Quick Update: Public Humanities Project: Boston Middle Passage

NB: this also cross-posted on my HASTAC page.

I am excited to announce that the National Park Service's Boston African American Historic Site is currently featuring the website I co-author/edit, BostonMiddlePassage.org


From BostonMiddlePassage.org:

On August 23, 2015, a ceremony recognizing Boston as a Middle Passage port site will take place. This event is part of a larger effort by the Middle Passage Ceremonies and Port Markers Project (MPCPMP), an international, grassroots organization dedicated to commemorating the more than 2 million people who perished in the Middle Passage of the transatlantic human trade and the 10 million who survived. Partnering with historical and cultural societies, academic institutions, churches, visitor and tourist bureaus, and community organizations, the MPCPMP’s aim is to research, identify, and facilitate remembrance ceremonies at all ports of captive Africans’ entry during the 350 years of the transatlantic human trade in North, Central and South America, the Caribbean, and Europe.

The August 23, 2015 Boston ceremony acknowledges the city as a port receiving enslaved people who survived the international slave trade, as well as the vital role that Africans and their descendants played in the development of both the Massachusetts Bay Colony and the United States.

This website is meant to serve not just as a means of publicizing the August event, but also as a developing resource for information on the role of the Middle Passage and slavery in shaping Colonial New England's history.

Maps and Timelines: Half Project Update, Half Review

This post, as the rather functional title implies, is partly an update on a current works-in-progress, but really more a discussion of some of the tools I have been using, particularly the Storymap and Timeline from Northwestern University’s Knight Lab. It is working well for my current projects, and I would like to try it out in a class. It has enough out of the box functionality that students could use it with little training, its use of Google Drive tools lends itself to group projects, and the code is open source, so that more advanced students can tinker, tweak, and customize it.

What I love most about it, though, is that it does not seem to be designed with students or academics as its main audience. Especially in the case of the timeline, these are story telling tools aimed at newspapers and other mainstream sources bringing information to the general public.

This made it an ideal candidate for a website I am building for the Boston Middle Passage Port Marker Ceremony this August. The Port Marker Ceremony is part of an international grassroots project to place markers at every Middle Passage port site as a way of making the history of chattel slavery more visible and accessible to the public. Boston will be the first New England site to have both a marker and a ceremony, raising awareness of the role of the slave trade and enslaved labor in the founding of Massachusetts Bay Colony; in the economic, legal, and social development of the region and nation; as well as how this story of seventeenth and eighteenth-century Boston connects to a global history that carries into the present day.

The goal of the site is to both advertise the event and serve as a resource afterwards. The site itself is under construction, but in the meantime, I wanted to share some of the features being built.

Knight lab Timeline JS

I found this tool because I loved the timeline WBUR created for the Whitey Bulger trial. I especially liked how the title page could come from anywhere within the chronology, and I loved that you could browse ahead of your current entry with the overview at the bottom of the page. 

It works from a Google spreadsheet, and as long as you do not change the top two rows, you can add a date anywhere in the spreadsheet and it will appear in the correct order. Publishing the spreadsheet results in a nice little embed code, which works well on Wordpress (there's even a plugin), less so on Squarespace. 

In Squarespace, I tried the iframe embed code, inline code, adding script to the header, and nothing. Click here to see the current version of the timeline. 

 Knight Lab StoryMap JS

Because of my infatuation with the timeline, I browsed through other digital tools and came across the StoryMap JS. The final version of the site will eventually have multiple maps, but the first one I wanted to build was based on Boston locations already featured the National Park Services walking tours (which already has a wonderful app).

Click here to see the current version of the map.

This tool fit many of the requirements I had for this first map. Given that I am also partly working on research and content for the site, on other committees related to the event, have other research projects not related to this event, am on the job market, and think that sleep is a necessary and wonderful part of each day, I did not code this from the ground up or spend a lot of time experimenting the layout.

Alternative Option 1: Google Maps

With this in mind, I first turned to Google. The few past posts on this site show that I have a soft spot for Google Fusion (see my post on Mary Prince, Olaudah Equiano, or Jane Austen)Google Developer also has some nice APIs for their maps, including customizability, which I am using for the directions to the event. But a much of my preferences for a tool involved how I wanted it to look. 

There are many examples of CSS boilerplate out there for altering a Google Map. Google has its own instructions, and CodyHouse has one of my favorite examples using CSS and jQuery. I did play around with the latter option, and it helped me determine the key factors I was looking for in a digital tool.

  • As someone working on research and content, not just the design of the site, I wanted an out of the box needed to easily set up, shared, and expanded upon.
  • As this there are other people working on content, I wanted it to be fairly intuitive to use, requiring little to no training.  
  • I wanted it to be interactive, and for that interactivity to be easy to modify by all contributors.
  • I wanted it to be pretty.

By “pretty” I envisioned something very like Stamen Design's Toner maps.

Google ticks the “pretty” box, but I found customizing appearances often did not mesh as well as I wanted with making it a collaborative tool. One of the features I like about the Knight Lab map is that the order of locations is easy to change, and for the user, ignore. It is built around the idea of moving through a spatial narrative, which makes sense if your goal is to mirror the experience of a historic walking tour.

Alternative Option 2: Omeka and Neatline

Of course, when you describe my goals that way, it sounds a lot like a job for Omeka’s map tool Neatline. Omeka is a web-publishing platform from the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media, George Mason University. You add entries that work as objects to be curated on the site. The nature of the object varies greatly: this could be the metadata for a museum object with the site creating a digital gallery or it could be entries of individuals in a database. One of the features that makes Omeka so attractive is that by entering information for an object, you are creating a database of objects that can be exported into other programs.

Neatline is an Omeka plugin that allows you to make annotated maps centered on a narrative structure. One of my favorite projects using this tool is Northeastern University's Our Marathon, which documents oral histories of the 2013 Boston Marathon Bombing.

Choosing Omeka, though, I think depends less on your audience and more on the team creating the content. If this were a purely academic project based around building an archive of objects with the analysis of those objects also being displayed on the site, Omeka is a strong candidate. But for this project, the focus is less on housing an on-going research project than on creating a resource around an upcoming event.

Knight Lab’s StoryMap also offered the inducement of working easily with Wordpress.org. Tom Scheinfeldt has an excellent post comparing Omeka to Wordpress and other alternatives, and there are a lot of good reasons to use it. For me the deciding factor was that my preferences for Omeka only came after multiple presentations, THATCamp breakout sessions, and a day-long workshop. I am confident using it, but I am not the only using this site. Almost all the other contributors were familiar with Wordpress, which I think is easier to use. Telling others who are volunteering their time on a project that is not listed in the main duties of their position to learn a new content management system seemed like an arbitrary exercise in ego. This site might not always be my baby, and it needed to simple for others to maintain or migrate. Wordpress was simply the more sustainable option. 


These two tools from Knight Lab are really user friendly, and their code is on github, so you can customize it more to fit your needs (which will probably happen eventually).

I am concerned though with loading speed. Once up, the map and timeline work great, but on some spotty wifi it was problematic. An alternative would be to build a cleaner, less complicated timeline. Yale's Center for British Art's interactive site on Slavery and Portraiture in 18th-Century Atlantic Britain is a great model. 

The timeline is also an iframe embed, which is bad for search engines, and proving very finicky on non-Wordpress sites. A simple fix may just put the script in the site rather than link to another source with the iframe.

But overall, I prefer this option. It is with an established DH center, so it should be maintained. If not, the Timeline is easily transferable into forms of php and sql. The map would probably be harder to transfer, but as both of the tools save your data to your Google Drive, as long as you are happy with the dystopia that is Google privacy, you should be fine. I like that we can customize it if necessary and perhaps more importantly, there is little chance of me messing it up aesthetically with poor taste decisions. As someone who started using computers in the 80s and the internet in the 90s, I was initiated into very ugly digital aesthetics. I have almost completely recovered from those dark days (no more frames!), but at some level, I am still the eight year old that thought a Goldenrod background with LimeGreen font was a good display choice to reset my parents' computers at work. 


Boeri, David. “Whitey Bulger TimelineWBUR: Bulger on Trial.  11 November 2013.  Web. Access Date: 25 November 2014. 

CHMN. Omkea.org. George Mason University. Web. Access date 9 December 2014.

Cody House. “Custom Google Map.” CodyHouse.co. 18 June 2014. Web. Access Date: 25 November 2014. 

Google Developers. “Customizing Google Maps: Styling the Base Map.” Google Developers. 7 October 2014. Web. Access Date: 25 November 2014. 

 Knight Lab. StoryMap JS.Northwestern University. WebAccess Date: 25 November 2014. 

---------. Timeline JS. Northwestern University. WebAccess Date: 25 November 2014. 

NULab, WBUR, et al. Our Marathon: The Boston Bombing Digital Archive & WBUR Oral History Project. Northeastern University. Web. Access date 9 December 2014.

Scheinfeldt, Tom. "Omeka and Its Peers." Omkea.org. 21 September 2010Web. Access Date: 25 November 2014. 

------. FoundHistory.org  Web. Access Date: 25 November 2014. 

Scholars’ Lab. Neatline.org. University of Virginia Library. Web. Access date 9 December 2014.

StamenTonerCityTracking.Web. Access Date: 25 November 2014. 

Yale Center For British Art. “TimelineSlavery And Portraiture In 18th-Century Atlantic Britain. YCBA. Web. Access date 9 December 2014.



Imagined Empires in Jane Austen's Mansfield Park

There has much debate over the role of plantation slavery in Mansfield Park. It is perhaps the Austen novel that most explicitly points to how agriculture labor in England and Antigua supported the lifestyles of wealthy families like the Bertrams. It also arguably has the most vocal servants, whether it is the groomsman shaming Fanny with his praise of Mary Crawford’s ability to handle a horse or the whispered laughter of maids mocking Fanny’s meager belongings when she first arrives or Lady Bertram's repeated mentions of how sending her Chapman to dress Fanny for the ball resulted in Henry Crawford’s proposal.

When Mary Crawford complains of her harp's arrival being delayed by carts and horses being needed for the harvest, the narrator's critique is clear. But what do we make of the novel's allusions to slave labor in Antiguan fields in the novel? Edward Said famously said that it was an approval of empire, an idealization of the landed gentry. Susan Fraiman responded by pointing to the moral decay in the heart of the titular estate, and countered that the book should be seen as aligning women’s rights with those of slavery. Many, and not exclusively Austen scholars either, have pointed to the problems of conflating the limited property and other legal rights of women possessing a privileged racial, class, and economic status with enslaved men and women in the Atlantic. Kerfoot offers a nuanced description of property ownership through print in her work. Moretti’s famous mapping of the novel argued that the Antigua sections were of little importance, and Austen pointed to a shrinking geographic mindset for the English novel.

I am currently working on an article and eventual chapter for my next book that draws on all four of these scholars, but in particular on the other two. Kerfoot’s careful analysis of Fanny’s relationship to books reminds us of how print networks bound geographically distant people, and though I disagree with Moretti’s argument, his methodology is foundational to my own argument. I believe that Antigua is important within the novel’s construction of a moral empire. It is key to remember that this is a time when Britain is policing the Atlantic Trade. These movements I believe parallel the Mediterranean exploits of Fanny’s brother, William  in Nelson’s navy. Similarly when we look to what Fanny reads, she is interested in British excursions into China. This paper uses network analysis to graph the objects--human and non-human--in Fanny’s white attic, a.k.a. the school room or East Room. In terms of her encounters with people, the scenes that occur her are key moments where Fanny must articulate her ethical and moral beliefs. The non-human connections here bring her into a British empire active in the Atlantic, Mediterranean, and East Asia. Interloper figures--such as Mary Crawford or a translation of a German play-- are marked as separate from what she chooses to put into that room.

Here's a rough draft of the networks I'm working on through Google Fusion. The final versions will be analyzed through UCINet and then prettified (yes, that is a technical term), through Pajek. Admittedly, I'll be a bit sad to give up the jiggle of Fusion.

I've organized the above network to move from a place or object in the room to people and locations associated with them. Through  we see Fanny's affective world is filled with imperial markers: a ship in the Mediterranean and the first British embassy to China mix with Geraniums and Wordsworthian images of Romantic landscapes.

Just as in Portsmouth Fanny becomes a “selector and chooser of books” through the circulating library, her curation of connections in her white attic mark Fanny, and I would argue the novel’s, stance on empire. It is a pivotal moment in representations of empire in Austen’s published novels as they shift from the good gentry managing land in Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice, to a more questionable hierarchy in Mansfield Park, Emma (with its explicit connections of slavery with middle class female labor), and Persuasion.

Related to this is the question of property as identity. One which the title points to: Mansfield and his decisions regarding slavery are well known. What is key to this is how his rulings were never explicitly abolitionist but fully concerned with the legal, moral, and ethical boundaries of property ownership (Ellen Moody recently provided a wonderful overview of scholarship on Lord Mansfield's life and career in her film review of Belle).

Currently, I've organized the article to first connect Fanny and her room to a wider empire; then connect this to discussions of morality in relation to the plot, slavery, and empire; and finally move this to discussion of property as personhood. What I am working on integrating into this is the Mary Crawford and her naval connections.

Contrasting Fanny's more interiorized, abstract imperial world is the external one. This structurally mirrors the way the space of the White Attic contains multiple global networks in that the action of the novel, I argue, centers around the doppelgänger relationship between Fanny and Mary Crawford. Both lack control over their movement due to the lack of financial and familial security. Fanny has limited movements, true, but Mary’s ramblings are dependent on the placement of her family. Both arrive at Mansfield Park because they lack a better alternative. Mary, though, performs better than Fanny. She is the outsider that is instantly accepted, who learns genteel skills with an alacrity Fanny found impossible in the years prior to her double's arrival. There is also the strange, ghostly doubling of Mary with the dead Mary Price, who was Fanny's favorite sister. (Fanny's journey to accepting her sister Susan, who I contend has a few Mary Crawford-ish traits, is a subject for a different post). 

Fanny and Mary mirror each other in other ways, too. The lack of movement for women and the potential meritocracy of the Navy serve as both a critique of a domestic empire of consumption and praise of a global empire of moral reform (i.e., rule). (This is expanded upon in Persuasion, where Admiral Croft and his wife are dual mobile, moral, and in their childless state, free of domestic taint.)Both are related to different levels of the navy (the first through her brother and father, the second through her uncle), but with different views of it. Mary disdains the moral corruption of her Admiral-Uncle’s home. Fanny, despite her drunken, disabled, ex-seaman father, forms a different view through a new generation of the navy: her brother William. William is with a very different Admiral's fleet, Nelson’s in the Mediterranean. Whereas Mary’s uncle and his comrades (with their “rears and vices”) seems stationary, stagnant in London (mirroring Fanny’s low ranked father), William’s is a generation of action. One that cannot be helped by his baronet uncle at Mansfield Park, but by the inspired patriotism of Henry Crawford’s wealth and navel connections.

NB: Proper citations, footnotes, and bibliography coming soon!

Visual Narratives of British Abolitionist Networks

Digital Projects*:

Exotic Domesticities

NB: This was originally posted to this website in March 2014. The Works-in-Progress section was converted to a blog form in October 2014.

Currently, I'm working on a long-term project, “Exotic Domesticities: Labor, Luxury, and Global Slavery in  British Trade.”

Intended as a working version and eventual online supplement to the two book projects, it will serve as an online database of my archival research on trade routes of luxury goods and slaves in the Transatlantic and Mediterranean. In addition to recording data in terms of people, places, books, objects, and money for trade circuits involving slave economies, it currently looks at how information circulated through abolitionist networks. In addition to working papers, it will include maps of networks of individuals and their national imperial counterparts, as well as the imagined networks of domestic fiction and political ideology.

Overall, I am looking at the circulation of ideas and objects in relationship to global slavery in the long 18th-century. Eventually, the project will trace how as the British exit Atlantic slave routes they tangentially enter into the Ottoman ones. Currently there are two sources I'm using to create the datasets. The first emerged from working with trade documents at the Clements library. I'm slowly taking my transcriptions from there and tagging them in XML, though choosing which tags is something I'm still sorting out. At this point, I think I can map some of the connections, though a deeper analysis requires more sources transcribed and tagged than I have a present. At least one return trip to Ann Arbor will be necessary, although I am also looking at other libraries and archives as potential sources.

The second source are the representation of people, places, and books in British abolitionist materials. I'm starting with subscription lists in books to see to what extent regional abolitionist groups of abolitionist connected to a centralized national movement. I have the start of this information in excel, which I want to move into something a bit more pliable. After a sizable amount of data is collected, I will use PHP to place the database online (on a different host than this site: Squaresoft is lovely for many things, but not for programming languages beyond html and css).

Equiano's English Subscriber Lists

My work Olaudah Equiano's Narrative intersects with this project. Currently I am putting the subscriber information from the nine editions, as well as the pirated US edition, into a dataset. The next phase of this project will look at connections between these individuals and regional abolitionists groups. I am particularly interested in moments of tension between anti-slavery groups within the Atlantic world, transatlantic connections between groups, as well as the history of specific members and groups, such as the Birmingham Ladies Society for the Relief of Negro Slaves (later the Female Society for Birmingham).

Click on the red dots for some basic metadata on subscribers from the English List. Zoom in and out. Find the American Subscribers. Sex: 0 = male; 1 female

Before these networks can be fleshed out, I am creating unique identifies for each subscriber listed, with rough notes on social (this will be tweaked further as we go along) and location. Shared subscriptions or the purchasing of multiple copies are also noted in the databases. Three online databases provide the primary models (as well as aspirations) for this project:

Slave Biographies: Atlantic Database Network (History Department, Michigan State University), which collects the often sparse biographical information on Atlantic World enslaved peoples, including details such as "names, ethnicities, skills occupations, and illnesses."

Legacies of British Slave-ownership (University College London), which is compiling an Encyclopaedia of British Slave-ownership of "every slave- owner in the British Caribbean, Mauritus or Cape at the moment of abolition in 1833 . . .  with particular emphasis on the 'absentee' owners based in Britain" using the records of government compensation paid to slave owners as its starting point. It aims to show the continuing link between slavery and British wealth from the nineteenth century to today.

The Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database (Emory University), covering decades on scholarship on more than 35,000 slave voyages between the sixteenth and nineteenth centuries.

This first 1789 list of "English" subscribers is fairly typical of what one would expect: there's an emphasis on people with titles as well as members of Parliament.** There are two subscribers from the US (have fun scrolling with the map). When you click on each dot, you'll note that I have made some choices in the beta version that may not stay for later versions: the class distinctions are fairly crude, and when no location was listed, the default location was London, and those with titles are often listed by their family seat, rather than their main residence. Some more famous figures in the abolitionist (such as Thomas Clarkson) are listed but their role in the movement will be noted later.

With the exception of the Dublin and Edinburgh lists, later subscriber lists are less geographically diverse as well as less highly (or at least overtly ranked). What find intriguing at this stage so far, though, is the way women represent themselves in the lists.

As with many subscriber lists of the time, the overwhelming majority are men. In the English Subscribers' List, women identified as "Miss" appear in family structures. For example, Miss Baillie and Miss J. Baillie (the only two Misses on the English list) appear in a cluster of four Baillies, including Mrs. Baillie and Matthew Baillie, M.D. But in later lists, women designated as "Miss" are more likely to occur on their own without male subscriber sharing their surname.

The proportion of women either marked as unmarried (i.e., Miss) or not having a marital marker (Catherine Morgan and Alice Ludlow on the Bristol list rises) increases over the course of the four lists located in England. Of those women marked as unmarried, two out of two on the English list are in a family grouping (the same one, in fact), but only three of the nine on the Hull list, zero of three on the Bristol list, and a mere five of the twenty-five on the Norwich list appear to be in family clusters, with what is likely a male or female parent.

The visualizations here are Google Fusion Tables and Excel. When there is more, I will move the dataset into RStudio and UCINet for closer analysis, with an emphasis on Social Network Analysis.

Creative Commons License

The work in my dataset is held under Creative Commons License.  Although I eventually want to make this available to other scholars, in this beta phases, the contents are licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. This means that must attribute it to me if you reference it, you may not use it for commercial purposes, and you may not remix, transform, or build upon this material. To view a copy of this license, visit http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0/.

Creative Commons License
Database of Subscribers to the 1789-1794 Editions of Olaudah Equiano's Narrative by Emily MN Kugler is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.
Based on a work at https://drive.google.com/folderview?id=0B5hC-AiU3D6mZUROT0g4dC12QWc&usp=sharing.


*For a clear overview of the histories of digital humanities and its humanities computing roots, see Susan Hockey’s “The History of Humanities Computing" in A Companion to Digital Humanities, ed. Susan Schreibman, Ray Siemens, John Unsworth. Oxford: Blackwell, 2004. http://www.digitalhumanities.org/companion/

The anthology Debates in the Digital Humanities is another excellent resource: 

Gold. Matthew K., ed. Debates in the Digital HumanitiesMinneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. 2002. http://dhdebates.gc.cuny.edu/

For a very brief bit on my own digital philosophy, go here.

** For two of the strongest analyses and most thorough overviews of the publication history of Equiano's Narrative, see:

Carretta, Vincent. Equiano, the African: Biography of a Self-Made Man. London: Penguin, 2006.

Green, James. “The Publishing History of Olaudah Equiano’s Interesting Narrative.” Slavery & Abolition 16.3 (1995): 362–375. Taylor and Francis+NEJM. Web. 9 Mar. 2014.

For an excellent project that maps the content of The Narrative, see Elizabeth Maddock Dillon's "A Sea of Texts: The Atlantic World, Spatial Mapping, and Equiano's Narrative." Religion and Space in the Atlantic World, eds. John Corrigan, David Bodenhamer, and Trevor Harris (Indiana University Press, forthcoming). Currently available online: http://edillo4.wix.com/equiano-gis#!essay