Blog Post #7: Ask a Question & Search for Information

Construction workers gathered around the stove in the craftsmen’s barracks at Camp Blanding, Florida, 1940.
Construction workers gathered around the stove in the craftsmen’s barracks at Camp Blanding, Florida, 1940.

This week, our professor in my Digital Tools for Historians class asked us to form a question about our digital project and then set out to find the information that could answer it. His suggestion is based on Bill Ferster’s book Interactive Visualization: Insight Through Inquiry. In the book, Ferster discusses his ASSERT Model:

Ask a Question
Search for Data
Structure the Information
Envision the Answer
Represent the Visualization
Tell a Story Using Data

I decided to use the ASSERT Model to help me figure out my digital project goals.

Ask a Question: My question is, “What music did the folklorists with the WPA collect during their expeditions throughout the state of Florida in the Depression era?” I actually have more than one question. I want to know who collected the music, who performed the music, where it was made, and why. I think an in depth examination of the music should be able to answer these questions.

Search for Data: There are other possible sources are out there for my project, but for the purposes of this blog I will focus on the audio files in the Florida Folklife WPA Collection. The American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. contains the Florida Folklife from the WPA Collections, 1937-1942. That will be a great primary source location for me to use.

Here is an alphabetical list of Florida folk songs from the Library of Congress. Right now, this is the best organization of my source material. Clicking on the song title allows one to listen to the song, see when it was recorded, where it was recorded, who performed the song, and who collected the song.

Alphabetical List of Songs — Florida Folklife from the WPA Collections
The Library of Congress has a digital collection of nearly four hundred of the songs that were recorded by the WPA. The digital collection gives users the ability to listen to and examine the field recordings that were made in Florida in the 1930s without having to travel to Washington, D.C. to do so. By using the search engine of the digital archive, I can see that the collection contains 33 worker songs, 32 dance songs, 25 children’s songs, 18 religious songs, 18 love songs, 8 railroad songs, 7 “jook” songs, 6 blues songs, and 3 fiddle tunes, etc. There are 127 African American songs, 87 Cuban songs, 66 Greek songs, 65 British songs, 42 Seminole songs, 26 Italian songs, 23 Minorcan songs, 19 Conch songs, 5 Slavic songs, and 2 Syrian songs.

Structure the Information: There were seven folk song expeditions conducted by the WPA in Florida between 1935 and 1940. The information for my project will be organized chronologically from expedition to expedition. If possible, I might also separate the music by genre, location, and culture. I like the way that the Florida Folklife Collection allows users to search songs by location.

Envision the Answer: An examination of the songs collected by the WPA will indicate that there was a variety of music gathered from diverse cultures in Florida. The analysis will also reveal the significance of music as an outlet for the ordinary people in Depression-era Florida.The songs they chose allowed them to voice what was important to them during that time.

Represent the Visualization: I would like to make a digital project with a timeline, an interactive map, audio recordings of folk music, a podcast series with several short podcasts about the expeditions, and a search engine that will reveal the main topics of the folk songs that were collected in Florida.

• Tell a Story Using Data: The story of the WPA expeditions in Florida allows for an examination of the music of various cultures in Florida in the 1930s.The music reveals a kaleidoscopic view of Florida culture during a certain time and place.

My next step is to look at little closer at VisualEyes, Qmedia, and other tools that might help me as I build my digital project. Until next week, I will be trying to delve more deeply into the primary and secondary sources for my project.


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