All posts by jbeecher

Midterm: Digital Harlem

Digital Harlem (Shane White):

General Analysis: A Descriptive Review of the Digital Harlem Project

To begin, the Digital Harlem project asks a series of questions. What was the everyday life like for a black New Yorker? How do specific events from 1915-1930 Harlem relate to each other spatially and time-wise? That emphasis on daily life in the time period of the Harlem Renaissance demonstrates their argument that the daily lives of the members of the Harlem community, while in some ways very different from ours, was in as many others quite similar. Through that argument, they further humanize the people of Harlem by connecting the events of our lives to those of our own then subtly overlaying them with a spatial model. That model uniquely portrays that connection, which pushes the academic body of information about Harlem forward.
Within the model, their chosen visualizations displayed present information in a spatial manner force users to create connections and patterns between events; this presentation of information feels more telling than simply reading the information off of an archive. The interactivity, namely, the user’s ability to search for people, places, and events and overlay the results on the map allows the user to discover surprising connections and therefore make unexpected conclusions about life in Harlem. Furthermore, upon arriving on the webpage, users are presented with a “Welcome” pop-up box briefly explaining the purpose of the project. The project also displays its content in pop-up boxes, when the user clicks on the people, places, or events to learn about them. Because of the pop-up boxes the primary page never disappears, which makes navigating the project intuitive. Thus, the user organizes the pop-up boxes to personally maintain order when searching through the project, which makes the project interactive.
That interactivity helps to immerse the user in Harlem through the front-end technology used in the project. In particular, its design allows the users to choose the information that the map shows and further makes the user choose the degree of depth of the display. A user could display icons indicating locations in which burglaries happened from 1915-1930, or they could instead find information on a particular burglary. Again, the interactivity allows the user to personalize their display. On the back-end, the map refers to a database of events, people, and places in Harlem. Those people and places all arrived from research done by the developers from periodicals and other primary documents cited by the developers. Citations provide justification for all claims made within the project allowing for easy use of the project in alternative settings.
This manipulability of the project supports the perspective Shane White’s colleague and team as a whole as stated in the title of Robertson’s, a co-creator of the Digital Harlem project, article [1] on the topic: “The Digital Harlem project is a research tool.” The project succeeds as a research tool, but because of that success, the project acts as a means to perform other research and therefore loses some of the self reflection necessary for a Digital Humanities project. A project as a means ignores the focus on process over product, which again contradicts some of the basic necessities of a digital humanities project. Within the project, they chose to portray particular information, but without emphasis on reflection, they do not justify that display. Instead the user must justify that portrayal in any application, the project’s greatest failure.

Usability: Navigation, Accessibility, Design, and Interactivity

This category allows us to evaluate the project in terms of the user’s interaction with it. In that way, this category represents front-end interaction. How intuitive and pleasing is navigating the project? Navigating the Digital Harlem project is impressively easy. We located every node that we had interest in quickly and easily found any extra information on that node. While we did not find the google maps design particularly pleasing, we found it was a natural extension of the familiar service. They could add more features such as edges between the nodes, but all projects inevitably can. Overall, we give them a solid 8/10. They formed their argument with their display but did nothing surprising enough to warrant citing their style.

Persuasion: Research Question, Academic Value, Credibility, Biases, and Originality

Persuasion addresses the likelihood that we would use the information they provided us with in an argument of our own. Much like how usability represented the front-end, persuasion somewhat represents the back-end but less so. Persuasion accounts for all information going into the project before display and then the interpretation after display. How persuasive is their argument based on where their information came from and how they used it? They cite all of the sources that they use and received funding from multiple groups for their project, so they had academic support to create credibility. We trusted their information, which drove us to explore the specifics of some of their cases of thievery, manslaughter, and church going. However, as addressed above, the project lacks both self reflection and a focus on process. We may access the information but the reasoning behind the display is left as an exercise for the reader. Because of that choice, we can only give persuasion a 7/10. We still find their information well justified, but it takes our own interpretation to find biases within the information.

Personal Significance: Accounting for Personal Biases

In any review, we must account for personal bias. This point reigns especially true for criticism in academia in fields other than our own. For math majors, the history of Harlem feels somewhat distant, but we thoroughly appreciated and connected with their argument. Although, we also defined their argument, so we may simply support our interpretation already encumbered by confirmation bias. Regardless, the mapping of a disadvantaged group’s home and graphical display of their daily lives interested us. We always like to learn about disadvantaged groups, but people often discuss groups at a distance. Even within this analysis, we mainly refer to robberies and murders without acknowledging the actual daily lives of the people. The other information formed a more human realm for Harlem. We would even like to see mappings of our own areas to watch how the mappings would represent our daily lives. Overall, we give it a 9/10 for personal significance, which may suggest an inflation of our other scores.

Our overall score averages usability and persuasion and adds one tenth of personal significance, so our overall score is 8.4/11. Usability and persuasion are of equal importance, but personal significance inevitably comes into play. Our scoring system reflects that relationship.

[1] Stephen Robertson; Digital Mapping as a Research Tool: Digital Harlem: Everyday Life, 1915–1930. Am Hist Rev 2016; 121 (1): 156-166. doi: 10.1093/ahr/121.1.156

Alex Black and Jean Beecher

Writing Assignment #2

According to Lev Manovich, cultural analytics is “the use of computational and visualization methods for the analysis of massive cultural datasets and flows.” This definition explains cultural analytics as a systematic way of understanding a digital humanities project. Cultural analytics as a way of studying certain digital humanities projects can be insightful and allow for one to thoroughly understand a project that may be initially daunting to him/her. Basically, the application of cultural analytics to a digital humanities project allows one to see patterns, connections, and changes over time of cultural datasets.

The “Costume History Collection” and its corresponding digital archive, LUNA digital imaging database, present four books from the mid eighteenth century to the mid nineteenth century. These books present information on style of dress within this time period. The books contain information such as fabric types, style of dress for brides, international style of dress, and pattern diagrams. The physical books are located in the Special Collections and Rare Books Room of Waldo Library at Western Michigan University.

The LUNA online database presents the information from the books in a very user-friendly and accessible manner. The project itself is relatively simple since it only contains four individual books. The online database provides useful tools such as a way to search the metadata to locate certain images, and the capability to zoom in and out of very high resolution images to get a closer look. While a user views an image, he/she is able to simultaneously view its metadata on the side. A few examples of the metadata available on each image are “measurements,” “material,” “cultural context,” “location,” and “style period.” This metadata is useful in organizing the images into different categories, depending on what the user is studying, whether it be the “style period” or the actual size of the image.

Overall, this digital humanities project is successful when analyzed on the basis of cultural analytics. It does a good job drawing connections between the four books on mid-eighteenth century to mid-nineteenth century fashion. The design of the website is intuitive and there are numerous ways to refine the information to study connections based on the images metadata.

Jean Beecher


Manovich, Lev. “How and why study big cultural data.”

Assignment#1 – What is DH?

Digital humanities is a constantly evolving term, a function of cultural and technological changes over time. Originally referred to as “humanities computing,” digital humanities can generally be defined as the process of collecting, digitizing, organizing and studying vast sets of data and information. Digital humanities should be thought less of as a field of study, and more of as a process of organizing and studying information in a digitized manner. Digital humanities is something that you do, it requires active engagement with information presented on a digital platform.
As Kathleen Fitzpatrick notes, “when many of us hear the term digital humanities today, we take the referent to be not the specific subfield that grew out of humanities computing but rather the changes that digital technologies are producing across the many fields of humanist inquiry.” (1) This concept of digital humanities reinforces the idea that digital humanities is reliant on the evolution of technologies and the resources they can provide in terms of the study of humanities. It is important to note that “digital humanities is a spectrum;” (2) often times digital humanistic practices are occurring unbeknownst to a particular scholar. In one of its most simple forms, digital humanities is the basic recording of notes on a word processor on a computer. In a more complex manner, the Walt Whitman online archive is an extensive digital humanities project, one that required a lot of time and organization to put together.
Overall, it is important to recognize the scope of what digital humanities refers to. It is a process that can be utilized for very simple tasks, or one that can be applied to elaborate projects. Either way, digital humanities is a process becoming more and more prevalent in the constantly evolving age of technology as many scholars attempt to use all available technology to further their humanitarian studies.


1. Fitzpatrick, Kathleen. “The Humanities, Done Digitally.” Debates in the Digital Humanities. Accessed Feb. 06, 2017.

2. Mullen, Lincoln. “Digital humanities is a spectrum; or, we’re all digital humanists now.” The Backward Glance. January 14, 2017. Accessed February 06, 2017.

DH Project Analysis

Biblion Project Analysis

  1. What kinds of files, data, objects are being used in the project in question?
    1. Documents, images, films, audio, and texts
  2. What’s the project research question? Or, questions?
    1. What makes the 1939-1940 New York World’s Fair so notable?
    2. Why did the NYPL feel the need to create this app?
    3. Without this app, what would those who did not attend the fair be missing?
  3. What tools are being used? Created?
    1. People are coding and transferring tangible/ real-life data onto an app
    2. Organizing information, digitizing, research methods, compiling, transcription, archiving
  4. What methods are being undertaken?
    1. Compiling experiences and data from a fair almost 80 years ago
    2. Digitizing real life experiences
    3. Organizing information
    4. Digitally archiving
  • Matty Golding and Jean Beecher