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Digital Humanities

Using Google’s Ngram Viewer for Historical Textual Analysis

By May 17, 2016


You may have heard about Google Books Ngram Viewer or perhaps even dabbled with it at some point in the recent past, but I will dive a bit deeper into using the tool for the purpose of historical textual analysis.

An Overview of Ngrams

In the field of computational linguistics, an n-gram is an adjoining chain of n items in a sequence of speech or text. N-grams are extracted from a corpus of speech or text and are ordered as sets. An n-gram of size 1 is a unigram (“binders”), size 2 is a bigram (“many binders”), size 3 is a trigram (“binders of women”), and greater sizes are referred to as four-grams (“binders full of women”), five-grams (“many binders full of women”), and so on.

The corpora accessible via the Google’s Ngram Viewer includes American English, British English, Chinese, French, Hebrew, Spanish, Russian, and Italian processed between 2009-2012. The text within this corpora is derived from Google’s massive Google Books digitization endeavor, which is still ongoing. They note on their website that they have only included those books with sufficiently high optical character recognition (OCR) percentages and serials were also excluded from this corpora.1 If you are at all curious, you can download the dataset here.

The Google Books Ngram Viewer is optimized for quick inquiries into the usage of small sets of phrases (or n-grams as described above). The following embedded queries are to help us get more familiar with what is possible using this tool.

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The LDS Church History Library Publishes Digital Version of the George Q. Cannon Journals

By April 14, 2016


CannonIt would be hard to overstate the importance of George Q. Cannon to nineteenth-century Mormonism–if you haven’t done so yet, you must read David Bitton’s exhaustive biography of the man–and there are few documentary records more important that Cannon’s diaries. Over a decade ago, the first of what was to be a long series of published editions of Cannon’s journals appeared, covering his California mission. Two years ago, the second volume of the series, covering his Hawaiian mission, finally arrived. If they continued at that rate, we might finally make it to the last volume by the end of the century.

Yet that patient publication rate ended today with the official online release of the LDS Church Historian’s Press digital edition of Cannon’s journals, which provides content for nearly all of the voluminous journals’ content.

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Digital Mormonists, Volume 1: American Panorama

By February 1, 2016


This is the first entry in yet another occasional, sure-to-be-irregular, but hopefully still important series here at the Juvenile Instructor. Since the blog’s inception in 2007, digital history projects have come a long way, and in the last couple of years, a number of really important digital databases, atlases, and other assorted projects have appeared. In “Digital Mormonists,” I plan to highlight those of potential interest and relevance to scholars of Mormonism and its history.

Screen Shot 2016-01-31 at 8.35.15 PMA month or so ago, someone I follow on twitter linked to a new digital history project called American Panorama: An Atlas of United States History. A product of the Digital Scholarship Lab at the University of Richmond (whose other projects include the phenomenal Visualizing Emancipation and the very useful Atlas of the Historical Geography of the United States), American Panorama presents a variety of interactive maps with historical data.

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Guest Post: 1923 Photographs of the Book of Mormon Printer’s Manuscript

By August 28, 2015



Robin Scott Jensen is the mastermind behind the Joseph Smith Papers’ Revelations and Translations Series, which just released its third volume reproducing the Printer’s Manuscript of the Book of Mormon. Jeffrey G. Cannon is the JSP’s photo archivist and as such is the point man for the numerous textual and contextual illustrations that appear in JSP volumes. When R3 was released, photographs of Joseph Smith’s seer stone dominated attention here on the blog. This guest post sheds light on the history of the printer’s manuscript by focusing on the 1923 effort to photograph the entire manuscript for conservation purposes and the recent addition of the complete set of 1923 photos to the JSP website.

With all the excitement about seer stones in the weeks since the latest volume of The Joseph Smith Papers was released, it is easy to overlook the fact that the volume also contains hundreds of high-quality, full-color photographs of the printer’s manuscript of the Book of Mormon. Another set of important images was also recently posted exclusively to the Joseph Smith Papers Project website.

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Something New Under the MHA Sun: Scholars Workshop

By June 12, 2015


This year, MHA piloted something I hope we see more of in the future: a workshop as a pre- or post-conference tour alternative. A half-day workshop about documentary editing (aka “Geeking Out with Old Documents”) was dreamed up by JI’s own Robin Jensen of the Joseph Smith Papers Project and supported by BYU Special Collections, where the event was held. I helped make some of the initial introductions and arrangements as part of the MHA 2015 Program Committee, and then Local Arrangements took it and ran, and we all held our breath a little as the registration opened up (especially since it was up against the deservedly popular women’s history bus tour – which I hope we get a write up about! But I digress–), not knowing who would be interested in spending a day in the library learning the ins and outs of turning an original document (letter, diary, manuscript) into a readable resource for researchers, genealogists, and possibly even for publication.

Turns out: quite a lot of folks.

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Mormon Studies Weekly Roundup

By November 2, 2014


MSWRLinks to the latest Mormon Studies news from around the internet:

Mormons and Politics are in the news again. Only this time, in book form. David Campbell, John Green, and Quinn Monson’s new book from Cambridge University Press, Seeking the Promised Land: Mormons and American Politics was reviewed in the Deseret News. Interested in more? Jana Riess posted a Q&A with Campbell and Monson over at Flunking Sainthood; Doug Fabrizio also hosted the co-authors on his Radio West program on Thursday.

You’ve likely heard that BYU Religious Education has revamped its curriculum, and the bloggernacle has weighed in from all angles. See here, here, here, here, and here for a sampling.

Also out of BYU, a couple of big announcements from the Maxwell Institute: The online edition of Royal Skousen’s Book of Mormon Critical Text Project has launched, and a new digital subscription option to all three journals published by the MI (Mormon Studies Review, Journal of Book of Mormon Studies, and Studies in the Bible and Antiquity) is now being offered (for only $10!).

Several archives in Utah and Arizona have teamed up to create the Highway 89 Digital Collections Project, “an online aggregator and exhibition that brings together the stories of US 89, as it travels through the state of Utah.” Their aim “is to aggregate existing images, texts, and oral histories related to US 89 while simultaneously identifying and digitizing additional relevant collections.” Read more at Researching the Utah State Archives

Finally, one final reminder that the submission deadline for the 2015 Faith & Knowledge Conference is approaching (THIS FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 7!) Get your submissions in ASAP!


Mormon Studies Audiobooks

By October 21, 2014


I have a post up over at The Junto this morning reflecting on my audiobook listening habits. I note there, among other things, that “audiobooks … have become a means of helping me keep up with scholarship outside of early America (including periods and subjects I will likely need to teach at some future point), introducing myself to historical subjects in which I am peripherally interested (including the history of sport, the history of food), and of listening to popular and academic histories that fit under the broad umbrella of ‘early American history’ that I might not find time to read in the immediate future.” While writing that post, my thoughts turned to the relative dearth of quality audiobooks on subjects that fall under the large umbrella of Mormon Studies.

My reasons for wanting to listen to Mormon Studies audiobooks largely mirror the reasons cited in the first paragraph — it would be a convenient way to keep up with a field I remain committed to and interested in but one in which my current research does not fall. Given the general success of books in the subfield published by major university and trade presses over the last few years, I am a little surprised that more have not been recorded as audiobooks. Looking back through the library of audiobooks I’ve purchased, downloaded, and listened to over the last three or four years (a library of 50+ volumes), I realized that it included only one Mormon title — our very own Matt Bowman’s excellent survey of Mormon history. A quick search for “Mormon,” “LDS,” and “Latter-day Saints” in Audible.com’s library turns up an odd mix of ex-Mormon narratives, nineteenth-century faith promoting titles, a couple of volumes either for or against Mitt Romney, and only a small handful of Mormon Studies titles (including, most promisingly, Terryl Givens’s The Book of Mormon: A Very Short Introduction and Spencer Fluhman’s A Peculiar People). The only biography of Joseph Smith available is Alex Beam’s American Crucifixion [edit: I somehow missed Robert Remini’s short and accessible biography of JS.]. The offerings at University Press Audiobooks are even slimmer.

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One Memorable(?) Event from LDS General Conference History

By October 14, 2014


Earlier this year, Tona wrote an excellent post about the fragility of digital archives following up on Max Mueller’s AHA paper that explored both the possibilities and pitfalls of the “I’m A Mormon” campaign as a primary source.  Tona noted that, “What is available to historians relies largely upon on goodwill, technology upgrades, and the market.”

Within this context, it is fascinating to observe, in real-time, the debate over whether or not the General Women’s Meeting is a session of General Conference.  This controversy includes the editing of a video of a conference session as well as conflicting (and possibly changing) interpretations about the status of the Women’s Meeting from LDS Public Affairs, the Deseret News website as well as lds.org.  While the debate about the status of the Women’s Meeting has been largely framed as a feminist issue, it also raises questions for researchers in tracing changes to historical documents and other sources as well as how ideas get lodged in the imaginations of religious believers. As Tona states,

Things come, go, vanish, launch, in a constant state of (often unannounced) change that nonetheless presents itself as final, unchanging and authoritative… it is a historian’s worst nightmare. If you cannot see the “manuscript edits” so to speak, how do you know what changed, when, how and why? And if the old just vanishes from the online environment without a trace, what happens to the possibilities for historical research? Most of what we are all busily creating in this decade has simply been written in the equivalent of vanishing ink.

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New Developments at the Dictionary of Mormon Biography

By April 12, 2014


I thought I’d write up a quick note on the status of the growing Dictionary of Mormon Biography (DMB).  We have welcomed a few more editors in the last few months and our database continues to expand.

Screen Shot 2014-04-12 at 10.17.36 AM

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Elegy for Missing Data, in Advance

By January 13, 2014


Or: All Web is Not Created Equal, have you noticed?

One of the sessions I attended at the AHA this month was Session 151, Social Media and History. It featured one of our JIers, Max Mueller, talking about tensions and complications in the church’s “I am a Mormon” campaign, including the fascinating case of one woman whose tattoos were airbrushed out of her profile pic (her profile is now gone, for other reasons). Great talk, by the way, along with several others that reflected on the ethical and methodological problems of using social media as historical sources for researching marginalized groups or threatened voices. In each of the presentations — Max’s on constructing Mormon online “diversity,” Jessica Lingel’s on underground music scenes, Sadaf Jaffer’s on online discussion boards for Pakistani atheists, and Amy Holmes-Tagchungdarpa’s on sites made by and about Tibetans — the very existence of the sites to begin with, and especially their continued life on the web, is inherently unstable. It was actually a rather terrifying session, like watching 4 canaries in a coal mine (Hey! There’s a pocket of air over here! Oh wait, never mind).

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Introducing the Utah American Indian Digital Archive

By November 22, 2013


By Cassandra Clark

Beginning in 2008, staff at the American West Center of the University of Utah, the Marriot Library, Utah’s Division of Indian Affairs, and the Department of Heritage and Arts worked together to create the Utah American Indian Digital Archive (UAIDA). This keyword searchable online digital archive contains primary and secondary sources pertaining to Utah’s American Indian Peoples. The archive offers tribal members, professional researchers, and patrons the opportunity to participate in Utah’s diverse and interesting history by viewing digital copies of documents, photographs, maps, and recordings and transcripts of oral histories. The collection contains sources relating to the Northwestern Shoshone, Goshute, Paiute, Utah Navajo, White Mesa, and Ute Indians to offer a wide selection of resources to educate patrons about Utah’s complex cultural past.

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More web tools for Mormon Studies

By October 28, 2013


Lantern

From the Media History Digital Library comes this amazing collection of “over 800,000 pages of digitized texts from the the histories of film, broadcasting, and recorded sound.” The site has a fresh interface and the search filters are helpful. Also, a little trick to limit the default full-text search (since the OCR [optical character recognition] of the texts can be pretty bad) enter ‘0001‘ to disable full-text search and exclusively search metadata.

Here is a typical page of search results:

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Musings on Archival Research, Methods and Workflow

By August 23, 2013


…or how to hack your summer archives trip and come off victorious.

This post grew out of a conversation I had with fellow JI-er Christopher Jones during one of his lengthy jaunts around the Atlantic seaboard during his summer dissertation research. I have the good fortune to be located not too far from the American Antiquarian Society and could offer him room & board during his research trip there, and since I didn’t set foot inside an archives all summer I was living vicariously through everyone else’s treasure-hunting. We got to talking about archival research method: how we historians actually do what we do inside the archives, and reflecting on how we all get very little graduate-level instruction on the nitty-gritty of how to do this, and how it might benefit our JI community to have a broader conversation about it.

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Some fun web reference tools for Mormon Studies

By August 3, 2013


I wanted to highlight some of my favorite web reference tools as of late with a short post. Among the many, here are a few of my go-to tools when researching all things Mormon:

Latter-day Apostles (http://latterdayapostles.org/)

This tool provides a fun way to visually browse the organization of the leadership of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints from 1835 (with the formation of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles) to the present. It’s mostly a quick reference point for me with a question like, “Who was in the quorum in 1901?” The developer of the site, Dallin Regehr, doesn’t provide citation of his data, but I’ll assume it’s fairly accurate after checking the datum for a few people against other sources.

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Troubling the AHA’s Embargo Waters

By July 26, 2013


There’s a naval and mercantile metaphor in there somewhere, even if my post title doesn’t quite capture it. This is a short post just to call attention to the squall on today’s horizon about open access, digital dissertation publishing, and the tough choices facing history grad students navigating the internet’s rough seas. A perfunctory glance at my Twitter feed this morning shows that although the AHA issued a policy statement way back on the 22nd against timely open access digital publication of dissertations, today was the day it surfaced big-time. Breached the waters, you might say. It’s perhaps a tempest in a disciplinary teapot, but still: young scholars, best to take note.

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Where are we going? The Dictionary of Mormon Biography

By May 10, 2013


The last few months have been a whirlwind of activity at the Dictionary of Mormon Biography (see this post for context). Since hatching the idea, I’ve gone from building a prototype site to rolling out a full Mediawiki instance to mormonbiography.org. A few things in review:

  • I secured the mormonbiography.org domain! This will help drive traffic to the site and build a research community for the project.
  • In April, I had a database meltdown and lost most of what was added to the previous site <sadface/>, but the new site is running smoothly.
  • The site currently has over 60 articles and now has a small group of registered researchers contributing to the project! A tip of the hat to Ardis Parshall, Kent Larsen, Bruce Crow, and David Morris for joining the ranks.
  • I am trying to ensure that the content is not a “sausage fest” by culling records from various resources, especially since the LDS Biographical Encyclopedia (the original biographical source for the project) has little female representation within its pages. I am very much open to suggestions for resources to draw upon. See our current list of source projects here.

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The Digital Public Library of America has launched!

By April 18, 2013


dplaThe Digital Public Library of America, a project that has been in development for a few years, is now live on the Internet. The DPLA follows in the footsteps of Europeana, a similar initiative in the EU that brings together diverse collections throughout the European Union’s libraries, archives, and museums. One way of thinking about the DPLA is to see it as a super-catalog of materials spread across the contiguous United States in thousands of local, state, and federal institutions. The current “beta” version of the site already has 2+ million records aggregated from “hubs” such as the Digital Library of Georgia, Kentucky Digital Library, Minnesota Digital Library, ArtStor, Biodiversity Heritage Library, National Archives and Records Administration, New York Public Library, University of Virginia,  Mountain West Digital Library, etc. Additional partners are being announced almost daily. So pump yourself up and get searching!

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Dreaming up a DH Research Agenda for Mormon Studies

By April 2, 2013


On my spring break I took a one-day “staycation” to Day 1 of a local gathering of digital humanities scholars, hosted by the smart folks at Northeastern University’s NULab for Texts, Maps and Networks (http://nulab.neu.edu/, tweeting at @NUlabTMN). It was one of the best conferences I’ve been to – seemed like mainly literary scholars but also historians, librarians, and coders, and it involved a good blend of showcasing completely awesome ongoing initiatives, asking big existential questions about knowledge production, and teaching hands-on skills. Myself, I learned a bit about network analysis using Gephi (no relation to Nephi) and how to georeference a high-resolution historical map image using ArcGIS. I felt like a boss (as my students would say) by the day’s end.

And it got me thinking.

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Never an Atlas so Handsome

By February 6, 2013


First, a confession: I’m a stats dropout. It was the one course in college that I dropped. If someone had told me that it was something a historian actually should know, maybe I would have stuck with it (or maybe not). These days, I’m a dolt when it comes to sigma values and such, but I do love a good visualization of statistics. And if digitization and “big data” are the next frontiers in humanities research, then statisticians, especially those who can find compelling ways to visualize data, will find themselves in high demand.

Nowadays, data-crunching needs computers of mind-blogging speed and the results are enlivened with visualizations of breathtaking complexity and beauty (one of my favorites turns the NY subway schedule into a haunting musical map). But in the late 19th century, the U.S. government crunched monumental stacks of data, like those collected in the decennial census, using just paper and pencil, index cards and a whole bunch of person-hours — but nonetheless managed to make some of the most stunning data visualizations ever conceived. The “golden age” just may have been the successive publication of three big statistical atlases using information gathered in the 1870, 1880 and 1890 censuses, replete with gorgeous lithography and chock-full of Progressive social scientific hubris.

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Scholarly Inquiry: Jared Farmer

By September 21, 2012


We recently invited Jared Farmer, associate professor of history at Stony Brook University and author of On Zion’s Mount, to answer some questions about his latest project, Mormons in the Media, 1830–2012.

What was the genesis of this (e-book) project? Did it start as a casual interest that only later became a serious project? Was it an outgrowth of teaching?

All of the above. The past couple of years I spent a lot of time creating a personal archive of historic images for use in my lecture courses. In the process I got quite good at finding images online—using familiar search engines (e.g., Google Images, Flickr), as well as some obscure sites, and many educational databases that are inaccessible to non-academics because of paywalls. This past spring, once Romney cinched the GOP nomination, I decided it would be worthwhile—and fun—to put my image-finding skills to public use. What began as a diversion from my book manuscript (Trees in Paradise: A California History, due out next year) became a minor obsession; what was supposed to be a little online illustrated essay on portrayals of Mormon facial hair became Mormons in the Media. I ended up spending far more time than I budgeted, and I used up my professorial tithing on eBay buying LDS ephemera.

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