4/20 | Text Mining the Civil War

 Did the Voyant visualizations highlight anything about the documents from your soldier’s file that you had not recognized reading the documents? What did you learn about the contents of the other Civil War primary sources by text mining them?

The way the Voyant website arranged the documents in my file honestly made them easier to understand. For one, I didn’t have to decipher the documents like I did at first. It was difficult reading the original documents because they were in cursive and unique handwriting that made it difficult for me to be able to read and understand each document quickly. And seeing as how there were multiple documents, I really felt like at a certain point I wasn’t sure what I was reading.

I learned a lot about my soldier’s injury in depth. Because my documents in my specific folder really only discussed Milon Robinson after death (pensions, his widow, collections), I liked reading the Voyant files because it talked in detail about how serious the injury was. There was officially medical terminology about how the circumference of his bone, which is something I wouldn’t have been able to decipher from the handwritten doctor’s notes in our soldier’s file.

I learned a lot about his affidavit’s because they were in depth and it was so much easier to read the texts that way. I learned a lot about the conversations discussed regarding his pension and how they came to decisions about his collections and what his wife would get. I also learned about the people that spoke on his behalf and signed these affidavits. They became more than names and signatures for me, I could understand their point of views and why they were speaking on the behalf of Mr. Robinson to begin with. I really enjoy the Voyant website when it comes to handwritten old files. It provides a better understanding which is crucial when creating an entire profile based off your analyzation of someone.

I really like the way the Dan Mason letters were arranged because of the Voyant system. I believe that if they were not text mined, it would have been difficult to understand each letter and what he was trying to say because the letters were very choppy, which make sense because they were written during the war. But from an analyzation stand point, its a little difficult when the story is hard to comprehend. But it was set up through Voyant in a way where poems are set up, with stanzas, making it easier to understand and ultimately feel where the author was coming from in his storytelling and it painted a picture of the type of conditions they were in and the emotional distress they were under.

4/13 | Mapping Your Soldier

What difficulties did you encounter in mapping your soldier’s life? How did you choose to solve those problems? What themes in your soldier’s life do the maps highlight / communicate? Do any of the maps raise questions about your soldier that require additional research?

The most difficult thing about mapping my soldier’s life was the fact that so much of their information was scattered. Although you do your best to create a timeline and an accurate picture of just how our soldier’s life played out, there’s information that just will never be accounted for, and those gaps can sometimes lead to guessing and the usage of context clues to ‘hope’ that you’re finding the right information. I would say that making sure I had accurate information proved to be the most difficult part for me, but it just required some digging. But, the mapping itself was not as hard. I think the the fact that the CartoDB mapping website caters to those who have never tried mapping out information and history before was very refreshing. I feel many times when I’m using new technology, especially technology centered around history, the creators of such technology forget that not everyone with a History or IT background will be using such materials. So although the site could be catered perfectly for someone who is well educated on the topics, it practically provides no help for someone like me. Luckily for me, I did not run into those same problems with CartoDB because the tutorial on the website and the instructions on our course site, The Digital Past, made everything seamless and a lot simpler.


4/11 | Digital Mapping

What new perspectives on the past does digital mapping provide? What questions does it raise? Which of the examples do you think is the most effective use of digital mapping? Why?

I find that one of the most interesting things to note about digital mapping in relation to the past is the idea that these people in the past actually had to find their way without the technology that we have. Just imagining how explorers found territories without fair warnings and routes is an interesting mental picture. I couldn’t imagine how many of us nowadays would be able to handle going to and from our daily errands and activities without our digital maps like MapQuest, Apple Maps, Waze, etc. Even now, we don’t even have to deal with calling for a taxi and hoping to not get some outrageous taxi company with jacked up fees. We have taxi services that cost much less money now at the convenience of an app. These apps are Uber and Lyft. We don’t have to do anything when we get in the car and deal with how our fare could jump due to traffic because it’s outlined for us before we even book the ride. These apps ask us where we’re going, what our pickup location will be, whether we would like a private car or to use a pool option (which lets you carpool with someone and save money) and even go as far as to get an accurate pricing, use promo codes to save money, and store your payment information for quick use.

Everything nowadays is done with the idea in mind that the faster we can get things done, the more likely we are to continue to use this product. The idea of digital mapping makes getting to our destinations a breeze, but we can also run the risk of dealing with outdated technology. And one thing that can really ruin a trip is mapping out a location just to get there and find out that what you were looking for closed down about a year ago, yet your Garmin hadn’t updated and now you’ve just wasted 45 minutes out of your day. But hey, i’m sure Sacajawea wouldn’t have minded a 45 minute detour in an air-conditioned Honda, so maybe we shouldn’t complain as much as we do too.

4/4 | Numbers & Visualization

What do the available numbers for the Civil War dead tell us? How can visualizations help us understand those numbers? What makes a good visualization?

The nineteenth-century Americans were so concerned with getting an accurate count of the Civil War dead because they felt as though the North and the South did not put that much emphasis on that part of the war and seeing as how the death and destruction was such a large part of the war, they felt that numbers would stress the importance of never having another war of that magnitude on American soil and involving only American lives.

In the article written by Drew Faust that was posted in the Journal of Military history, he went into detail about why American’s in the postwar era felt so strongly about getting accurate Civil War dead numbers. It became such a large topic because once historians actually dived deep into what happened after the Civil War battle, they realized that the North and South lacked accountability around the board. They had not notified family members about deaths and left many soldiers unidentified. This is definitely baffling, but not shocking seeing as the tensions between the North and South were still high after the battle especially once slaves received their freedom.

The fact that soldiers put their lives on the line to fight for the idea of freedom (in both sides) and weren’t even granted the courtesy of getting proper burials or even people caring enough to find their names and notify their families disgusted postwar historians. They felt it was imperative that the government take Civil War dead counts into their hands and take it seriously, and thus, the numbers of 620,000 dead soldiers were found. The most shocking part that historians found were that the amount of deaths totaled both American and Vietnamese deaths combined in the Vietnam War. Those numbers constantly burn into the brains of Americans and the government, and I believe it’s one of the strongest forces to keep American’s from starting another Civil War and causing such a magnitude of casualties in our own soil.

3/30 | Understanding Wikipedia

(How) should we use Wikipedia?

Wikipedia. The staple website in high school for anyone who didn’t finish their nightly readings and just didn’t want to search too deeply for information for their homework. It was always seen, at least in  my opinion, as a cop-out website. But in highschool, when the stakes to graduate and finish senior year in one happy piece, it kind of became something that we all used and just pretended like we didn’t. But, once you transition into college your realize that papers filled with other people’s opinions doesn’t really seem credible. Yes, Wikipedia is usually pretty on point with their pages. They’re riddled with facts so the idea of using them doesn’t seem too bad. But, Wikipedia can be edited at any time by any one. They have their own contributors, yes,but it is still open for public use and editing. They stress the importance of providing reliable sources when editing and ‘contributing’ to Wiki pages, but that leaves so much ability for things to be fiddled with and tampered with that could reduce the history of what you’re looking for.

We’ve all seen how quickly the internet can kill off a celebrity just for the fun  of it, and social media doesn’t help with this at all. The worst thing i’ve seen about Wikipedia is when someone is falsely killed off by the Internet, some internet jokesters and trolls will actually change the date of death on celebrity Wiki profiles and it could take days or weeks for someone to notice. Think about how many times this could happen just because someone wanted to be ‘funny’ that day and change the date of death for any historical figure. This could be terrible for someone who uses Wikipedia to write a paper or report. Thats why its best to try all other avenues for credible sources like your campus library or catalog before going to Wikipedia.

3/28 | Building Context with Secondary Sources

What topics did you choose to research? What search terms did you use to find sources? What sources did you find?

When I first looked through my soldier’s file, I was overwhelmed for sure. The documents were so intricate and the words seemed to be at 8 point font that I just knew that once I dived into these and dissected the information, I would surely have more than enough to get a feel of what kind of person my soldier was. But once I went through them, I realized most of the documents told SOME information, but not enough to make accurate opinions of someone life who had passed away a long time ago. My files, personally, were centered much more around Milon Robinson’s afterlife (his wife, his pensions, and earnings). Many of my files were pension files and forms written for his widowed wife who had to jump through hoops to try to prove that she was indeed Mr. Robinson’s wife and not just some woman come to claim the earnings of a deceased soldier, which by the way that the files repeated themselves and questioned her multiple times, must have been a common trend in the military. I felt pretty bad for his wife while reading the files to be honest, and it made me want to figure out what else was going on in their lives, and how their marriage was before he passed away. I was intrigued by the idea of married life in the military during wartime, being that I love romantic movies and historical fiction books where lovers do not see each other for years and have to hope that they will return home one day. Sounds dark, I know, but to an avid historical fiction reader, that kind of prolonged waiting only adds to a story. And that prolonged waiting definitely added to Milon’s story and made me want to know more.

So, when I looked up in the GMU Library Catalogs for information on Milon Robinson, but as expected, no results came up. I tried searching for just his first name, which brought up more miscellaneous results than ever. I then tried to look up his wife, Ida Robinson. That proved to be difficult because much to my dismay, Ida Robinson also happens to be a very famous African-American author, and most of her results clouded any of the results that I was searching for. But how am I to look up their marriage if I can’t even find results on the couple themselves? I thought the best thing to do when you can’t find the actual subjects, is to instead look up the context surrounding them. I knew what county the couple lived in, and the time frame in which they were living there together before he was deployed and when he returned home. So, I searched Cattaraugus County, NY, and specified the dates in which I knew the Robinson’s were still married and Milon was still alive. That brought up only about 13 results, but the results gave me information about the land, the policies that were being put into action in the county at that time, and the census information. I found this to be somewhat helpful because the findings gave me context about the type of people that had settled in the area, and that much of the area still had its roots and influences from the Native Americans that settled there. That led me to think about the kind of lives that the Robinsons had to live in their neighborhood if there were actually Natives still present on the land, as being from military background might make them a target in an area where there is still much hostility and hatred from what occurred with the Natives. Although this information didn’t give me much of a snapshot into their marriage, taking this avenue of searching led me to more of the places they lived and their homes, which is all very relevant when getting a wide profile of a deceased soldier.