Monthly Archives: March 2015

Crowdsourced digital history: Project South at Stanford — via NPR.org

Linton Weeks, in a post for NPR, describes a unique digital audio archive at Stanford on the civil rights movement: Project South. Here is part of Weeks’ description of the archive:

The Background: Exactly 50 years ago this year — in the summer of 1965 — a group of eight students filtered out into the Southern United States. Under the aegis of Stanford’s Institute of American History — and with help from campus radio station, KZSU — the young people gathered more than 300 hours of amazing audio recordings. They interviewed a lot of people — young and old, black and white — including members of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.

In the mountain of material: Audio appearances by Ralph Abernathy, Charles Evers, Fannie Lou Hamer and Hosea Williams. Andrew Young leads a singalong. The enterprising students captured the sounds of a Ku Klux Klan meeting and an address by Robert Shelton, a KKK imperial wizard.

Weeks invites readers to help him crowdsource the archive….

Historically speaking, I need your help.

Davis Houck, a communications professor at Florida State University, recently pointed me toward a little-explored archive at Stanford University called Project South.

It’s an intriguing trove — full of original source material. In fact, it’s so rich with historical moments, I need your help to sort it all out.

So I am asking anyone who is interested — historians professional and amateur — to do some research sleuthing. Let’s commit historical crowdsourcery.

[…]

Davis Houck, who wrote about the Project South archive for the Clarion-Ledger in Jackson, Miss., in 2014 tells NPR History Dept. that the relatively obscure archives “are just remarkable: from the highs of Dr. King’s oratory to Fannie Lou Hamer’s amazing testimony, to lots of singing, to a Klan rally! And I would underscore, and keep in mind this is somebody who writes about civil rights for a living, there’s simply nothing else even remotely like it.”

Read the rest of the NPR article here: http://goo.gl/QuRKzG

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in 1965. AP

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Spanish Flu Project at Virginia Tech via Chronicle of Higher Education

http://chronicle.com/article/Big-Data-Project-on-1918-Flu/190457/

Soldiers with the Spanish flu are hospitalized inside the U. of Kentucky gym in 1918. In one prevention method examined in a new study, New Yorkers were advised to refrain from kissing “except through a handkerchief.” – via the Chronicle of Higher Education

The Chronicle of Higher Education (February 27, 2015) contains an article by Jennifer Howard on the Spanish Flu Project: a big data project funded by the NEH (among other entities) exploring reporting on the 1918 Spanish Flu. As Howard describes the research:

The team began with several questions: How did reporting on the Spanish flu spread in 1918? And how big a role did one influential person play in shaping how the outbreak was handled? . . . Royal S. Copeland was the health commissioner of New York City in August 1918, when a ship arrived in New York Harbor from Europe with flu victims aboard . . . . Copeland helped set the tone for how the nation reacted to a viral threat—and has been the subject of debate among historians ever since, with competing camps arguing about whether he did enough.

Researchers would typically scour public statements by Copeland to answer these questions. But since the outbreak was “well documented in the popular press of the day,” it seemed an ideal topic for “digitally enabled scholarship.”

Using the Library of Congress’s Chronicling America database of historical newspapers, the HathiTrust Digital Library, and other sources, the Virginia Tech researchers sought out direct and indirect evidence of Copeland’s role: mentions and quotations, references to flu-containment strategies he promoted. “You can see his influence even if his name’s not used,” Mr. Ewing says.

The article does a good job highlighting the strengths and weaknesses of this form of digital scholarship. As Howard notes, this complex project requires both “code and context”:

To produce useful results, this kind of investigation depends on customized algorithms. But coming up with a good algorithm involves both code and context, a mingling of the complementary strengths of computer scientists and humanists . . . . The hybrid, trial-and-error nature of the Spanish-flu investigation may say something about the current state of computer-assisted humanities work. Mr. Bobley of the NEH says he has been impressed with the flu researchers’ “candid thoughts on how computational approaches like data mining are no magic bullet,” even as they expand what humanists can do. The work is a reminder, he says, that “historical documents like newspapers are rich, messy, nuanced, and complex documents that defy easy computational analysis.”

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