Zephyr Frank on HGIS

On Tuesday, February 19, 2013, Zephyr Frank gave a public talk, “Layers, Flows, Intersections: Historical GIS for 19th-century Rio de Janeiro,” to an audience at UNC and King’s College London (KCL). The event was streamed and recorded via Microsoft Lync.

If you missed it, you can check out his PowerPoint presentation or watch the video of the entire event:

This videoconference seminar is part of a broader planned cooperation between the DIL at UNC and the Department of Digital Humanities at KCL. Zephyr’s visit was sponsored by the Triangle Digital Humanities Network (TDHN), a DH coordination effort between the National Humanities Center, Duke, NCSU, and UNC.


Zephyr Frank is Associate Professor of Latin American history at Stanford University, where he has taught since 2000.  His research interests include quantitative methods for social and economic history, the application of GIS techniques in historical analysis, and the study of literature in relation to social and cultural history.  His research has appeared in the pages of the Journal of Economic History, Comparative Studies in Society and History, the Journal of Social History, and the Journal of Latin American Geography, among other venues.  He is a founding member of the Spatial History Project and the current director of the Center for Spatial and Textual Analysis (CESTA) at Stanford University.

1940 Census Recap

Expert Panel (from left): Kenton McHenry, Stephen Robertson, Emily Stanford Schultz and Connie Potter

On Tuesday, April 10, more than sixty people helped the Digital Innovation Lab celebrate the release of the 1940 census records. For the first time ever, the records were released in digital form. We brought in four experts representing very different perspectives on the census to talk about the implications of using digital records at this scale.


Connie Potter of the National Archives and Records Administration kicked off the roundtable by presenting historical context for the 1940 census.

Connie Potter talks about the instructions to the enumerators.

She explained many of the fields in the census schedule and discussed some of the questions that had been dropped from the previous census.


Kenton McHenry of the National Center for Supercomputing Applications talked about the challenge of making millions of handwritten records searchable at scale. His team is working on applying Optical Character Recognition (OCR) technology to handwriting in a way that can scale up to handle this “big data” set. View PowerPoint.

Kenton McHenry talks about the challenges of OCRing handwriting.


Stephen Robertson of the University of Sydney and co-author of Digital Harlem provided a historian’s perspective on the 1940 census. Rather than using the census for genealogical purposes to search for people, he suggested using the census to locate place. Reading census records across time, as he demonstrated, can reveal a lot about the built environment and its occupants. Thus the census can be used to tell a story not just about people, but about places as well. View PowerPoint: Robertson_Putting_the_Census_in_Place. Read the text of his talk here.


Emily Schultz talks about FamilySearch’s efforts to index the 1940 census by crowdsourcing

Emily Stanford Schultz of FamilySearch.org rounded out the panel by discussing FamilySearch’s efforts to index the 1940 census by crowdsourcing. Currently, the only way to search the census is by location, which requires knowing the enumeration district. Many groups are looking to index the census – to create a name database to make the digital records searchable. FamilySearch’s work to index centers on community participation. View PowerPoint.


Later that day, Emily and Connie returned to speak at a smaller workshop. Connie gave additional context about the census, while Emily demonstrated FamilySearch’s indexing tool. They were joined by Digital Innovation Lab co-directory Robert Allen, who talked about some of the ways he has used the census in the classroom.

Robert Allen discusses his uses of census data as a scholar and teacher.

For more information about this event, see the original announcement or visit the official site of the 1940 Census.

The 1940 Census as Digital Data

The 1940 Census as Digital Data

Presented by the Digital Innovation Lab


Tuesday, April 10

University Room, Hyde Hall, UNC-Chapel Hill

Image from the National Archives http://1940census.archives.gov/

On April 2, the National Archives will release the full 1940 U.S. Census to the public, following the required 72-year restriction of access to enumeration data. This census will provide a window into the lives of ordinary Americans, immigrants, and refugees during the Great Depression / the eve of the country’s entry into World War II. For the first time, these records will be released solely in digital format. Though the records will be freely accessible, they will not be fully searchable until indexing is complete.

The Digital Innovation Lab at UNC-CH will host two events to mark the occasion of the release, and to explore the implications and applications of this digital dataset for librarians and archivists, historians, population researchers and genealogists, and those interested in “big data.” In addition to discussing the 1940 census as a historical document, additional topics to be covered will include applying Optical Character Recognition (OCR) technology to the handwritten enumerations, and expanding accessibility through the development of indexing, crowdsourcing, and search tools and platforms.

The 1940 Census: A Public Roundtable Discussion

12:30 pm – 2:00 pm in University Room, Hyde Hall

Join us for this lively discussion of the uses of the 1940 census from the perspective of genealogists, historians, and computer scientists. We’ll explore the challenges of handling millions of digital records, and how those records can be used with other types of historical data.


Constance Potter, National Archives and Records Administration

Kenton McHenry, National Center for Supercomputing Applications

Stephen Robertson, University of Sydney and co-author of “Digital Harlem

 Emily Stanford Schultz, FamilySearch.org

Using the 1940 Census: A Hands-On Workshop

3:00 – 4:30 pm in University Room, Hyde Hall

Constance Potter, National Archives and Records Administration

Emily Stanford Schultz, FamilySearch.org

Robert Allen, American Studies, UNC

In this afternoon workshop we’ll explore different approaches to accessing and using the 1940 census. Constance Potter will provide historical and interpretive context about the census, and Robert Allen will share some pedagogical applications for using census data alongside other sorts of historical data. Participants will also have the opportunity to try out FamilySearch’s crowdsourcing tool for indexing and transcribing census enumeration files (laptops encouraged).

For questions visit http://digitalinnovation.unc.edu or email Pam Lach: plach@email.unc.edu.

To access the census after April 2 visit http://1940census.archives.gov/.

More details are available at http://www.archives.gov/research/census/1940/index.html.


The Digital Innovation Lab officially launched on October 10-11

To mark the occasion, Brett Bobley, Director of the Office of Digital Humanities at the National Endowment for the Humanities, joined us to engage in campus- and community-wide conversations about public digital humanities.

Bill Andrews introduces the Digital Innovation Lab

Bill Andrews, Associate Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, began the launch by introducing the Digital Innovation Lab and speaking about the need for innovation in the humanities. Brett Bobley followed with a public lecture in Hyde Hall about the current state of the digital humanities, where DH might be headed, and how researchers can get involved. View his slideshow: Bobley Talk.

Following this talk, we hosted a smaller roundtable discussion about the Promise of Public Digital Humanities. The Lab demonstrated several of its [intlink id=”109″ type=”page”]projects[/intlink], while other participants shared their work in public digital humanities at UNC. The conversation continued over dinner later that evening.


Brett Bobley talks about the digital humanities

Brett Bobley discusses the creation of UNC's Digital Innovation Lab

Brett Bobley talks about recent funding trends for DH projects.










Tim Shearer, of the University Library, poses a question to Brett Bobley

John McGowan of the IAH welcomes area faculty to a roundtable lunch with Brett Bobley


The next day, faculty had the opportunity to meet one-on-one with Brett to discuss their project ideas. We continued this over a boxed lunch with area faculty, in which scholars were each given the opportunity to pitch their ideas.

Finally, Brett visited Robert Allen’s [intlink id=”107″ type=”page”]AMST 890 Digital Humanities/Digital History[/intlink] graduate seminar to discuss career paths in the DH. Students were given the opportunity to pitch their class-based projects to Brett in a five-minute elevator talk.

Students in Bobby Allen's Digital Humanities graduate seminar pitch their project to Brett Bobley in a mock elevator talk

We hope that this is the start of a series of ongoing and lively conversations about public digital humanities. Look for information about future events here on our website soon.

Special thanks to the Institute for the Arts and Humanities for co-hosting and co-sponsoring our launch.

Brett Bobley speaks to graduate students in Bobby Allen's DH seminar

Victoria Szabo of Duke's Greater Than Games Lab talks about the divide between new media and digital humanities


NEH’s Brett Bobley to Speak at Launch of Digital Innovation Lab October 10, 2011

The Digital Innovation Lab will be “officially” launched on Monday, October 10, by College of Arts and Sciences Dean Karen Gil in conjunction with the visit to campus of Brett Bobley, Director of the Office of Digital Humanities of the National Endowment for the Humanities.  Bobley will give a public talk at the Institute for the Arts and Humanities (University Room, Hyde Hall) at 2 pm, followed by discussion/Q&A.   Faculty, staff, and students from UNC-CH, Duke, NCSU, and NCCU interested in the digital humanities are especially welcome.


Technology has already had an immense impact on the sciences. Fields like biology, chemistry, astronomy, and mathematics rely heavily on technology. But not simply for increased efficiency. It isn’t a matter of getting things done more quickly; rather it is about getting things done that couldn’t be done before. That’s the game-changing aspect of technology. . . .  [S]ince the widespread use of the Internet browser, the world has seen significant change in the way people read, write, learn, and communicate. . . .  This isn’t a fad or a trend but, I would argue, a permanent change in our society that needs to be addressed – and needs to be addressed by humanists.     –Brett Bobley, “Why the Digital Humanities?” (2008)

 The phrase “public good” often refers to the idea that there are good things—things of special social value—that ought to be produced for free public use rather than as a marketable commodity. . . .   Thomas Jefferson put it most eloquently: ‘He who receives an idea from me, receives instruction himself without lessening mine; as he who lights his taper at mine, receives light without darkening me.’. . .  [A]lthough public goods can be extended to more users at or near zero cost, they can be quite costly to produce in the first place. The case of digitally produced scholarship is an excellent example. Economic theory tells us that we ought to charge nothing for it at the margin: we ought to give it away. On the other hand, it tells us nothing about how to pay for its production or how much of it to produce. It does tell us that markets will underproduce this kind of good, though, and it also tells us that, as a general matter, the solution of public-goods problems requires collective action.” Our Cultural Commonwealth: The Report of the American Council of Learned Societies Commission on Cyberinfrastructure for the Humanities and Social Sciences (2006), p. 23.


In the first of her recent six-part New York Times series, “Humanities 2.0,” Patricia Cohen announced: “the next big idea in language, history, and the arts? Data.” “Powerful technologies and vast stores of digitized materials,” she argued, are transforming the questions scholars and students in the humanities and humanistic social sciences might ask, the kinds of knowledge they might produce, how and with whom they work, and what “counts” as scholarly expression and productivity. (“Digital Keys for Unlocking the Humanities’ Riches,” Nov. 16, 2010)   The term “digital humanities” has emerged as a general term for application of digital technologies to everything from mapping exchanges of letters among Enlightenment thinkers to tracking the evolution of verb endings in written English.

The digital technologies that are driving change throughout humanistic disciplines within the academy are also creating a rapidly expanding space for what we might call public digital humanities: opening up new opportunities for scholarly engagement with non-academic audiences, democratizing access to archival holdings and public records, creating new teaching environments for K-12 students through “ubiquitous learning,” changing relationships between cultural heritage organizations (museums, libraries, preservation organizations) and their publics, creating vehicles for personal commentary and storytelling, allowing communities to rediscover the histories of neighborhoods lost and reborn, and increasing the relevance and value of cultural materials for new and different purposes.

The Digital Innovation Lab commences it works on the creation of digital “public goods” with this conversation about the promise and challenge represented by public digital humanities.  We want to use this occasion to bring together individuals and groups who are exploring this new frontier in the digital humanities , those for whom this work is or might be relevant, and those who might make important future contributions to its growth and development.

Among the questions that might frame our discussion:

  • What is the range of projects, programs, tools, and activities constituting the “field” of public digital humanities and what are examples of current best practice?
  • Who are the major organizational “players” in this arena and what are their roles/perspectives? (university units, cultural heritage organizations, government agencies, non-profits, etc.)
  • What challenges do public digital humanities activities present for the players?
  • What are the implications of embracing public digital humanities for archives, libraries, museums, university faculty and graduate students?


Tom Hanchett discusses Bearden and Charlotte 1911 projects: Sept. 2, 2011

Dr. Tom Hanchett, Historian at the Levine Museum of the New South, will discuss the two Main Street, Carolina projects on which he has partnered (Charlotte 1911 and Romare Bearden’s Charlotte) on Tuesday, Sept. 6, at 2 pm, in Robert Allen’s digital humanities graduate seminar (Peabody 08).

Charlotte 1911 re-presents data Hanchett used in his landmark monograph on urban segregation, Sorting Out the New South City, as what Steve Jobs would call a “recombinant mashup”: 4000 georeferenced data points drawn from the 1911 Charlotte city directory displayed on the 1911 Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps.

Romare Bearden’s Charlotte uses the Main Street, Carolina software platform to produce a “ghost tour” of the sites associated with the early life of the famed artist and his family–sites that find their way into his work many years after he left Charlotte for New York.  This project is the Levine Museum’s contribution to the Romare Bearden Centennial celebration.

Binotti and Smith discuss Gnovis: August 30, 2011

Lucia Binotti (Romance Languages, UNC-CH) and Chris Smith (Bioinformation, NCSU) will discuss their NEH-funded (Digital Start-Up) digital humanities project, “Gnovis,” in Robert Allen’s digital humanities class, Tuesday, Aug. 30, 2:45 pm, Peabody 08.

“Gnovis is a software tool for visualizing entities and the relationships between them in well-defined domains of knowledge. Gnovis is a first attempt at producing an engine that can display corpora of knowledge in multi-dimensional environments, allowing for the visualization of extensive amounts of material organized semantically in nested clusters.”

Their presentation and discussion is also the kick-off event for this year’s program of speakers and activities sponsored  by the UNC Digital Scholarship Reading/Working Interest Group

Romare Bearden’s Charlotte, 1911

Sunday September 18
3 pm  FREE
Duke Mansion, 400 Hermitage Road in Myers Park

What was Charlotte like a century ago?  In honor of the 100th anniversary of the birth of the nationally renowned Charlotte born artist, Levine Museum historian Dr. Tom Hanchett debuts an interactive web-based exhibit exploring this city during Bearden’s childhood.

At the historic Duke Mansion, 400 Hermitage Road in Myers Park. Part of the ongoing series Explore History! sponsored by Levine Museum and the Duke Mansion.  The event is free but reservations are required.  To reserve your spot, email pmartin@tlwf.org  or call 704/714-4448.