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Category: Research

What makes your city famous?

Last weekend, I was watching Clueless and looked up Pismo Beach, California on Wikipedia after Cher spearheads the disaster relief efforts for that city. I was pleasantly surprised to find that Pismo Beach claims to be the “Clam Capital of the World.” My dissertation examines the identities of cities claiming to be the “Capital of the World” in various industries during the Gilded Age and Progressive Era and I recently released a digital project examining how Grand Rapids took on the identity of “Furniture City”. City identities, particularly ones based on economics, have been an interest of mine for a… Read What makes your city famous?

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Constructing Furniture City

Last year, I had a wonderful opportunity to be one of the initial fellows of the Center for Digital Research in the Humanities’s Digital Scholarship Incubator. I pitched an ambitious agenda during which I would create many varied visualizations all of which would evaluate the industrial ability of certain cities during the Gilded Age and Progressive Era. My final product, however, is quite different. A few weeks into the incubator, I presented at a “spring showcase” for student projects where I briefly discussed some initial maps and some of the issues I encountered working with quantitative data and qualitative concepts.… Read Constructing Furniture City

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Quantifying Prestige

As with any scholarly project, in my dissertation on the development of small cities during the Gilded Age and Progressive Era I need to explain why it matters. I argue these cities are worth the time and effort of a dissertation because they provide a different narrative of urbanization and industrialization. Key to this alternative narrative is the dominant role of niche industries within each city. The cities built an urban identity around these industries, often claiming to be the “capitol of the world” in crafting a certain product. In addition to being catchy, these city slogans are actually quite… Read Quantifying Prestige


“The Biggest City of Its Size in this Country”

At the beginning of the semester, I finished my dissertation prospectus. My committee told me to drastically cut the number of case studies with which I had begun (among many other good suggestions), lightening the workload while keeping the core idea. With the semester over, I’m going to try to recommit to discussing my research as it is in progress, particularly because I’m embarking on a new digital project, but I’ll blog more about that in the near future. The following is a rather long-winded personal account of how I got to my dissertation topic, if you want my succinct… Read “The Biggest City of Its Size in this Country”


The complete n00b’s guide to mapping in R

You should also check out the next tutorial in the series: The Complete n00b’s Guide to Gephi A few weeks ago, I presented to the UNL DH community about a project that I’m beginning while a fellow at the CDRH’s Digital Scholarship Incubator. The project is an effort to utilize digital tools to visualize business and organizational records related to my dissertation on industrialization in small cities. During my talk, I noted I was still uncertain as to what tool to use to create my maps, but thankfully, James Austin Wehrwein was also presenting. Afterwards he suggested I consider R… Read The complete n00b’s guide to mapping in R


Playing with Gephi

I finally got around to playing with sample data I collected on a research trip last summer. The data comes from the Rockford Chair and Furniture Company Records at Northern Illinois University. The most exciting part of this is that these visualizations were orders from one day, November 5, 1891, and they have several years of this data so there is much more potential in these records. I found Gephi quite easy to use and I’d recommend taking a look at it if you’re interested in making your own. P.S. There’s a typo on two of the images, just pretend… Read Playing with Gephi


What am I looking for in a dissertation?

Well it’s been a couple of months and a dissertation topic has still not fallen from the sky into my lap. No worries. I hear dissertations take a long time. Instead of trying to locate a specific topic, I have begun thinking about what I want in a dissertation topic. Two things have particularly stuck out in my musings about a topic, examining space and social relationships. Social Relationships Though I have enjoyed the topic from my MA thesis, I found some of my methods a little unsatisfactory. I feel like I had an adequate handle on the Grand Rapids… Read What am I looking for in a dissertation?

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In the Biting Stage

[The following is the introduction from a paper, “In the biting stage”: The 1955 Nebraska State Penitentiary Riots and Violent Prison Activism, submitted for a research seminar last year. This fall I am working on preparing the paper for submission to a journal.] Following the evening meal of August 16, 1955, prisoners at the Nebraska State Penitentiary in Lincoln, Nebraska, refused to return to their cells. Instead, they called for the warden, Joseph Bovey, and the state penal director, B. B. Albert, to join them in the mess hall. Fearing the collection of inmates would turn violent, the warden removed… Read In the Biting Stage

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Is it a Dissertation or a Book?

When it comes to writing a dissertation, I have heard both “remember it’s a book” and “it’s not a book it’s a dissertation.” So clearly, there is a consensus. Though it is a little frustrating to have such conflicting advice when beginning to formulate a dissertation topic, it is pretty clear both sides are correct. A dissertation is not a book. As Leonard Cassuto, writing for The Chronicle, points out, virtually no dissertations are publishable without major revisions, not all dissertations should be books anyways, and the dissertation is part of your education. As such a long project, it seems… Read Is it a Dissertation or a Book?



The following is an excerpt from a draft of the conclusion to my thesis. If anyone is interested in reading more I’d be happy to provide additional text as well. The water scandal came to a rather quiet end. In February 1906, the prosecuting attorneys dropped the charges against former mayor George Perry nearly two years after jury could not agree on a verdict, as well as the remaining open cases. Five years after the water scandal first broke, the prosecution did not believe they could convict anyone else. The city’s residents had become, as Grand Rapids historian Z. Z.… Read Conclusion

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