive full consideration.

In addition to this fellowship, Digital Stories welcomes contributions on a rolling basis. Please contact Digital Stories Editor, Dr. Adam Park (adam.park@slu.edu) for questions and submissions.

Download this CFP as a PDF.

ACLS Digital Extension Grant for World History Commons

The American Council for Learned Societies has awarded our World History Commons project a digital extension grant. “Expanding the Commons: Supporting Emerging World History Scholars and Community Colleges through the World History Commons OER.” This grant will extend the reach and impact of World History Commons, which provides valuable resources to teachers, students, and researchers, including scholarly essays, teaching materials, historical thinking strategies, and curated primary sources. Expanding the Commons expands on the current project in two key ways. The first is by recruiting early career scholars to write new scholarly essays and incorporating their cutting-edge historical research into the project.  The second is by partnering with experienced community college faculty to connect World History Commons to the community college curriculum and to promote its use among community college world history teachers and students, increasing both access and visibility. Led by former Kelly Schrum, Nate Sleeter, and Jessica Otis, this project will provide a valuable resource to world history educators for many years to come.

RRCHNM Joins Nonprofit Finance Fund Cohort

We are pleased to announce that the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media has been selected to join an Andrew W. Mellon Foundation-funded cohort of six digital humanities organizations in a three-year initiative focused on building financial resilience in the digital humanities. This initiative, managed by the Nonprofit Finance Fund, will be structured around helping all six DH organizations become more adaptable and financially resilient while staying true to our individual  missions. Since our founding in 1994, RRCHNM has been committed to open access and open source, but these commitments make it challenging to create a business model that provides sufficient resilience in a rapidly changing world. Through the support of this project, we look forward to finding new ways to continue our mission of democratizing access to historical information while also strengthening our financial model and becoming a more adaptable organization. We are also very excited to be part of a cohort that includes the Hathi Trust, the HBCU Library Alliance, Humanities Commons, Rhizome, and the South Asian American Digital Archive. The best ideas in the world come from collaborations among diverse groups of people who bring new ideas and perspectives to the table. We couldn’t be happier about being part of this cohort of such excellent organizations.

RRCHNM to Create Classroom Simulations on History of Diplomacy

RRCHNM is excited to announce a new project with the National Museum of American Diplomacy (NMAD) made possible by generous funding from the Una Chapman Cox Foundation. This project will create three classroom simulations based on significant events in the history of U.S. diplomacy that teachers in high school and post-secondary can use with their students. These simulations will build on the success of diplomatic simulations previously developed by the NMAD and RRCHNM which explored present-day foreign affairs topics such as peacebuilding, wildlife trafficking, and crisis in the oceans, among others. The historical diplomatic simulations to be developed as a part of this project will include primary sources, interviews with historians to provide context, and an easy-to-follow guide for implementing the simulations with students. The project will conclude in January of 2022. The NMAD is dedicated to telling the story of the history, practice, and challenges of American diplomacy at the U.S. Department of State and also receives support from the Diplomacy Center Foundation.

Pandemic Religion Project to Document Changes in American Religion

As the world undergoes wrenching changes—some temporary, some permanent—in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, religious communities in the United States have also been deeply affected. Many have hastily moved services online: a change which has been influenced by the hugely varying liturgical, theological, legal, and financial resources available to different groups. Of course a few religious groups have made it into the news by challenging government-mandated shutdowns. Some people are attending online services at communities that are not local and of which they are not members, perhaps to share an experience with family from whom they are distant. Others are finding their religious community in relatively new forms, such as Facebook groups. As the pandemic more seriously affects older people, religious communities have grappled with their ministry to the elderly and to the sick. The pandemic has disproportionately killed racial minorities and left them disproportionately unemployed: Black religious traditions are no exception. These changes have happened at the same time that Jews have celebrated Passover, Christians have celebrated Easter, and right before Muslims celebrate Ramadan.

To document these changes, today the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media is launching Pandemic Religion: A Digital Archive. This project will collect and preserves experiences and responses from individuals and religious communities during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Screenshot of the Pandemic Religion website

We invite contributions from people of any religious tradition, community, or perspective. We encourage contributions either from your individual perspective, or documenting what is happening in your religious community. We hope you will contribute items like these:

  • Stories about how your religious practice has changed
  • Photos of you or your religious community practicing your religion
  • Communications within your religious community
  • Documents about decisions or changes your religious community has made
  • Links, recordings, or screenshots of religious practice moving to online spaces, such as video and social media
  • Stories about how you or your community is helping during, or being hurt by, the pandemic

You may wish to browse some of the items that have already been contribute:

We are undertaking this gathering of materials in partnership with other institutions. The Center for the Study of Religion and American Culture at IUPUI has generously agreed to partner with RRCHNM to help disseminate the project among their scholarly network. A group of advisors, both scholars and leaders of religious communities, have given counsel and helped share the project. For example, the Rev. Mary Anne Glover of the Virginia Council of Churches has distributed the project to their member churches. We hope to strike up other such partnerships in the coming days.

Collection is only the first stage. As we gather these materials and reach out to religious communities, we will also begin work on interpreting the experiences of American religion during this time. The questions listed above only scratch the surface of what can be learned about American religion during this time. Working with CSR&AC, we will be exploring how best to organize this interpretative effort.

This project stands in a long line of digital history projects aimed at collecting and preserving materials for the use of future historians. RRCHNM pioneered some of these early efforts with the September 11 Digital Archive and the Hurricane Digital Memory Bank. Other institions have often followed this playbook. During the COVID-19 Pandemic, some notable collecting projects have included A Journal of the Plague Year: An Archive of COVID-19 from Arizona State University, COVID-19 Memories from the Centre for Contemporary and Digital History, and many more local projects, such as the COVID-19 MKE: A Milwaukee Coronavirus Digital Archive project from the University of Wisconsin—Milwaukee. Pandemic Religion is RRCHNM’s effort to help preserve the past about an area of study in which we specialize, and by doing so to give back to the scholarly and local communities of which we are a part.

We invite anyone who is interested in the project to make a contribution, or to offer suggestions and raise questions. You can contact John Turner (the project director) and Lincoln Mullen (the project co-director) via email at pandemicreligion@gmail.com.