For my week eleven final reflection, I decided I wanted to go back and play around more with my narrative map on KnightLab. I chose to go back to this project because it was one of my favorites from this semester. It was a simple interface and I loved the map element combined with the picture and short caption to flesh out a historical process. It felt like the kind of site that I would want to come across if I were researching. The process of making it originally was fun and I was proud of what I was able to do for it. I also just like maps a lot, and this type of project gives me the excuse to play with them. The subject was on events leading to the Civil War, of which there are countless examples. I had seven examples originally and I remember thinking that I could have included a lot more, which is also another reason I wanted to go back to this project. Putting them into KnightLab was great because I could also put them in chronological order, making the narrative map serve the purpose of a timeline too. I knew there were more events I could add to my map, so I decided to go back and do that as well and fix any existing issues I noticed within it.
I went back and added three slides: one on the Dred Scott case, one on when Uncle Tom’s Cabin was published, and one on when the Fugitive Slave Act was passed. I had to find relevant photos to include and information as to why these events were significant and how they contributed to the tension that would lead to war. I found more pictures from Wikimedia Commons, which I originally had written as “Wikipedia.” I went in and changed that. Adding these slides and their explanations, which I link below, made the project more complete. I feel like, though these slides might not have as geographical a significance as far as where they took place, they do have more to do with the institution of slavery and the map is stronger with their additions. Again, I’m not sure how to fix the font to be the color I’d like, and I had someone with some basic coding knowledge take a look for me to no avail. I don’t think it ruins the project or anything that drastic. There wasn’t a spot to make text italicized in certain areas, so that was also an issue with KnightLab. What might also have been cool would have been to use georectification, like we discussed, too. I think that makes an interactive historical map even cooler.
I am happy that I was able to take this course. Originally, I was enrolled in the Hebrew 101 class, but the class in a virtual format was not coming easily to me and most of the other students already had working Hebrew knowledge, which served to be intimidating. I needed another class and this course was available as a late-start. I’m a history major so it still sounded interesting, but unlike the history courses I was already used to taking. I was happy to see that we were focusing in on a subject, Slavery in this case, and that there were interesting looking books assigned. I assumed that the reading and discussion of history would be the part of the class that I would focus on and I would maybe learn something interesting about doing history with digital tools. I figured that books and historical sources in archives were the best way to conduct historical research, as well as the most interesting way to do so.
I was struck early on with how many digital methods of doing history I was already familiar with. I simultaneously had a seminar on Digital Testimony of the Holocaust. I’d worked with faculty over the summer transcribing oral histories too. Working on history without easy access to the library and archives at MSU due to COVID-19 emphasized the importance of this class and work in the digital humanities generally. How was I supposed to work on my research projects from home without the behind-the-scenes work of those in the digital humanities? They open up a lot more opportunities for us now than we may have ever thought. Digitized archives and sources are thanks to their work. History podcasts are another example. The metadata for digitized artifacts are also part of digital humanities. I didn’t know that before this class! As someone who is a history major, digital humanities feels like the future of my discipline. I would love to take another related course while I’m at MSU.
I am proud of all we’ve learned this semester and all of the tools we’ve been introduced to. The narrative maps, as I mentioned previously, were some of my favorites to work with. I thought it was fun to make museum labels too, and much more of a challenge than I had assumed. Keeping the label low on words wasn’t easy to do. Comparing websites was an important exercise. Some really are more user-friendly than others. Text analysis was an interesting concept to me, and I did end up downloading the sentiment analysis add-on for my google drive. Reading the article that used word frequency on State of the Union addresses was fascinating. It doesn’t tell you how to interpret that data, but it gives you a lot to think about. The data visualizations in flourish were fun to mess with and I liked working with excel. I was surprised to find that recording the podcast was one of my favorite weeks too! I thought I wouldn’t like it as much as I did. No one likes listening to their voice, of course, but I liked being able to make a point and speak on my thoughts related to the course. I liked that we had one of Jonathan Van Ness’ podcasts assigned to listen to that week. I’ve listened to some of his before and seen him in Queer Eye and I think he’s great!
A reflection on this class wouldn’t be complete without reflecting on the focus of this course: slavery. Schermerhorn’s book was a great overview of the elements of the institution. A theme that our class focused on inadvertently was of what we learned here that we hadn’t learned in high school or that our curriculums hadn’t done a good job of teaching to us in the past. There are so many elements to slavery that are disturbing and that are easier to scan over when teaching about it. The violence, especially of a sexual nature, is a massively important subject and incredibly widespread, but it is so hard to talk about that it often is left out altogether. The complicity of the North in slavery was a similarly less-known concept. Also the fact that, just because someone was an abolitionist, didn’t mean that they supported racial equality. More often than not, that wasn’t the case. We also learned about treatment of Native people in the United States. Learning about these subjects does not reflect well on our country’s track record of human rights and our curriculums don’t like to emphasize them often for that reason. The American Paradox, as we discussed, is integral to understanding who our country is. It is important to own your past honestly so that you can move forward and do better. Our country was set up with endless amounts of potential, I believe, and it’s just a matter of fulfilling it. In one of the articles we read there was a quote by Saidiya Hartman that stuck with me and that I have scribbled on a post-it note above my desk. It reads: “History is how the secular world attends to the dead.” I think that quote sums up what it means to be a historian. In studying enslaved people and Native Americans, it’s important that they be treated with the dignity they deserve and that they too are remembered in our historical record.
Thank you for all of your work, discussion, and help this semester, Professor Andrella! I’m very happy to have been in your first class!