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. What struck me from the audience’s very helpful comments and questions was that I needed more context, both in terms of my historical narrative and argument as well as my methodology and the thought process behind my editorial decisions. The search for context would deeply shift my focus throughout the course of my time as a fellow.
In terms of needing more historical context, I eventually settled on building a project framework that would integrate visualizations into narrative. Traditional scholarly questions would drive my digital research. This lead to the creation of Constructing Furniture City the project that houses my work developed while part of the Incubator and it’s parent project The Rise and Fall of the American Small City which will house my various dissertation related digital history projects.
When developing the narrative projects, I carved out substantial space devoted to explaining my methodology. By allowing myself to expand on the editorial decisions behind each visualization, I believe that I have expanded my audience. An expanded methodology opens my project to those interested in the digital questions as well as those interested in the historical ones.
In presenting Constructing Furniture City to the “fall showcase,” I emphasized this journey from a project focused primarily on visualization production to one of historical narrative. While both types of projects have their merits, my final project works to bridge the gap between them, allowing users to explore the history, the methods, or both.