All posts by jhay

Willa Cather Archive

Jack and Jacob

Describe and evaluate the project’s design and interface. Evaluate the interactivity and modes of navigation of the project.  (plus: summary and inclusion of question regarding front-end/back end technology)

The functionality of the site is well polished and well designed, but some sections are more useful and intuitive than others.  The drop down menus are user friendly.  They are based on mouse clicks rather than a hover action (which would make them more intuitive for someone less familiar with computer mechanics, like an older audience).  This element of usability is also apparent from the large font size for ease of viewing.  

        The site’s search functionality leverages Google custom searches.  This means that the site can use Google’s sophisticated parsing tools for poorly constructed search queries as well as the extensive searching algorithms behind the custom search framework.  The results are presented cleanly (this is sometimes difficult with Google custom search).

        The books section is presented graphically with covers arranged in a grid on the page.  These are broken into the subsections: “novels,” “short fiction,” “poetry,” and “nonfiction.”  The presentation of the books is effective and the titles are very visible.  However, the presentation of the contents of the books leaves much to be desired.  The site does not utilize an embedded PDF display (think JSTOR) but instead displays the plain text of the books on the main page.  There are no page breaks, so that user must endlessly scroll through the same page to read the book.  This is an unfortunate feature of the site. The site also has indexed Cather’s early journalism and letters.

        The chronology section is useful as it combines a text based timeline and a geospatial representation of events.  The text-based portion is somewhat less difficult as it uses a vertical display of the timeline to display the events.  These are entirely text based.  However, the text includes hyperlinks to images, family trees, and Willa Cather’s works.  If someone moved sequentially through her life, they could view relevant information along the way.  The second component of the chronology section is powered by Google maps. This portion can display marks for significant events on a map.  This provides a geographic situation for events throughout her lifetime and is a useful visualization technique.

        The site contains bibliographic sketches to briefly introduce the user to Willa Cather, an extensive image gallery, audio and a movie.  The image gallery is formed as more of a traditional database.  Rather than displaying the images like the book covers, this section uses pages, an advanced search option, and functionality to narrow a search.  This section contains more material.

        Finally, the site offers the user a “community” section that introduces a ListServ and other methods of staying connected and reaching out beyond the archive.  Overall, the site is well constructed.  The main page is simple, provides access to the major collections, and would likely be useable by a wide audience (potentially unfamiliar with navigating complicated webpages).

The project uses a text visualization and analysis tool called TokenX.  Unfortunately, the technology does not appear to work.  This is a potentially useful tool (adding metatextual analysis to the collection) but the results of the analysis are nowhere to be seen. The project makes use of a well structured front end html experience as well as the back end power of a database.  This backbone is most apparent when searching for images based on criteria and search fields as well as the advanced search option which leverages lexical parsing and exact phrases.  


Describe and evaluate the significance of the scholarship for the humanities.

This project allows anybody that has access to the internet to view documents created by Willa Cather for free. This is a very simple goal which can be seen across countless Digital Humanities projects, making its contributions to the humanities fairly pedestrian. This resource fits into the prototypical early DH project, which focuses on making literature and other information accessible to a greater public. This is yet another great addition to a variety of databases focused on iconic figures in history. It does not make any truly innovative additions to the field of humanities as it can be compared to many other archives such as the Walt Whitman archive. The Walt Whitman Archive is very similarly laid out and contains similar information, just pertaining to a different iconic writer.

How does the project push forward (or fail to push forward) the state of knowledge of a discipline?

Regarding the advancement of knowledge in the discipline, it does a great job. This project presents all information of Willa Cather in a single location, making comparisons between texts far less tedious and problematic. When considering old texts that may have limited availability it is impractical to study them, due to the difficulty of locating and interpreting the texts. Using databases and archives this becomes a problem of the past. Because of resources such as the Willa Cather archive, information availability is at a wider scale than ever before. The information presented through this archive advances the information through also providing a brief description of her life, pictures of Cather, and even video and audio of her. This projects ability to push advance the state of knowledge in the field stems from how it conveys the information presented on the website, but also to present and connect the information on the website in a organized and thought provoking way.

Can you identify the project’s primary research question? What is it? A series of questions?

It is explicitly stated by the creators of the Willa Cather Archive that the goal of creating this archive was to make the works and life of Willa Cather to the public without any prejudice. This includes listings of her pieces of writing, the history of her life, and actual documents posted on the website. In addition to this they also look to present the knowledge in a thought provoking manner that is not possible without the works of digital humanities.

What do you consider to be the successes and failures of the project?

The successes of this project include the clean user interface, and the overall quality of the presentation of the information. It is a great looking website, with a straightforward interface that most individuals would be able to navigate with ease. The one minor gripe with the website would be the search engine used. Advanced search options come as a default in nearly all archives and databases and the Willa Cather Archive does not process that. This would be useful for filtering by date, genre, and other aspects of pieces of writing that are already included in the archive. These mechanics are available when sorting the list of writing pieces but not when searching through the archive. This addition would be fantastic and it will add to the usability of the website.  


Consider the role of the project director (listed in parentheses). What influence does the project director have on the project’s success (or failure)?

Andrew Jewel headed the project team for the project.  He designed and edited the site, while employing the skills of a plethora of engineers and professors.  His background is in English literature and he worked alongside members of the staff with experience in the Digital Humanities as a discipline.  The success and endurance of the project is a testament to his leadership.  In this case, his most important contribution was leading a diverse and well-qualified team.


Consider using your rubric and applying whatever form of evaluation from that assignment that might work best with the project you are examining.

For the most part, our answers to the above questions encompass our evaluation.  Interface, usability, and material are of unparalleled importance and we found that the archive met those basic criteria.  Like any project, the archive shows relative strengths and weaknesses, but overall, it functions as a source of information and knows its audience well. Our evaluation was a litmus test; if we visited the site, could we find the information about the writer and her work that we sought?  This evaluation was a function of usability, expansiveness, and the analysis of a tool designed to be versatile.


Lab Three Write-up

Both My-Dear-Little-Nelly and the map of the battle of Chancellorsville concern the American Civil War, but they present the spatial history through different lenses. The former outlines a soldier’s correspondence to his romantic interest back home, while the latter focuses on the Battle of Charlottesville as a visualization of strategy and an objective history. The letters in My-Dear-Little-Nelly are presented above a black and white map of the surrounding area, offering a direct geographical context for the soldier’s correspondence. The map presents the letters with the dimension of time as a function of a geospatial representation, allowing the user to gather a personal perspective of the battle through individual correspondence. This provides an individual perspective for a deeply complex event. The Battle of Charlottesville visualization superimposes a historical map on a mutable depiction of battle, traversable across the three days of the battle. Offering hotspots with details describing the maneuvers of both sides of the conflict, the map presents primary sources allowing the user to understand the movement of the battle as a timeline of objective facts.

Both sources use historical maps, arrows indicating movement and direction, and a timeline slider. Both visualizations rely on the core functionality of NeatLine, but each approaches the chronological presentation in a different way.  This allows for the standardization of the site.  The user is familiar with the tools at his or her disposal, but the use of the visualization changes.

The project could have been more interactive.  While it is often necessary to include fields of text to describe a history, the platform could be leveraged and expanded to offer animations, 3D maps, and more photographs to augment the 2D spatial experience.

Mapping Twitter in real time argues that people’s use of words and ideas may be geographically organized. Twitter often acts a venue for reactions to words and ideas in 140 characters or less, so it further argues that the way in which people interpret what happens in the world is geographically organized. We arrived at that interpretation of reaction, because their default topic is Obama who commonly provokes reactions. At the same time, Authorial London also argues that ideas are organized to a particular geographic venue by associating some of the greatest western thinkers to London.

Both provide strong direct information in forms of Twitter posts or English author descriptions, but the maps they use lack precision. However, while the Twitter posts necessarily lack that level of precision due to anonymity, the locations of the authors only lacks precision due to design flaws. The color scheme does not contrast greatly enough from the dated map to helpfully indicate the locations associated with the different authors. At the same time, in comparing two different authors, they made no indication of when a particular venue would be associated with both. However, those flaws could easily be fixed with some coding modifications.


Jack Hay, Alex Black, Nick Chkonia

HyperCities and the Geospatial Humanities

I chose to research the HyperCities[1] project. This is a project dedicated to using geospatial tools to inform cultural and geographical data. After initially exploring the site, I found that the project is exploring the historical layers of cities and the intersection of modern technology and geospatial humanities. Projects on this website include the use of Twitter to visualize communication in population centers, using GIS to inform the histories of neighborhoods in LA, mapping the spatial layout of a historical roman forum, and more. However, what interested me most was the nature of this project.  I immediately noticed that the project had made its code open source and it was available on GitHub (a code-sharing website) to download. One of the projects included a program that is used to sample Tweets based on hashtags in a geographical manner. The project also made the HyperCities source code available. After briefly reviewing the code behind the Twitter project, I was impressed by the volume of work behind a task that most would consider straight forward. The HyperCities project is designed as an educational tool to present historical data through “HyperMedia.”

Unfortunately, I found the layout of the main website to be far from intuitive. The main page is constructed mainly with article previews that expand when you hover the mouse over them. This is a widely used front-end tool but the execution on this website was overwhelming. The site offers a set of organizational parameters to filter the articles but not enough information is provided to understand the purposes of the categories (including “read” and “write”). The problem is that any mouse movement on the home page is distracting.

However, the tradeoff is that the user is given a short summary of each project. In this way, the main page of the site allows the user to get a better sense of the project holistically. The site also contains a list of historical maps that can interface with applications and systems like Google Earth. The project uses historical maps and new geospatial mapping tools for architectural history, disaster mapping, and culture. The homepage is an amalgam of cultural imaging projects, using technology for geographical analysis, and links to backend code for those interested in the microscopic elements of the project.

Overall, the scope of the project seems broad and the potential applications expansive. This is an excellent example of a tool developed for a specific purpose that can be adapted for new uses. While the site seems to be getting less traffic and fewer updates at the moment, it is a technology and codebase with great potential.


  1. “Thick mapping in the digital humanities.” HyperCities. Accessed February 13, 2017.

DH Analysis post: Walt Whitman Archive


The home page is intuitive and simple.  Information and sections of the archive are organized coherently on the left side of the page.  The archive doesn’t overwhelm the user at the beginning and offers a straightforward way of accessing the material. The archive offers information beyond the published works such as letters, commentary, and other media. The structure is successful because it remains simple enough to be accessible, but allows for a comprehensive collection of Whitman’s works.


The archive offers the user the ability to view metadata and the raw XML interpretation of the works.  For users who are not looking for an in depth analytical experience, the archive allows for the comparison of plain text and images of the original.  The archive allows users to manipulate the original information and view the components of the archive itself.

Jack Hay and Alex Black

Writing Assignment 1

As Lincoln Mullen[1] suggests, Digital Humanities covers a wide variety of disciplines and bodies of work. Not only is it interpreted differently in Europe than in the United States, but its applications are ever growing and ever changing. Defining Digital Humanities requires a wide lens, the acknowledgement that it exists on a broad spectrum, and a careful distinction between tools, presentation and creation. In many ways, Digital Humanities can be separated into three categories. These are by no means exhaustive, but they begin to categorize the digital tools and processes that are used. These categories are “compilation,” or the use of digital tools to collate and assemble bodies of data or materials (i.e. historical documents), “organization,” or the ability to search and sort a data set on an archival website (i.e. what makes the data uniquely accessible), and “presentation,” or the use of digital tools to generate a front-end portal for users. Digital technology uniquely presents these three categories. Computers are able to perform algorithmic tasks in a brute-force way that humans cannot. Methods for presenting and visualizing data are also greatly enhanced with modern software. Data-bases allow better accessibility by operating through a browser and offering access to texts that may otherwise be difficult or impossible to view first hand.

The reality of the field is that it is hard to nail down. Much of the Internet, digital content, games, and music can fall under “Digital Humanities.” Thus, it is important to understand that, fundamentally, “Digital Humanities” refers to the usage of digital technologies to enhance, organize, present, create, and store artifacts, art, music, news, written works, data, etc. It is the adaptation of traditional fields into a modern age. This is not a new trend, but instead it is a change that is visible because of the advent of the modern computer and its dissemination across large parts of the world. Special care must be employed to distinguish between things made with technology and previously created artifacts merely interpreted with technology,[2] but the beauty of the computer (or digital device) is that it is “backwards compatible” (so to speak). Digital Humanities are the tools for creation, the tools for presentation, and the methods of storage and organization that have become available with the computer.

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

[2] Fitzpatrick, Kathleen. “The Humanities, Done Digitally.” Debates in the Digital Humanities. 2012. Accessed February 06, 2017.