Doing Digital Humanities

My project, called Mapping Fraktur, uses the software CartoDB to map the locations where Fraktur (Pennsylvania Dutch illuminated manuscripts) were created in order to give a better geographical sense of of the data. In the process, I hope to further explore the connections between the types of documents and the locations where they were created.

I chose this topic because I have completed some previous work on Fraktur using traditional research methods during my undergraduate career. In my research, I looked at different types of Fraktur and how they varied by location and religious affiliation. I was curious to see how traditional methods of research might compare to digital ones. Many of the Fraktur I consulted for my original research came from the Free Library of Philadelphia’s Fraktur Collection, which are fully digitized and publicly available online.

For this project, I am using the metadata for the Fraktur in the Free Library’s Collection. The Library’s Rare Book Department was gracious enough to send me a CSV with all of the metadata from their collection. Because the Fraktur metadata contains specific “Creation Locations,” mapping seemed like the best tool in order to further explore their geographic connections. I used to convert the creation location metadata given for Town/Township, County and State to geocoordinates that could be used to map each item.

From the very beginning, I envisioned this project as appealing to three specific audiences. First of all, I designed this project for fellow students, scholars and researchers. I hope that they will find the site intriguing and useful as a research tool. Secondly, I created it for a general public audience. Because the Fraktur themselves are highly interesting and appealing, I hope that a public audience will enjoy interacting with them. Thirdly, I hoped that this project would be of interest to residents of Pennsylvania who are familiar with the geographical area this project covers. I hope that they use the maps to compare where they live to the Fraktur that were produced in their area.

When I was first thinking about how to set up the project’s navigation, I envisioned creating one map with multiple layers. Each layer would show one type or category of Fraktur. For example, one layer might show all the locations of the “Birth and Baptismal Certificates” and another layer would show the location of the “Birth Only Certificates.” The layers could then be viewed separately or overlaid in order to notice any geographic patterns. Unfortunately, when I did a more careful review of the metadata, the Free Library had assigned the Fraktur to over 50 different type-based categories. So, since I couldn’t have 50 layers, I decided to go in a different direction. I decided to create multiple maps showing the data in different ways. For example, I created a simple map which shows the creation locations, a torque map which shows the creation locations over time (by year of creation), two category maps which look at a particular theme or aspect of the Fraktur (one map shows all the Rites of Passage Fraktur, while the other maps differentiates between the different languages used to write the Fraktur) and finally a county map, which compares the number of Fraktur produced in each county. Each of these maps are shown on a separate page on my project website.

With these separate maps, I was able to highlight different aspects of the Fraktur Collections’s metadata such as their creation location, the language they were written in, how and where they developed over the years, which counties had the most profuse Fraktur creators and how the location of different types of Fraktur can give clues to everyday life of the Pennsylvania Dutch (and especially insight into their religious beliefs).

Originally, in addition to mapping the creation locations, I also wanted to wanted to incorporate the locations/hometowns of the scriveners (professional penman who wrote out the text of the document) and the decorators (who created the motifs and artwork). While many of them produced Fraktur in their hometowns, some were also migrants, traveling the state to get work where they could find it. I thought it would be interesting to look at the connections between the hometowns of the creators and where the locations where they ended up creating Fraktur. I eventually decided against this because it was really beyond the scope of the project for this class. Adding this element would have required me to research each scrivener and decorator listed in the collection to discover their hometown and create a spreadsheet linking their names and hometowns to geographic coordinates. I think it could be a really interesting aspect add later on.

Along the way, I ran into a few hitches. First of all, I struggled with getting the geocoordinates for the creation locations. First, I thought that since I had the town, city and state data, that CartoDB would automatically find the coordinates for me. I first tried a sample of 25 items. It worked, but then informed me that I only had one 81 free georeferences left. Since I had 870 items with creation location information, I knew that wasn’t going to work. So I ended up having to look up coordinates for all the creation location listed in the metadata (which ended up being 205 locations) and adding them to my CSV.

Secondly, when creating my maps, I really struggled with getting the Torque map to work correctly. For a while it would just count up numbers in the slider at the bottom instead of treating the creation years as a date. I ended up having to reformat all the metadata to a timestamp data formula. It still shows months on the slider but at least it shows the years now too.

In the final stages of my project, I made a few changes as suggested by feedback I received by my classmates. They all seemed to like the idea of having one map per page, so I decided to stay with that presentation style. They also had some suggestions for additional maps that I could add. One of my classmates suggested that I should include more maps which show the physical aspects of the Fraktur like language, size or material. Per his request, I did add a language map, that ended up being very interesting. On that map, I decided to show the original text transcript and translation on the info windows. The same classmate also suggested that I give information about the Provenance of the Fraktur (who owned them before the library). Since the metadata does provide the name of the collector/person who owned the Fraktur, I tried creating a map with them. In the end, I did not include it in the project because I found that it wasn’t that interesting. Since there were a few main collectors and then a bunch of random individuals who each owned one or two, CartoDB’s category software grouped most of them into an “Other” category, thus giving little diversity to the map.

In the late stages of the project I also added a map the show Fraktur by county. Originally, I would have liked to figure out how to make the individual Fraktur entires show up by clicking on the county or township in which they were created. But because of time constrains, I had to settle for a map that showed the number of Fraktur created in each county, instead of which Fraktur where created in each county. I manually created the data for this map by counting how many Fraktur in the collection were listed under each county and then entered this into a pre-made spreadsheet/map which had each county mapped as a geographic location.

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