Documenting, Sharing, and Learning from Jewish Life During the Pandemic

The Council of American Jewish Museums and George Mason University’s Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media Receive Grants for Major Archiving Project Led by Lippman Kanfer Foundation for Living Torah

January 27, 2021 — The Council of American Jewish Museums (CAJM) and George Mason University’s Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media (RRCHNM) are launching two new collecting initiatives with support from a group of Jewish funders, the Chronicling Funder Collaborative, to document diverse Jewish experiences of the pandemic. The Rosenzweig Center received a grant to create a web portal that will serve as a digital content hub reflecting Jewish life during this time. The grant to CAJM enables it to partner with 18 member institutions to lead a broad-based oral history collecting initiative.

The Funder Collaborative is composed of Lippman Kanfer Foundation for Living Torah, Jim Joseph Foundation, Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Philanthropies, and The Russell Berrie Foundation.

The web portal, led by the Rosenzweig Center in collaboration with Hebrew Theological College (HTC), will coordinate, catalog, and share digital content from institutions chronicling life in American Jewish communities during the pandemic. This effort builds upon the American Jewish Life digital collection developed last year by RRCHNM in collaboration  with six Jewish partner organizations.

“Collectors, researchers, and teachers are synergizing their efforts,” explained Zev Eleff, chief academic officer of HTC. “We all understand that this is a pivotal teaching and learning moment, freighted with so much meaning for all kinds of students.”

Beginning in March 2021, individuals will be able to find relevant collections through the portal and easily contribute materials to a range of collecting institutions in different parts of the U.S.  Libraries, archives, researchers, educators, and others will be able to access all content at no cost and communicate and share content with each other.

“The Jewish community’s response to this historic moment warrants careful curating and documentation in one centralized location,” says Jessica Mack of George Mason University’s Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media. “Contrary to what many think, digital content does not last forever unless we make efforts to preserve it. With the Collaborative’s generous support, we will gather materials showing how the community adapted at this time—and share it in one accessible, central platform. Future Jewish community researchers and leaders will be able to learn about the rapid transformation of Jewish life during this time.”


Murali’s “Visualizing the Interwoven World” Receives Grants from AIIS

Dr. Deepthi Murali has received a Digital India Learning Scholarship grant from the American Institute of Indian Studies in support of a new digital art history project. Visualizing the Interwoven World of Eighteenth-Century Indian Textiles will collate and analyze more than five hundred images and associated metadata of South Indian textiles from publicly accessible museum collections to produce a searchable aggregated database on these textiles, the first of its kind. The project will also publish interpretive results on patterns of use, circulation routes of textiles and merchant communities, and centers of production. Digital output will include data visualization in the form of interactive maps, visual charts, blogs, and audio recordings. This is a pilot project for a larger born-digital project on the material histories of Indian Ocean World with a focus on South Asia. The work for this project will take place over 2020 and 2021.

After receiving her PhD in Art History from the University of Illinois at Chicago, Dr. Murali joined RRCHNM as a postdoc. She is an expert on the history of the art in India, and she has contributed to a number of digital art history and digital history projects at RRCHNM and other institutions, including World History Commons, the Masala History Podcast, the Humanities Without Walls Consortium Podcast, and the Consolation Prize Podcast.

An image of a textile from India

Hanging Depicting a European Conflict in South India, before 1763, southeast India (for the British market), Cotton, plain weave (drawn and painted, mordant and resist dyed), 296.5×261.6cm, The Metropolitan Museum of Art (accession no. 2014.88).

40,000+ Documents from Religious Bodies Census Digitized Nearly a Century Later

Today the American Religious Ecologies project is releasing the initial version of a website that makes available tens of thousands of documents from the 1926 U.S. Census of Religious Bodies. These schedules, or forms, describe religious congregations from the early twentieth century from a wide range of religious traditions. These documents are freely available to scholars, students, and local historians, who can browse or search for them by location or by religious identification.

For the first half of the twentieth century, the U.S. Census Bureau collected remarkably detailed information about American religious institutions. The Bureau undertook this survey every ten years, from 1906 until 1946. In 1926, the Bureau tabulated 232,154 congregations, including groups such as Roman Catholics, Baptists, the African Methodist Episcopal Church, Jews, and over a dozen relatively new Pentecostal denominations. For each congregation, the Bureau collected a schedule (or form) detailing information such as its membership by sex and age, its buildings and finances, and its location.

The schedules from the other religious bodies censuses have been lost or destroyed. Only the schedules from the 1926 census survive. These schedules are a treasure trove of information, the single richest historical source of data about American congregations. Until today, however, these documents have been available only in an uncatalogued collection housed at the National Archives.

With the aid of a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, historians on the American Religious Ecologiesproject have been photographing and cataloging this collection. The initial release of the collection features schedules from over 40,000 congregations across the country. Users can find schedules by religious identification, by state and county, or by browsing them on a map. The project staff will continue to add schedules to the website on a rolling basis, as well as eventually adding transcriptions of the data contained in the schedules. All materials created by the project are either in the public domain or released under an open-access license, and they are thus free for use by scholars, educators and students, and local historians and genealogists.

For additional background information, you can read about the history of the Religious Bodies censuses, about what we have learned about the Census Bureau’s efforts to count religion, or about what you can learn from a Religious Bodies census schedule.

Screenshot of the website that hosts the digitized census documents

Cross-posted from the American Religious Ecologies blog.

From Historical Sources to Datasets: A Preview of DataScribe

Updated November 11: The beta release is now available for download (zip file).

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.

RRCHNM to Digitize the 1926 Census of Religious Bodies

The Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media is pleased to announce that it has received a three-year grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities to support Mapping American Religious Ecologies. The generous funding comes from the Humanities Collections and Reference Resources program within the NEH’s Division of Preservation and Access.

Mapping American Religious Ecologies will digitize the 1926 Census of Religious Bodies. Every ten years from 1906 to 1946, the U.S. Census Bureau surveyed congregations, synagogues, and other religious groups in a census that supplemented the better known population census. While the Census published summary reports from that data, the forms (or schedules) filled out by each congregation have not been widely used. Only the schedules from the 1926 Census survive, and those are located in a collection at the National Archives and Records Administration in Washington, DC, which has been cataloged but not inventoried.

This project will photograph and make available approximately 232,000 schedules, like the one shown below. These schedules contain a wealth of information about each congregation, including its membership by age and sex, its expenditures on buildings and missions, its minister’s name and whether he or she had gone to seminary, and its denominational affiliation, which the Census Bureau cataloged into 213 different groups. Just as important, the schedules include the location of the congregations—almost always by county and city or town and in many cases the street address as well.

Sample schedule from the 1926 Census of Religious Bodies

This schedule was filled out by a Seventh Day Adventist congregation in Candler, North Carolina. Candler was an unincorporated town and was too small to be worth mentioning in the published population census of 1930, yet the Census of Religious Bodies was able to count its 84 Adventists in 1926. Taken from Box 3, Schedules of the Census of Religious Bodies, 1926–1928, National Archives Identifier 2791163, National Archives and Records Administration, Washington, DC.

This project will associate each of the records with spatial data, linking each congregation to its state and county, and in most cases with a town or city as well. Researchers will be able to browse the schedules by denomination and place in a way that they could never feasibly do in the archives. The project team will also begin to transcribe the data contained in these records, make the rest available for crowdsourced transcription, and create maps of religion at the national and local levels. The result will be a detailed and comprehensive spatial dataset for American religion, useable by scholars in history and religious studies, by local historians, and by the public.

We envision the final project being used to look up individual congregations, to study the history of a town or county, and to better understand the religious groups that the Census Bureau surveyed. But we also think that it will provide a new angle of vision onto some of the perennial questions in American religious history. For instance, observers of American religion have often noted its pluralism, and have described how different groups often competed, sometimes collaborated, and usually coexisted in the same places. But while it is straightforward to assert, for example, that in a large city like New York or Los Angeles there were many religious groups, what about in small towns or sparsely populated places? What were the range of congregations available in, for example, the small unincorporated town of Candler, NC? Did those congregations come from similar or different denominations? We hope to turn the 1926 Census into a dataset that can provide some empirical evidence for significant questions such as these.

The core team at RRCHNM will include Ken Albers, Kim Nguyen, Jim Safley, and Greta Swain, as well as undergraduate research assistants majoring in history or religious studies. The project is led by Lincoln Mullen and John Turner. At George Mason University, the project is a collaboration between RRCHNM, its parent Department of History and Art History, and the Department of Religious Studies.

Who Built America? to Become OER with Revamped History Matters Content

With funding by the National Endowment for the Humanities, RRCHNM is partnering with the American Social History Project (ASHP) at the City University of New York on Who Built America? Working People and the Nation’s History. This project creates an updated, completely free, open education resource (OER) and continues a 38-year effort to make social and labor history accessible to the broad public — a core commitment of Roy Rosenzweig’s.

The project will update content from the History Matters website, developed by RRCHNM in 1998, including over 1,000 annotated primary sources in the site’s Many Pasts section and vital historical thinking resources in Making Sense of Evidence. The updated site will supplement the 2-volume Who Built America? textbook and ASHP’s varied multimedia teaching resources from the Who Built America? CD-ROMs to create the free online textbook. The new Who Built America? site will guarantee that the highly used History Matters resources will continue to be available and sustainable in the future for teachers and students of U.S. history.

Next Steps for Tropy

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.

To introduce and demonstrate Tropy and its new features to a variety of audiences, our team will offer training workshops at regional centers of higher education in the United States and abroad. The first workshops will take place at Northeastern University in Boston on November 13.

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.

Workshop to Develop Digital History Articles for a Special Issue of the Journal of Social History

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 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.

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.