Current Research in Digital History

Volume 3 (2020)

A Bridge Between Two Worlds: The Political and Economic Geography of SNCC's Friends Network

David S. Busch
"A Bridge Between Two Worlds" is part of a larger, ongoing digital project titled "The Tree of Protest." The digital project reconstructs the network infrastructure of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and student activism in the 1960s. This article offers early findings from a spatial analysis of Friends of SNCC chapters. It combines geographic data on the locations of SNCC Projects and Friends of SNCC Chapters with 1960 census data on poverty levels, the racial characteristics of population, per capita income, and median family income to visualize the political and economic significance of SNCC's national organizing. The spatial analysis reveals the strategic geography of SNCC's national fundraising network and suggests new areas of research on student activism in the 1960s.

What’s on History?: Tuning In to Conspiracies, Capitalism, and Masculinity

Joshua Catalano and Briana Pocratsky
This article explores the discursive means by which History (formerly The History Channel) assigns value to and legitimizes certain methodologies, ideas, and identities. Using distant reading and close textual analysis of thirty consecutive days of History's programming, we argue that the majority of the network's aired programming is reality television in the guise of historical content. This programming reproduces a narrow conception of masculinity that emphasizes whiteness, manual labor, patriotism, and the mythic frontier situated within a capitalist framework. By entangling this construction of masculinity with a nostalgic, decontextualized, and meritocratic understanding of the American Dream, History caters to an older, predominantly white male demographic and offers programming that aligns with and legitimizes their worldview. Finally, we argue that History supplements its reality television shows with conspiratorial programming that profits off of a problematic orientation to the factual and evidence-based framework that humanistic and scientific inquiry is built upon.

Digitally Mapping Commercial Currents: Maritime Mobility, Vessel Technology, and U.S. Colonization of Puget Sound, 1851–1861

Sean Fraga
How important was steam power to U.S. colonization of the Pacific Northwest? This article uses data from an archival handwritten ledger covering the Puget Sound Customs District’s first decade (1851–1861) to investigate the use of steam-powered maritime mobility by non-natives during initial American settlement. By tracking individual vessels into and out of Puget Sound, these data make it possible to examine historical vessel traffic at a much finer resolution than is available in published sources. Mapping and visualizing this data shows that settlers relied far more on sailing vessels than on steam-powered ones. Although steam power captured settlers’ imaginations, steam-powered vessels made up a relatively small portion of Puget Sound vessel traffic and served fewer ports over a smaller area than did sailing vessels. While the 1858 Fraser River gold rush significantly altered regional travel patterns, its lasting impact on Puget Sound’s merchant marine was a new flotilla of small, simple sailing vessels that operated largely within the Pacific Northwest’s sheltered waters. Ultimately, this project demonstrates the potential of digitally analyzing raw data from similar records to better understand the maritime dimensions of U.S. territorial expansion.

News Diets: Main Courses and Side Dishes

Vilja Hulden
This article uses topic modeling to examine the "news(paper) diets" served up in the papers read by ordinary early-twentieth-century Americans. In the early twentieth century, a large proportion of the still-mostly-rural American population read what were known as "country weeklies," whose content was dominated by reprinted advertising and news and by local gossip and announcements. "Hard news" content was thus limited, but the practical information and gossip may have meant a closer engagement with the newspaper, and thus also with its news content. Country weeklies are also compared in this article to labor papers (broadly construed). The analysis shows a stark difference between mainstream and labor papers. In hard news topics, stories about strikes rise to the top in labor papers, while being nearly absent in mainstream papers. Labor papers also had far less of the practical information that made the country weekly so crucial to its readership, and none of the local gossip. Thus the labor papers filled an important niche, but one also had to choose to receive them for the news content; unlike the mainstream country weeklies, one did not get labor news as a "side dish" to one's regular fare of train timetables and crop news.

Silent No More: Women as Significant Political Intermediaries in Ottoman Algeria

Ashley Sanders
Over the course of nearly 300 years, Ottoman and non-Ottoman governors struggled to suppress the recalcitrant clans of the eastern province of Algeria and sustain control. Algerian women proved invaluable partners in these efforts. After the mid-seventeenth century, most Ottoman officials married into a local family as one of the surest ways to establish their legitimacy among the Algerian elite. Through text mining to extract named and unnamed entities and social network visualization to illustrate their relationships, I represent unnamed women’s spectral presence despite their absence in the archival record. These kinship connections and the sub-communities to which they give rise can be meaningfully investigated quantitatively using social network analysis measures, such as betweenness centrality scores. Examining these quantitative measures reveals both named and unnamed women’s positions within the structure of Ottoman-Algerian society. Through an analysis of the individual lives, relationships and the underlying structure that make up the Ottoman-Algerian network in Constantine between 1567 and 1837, I argue that local women were the most significant links in the chain that bound Algeria to the Ottoman Empire.

A Tale of Three Valleys: Text Mining, Spatial Analysis, and the Contested Geographies of Colorado and New Mexico’s San Luis Valley

Jacob Swisher
During the mid-nineteenth century, Colorado and New Mexico's San Luis Valley experienced an influx of migrants, land speculators, American soldiers, and capital. Much like in other borderland regions throughout the American West, their arrival was anything but smooth. As these new arrivals settled alongside an existing population of Utes, many attempted to reimagine the region in ways that supported their own economic ambitions. This article traces two regional identities that white Americans created for the San Luis Valley as they migrated to the region in the 1860s and 1870s, both of which ignored claims laid to the region by existing Indigenous and Nuevomexicano populations. The first imagined the valley as an agrarian paradise that land speculator William Gilpin and his partners created to appeal to white settlers. This article employs text mining and spatial analysis to reconstruct the second, an identity that emerged in Colorado newspapers and defined the region as a thoroughfare to mines farther west. Through digital methods, this article links localized attempts to define the San Luis Valley as a region and to lay claim to its resources to those that occurred in the press from afar. In doing so, it demonstrates the efficacy of digital methods for connecting local borderlands histories to broader regional and national narratives.