Blog #5: D.I.Y Historian

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This week, we were prompted by our professor to find a tool of particular interest to us and to present some data from our research field or prospective project. I went to The DiRT Directory and looked around for a long while. It was difficult for me to choose because I would like to use several tools in my project if I can do so. I would like to use a mapping tool, but right now, I think the first step of my project should be to set up a timeline of events pertaining to the Works Progress Administration and the Federal Writers’ Project in Florida in the 1930s (my future thesis project).

For those of you who might not have read my past blogs about it, there were seven recording expeditions conducted in Florida in the 1930s and early 1940s with the Works Progress Administration (WPA). John, Ruby, and Alan Lomax, Zora Neale Hurston, Stetson Kennedy, Robert Cook, Alton Morris, Carita Doggett Corse, Robert Cornwell, John Filareton, and Herbert Halpert traveled across Florida and collected an array of folk songs throughout the state with the WPA. Many of the recordings still exist (most are in poor condition), but there does not seem to have been an in depth analysis of the songs gathered by the WPA and the FWP in Florida. I hope I can bring attention to the work that was done by them and also shine a light on the ordinary people they met and recorded.

Back to my project, I would love to eventually use textual analysis, but I have a lot to learn before I can do that. Therefore, I decided to start out with a timeline. I took Dr. French’s advice and checked out Timeline JS. I was pleasantly surprised at how it easy it was to make the timeline. I just entered the data into an Excel spreadsheet and followed some easy prompts to publish it. The next thing I knew, I had an interactive timeline going! I had trouble linking videos pertaining to the timeline information (as the help section claimed I could do). I would also love to somehow add songs to it, but I did not see that as an option. I even tried to link an entry to a website, but it did not seem to work. I assume it is user error at this point, so I plan to work on it more to get the hang of how to use it. I tried to enter it into the body of this blog but I could not figure out how to do it. I look forward to adding more details to the timeline, but if you would like to see the rough draft, click on the link below. Please keep in mind that it is a rough draft as you view it!

WPA Florida Folk Music Collecting Expeditions Timeline

This week, Dr. French shared with us a quote from Dr. Jeffrey W. McClurken, Professor of History and American Studies. In an interview, McClurken said concerning starting a digital project, “One of the mistakes is not starting at all, because you think it’s going to be too complicated. Some of the technical pieces may be too complicated—at first. But it’s important to dive in, pilot projects, and do digital work in small batches. The field of digital humanities is, at heart, about experimentation and iteration. It’s okay to start small and make mistakes.” I appreciate that quote because I am quite new to these tools, but learning how to make the timeline was a nice start to my project. My next goal is to learn more about Google Fusion Tables as a mapping tool.

Google Fusion Mapping Tool.
Google Fusion Mapping Tool.

I am still on the lookout for a text mining option. I wonder how I will approach its usage in my project. Many of the folk songs that were recorded by the Federal Writers’ Project in Florida were transcribed, so it seems to be a possible (and dare I say fun) endeavor. I have been pondering ways to incorporate into my project a study of Florida folk song lyrics from the songs that were collected by the Works Progress Administration. I do not think I will have time to delve into it enough during this semester, but I would like to use it in my final thesis project if I can figure it out.

Speaking of text mining, one of the most interesting projects I found while researching text mining tools this week was a project called Songs of the Victorians, an archive of “parlor and art song settings of Victorian poems, and also a scholarly tool to facilitate interdisciplinary music and poetry scholarship.” It is not exactly what I would like to do with my study of Florida folk music, but the project just shows ways in which one can study music history with the use of digital tools.

I have always wanted to combine my love for history with my love for folk music. Therefore, I am excited about the idea of utilizing digital tools to aid in the exploration of both folk music and Florida history. Until next time, I will be looking at ways to incorporate mapping or text mining tools into my digital project.

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