London’s Ghost Acres Team’s Day (week) of DH


The London’s Ghost Acres’ project is starting to come together and we* have three interconnected websites (but not a seamless experience). Today and this week more generally (the students have schedules and can’t all work on the Day of DH), we’re working on expanding the content on the MediaWiki site that links many of the factories seen in the interactive map above with a visualization of British imports seen below. The goal is to eventually create a website where people can explore the global environmental and social consequences of industrial development in London by tracing the raw materials back to their sites of production.


*This is a team effort with Jim Clifford, Jon Bath, and Andrew Watson working with Steven Langlois, Justin Voogle, Anne Janhunen, Kevin Winterhalt, Elise Lehmann and Danika Bonham on different elements from the data entry to expand the imports database, to expanding the HGIS project and developing the MediaWiki site.

Danika Bonham’s Day of DH

Today I continued work on a project I started early last week: researching nineteenth-century drugs. This project is going to be something I’ll be working on over this summer at the HGIS Lab. In these early stages I’m focusing on building a wiki on the drugs that have already been identified in Dr Clifford’s database, primarily from 1866 import records. I’ll be comparing these listed drugs to their identified uses in pharmaceutical texts published around the same time. Right now I’m using a Compendium of Domestic Medicine that was published in 1865 and listing variations of each drug, medications the drugs were used in, and which diseases/disorders these medications were used to treat. I’ve just finished up a initial entry for opium and I also have started a new entry on aloes. Maybe its just luck of the draw, but there is an overarching theme of these drugs being used for their purgative properties. We’ll see if this theme continues further into my research, along with other details, such as where these drugs were sourced, amounts imported, prices, and any other trends that may make themselves apparent.

Danika is completing her Honours degree and starting her MA in the History Department at the University of Saskatchewan.

Chris Marsh’s Day of DH

[Image credit: Mounted Police Stations in the North West Territories, ca. 1895″ NMC 977261895, Library and Archives Canada]

For the past few weeks, I have been creating a base map of Alberta and Saskatchewan that includes all the historical North West Mounted Police district headquarters and detachments at 9 different time points: 1881, 1886, 1891, 1896, 1901, 1906, 1911, 1916, and 1921. The map will also include the historical boundaries of First Nations reserves in Prairie Canada, as I want to illustrate a spatial relationship between the police posts and the reserves. This will facilitate a broad argument in my dissertation: that the Niitsitapi (Blackfoot) of southern Alberta had a relationship with the Mounted Police – and the Canadian State on the whole – that was distinct from Cree, Nakota, and Anishinaabe communities in other parts of Western Canada. These spatial differences give hints as to how vigorously indigenous communities were policed at different points in time and who was doing the policing: First Nations peoples themselves or Euro-North American policemen. This week, I began geo-referencing an archival map of NWMP posts from 1895 that was acquired on a trip to Library and Archives Canada last summer. I also did some digitizing of posts on a point layer on ArcMap. These two tasks were done on Monday at the weekly meeting of Hackspace, which is a time when all the people of the lab endeavor to be in the office at the same time to work on GIS projects. However, most of my week was concerned with the creation of attribute tables that describe the number of men per post in Western Canada from annual NWMP reports and making notes of these same reports.

Chris Marsh is a PhD Candidate in the Department of History at the University of Saskatchewan. 

Andrew Watson’s Afternoon of DH

This afternoon, I’m switching gears to work as a collaborator with Jim Clifford on his SHHRC-funded insight development grant project, London’s Ghost Acres. This project explores the environmental consequences of industrialization during the nineteenth century, and has chosen the leather tanning industry as a case study. In 1801 there were at least 2 million shoes in London. By the turn of the twentieth century, there were at least 12.5 million shoes in London. These shoes were made of leather and most of them would have been manufactured in London or Britain using materials from all over the world. Quite literally then, Londoner’s shoes had a global footprint. During the early nineteenth century, most of the hides and skins used to manufacture shoes in London came from around Europe and North America. By the end of the century, hides and skins came in incredible volumes from every continent. Similarly, during the first half of the nineteenth century, the vegetable materials used to tan hides and skins into leather came mainly from a few species of tree in Europe. By the end of the century, almost a dozen different species of tannins were being imported to London from North and South America, South Africa, India and Malaysia. In this example, import trade statistics of wet hides from various locations around the world illustrate a relatively steady amount arriving to Britain, but an important shift in the source of these materials, from South America before 1880 to Europe at the end of the century.

Steven Langlois’ Day of DH

Today I am digitizing the railroads of London at the end of the 19th Century. Using Arcmap, I am able to create polygons that represent exactly which lands were occupied by railroads. By comparing two base maps of London in the 1860s and 1890s, we will be able to visualize to some extent the growth of railways in the London area. Eventually we will have two layers, one for each base map, and information such as the names of the railway stations. These layers should also help us to connect our previous layers of factories to particular railways and ports; effectively allowing us to re-create commodity flows within London.

Steven is entering his final year of an Honours degree in the Department of History at the University of Saskatchewan.

Jessica DeWitt’s Day of DH

On a day-to-day basis, my main interaction with digital history and digital tools revolves around my role as Social Media Editor for the Network in Canadian History and Environment (NiCHE- I am responsible for NiCHE’s Twitter, Facebook, and Google + presence. Additionally, I also manage the Twitter accounts for our History Graduate Student Committee (HGSC) and the HGIS Lab.

I take the responsibility of supporting environmental history, historical gis, and the work of HGSC graduate students seriously. In my role as NiCHE social media editor, I have four main goals. My first and primary goal is to publicize the blog posts and announcements posted on the NiCHE website. Secondly, I seek to keep up with the latest environmental history on the web and make this research, call-for-papers, and writing accessible to everyone by playing a large part in managing the environmental history hashtag: #envhist. Thirdly, I work to support and publicize the work of all environmental historians, from Canada and elsewhere, and to help foster networking opportunities, particularly between new scholars and those who are more established in their career. Lastly, I seek to make environmental history interesting, relevant, and accessible to the general public.

My main tool is Hootsuite, which is a free social media platform that one can use to manage several social media accounts at once. I have several “feeds,” which provide up-to-the-minute access to the latest posts on Twitter about anything that mentions “environmental history,” includes the hashtag #envhist, or includes related hashtags such as #aghist (agriculturalhistory), #mininghistory, and #animalhistory. I also maintain a list of environmental history and environmental humanities (#envhum) accounts on Twitter. The list now has 764 members. My other main tool is Every day I publish and comb through the NiCHE #EnvHist Daily. This auto-generated paper uses an algorithm to combine all tweets made by Env-History-Humanities List members and all tweets that use #envhist or another related hashtag. The paper comes out daily at noon central time. This paper enables environmental historians to keep up with what others are tweeting that day about #envhist, as well as keep up with other historical topics and contemporary issues in which their colleagues are interested. My role as Social Media Editor enables me to both feed my passion for environmental history and fulfill my penchant for efficiency and organization.

Jessica is a PhD Candidate in the History Department at the University of Saskatchewan. 

Laura Larsen’s Day of DH

I’m working on two large digital history projects this week. The first project is one small of part of the greater Sustainable Farms System (SFS) project which looks at agricultural production from a long term historical perspective. The SFS project tries to determine how sustainable various agricultural production methods have been over time. For this project I am working on creating a historical nutrient balance for agricultural land in Saskatchewan. The beginning of this project involved working in a team with other HGIS lab members to digitize information from the Canadian Census of Agriculture. Currently, I am working on translating that digitized data into a spreadsheet which will help calculate nutrient values, such as the nitrogen level of the soil given the level of inputs (ex. seeds and fertilizers) and the output (ex. harvested crop). This week I did data entry and worked on creating usable charts of the data trends.

The second DH project I worked on this week also involved spreadsheets and data digitization but the end goal is different. As part of my dissertation research I am using ArcGIS to build a map of all the primary grain elevator delivery points in western Canada starting in 1965. For this work I have to create an attribute table, built in a spreadsheet, of all the data that I want to map.   This week I was focused on 1970. At that time there were 4,947 primary elevators in the three Prairie Provinces. Since I am using this project to examine changes in delivery patterns I have to enter the number of bushels of different types of grains and oilseeds delivered to each of these points. Once all the attributes of the points are entered I will begin the second part of this DH project: creating a map of those attributes.

Laura is a PhD Candidate in the history department at the University of Saskatchewan.

Kevin R. Winterhalt’s Day of DH

I just finished extracting and extrapolating transaction data from a hand-written ledger for two London leather mills from the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The pertinent data was then placed into a much easier to read Excel spreadsheet. By the time I finished, the years 1883, 1893, 1903, and 1913 had all been covered. Having finished that, I am now backtracking and entering all of England’s import data from 1866 into the database that was created for this purpose (fun fact….the database now has more than 48000 line entries and contains data spanning various years between 1800 and 1920). Who knows what excitement lies beyond that in the HGIS Lab?!

Kevin is entering his final year as an Honours student in the History Department at the University of Saskatchewan.

Geoff Cunfer’s Day of DH

Part of today is devoted to securing funding for digital humanities research here at the University of Saskatchewan.  This morning Jim Clifford and I had an initial conference call with collaborators in 3 countries about a new historical text mining and gazeteer project Jim is taking the lead on.  This was our first brainstorming session—the grant proposal is due in three months.  Next up is a small internal grant application for funding to map 200,000+ Canadian homestead claims, due next week.  After that I’ll work on an annual report due soon for a Canadian Foundation for Innovation grant we landed in 2013 to expand the Historical GIS Lab and renew our computer hardware.  Keeping the Lab busy, the graduate and undergraduate students funded, and the equipment up-to-date requires a steady flow of grant applications, progress reports, and, occasionally, actual research.  During the current academic year the HGIS Lab has benefited from six different funded projects of various sizes and durations and we have three new applications in the works.

Geoff Cunfer is an environmental historian at the University of Saskatchewan and the Director of the HGIS Lab.

Andrew Watson’s Morning of DH

This morning I am working in my capacity as a postdoctoral fellow in the HGIS Laboratory working on the Sustainable Farm Systems project. This SSHRC-funded partnership grant project brings together an international and interdisciplinary team of historians, social scientists, and natural scientists to explore the transition from traditional to industrial agriculture between the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Using case studies from Austria, Spain, the United States, and Canada, the SFS project uses quantitative social metabolism methodology to understand how shifting material and energy flows through historic agroecosystems influenced sustainability over time. To evaluate the extent to which farmer’s received a return on investment on the energy they invested into their agroecosystems, the SFS project has developed a model to profile the energetic conditions of a given agroecosystem at a particular moment in time. Using this model, researchers can add data from different time points to develop visualizations to ask questions about and learn the broad patterns of the energetic transition. In this example, the model illustrates how the various energy flows through the agroecosystem in Nemaha County, Kansas changed between the late nineteenth and late twentieth centuries.

Andrew Watson is a postdoctoral fellow in the Historical GIS Lab and the Department of History at the University of Saskatchewan. He completed his PhD at York University.