Final Reflection Post

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!

One thought on “Final Reflection Post

  1. It was great to read about how you revisited the week on digital mapping and that you wanted to revise/expand this original project. Digital mapping is one of my favorite topics, because it completely reorients our understanding of history to consider the role of geography, space, and landscape in the past. Your project, “The Violent Road to the Civil War” is an outstanding example of the advantages of digital mapping for historical study. Anyone viewing your project for the first time might come with limited knowledge about the Civil War– key battles, north v. south, etc. But when users look at your initial slide, we see how the Civil War was not just a North versus South issue, but one that truly engulfed the entire nation. Your different markers provide fine details and examples with images to illustrate why these different locations were significant. I really appreciated the amount of work that you put into refining this project and adding the new slides into this narrative. As for the font concerns, I appreciate that you tried to dig into this issue– I took a glance at the “advanced” tab on the landing page of the Story Maps website, and it seems that the only way to have FULL control over the map is if you host and edit the code itself. If you are interested in pursuing this further, I’d be happy to work with you on how to do this. Additionally, you should check out Arc GIS stroy maps: –some of their features cost money, but I’m pretty sure the basic feature is free.

    I am so glad to hear that you enjoyed this course and the opportunity to do a deep-dive into a singular topic like the history of slavery. I appreciate all of your reflections about the significance of this history and the key lessons from this semester. To see this detailed summary is really amazing as an instructor, because it’s wonderful to see how much we’ve covered and how it sparked interest among students.

    I remember your first post that described your experience with transcribing the oral histories, it sounds like your background with digital humanities turned out to be really helpful for this class! There is an amazing Digital Humanities community at MSU– complete with events, workshops and a conference that is open to everyone (even just to attend)! Here is the link to the DH site, and you should join the emailing list: . There is also a DH minor for undergraduate students. Since you are in history, you also have full access to the Lab for the Education and Advancement of Digital Research (LEADR) on the first floor of old horticulture. If we are able to go into the dept. in the spring, I would be happy to show you around and introduce you to some people you should know!

    Thank you so much for all of your contributions this semester– both in blogs and during class discussion. Your profound insights brought so much to this course and that meant a lot to me. Please don’t hesitate to reach out should you need anything in the future! Best of luck with the rest of your classes and your future endeavors!

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