February Open Office Hours

Each week, the DSG hosts a “Digital Humanities Open Office Hours,” where beginning and experienced researchers share knowledge about how to use different tools, or discuss turning an idea into a solid project. We also share current and completed projects, as well as our experiences with many different facets of the DH world.  February hosted some very exciting sessions. If you did not get the chance to attend, check out reflections on the sessions below.


February 6: Digitizing Urban Atlases at the Map Center

Created in 2004, the Norman B. Leventhal Map & Education Center at the Boston Public Library has a collection of 200,000 maps and 5,000 atlases. Belle Lipton, GIS Librarian, and Hanaan Yazdi, Map Center Intern, presented about the resources available at the map center and their current project on the historic atlas collection. Belle spoke about the digital collections which allow viewers to search over 7,700 maps that have been digitized for use. Of those digitized, around 3,000 have been georeferenced through MapWarper, a tool for crowdsourced georeferencing. This allows people to download the map and use it in GIS tools such as ArcGIS or Carto.

Throughout the 1800s and the 1900s, the Sandborn Map Company created maps of urbanized areas to allow fire insurance companies to assess liability.  Today, the Sandborn maps are one of the most valuable resources to track changes in the built environment over time. As one of their current projects, the staff at the map center are working to digitize and create a portal for the center’s historic atlases.  Hanaan Yadzi, the project intern, noted that she was working on the georeferencing and mosaicing of the maps. She advised that pinning down the corners of the map was the easiest way to work with the data but also expressed challenges such as:

  • How do you pin something that was in the ocean in the 1800s but not today?
  • How do you preserve as much information as possible in the mosaic process without harming the integrity of the historical data?

For more information on the historic atlas collection at the Map Center, see the list of urban atlases at the BPL.

Are you interested in learning more about GIS and the resources available at the Map Center? Join the map center every last Tuesday of the month from 5 PM – 7 PM for a Georef-athon.


February 13: From Grateful Friends

In May 1940, German forces invaded the small nation of Luxembourg and forced “re-Germanization” for four years.  American forces liberated Luxembourg in September 1944 and again in early 1945 after the Battle of the Bulge. The memory of this American liberation is still present across the landscape of Luxembourg, yet its history remains invisible to most Americans. To fill this gap in American memory, public history students Megan Woods and Katie Woods presented on their digital humanities graduate certificate project “From Grateful Friends.”  This project digitally visualizes the public memory of the American-Luxembourgish relationship during WWII using ESRI’s story map series.

While their prototyped map is a collection of points that mark memorials, markers, museums, and a national cemetery, it is first and foremost a collection of stories and memories that mark shared narratives of international friendship and camaraderie.  Each point includes photographs, transcriptions, and eventually stories that relate to not only the history of liberation but also the memory as it exists in the present day. As graduate students and emerging public history professionals, both Megan and Katie hope to use these stories to repair a gap in American memory and to recognize the history and the work of Luxembourgers.

To learn more about “From Grateful Friends” and to explore the map, visit https://fromgratefulfriends.com.


February 20: Programming Without the Programming

Programming without the coding began with “Let’s be robots!” Although attendees did not build any robots, or the machine that takes code and executes it, Ashley Clark, XML Applications Programmer, led a fun and hands-on workshop where attendees pretended to be robots and interpreted instructions. This exercise was meant to understand common structures and concepts that help when writing code.

Attendees participated in an hour-long workshop using names and typical ways of human greetings to build pseudocode, a way to sketch out the logistics of a program.  An example of the simple “programs” used included:

  • IF there is someone on your right THEN
    • FIND $neighborOnRight
    • GET $name of $neighborOnRight
    • SAY “Hello, $name!”
  • ELSE
    • SET $name TO “world”
    • SAY “Hello, $name”
  • END-IF

Each program or command was written in a way that was easy to follow, fun to learn, and allowed attendees to interact with each other in a new way. While this workshop was unconventional in introducing the topic of programming, Ashley provided a new and straightforward way for an audience unfamiliar with the topic to understand programming without the programming.

More information on this workshop will be available soon!


February 27: “Map Commuting Emotion” Workshop

In Boston, millions of people commute to work and/or school every day via foot, bike, car, or, most commonly, the MBTA.  Each method of commute brings its own emotions for people who travel various periods of time to get to their final destination. To explore these emotions using a map, Bahare Sanaie-Movahed, GIS Specialist, led a fun, hands-on workshop for attendees to explore one’s daily commute and the emotions that accompany it.  

Currently, there are no tools to actually map emotions, but often images are used to accompany those feelings.  For the purposes of this workshop, attendees did not use any digital technology, but rather used paper and markers to map their commuting emotions.  Each person interpreted their commute in a unique way, representing time by folding the paper and representing emotion using color and density.

This DH Open Office Hour session was co-sponsored with Love Data Week and the NULab for Texts, Maps, and Networks.


Have any feedback on DH Open Office Hours? Contact Megan Barney at m.barney[at]northeastern[dot]edu with ideas and feedback! Keep up to date on DSG events with the full schedule here.