Visual History of Boston Through Maps Talk Response

I personally found the talk covering the “Visual History of Boston (Beantown) Through Maps” presented by Bahare Sanaie-Movahed and Steven Braun to be very interesting due to their discussion on the visual benefits of maps as a teaching tool. I enjoyed how they discussed the different ways that maps are useful to scholars, such as their ability to possess rhetorical power in defining communities. I found their example maps throughout the presentation to be supremely informative and helpful. Specifically, the map of Boston with the outlined neighborhoods in black and the contradicting neighborhoods that the people of Boston recognize underneath in blue to be very intriguing. It is a new and interesting way to look at a map. Throughout the talk they consistently discussed layered maps, and I felt that this was an excellent example. It showed that maps can say one thing, and that thing may be fact, but the facts of the map may not be recognized by the population that inhabits the area. I have always viewed maps as irrefutable tables of fact, and this particular example showed me a way in which maps are not necessarily as simple as they appear.

I also found the use of maps as a visual tool to show the progression of a city such as Boston to be fascinating. The talk covered this in two major ways, in discussing Boston as a manmade city and Boston as a future flood zone. Prior to this talk, I had never known how manmade the city of Boston actually is. By using the maps that showed the progression and growth of manmade portions of Boston, the point came across much clearer than if the information had been written down somewhere in a book. The visualization provided a new outlet for understanding, one that I found to be extremely helpful. This use of multiple maps to show changes in the environment of Boston was used again during the discussion of Boston Wetlands, and again, I found the visuals provided to be an extremely helpful way in seeing progression in the city.

The talk was also helpful in the discussion of different mapping applications that can be found online. I really enjoyed the presenters use of websites such as and USGS Historical Topographical Maps as examples of web-sources that showcase the layering of historical maps on their modern-day counterparts. After attempting to do this on a small scale in this class, I have learned how extremely difficult this can be, and therefore greatly appreciate these already made applications. This concept of layering historical maps over modern maps is something that I did not know about prior to attending this course, and being able to see examples of it, particularly examples of the caliber discussed in this presentation, are very helpful as it shows how informative they can be. Overall, I found this talk to be supremely helpful as it showed the different applications of maps and how helpful they can be as a teaching tool.

Ryan Cordell Building an Online Presence Talk Response

In order to expand my knowledge on the importance of online presence that we have begun to discuss in class with the creation of our own blog/websites, I attended a DH open office hour talk led by Dr. Ryan Cordell entitled “Building a Professional Online Presence.” Dr. Cordell began the talk by explaining all of the different ways that he is online including his own personal website (for information about himself/personal blogs and works in progress), Facebook (mostly personal/partially professional), Twitter (entirely professional), and Humanities Commons (for published work). Initially I was surprised by how many platforms Dr. Cordell can be found on, especially since none of the professors from my undergraduate institution had personal websites or twitter accounts like Dr. Cordell’s. Only once starting at Northeastern have I learned that this is a common practice. Due to my lack of knowledge on the subject I was quite overwhelmed by Dr. Cordell’s online presence, but after he explained the importance of each site, I see why he puts so much time into his professional online presence.

One very valuable thing that I learned from Dr. Cordell’s talk is that blogs can be a valuable academic asset. Prior to starting grad school, I always thought of blogs as sites where people talked about food and clothes, never as a platform to discuss academic topics. Dr. Cordell described a blog as a “milestone” and after his talk I can understand why. Blog posts can be used as a place to begin to formulate an idea that can be used for an academic paper or project, and they can also allow a person to get an idea out there for the public to see and to make connections. Dr. Cordell brought up the example of a Silicon Valley tech reaching out to him to discuss a topic that he wrote about in one of his blogs. That tech is someone that Dr. Cordell never would have spoken to otherwise, so having the blog is extremely valuable because it enables him to discuss topics with people all over the world in extremely different professions, not only making connections but also exploring how other people view his work. Like a personal blog, Twitter is another platform to connect with other professionals that I had never really thought about. Twitter, like a professional blog, is a great way to connect with people who share similar interests and to stay tuned as to what is going on in the professional world. By following fellow professors, authors, etc., professionals have the ability to keep up with all the new information coming from other academics and institutions.

By attending this talk, I learned that being able to have an online presence gives students like me an opportunity to not only share my work, but also is a place to learn from and connect with other scholars. Personal websites without blogs are supremely valuable in their ability to share a person’s information on a platform that they are comfortable with, but by adding a blog portion or having a professional twitter, that gives someone the ability to connect with others on a topic that they find interesting and in doing so gives them the opportunity to grow and learn in a way that scholars from previous generations did not have. I personally find that to be a very valuable lesson.


Monica Martinez Mapping Violence Talk Response

I really enjoyed Monica Muñoz Martinez’s talk “Lives are not Metadata” because I found it to be a very useful insight into the process of creating a digital humanities project. As a public history student, I am always very curious to see how professionals in the field are tackling public history and I found both the topic and tactic that Dr. Martinez is pursuing to be very interesting and influential. The topic of “Mapping Violence” is particularly valuable as it is one that will be of interest to many Americans and because of this it is great that it is being conducted on platform that hundreds of thousands of people will have access to. The information that can be found on the “Mapping Violence” site will be beneficial for all types of people and Dr. Martinez and the Mapping Violence team did a great job of making sure that the site is user friendly to people that may not be technologically inclined.

The part of the talk that I found most enlightening was when Dr. Martinez discussed the issues that she and the Mapping Violence team found in using mapping as a digital medium. When Dr. Martinez first introduced the site in her talk and explained what it was and how it worked it seemed almost perfect to me. Maps are a platform that most people are comfortable with because they have been viewing them all of their lives and being able to simply touch a button and have information appear seemed like an excellent way to showcase the material in a way that people would enjoy. However, after Dr. Martinez said that the team feared their creation would seem like a cold online creation and not the memorial that it is intended to be, I began to understand her fears. Upon looking at the black and white map, the red dots that signify the locations of violence do appear to be small bloodstains throughout the state of Texas. The simple red dot that lacks any kind of personality or connection with the particular victim/victims of the crime can make the map seem cold and impersonal. There is an issue that can arise with “reducing an event to a dot on a map” like Dr. Martinez said, but by formatting the map in this way, it makes every dot (and by that notion every crime) equal. No crime or victim outweighs any other. Each event is on an equal playing field and can be explored without prejudgment. Of course, after looking into and researching the crimes, visitors of the site can decide on the events that they personally find the most valuable to them, but the simplicity of the site leaves that up to each viewer. By providing a way for interested parties to see this material on a digital platform as opposed to in an article or book, Dr. Martinez and her team are giving this information a much larger audience. There is no question that if all of this was in a book (which much of it is in Dr. Martinez’s new work The Injustice Never Leaves You: Anti-Mexican Violence in Texas) many people would read it. But, by putting it on a digital platform like “Mapping Violence” many people (especially younger generations) will be more likely to look at it and therefore learn from it, making the work done by Dr. Martinez and her team that much more influential.

Final Project Summary

For my final project, I would like to create a timeline of the history of Boston’s Combat Zone and a layered story-map of the Zone covering the years between 1955-1996. The timeline will discuss the Zone from its inception caused by the destruction of Scollay Square in 1960 to the falling of the Zone caused by the death of a Harvard football player, the crackdown by the Boston government on liquor licenses, and the spread of technology. The story-map will map a handful (most likely 15-20) of the Zone’s strip clubs and movie theaters by the years of their opening and closing. Each year a layer will be added to show the growth of the clubs/theaters and eventually their decline. I have already conducted a great deal of research for both portions of the project. For the timeline portion, I have created a collection of both primary and secondary source material such as books, newspaper articles, images, and videos of the Zone to discuss its history in a brief and entertaining way. For the story-map, I have been using Boston city directories as well as articles on the clubs/theaters to discover the years in which they opened and closed. Currently, I am running into the issue that not all of the city directories from the years that I need are available either online or in print at an archive. I am in the process of trying to find a solution to this problem, and if there is no solution trying to figure out a way to make the story-map work despite this lack of information.