Learn Local, Think National: Connecting Alexandria National Cemetery to American History

“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.

RRCHNM welcomes Jessica Otis

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.

Welcome Jessica!

Current Research in Digital History

The inaugural issue of RRCHNM’s new annual open-access, peer-reviewed publication Current Research in Digital History is now live. The issue was edited by Lincoln Mullen and Stephen Robertson, with crucial input from a program committee consisting of Kalani Craig, Jessica Marie Johnson, Michelle Moravec, and Scott Weingart. Editorial Assistant Greta Swain worked throughout the summer to prepare the essays for online publication, in a platform designed by Kim Ngyuen and Ken Alpers that allows for interactive visualizations, data and code appendices and other features not typically available from humanities journals.

The primary aim of Current Research in Digital History is to encourage and publish scholarship in digital history that offers discipline-specific arguments and interpretations. By featuring short essays, it also seeks to provide an opportunity to make arguments on the basis of ongoing research in larger projects.

This issue features 17 essays on topics ranging from language borrowing among Indian treaties and agency and authenticity in the 1960s American folk music revival to social reading in Old Regime France, war camps and wayward girls in Virginia and Herblock cartoons.

Essays published in CRDH are first presented at an annual one-day conference at George Mason University in Arlington, Virginia. Authors submit their essays in the fall, and then the conference is held in the spring. Each essay goes through two rounds of peer review, first by the conference program committee, and then by the conference commentator. CRDH is published at the end of August, less than a year after essays are submitted.

Submissions for the 2019 conference and publication are due by September 28, 2018.

CRDH is funded by donations to the RRCHNM Director’s Fund. Members of the program committee, commentators and participants in the conference plenary roundtable are paid small stipends to recognize the time they commit. Four $200 stipends are available to support the participation of presenters who have to travel to the conference. You can donate to support CRDH.

World History Commons receives NEH Award

We are delighted to announce an award from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) to create World History Commons in partnership with the World History Association and Associate Professor Adam Clulow of Monash University (Australia).

World History Commons, an Open Educational Resource (OER), will provide high quality, peer-reviewed resources for teaching and research in world and global history. World History Commons will introduce new humanities scholarship and pedagogy while preserving and enhancing widely-used resources from World History Matters, the award-winning, NEH-funded collection of world history websites, and the Global History Reader, a collaboration between scholars at Monash University and Warwick University (UK).

World History Commons is one of 15 Digital Humanities Advancement Grants funded through the Office of Digital Humanities.

ReSounding the Archives Symposium

On Tuesday, April 24, the first ReSounding the Archives Symposium was held in the Garden Room of the Colonnade Club at the University of Virginia. This event culminated the first year of work on the ReSounding the Archives digital project that seeks to bring historic sheet music back to life through contemporary recordings and contextual essays.

Faith Ellen Lam and Jimmy Stevens close out an evening of performances.

Faith Ellen Lam and Jimmy Stevens close out an evening of performances.

The symposium showcased the work of 22 students from George Mason University (Mason), the University of Virginia (UVA), and Virginia Tech (VT). An interdisciplinary group of 17 undergraduates presented their research on the social, cultural, and musical context of WWI-era sheet music. After each presentation, performing arts students from VT and Mason performed the pieces. In addition, UVA doctoral student Joseph Thompson presented on the ways he is incorporating digital humanities into his dissertation project, “Sounding Southern: Music, Militarism, and the Making of the Sunbelt.” VT English student Libby Howe also contributed two posters exploring the visual rhetoric of WWI sheet music.

The 17 songs presented and performed at the symposium will provide the initial ReSounding the Archives website content, including digitized sheet music, live recordings, and studio recordings produced by students at VT and Mason. Each song is accompanied by a contextual essay.

All sheet music and recordings will be available for download under a Creative Commons license and freely available for educational use. The website will launch in summer 2018.

 

ReSounding the Archives homepage.

 

The Pilbara Aboriginal Strike

The Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media is proud to announce a new international project in collaboration with scholars in Australia, The Pilbara Aboriginal Strike website. Working with Bain Attwood, a scholar of Australian history and settler colonialism at Monash University, and Anne Scrimgeour, a scholar of Aboriginal history, this digital project will be part of the first major scholarly study to examine one of the most important events in Australia’s post-war history: the Pilbara Aboriginal strike of 1946.

Mustering in the Pilbara.

Mustering in the Pilbara. Image credit: Anne Scrimgeour.

In 1946, Aboriginal stockworkers led a strike in the Pilbara region of Western Australia against harsh working conditions and meager pay by walking off their pastoral stations. Though police and the government tried different repressive strategies to stop the strike, the Communist Party, trade unions, women’s organizations, and churches came together to help the strikers. Ultimately, the strikers were successful as they gained better pay and working conditions, but many Aboriginal workers then formed mining co-operatives, forging their own economic, social, and cultural space. Amidst the backdrop of settler colonialism and World War II, the strike resulted in changes in public policy and influenced nationwide advocacy for Aboriginal rights. The Pilbara Aboriginal Strike website will detail the events of the strike and historical context, the co-operative movement, and the commemoration of the strike through today.

The Pilbara Aboriginal Strike aims to highlight Aboriginal communities’ roles in this event. It will feature oral histories of Aboriginal people from the Pilbara region, foregrounding their voices in this history. The project also strives to show the multiplicity of voices and perspectives involved in the strike and beyond.

Geared toward Aboriginal communities, scholars, and post-secondary students, the site will include multiple exhibits of narrative content, as well as an interactive timeline, a primary source archive, and a section that spotlights the individuals and organizations who played integral roles in the strike and its aftermath.

Launching later this year, The Pilbara Aboriginal Strike digital project is an exciting transnational collaboration that will showcase the actions of the Aboriginal people who fought for their rights and for Aboriginal rights across Australia.

Veterans Legacy Program contract awarded to RRCHNM

Alexandria National Cemetery site visit

RRCHNM students receive a tour of Alexandria National Cemetery with James Sanders, Director of the Quantico and Alexandria National Cemeteries. Photo credit: Chris Preperato

The Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media is proud to announce that we received a contract from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) National Cemetery Administration (NCA) in support of their Veterans Legacy Program.

Students working within RRCHNM’s Education Division will be researching the history of Alexandria National Cemetery, one of the original 14 national cemeteries established in 1862.

RRCHNM will create online learning modules that teachers and high school students in the Alexandria Public Schools will pilot test later this spring. The modules will include a digital activity or service learning activity aimed at exploring commemoration, historical memory, and national mourning. On completion, these modules will be available to other classrooms around the country.

RRCHNM received one of nine contracts awarded to academic organizations across the nation. For further information about the Veterans Legacy Program, visit https://www.cem.va.gov/legacy/.

ReSounding the Archives

The Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media (RRCHNM) received a 4-VA Research Grant to fund the digital project, ReSounding the Archives.

ReSounding the Archives is an interdisciplinary collaboration that brings together digital humanities, history, and music. Partners include:

  

 

The project’s goal is literally to “re-sound” the archives — to bring World War I sheet music to life through recordings and live performances. Students from Mason, UVA, and VT will work together to select, research, and record music, exploring history from new vantage points. The project website will provide digitized sheet music, historical context, and usable recordings of each song.

Contemporary students live very musical lives. Allowing professors to integrate historical sheet music into their undergraduate and graduate courses via audio recordings will provide a way for students to historicize that experience and deeply engage historical resources through lyrics, artwork, and the songs themselves to better understand their social, cultural, and political uses. By making the recordings freely available, ReSounding the Archives also addresses the lack of historical music available for classroom use.

During spring 2018, students in Dr. Elizabeth Ozment’s “ReSounding the Archives” course at UVA, working with librarians Abigail Flanigan and Winston Barham, will select and research WWI-era sheet music. Students in the English and History departments at VT, led by Trudy Harrington Becker, Tom Ewing, and Mark Barrow of the History department, Jim Dubinsky of the English department, and Marc Brodsky of Special Collections, will also select and research sheet music. Music students at Mason and VT will work with student sound engineers to create studio recordings of each piece. Performances and song recording will be organized by Nicole Springer, Assistant Dean for Academic Affairs and Assistant Director, Arts Management Undergraduate Studies, and Linda Monson, Director of Mason’s School of Music and Distinguished Service Professor, in Mason’s CVPA, along with Tracy Cowden, Michael Dunston, and Brian Thorsett in the music department at VT.

On April 24, 2018, UVA will host a concert and symposium in Charlottesville for partners from all three institutions to showcase student work as well as create live musical performances that will be recorded and added to the website.

RRCHNM, led by Dr. Kelly Schrum, Associate Professor of Higher Education, and Jessica Dauterive, Digital History Fellow, are coordinating the 4VA collaboration and will build and populate the website.

This 4-VA grant will enable students, faculty, and staff to establish relationships across Virginia institutions, leading to new course development as well as opportunities for student work, research, and external funding to expand the project.

And the winner is…

The Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media is hEagle Eye Citizen Contest Winerappy to announce that Emily O’Connell from Battle Ground Academy in Franklin, TN is the winner of the Eagle Eye Citizen student challenge making contest.

Judges from National History Day reviewed over 200 challenges created during the contest period and selected Emily’s challenge, Becoming Law, as the winning entry.

As the winner, Emily received a pizza party for her class, a full set of the Making History series from National History Day, and a prize pack of books from the Library of Congress.

Eagle Eye Citizen engages middle and high school students in solving and creating interactive challenges about Congress, American history, civics, and government with Library of Congress primary sources in order to develop students’ civic understanding and historical thinking skills.

Though the contest is over, students and teachers can still make and solve challenges on the Eagle Eye Citizen website.

Created by the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media at George Mason University, Eagle Eye Citizen is a Congress, Civic Participation, and Primary Sources Project and is supported by a grant from the Library of Congress.

Congratulations Emily!

Mapping the First Decade of Congressional Elections

Shifting votes for parties in the first three Congressional elections in Maryland.

Districts flip, party affiliations change, and populations and geographies shift. These and other changes are visible in Mapping Early American Election‘s first release of over 70 maps visualizing county voting returns by state from the first five U.S. Congressional elections. The project will regularly release additional Congressional maps through the nineteenth Congress in early 2018.

The new Maps section invites users to browse by Congress and state. Some states, like Maryland, saw swings in party affiliations, party competition, and regional voting patterns within the first decade of the United States. Others states, like the solidly Federalist Connecticut, did not.

Each map page reveals a state map with the results for a specific Congress, with voting districts and counties outlined that are color-coded to represent the margin of victory. For example, looking at the first election in Maryland, the state elected all Federalists (green) to Congress, even with a strong showing of support for Anti-Federalist (orange) candidates in Baltimore and Anne Arundel Counties. The darker the color, the more votes received by a party in that district. It is then possible for a user to click through to the next Congress, under “Related Maps,” to compare how voting patterns changed from election to election.

Below each map, we provide a table of data that lists election returns by district (or at-large), candidate, party, vote total, percentage of votes earned. To clearly identify the winners, each elected candidate receives a check mark at the end of their row of data. There are cases when a candidate won the election, but did not serve in Congress. For the purposes of this project, we are highlighting who was elected, because our aim is to show what happened in the elections rather than what happened in Congress. For each winner who served in Congress, we provide a link to their entry in the Biographical Directory of the United States Congress.

While this project is based in large part on A New Nation Votes, from which it draws on Philip Lampi’s work collecting elections returns, it also builds up on it. The data has been changed into a tabular form to allow data analysis; we have created the ability to join the elections data to the Atlas of Historical County Boundaries and the Digital Boundary Definitions of United States Congressional Districts, as well as to the Congressional biographies. We have also added missing electoral data. This site features maps of political parties by counties, and will soon add state maps of town data and national maps of Congressional districts. But the data, which is available as it is being developed, allows for many other kinds of maps. We will highlight some of the decisions that went into shaping the data and the ways in which it can be used on our blog.

Making the maps is no easy task. Lincoln Mullen and Jordan Bratt have been working through the data for many months. We are also grateful to project advisors, especially Philip Lampi, who painstakingly reviewed the maps before launch.

Mapping Early American Elections project’s GitHub repository includes the data we have released so far, along with the other code produced. If you are interested in the data repository, you can follow its progress through commits and issues on GitHub.

Please take some time browse the maps that represent early American voting returns for Congressional elections. What interesting patterns will you find?

{Cross-posted on Mapping Early American Elections)