We’re delighted to announce the funding of a second phase of development for Tropy, the free and open-source software that helps humanities researchers use digital images gathered from archives.
With the generous support of The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, Tropy will enable cloud storage and remote access of research images, metadata, and archival templates over the next two years. Tropy will also significantly expand the range of media it imports and expose that media and metadata to computational analysis.
We’ll announce new features and releases of Tropy on the project blog as they become available. Thanks for trusting Tropy with your research and for letting us know how it works for you; we look forward to making it even better with your feedback.
The Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media and the Journal of Social History with generous support from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation seeks historians to participate in a series of workshops that will develop articles based on digital research to be published in a special issue of JSH. Scholars will receive travel funding to participate in three workshops, facilitated by Matt Karush and Sam Lebovic (editors of the JSH) and Stephen Robertson and Lincoln Mullen (at RRCHNM), to help them develop their research from digital projects into journal articles that speak to historiographical conversations in their specific fields.
The first one-day workshop in March 2019 will focus on two-page outlines prepared in advance by each participant. Those outlines will each be workshopped by the group in the course of the day, with the goal of ensuring that the authors leave with a clear framework around which to construct their argument. A second two-day workshop in August 2019 will focus on complete drafts of the articles and provide each author with a close critique and feedback to use in refining the draft for submission in January 2020. The final one-day workshop in June 2020 will be devoted to revising the manuscripts in response to the peer reviews. Authors will annotate online versions of their articles to serve as models for digital history argumentation. These will appear on a site hosted by RRCHNM. The workshops will be held at George Mason University, in Arlington, VA.
The Journal of Social History is a leading journal in social and cultural history, widely recognized for its high-quality and innovative scholarship. Since its founding in 1967, it has served as a catalyst for many of the most important developments in the history profession as a whole. The JSH publishes articles covering all areas and periods and has played an important role in integrating work in Latin American, African, Asian and Eastern European history with socio-historical analysis in Western Europe and the United States.
All submissions will be sent out for peer review to two experts in the relevant subfield. Participation in the workshop does not guarantee acceptance for publication.
Historians who are interested in participating should send a one-page description of their research which makes an initial attempt to explain how they will use digital history methods or collections to advance historiographical conversations within their specific subfields. Send materials to email@example.com by December 17, 2018. Scholars selected to participate will commit to traveling to the workshops and to submitting a complete manuscript to JSH. We encourage submissions from scholars at all stages in their careers, all levels of experience with digital history, and all fields of history, and from women, racial and ethnic minorities, and other individuals who are under-represented in the historical profession.
Our short annual report has recently been mailed out to RRCHNM’s friends and supporters. Produced in collaboration with the Development Office of College of Humanities and Social Sciences, the annual report describes project launches and grants for new projects in the academic year 2017-2018. In it you can find brief descriptions of five of those new projects, and of a busy year of teaching, training, and professional development. A report on the Center’s endowment completes the document.
You can download a copy of the Annual Report here.
Life of a Soldier, designed by social studies teacher Katie, challenges students to understand the personal stories of those who fought in World War I.
Formerly focused solely on World War II, the updated site now includes World War I activities. Teachers developed the activities following their participation in a professional development program to research a fallen servicemen and women. Trips have been to Northern Europe, the Mediterranean, and the Pacific. Each teacher’s activity features a number of sources including videos, interactive sites, books, and historic photographs.
One of the new features on the site are “Teacher Voice” pieces for some activities. These provide a teacher’s impressions on their experience with teaching the activity in their classroom and includes suggestions for adapting the activity according to time restraints or specific classroom needs. Activities offer different levels of challenge, adaptations, and methods for extension. There is also a a backpack feature that allows the user to bookmark items.
The ABMC maintains American military cemeteries outside the United States to commemorate the service, achievements, and sacrifice of U.S. armed forces.
United States Colored Troops in Alexandria, Virginia. Source: Private collection of Charles Joyce; used with permission.
“’Entreat me not to leave thee, for whither thou goest I will go’, ‘and where thou fightest I will fight’, and ‘where thou diest I will die’, and ‘there will i be buried’, and for this, your humble petitionars will ever pray.”– USCT, L’Ouverture Hospital, 1864
In 1864, a group of United States Colored Troops (USCT) wrote and signed this Patients’ Petition for burial in Soldiers’ Cemetery, later Alexandria National Cemetery (ANC) in Alexandria, VA. Before they were considered citizens of the United States and a century before the Civil Rights Movement, these men were determined to secure the equal honor and respect earned by those who died for it.
In 1862, Congress authorized the Quartermaster Department to establish fourteen national cemeteries around the nation and allowed those “of African descent” to join the military. However, neither units nor burial grounds were integrated; rather the Union established separate units and maintained separate cemeteries. Union occupied Alexandria, Virginia, accommodated numerous hospitals and cemeteries. The USCT regiments continued to be separately buried in the nearby Freedmen and Contraband cemetery for former slaves despite their sacrifice as soldiers. In nearby L’Ouverture General Hospital, sick and/or injured USCT on the black ward wrote a petition for burial in the Soldiers’ Cemetery. Within the month, General Montgomery Meigs, commander of the Quartermaster Department, received the petition and made the decision to integrate that would set the precedence for equality and respect in cemeteries across the country.
Through this story, ANC offers an insight into the complexities of racial prejudice that has persisted throughout American history. A century before the Civil Rights Movement, the actions of these USCT demonstrated the struggle for equality in U.S. history. For Us the Living: Learning from the Stories of Alexandria National Cemetery is an interactive site that allows high school students to focus on this and other national themes, such as women in the military and civil duty and sacrifice. Fighting Side by Side, the USCT module, presents students with primary sources to guide them through historical discovery and learning. Through analysis of these documents students learn stories that highlight the history of ANC and draw connections to American history.
Launching in Fall 2018, For Us the Living is a free resource available for students and teachers around the country. This project is supported by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) National Cemetery Administration (NCA) as part of the Veterans Legacy Program.
This interdisciplinary project bridges digital humanities, history, and music by bringing historic sheet music back to life through digitization of sheet music, performance of each piece, and student research about each piece. The website makes all of these resources freely available for use by students, teachers, researchers, and public audiences under a Creative Commons license (CC BY-NC 4.0).
The launch of the website marks a year’s worth of work by faculty, librarians, archivists, digital humanists, and students across various departments at Mason, UVA, and VT. You can learn more about the collaborative process here and here.
Just after midnight on April 24, 1865, the Massachusetts, a side-wheel steamer carrying some 300 soldiers, collided with the Black Diamond, a small propeller boat anchored in the lower Potomac River. The Massachusetts struck the Diamond mid-ship, throwing soldiers overboard by the shear force of the collision. The Diamond took on water rapidly, reportedly sinking in three minutes, while the Massachusetts also sustained damage and struggled to stay afloat. All told, over sixty men from the Massachusetts and four crewmen of the Diamond were lost. Hailed by newspapers as a “sad and terrible disaster,” this tragedy was one of the worst riverboat accidents up until that time, receiving not only local, but also national media attention.
According to a commemorative plaque at Alexandria National Cemetery (ANC), four men had “lost their lives April 24, 1865 while in pursuit of Booth the assassin of our beloved President Abraham Lincoln.” (RRCHNM 2018)
However, I, like many of you, had never heard of this tragic event before I came across it during my research for For Us the Living, a series of online learning modules for high school students, developed by the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media (RRCHNM) for the National Cemetery Administration’s Veterans Legacy Program. As I perused several newspapers from 1865, it became clear that the coverage of the Black Diamond tragedy had been largely eclipsed by another event, which in fact, was the original topic of my research: the nationwide search for John Wilkes Booth. As I would discover during my research, the story of four men buried at Alexandria National Cemetery, the Black Diamond tragedy, and the manhunt for Booth, were profoundly intertwined.
When we first started working on For Us the Living, one of our key aims was to find and tell compelling stories from ANC (a national cemetery often overlooked due to its close proximity to Arlington National Cemetery) that would engage high schoolers in the same process of discovery historians use to uncover the past. While students from nearby Alexandria City Public Schools would first use the modules, we needed to find stories that US history students across the country would find relevant. After discovering the four “Booth pursuers,” the project team agreed that this story, intertwined in the larger story of Lincoln’s assassination and the end of the Civil War, fulfilled these goals.
The gravestones list their branch of service as “CIV” [Civilian] “EMP” [Employee] of the “QMD” [Quartermaster Department]. (RRCHNM 2018)
To get started, I examined the photographs from our cemetery research trip which showed the memorial plaque and gravestones for Peter Carroll, Samuel Gosnell, George Huntington, and Christian (also listed as Christopher in some places) Farley. While the plaque and gravestones provided a starting point, they also left questions: What work did they do for the Quartermaster Department? How did they die? What role did they play in pursuing Booth? Why are they remembered? How can their story help us better understand this period of American history?
I pored over period newspapers, photographs, maps, and other scholars’ accounts to try to piece together the story of these men’s lives, deaths, and memorialization. Using databases such as Chronicling America (Library of Congress) and Virginia Chronicle (Library of Virginia) to search newspapers from around the time of these men’s death, I finally struck gold when I found several articles on a single page of the May 11, 1865 Virginia State Journal which shed light on these men’s story.
The first article informed me that a steamer had returned to Alexandria, VA “with the bodies of A.Q.M. employees lost by the accident between the steamer Massachusetts and the propeller Black Diamond.” The second told me that the men who died were members of the United States Steam Fire Brigade (firemen) who died “performing the sacred and important duty of volunteer soldiers, manning a boat engaged in patrolling the Potomac to prevent the escape of the murderer of our late President.” The third article described their funeral which was “attended by almost every employee of the department” and concluded with “a large and imposing procession…headed by the brigade band.” In short, the men I was investigating were, in fact, the four crewmen who died in the Black Diamond tragedy.
This photograph shows members of the U.S. Steam Fire Brigade in Alexandria in July 1863, about two years before the disaster. While none of the men are identified, it is entirely possible that Carroll, Gosnell, Huntington, and/or Farley are pictured. (Library of Congress)
The clues in these articles allowed me to track down other sources to learn more about the Black Diamond, the U.S. Steam Fire Brigade, and the memorial placed at the cemetery. Highlights include using historic and modern maps to geolocate the disaster to St. Clements Island in the Potomac, and reading an Alexandria Gazette article noting the first memorial laid to these men in November 1865, only seven months after the disaster. Even with these successful finds, much of my research reminded me that historians’ searches don’t always yield straightforward answers. For example, I had hoped to use genealogical resources to learn more about the men’s lives. However, census records revealed that their names were fairly common and it was almost impossible to determine exactly which “Peter Carroll” or “Samuel Gosnell” is buried at ANC.
I used what I had found in my research to create a module entitled “A Sad and Terrible Disaster.” This module walks students through much of the same process of discovery as my own, asking students to examine the same primary sources I found and employ historical thinking skills to place these four men’s story within the larger context of the Civil War.
One of the challenges in creating this module was putting myself in the shoes of the students. After spending a few weeks researching, I knew all of the details of the story, was familiar with the 19th century language, and recognized how all of the pieces fit together. But the students, of course, would not. I had to think about the skills and knowledge the students would bring to the module and then provide supporting text, arrange sources, and ask questions in a way that would facilitate their journey of discovery.
Creating this module was not straightforward. It involved lots of trial, error, and revisions (especially after pilot testing with Alexandria City Public Schools students). But ultimately, working through the complexities of this project has resulted not only in a wonderful resource to teach U.S. history through cemeteries, but has also helped me become a better educator and historian.
“They didn’t even spell out her name!” This outraged exclamation from an 11th grader at T.C. Williams High School made me absurdly happy. Why? Because against all odds I had somehow managed to interest a high schooler in the story of women buried Alexandria National Cemetery (ANC). And the student was outraged! I couldn’t be more thrilled.
In Spring 2018 when we received a contract from the National Cemetery Administration (NCA) to work on a website for the Veterans Legacy Program, I wasn’t sure how we would make it interesting for students. Even as a senior history major, I was skeptical as to how interesting a national cemetery could be. Personally, I didn’t know much about the ANC and I had no experience writing lesson plans. Where should we start?
At a site visit to Alexandria National Cemetery, Mr. James Saunders, Cemetery Superintendent, recounted the history and significance of ANC. Source: RRCHNM.
As a research team, we knew the cemetery offered a rich history to work with but were not sure where to begin to tell its stories. Established in 1862 as one of the first fourteen national cemeteries, ANC is the final resting place for veterans who fought for their country throughout its history. That’s a lot of choice and we started, more or less, tracking down stories that sounded interesting and followed where they took. There were interesting stories we found that we just couldn’t choose because they did not necessarily connect to curriculum standards or there wasn’t enough information. Sometimes serendipity is a researcher’s best friend and that was how I stumbled upon an article about Alexandria’s L’Ouverture Hospital and its segregated wards for black and white soldiers.
The story I found unraveled to involve United States Colored Troops, the Quartermaster Department who oversaw all national cemeteries, and a fight against institutionalized racism in the United States. Trips to the cemetery and the National Archives Administration (NARA) pieced together the story that linked ANC to a Freedmen and Contraband Cemetery, a former slave grave site. Research unearthed collections that provided first-hand accounts of the cemetery and life around it. For example, the Julia Ann Wilbur diary courtesy of Haverford College, provided insights on racial inequalities during the Civil War, while the private collection of Charles Joyce preserved the image of a USCT Honor Guard in Alexandria, VA. With the launch of For Us the Living, the L’Ouverture Patients’ Petition for burial in the national cemetery will be digitally published in its entirety for the first time. Bringing our research together into cohesive narratives was satisfying but only half of the project.
Pilot-testing with students and educators at TC Williams High School in Alexandria, VA ensured the lesson modules worked for high school audiences. Writing for a high school audience has challenges, but this encouraged all of us to find the clearest way to tell our stories and ask questions that guided learners through the historical research process.
Testing the site in an actual classroom was terrifying but ultimately as helpful and important as every other step in our process. Working with four classes of 11th and 12th grades allowed us to observe how they understood the content and interacted with the site. Their feedback brought issues to our attention– questions that were too difficult or words that needed defining– as the students worked through the modules. They also gave us great encouragement with comments like “The creators did a good job and I hope they make things like this for other historical locations in the Alexandria area.” The pilot testing teachers, Sarah Whelan, Patrick Deville, and Philip Engle, also provided us with insights on how to improve the site as a teaching tool and make it more appealing to teachers. Our final Teach page was a direct response to their feedback on how to integrate the site into national standards. The contribution of ACPS strengthened For Us the Living as a tool for teachers and students across the country.
As a recent graduate and relative newbie to digital humanities and history education, this project has been a roller-coaster learning experience as well as a reaffirmation of why I love history. For Us the Living is the first project I have contributed to from start to finish. I worked with experienced professionals from different fields– from the National Cemetery Administration to local public school educators– and learned about the importance of different perspectives and interpretations when creating lessons for students. It was fun to piece together our stories and figure how each fit into the nation’s larger narrative. That I was able to be part of a team with the larger purpose of supporting the NCA’s Veterans Legacy Program and encouraging students to get involved in local and national history makes it all the more meaningful to me.
The Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media are very happy to welcome Jessica Otis (@jotis13) to our ranks as a director, and as an assistant professor in the Department of History and Art History. Jessica comes to us from Carnegie Mellon University, where she was the Digital Humanities Specialist in the University Libraries.
Otis is a historian of early modern Britain, she received both a MS in Mathematics and a PhD in History from the University of Virginia. Subsequently, she was a CLIR-DLF Postdoctoral Fellow in Early Modern Data Curation working on the NEH-funded Six Degrees of Francis Bacon at Carnegie Mellon University. She also co-founded the dSHARP digital scholarship center and the PGH|DH regional digital humanities group. Jessica’s research focuses on the cultural history of mathematics, cryptography, and plague in early modern England.
At RRCHNM, Otis will be a member of the senior staff, responsible for developing and leading projects, supervising staff, and contributing to the leadership of the Center. She will join Kelly Schrum leading the World History Commons project recently funded by the NEH Office of Digital Humanities.