Susan's Digital History Blog

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Final Project

The question:  How did the building of Nationals Park effect Southeast?

The short answer can be found below.  The complete story, including graphs and charts (and accompanying commentary) and all kinds of other good stuff can be find on my website.

The changes in Southeast DC over the past decade are eye-popping for those of us who have lived in the area long enough to remember DC without a baseball team.  With a new, state of the art stadium sitting on the banks of the Anacostia, proudly facing the Capitol, as if to say, “Hey, look at me!” there is no denying that things are different.  Southeast, once a scene of social and economic blight, is now one of the up-and-coming areas in DC.  The differences in Southeast are both tangible and intangible.  New parks, including the lovely Anacostia Riverwalk, and new businesses beckon locals and tourists alike, while underneath it all, a neighborhood quietly transforms.

Statistics show that crime rates have dropped, property values and incomes have increased and diversity has become the way of life.  According to the non-profit organization DC Action for Children, in its May 2011 review of Census data, Ward 6 is “more economically diverse than the wards considered affluent (2 and 3) and low-income (Wards 7 and 8).”  This is quite a statement for a Ward once known for crime and illicit transactions on street corners.

This trend toward racial and economic diversity in Ward 6 was the basis for a proposal by Councilman Marion Barry to redraw Ward boundaries to include the Nationals Park area in Ward 8.  Ward 8 sits across the Anacostia River from Nationals Park.  It is predominately black and is struggling with poverty, unemployment, and lack of economic opportunity.  According to an April 24, 2011 article in the Washington Post, Barry is quoted as saying, “What we need is diversity.  We need economic diversity; we need racial diversity.”  In his opinion, the Nationals Park area has such a shiny reputation for success that just redrawing the boundaries to include it in Ward 8 would draw investors, businesses, and new residents to his Ward.

If diversity is drawing the attention of the politicians, the atmosphere is drawing the attention of everyday people.  The focus on neighborhood development, in particular convenient public transportation, parks, libraries, and supermarkets, is one of the reasons the Nationals Park area is thriving.  When DC built RFK stadium in Southeast in the 1960s, DC city officials foresaw the development of a grand corridor from the Capitol to the stadium.  One of the reasons this vision never came to fruition was the lack of infrastructure at the location, particularly roads and parking.  Nationals Park faced some of those same problems, especially parking, but managed to address them before the stadium opened.  The emphasis placed on beautification, community parks, and a neighborhood feel has made Nationals Park Area a great place to go–even if there isn’t a game.

In short, the answer to “How has the building of Nationals Park impacted Southeast DC?” is that it has transformed a struggling community. The changes are not just superficial; they are across the board, and they are positive.  Crime is down, as is the number of children living in poverty.  Property values and incomes are up. Economic and racial diversity numbers are some of the best in the city.  All this positive change doesn’t mean there aren’t problems.  While the overall economic diversity of Ward 6 is commendable, the neighborhood cluster of Near Southeast/Navy Yard experienced one of the largest drop in shares of homebuyers with very low or low incomes between 1997 and 2005.  While those numbers are pre-stadium, there is no reason to believe the trend has not continued as property values have risen.  While economic and ethnic diversity are good for the city and the neighborhood, the same cannot necessarily be said for lower income families.   As the area became more diverse, lower income black families may well have been the ones leaving.  Unfortunately, whether the gentrification of the neighborhood surrounding Nationals Park was good or bad for the lower income residence who lived there before the process started falls outside the scope of this project, but it is certainly an area of controversy, That being said, within the limited parameters set by this project, Nationals Park has certainly been good for the area.

On a personal note, I have to say that I expected to see some improvement in Southeast, but the actual numbers shocked me.  The diversity and crime rate numbers in particular were well beyond my expectations.  I think the numbers have been so good because the city took the time to involve community planners and to do more than just throw up a stadium and some parking garages and put their trust in the “if we build it they will come” Field of Dreams approach.  The city wanted revitalization and they used the stadium as the impetus for it.  Unlike the building of RFK in the 60s, this time building a new stadium achieved a community transformation.  Perhaps the city learned from its mistakes.  Whatever the reasons may be, the revitalization of Southeast seems to be working, and working well.  I can only hope that Wards 2 and 8 soon see revitalizations of their own.



I had a lot of fun playing with Scratch, but I have to say that I am confused as to what possible application it would have for historians. I think the sprite doing tasks could be adapted pretty easily to help teach things to children but most historical research and websites are not geared toward educating children. The computer programming aspect of it is very fun and interesting, and it is always good to learn new things, but I guess I just don’t get it as a tool for historians!

My Scratch practice:


Preserving the Past

In Roy Rosenzweig’s Scarcity or Abundance? Preserving the Past in a Digital Era, he raises many thought provoking issues about digital archiving. I think the entire article can be summarized by his statement that “historians ignore the future of digital data at their own peril.”

He points out that “linking directly from footnotes to electronic texts–an exciting prospect for scholars–will only be possible if a stable archiving system emerges.” It is scary to think that what we take for granted today might not be available 10 years from now just because technology will continue to grow.

This particularly hit home to me when he mentioned the word processing programs of the ’80s and obsolete storage devices. I took WordPerfect in my former scholastic life. Do my fellow students today have any idea what WordPerfect means? I seriously doubt it (not that forgetting WordPerfect is a bad thing…Lord knows, I try to forget it!). I also still have (though I have no earthly idea why) boxes of floppys and disks that are obsolete and unreadable because there is no way of inserting them into a computer, let alone reading the information on them even if you could figure out how to load them on the computer.

Even Word documents can fall into this black whole zone. With each new release of Microsoft Office, an older version becomes obsolete. What happens to those Word documents I created ten years ago? Even if I managed to keep them on a storage device that my computer can read, can I still even open those documents? That’s a scary thought. It often takes years to research a topic before one can begin to write a paper. It then often takes years to get that paper published. What happens to all those notes that were written 10 years ago? Will an historian be able to access those notes if he or she is asked to update his or her paper? It is truly sobering to consider.

Added to this problem is that the average person could dutifully be backing up to hard drives, flash-drives, and sky-drives all for naught! Will those drives be accessible 10 or 20 years from now? Should we also print out all our information and store it in file boxes in the attic?

I have to admit that I hadn’t really thought of all those issues he raised. But I’m thinking about them now. Hopefully, others are too. Or we are all out of luck.


Item of interest:  Front page of the Business Section of Sunday’s Washington Post: Ducking Google in search engines.  An interesting article about search engines featuring DuckDuckGo.

When reading From Babel to Knowledge: Data Mining Large Digital Collections by Dr Dan Cohen, I have to admit that a lot of the technical talk was all babel to me –at first. As I read on, and slowly began to understand what this work with APIs can open up, my mind was overwhelmed with the possibilities. I thought, “Aha! This will help me with my project!” and impatiently finished reading so that I could explore the links we were given. Though I played around quite a bit with TIME Magazine Corpus and Google Ngram Viewer, I didn’t find anything I could use. Of course my topic is very current so it is not likely to be in books and magazines yet.

Despite striking out on my initial attempts, I plan to refine my search attempts, just to see what I can find.   The internet is so vast that retrieving useful research information often seems to me to be about as easy as finding a specific star in the night sky.  You know it’s there somewhere but you have to know where to look and have the right tools to find it.   APIs ease  those requirements a bit by making it easier to ask the right question and thereby find the right answer.

On the surface, that formula would seem to describe a simple Google search as well, but it’s not exactly the same.  A Google search gives you the most searched sites, which is not necessarily where you will find the right, or even the best, answer to your research question.  If you want to know the date Nationals Park opened, sure, just Google away.  But if you want to know the impact Nationals Park had on the surrounding area…not so much.  Google will give me the sites that most people go to for information on Nationals Park, like the Washington Nationals website and a host of ticket selling sites.  When researching a deeper topic, Google is like a map that tells you which way the majority of people turned at a specific corner.  Just because the majority of people turned right does not mean that is the best or even the correct way to get there.   By comparison, APIs give you the ability to search in a manner that will give you a much more precise answer.   That type of search shows you every possible way to get to Nationals Park and lets you decide which route you will take.

I can only imagine where this can go and how it will change historical research, which is really not interested in going down the same path as everyone else but is much more interested in taking the side roads to see what it can see.

Evil PowerPoint

Edward Tufte’s PowerPoint is Evil  seems a little harsh but I do think he has a point, though I disagree with him implying that PowerPoint is to blame–human nature is. The tool is only as good as the person using it. PowerPoint is a fantastic tool, when used correctly. Even Tufte points out, “PowerPoint is a competent slide manager and projector. But rather than supplementing a presentation, it has become a substitute for it. Such misuse ignores the most important rule of speaking: Respect your audience.”
Somewhere along the way we decided that everything must fit into a sound bite, and that the average person just doesn’t want to hear (or is incapable of staying focused on) a speech about anything.  Speeches became about talking points, not about effective communication. Too many people try to fit every situation into a PowerPoint and don’t take the time to look at the material and to actually think about the best way to present it.  The Gettysburg PowerPoint is a perfect (though admittedly extreme) example of what can happen when the user fails to analyze the audience and the purpose of the talk he or she is given. We’ve all been to these “Gettysburg PowerPoint” type of presentations. Something that could have been relayed in a matter of minutes in a concise speech is stretched into a 20 minute PowerPoint presentation that leaves us completely confused about why we were there in the first place. That is user error and, frankly, laziness on the part of the one giving the talk.
“I’ll whip up a PowerPoint on that” has become a standard mantra in the workplace. Sure, PowerPoint has made it easy to produce snazzy slides, but I’m old enough to remember people saying they’d “whip up an overhead” with the same off-hand nonchalance. It’s that nonchalance that is the problem.

Feltron Reports

My first thought when reviewing the Feltron Reports is that this guy has way too much time on his hands!  But once I actually looked at what he was graphing, it struck me how looking at trends, even in our own life, says so much about us.  For instance, what Nicholas Felton chose to track:  music, food, beverages, travel  says so much about who he is and what is important to him.  His choice of restaurants shows an eclectic taste and I found myself wondering why he tracks his beverage consumption so carefully.  Does he worry that he drinks too much alcohol or caffeine?  Or is it that beverages are so easily trackable?  And why did I even notice that in all those pages of graphs and pictures?

If nothing else, I took away the thought that data leads to questions.  A good historian (or a good scientist) knows how important it is to ask questions.  The Feltron reports left me with many questions and not many answers.  Data, by itself is very interesting but without a framework, it’s just that–interesting.  It can’t really tell us answers.  It needs an organizer who asks good questions and then uses the data to answer them.  It also tells me that who collects the data and why he chose what he did is very important to the big picture.


Historical GIS

The reading I found most interesting was The Differences Slavery Made.

In the conclusion of their Summary of Arguments, the authors state, “By encouraging us to recast our arguments into new forms, digital history may lead us to revisit some old questions in new ways, as we have done in this article. As historians grow more fluent in its use, the digital environment may offer bold new ways of understanding the vast record of the human past.” This statement, and others they made throughout their analysis about common perceptions, really struck a chord with me. I think it is human nature to form a conclusion and find sources that support that argument, especially on topics like the Civil War that have had so much written about them. Under those circumstances, it is difficult to truly look at sources without bias to see what they have to say. The authors mention several perceptions that are often taken as fact about the Civil War (such as that the North was technically advanced and industrial and the South was backward and agricultural) that cast the North and South as polar opposites. The authors effectively showed that data did not support these perceptions when applied to their specific scenario. Being able to cite specific examples that disprove the “norm” casts the “norm” into question. Is their study an anomaly? Or is the norm incorrect?
The idea that historians at every level of expertise and from every corner of the world can now have many source documents at their fingertips will undoubtedly lead to new approaches and quite likely new challenges to traditionally held views. When research was limited by access a specific archives or to specific regions, it limited those who had access to it. If you had to travel to towns in the South to get maps or census records or diaries or newspapers, the scope of your study would be limited to those cities you could travel to. It follows that people who live in the South might be more likely to be the ones conducting the majority of studies and doing research. This could limit the approach the researchers take because “common knowledge” could very well lead to similar approaches and determine similar directions to their research.
The more information that is digitized and posted on the internet, the wider the pool of information available to potential researchers. Without a doubt, a person from France or Russia or Japan, for instance, would have a different approach to research on our Civil War than someone from New York or Atlanta or anyone else in the US. This diversity of experience and background would lead to diversity of approach and most likely diversity of opinion on what the data reveal.
It is exciting to think of the possibilities for research as more and more source documents become available online for an increasingly diverse audience.


Well. I pasted in the chart info and it looked fine when I previewed it, but as soon as I posted it, I lost the chart….Hmmmm. I’ll look around to see what I can find out there on the wonderful world wide web!

Here’s try number two!

I think I’m getting there!!!

KML and Google maps

Here’s a link to a Southeast DC map I created. This tool is going to be very helpful when I do my project about how Nationals Park has affected SE DC!

I’ve heard a lot about Google docs but haven’t tried it yet. Being made to finally try it will be a good thing. I can’t wait to see what it can do.

Southeast DC


The things you can do on the KML maps put old paper maps to shame.  Restaurants, pictures, reviews, just about anything you want to put on there can be put there.  I can see so many uses for this type of map.  Like sending out a map to out of town visitors giving them restaurant recommendations and local events and interesting locales.

Having said all that, the sheer magnitude of the information you can post on your map is a bit overwhelming.  I guess since it is a private map there is no worries about legal matters or whatever but there doesn’t seem to be any restriction or regulations on what you can or cannot put there.  Is there such a thing as too much information?  Are there somethings that shouldn’t be posted (for security reasons or whatnot)?  I just can’t seem to get my head around it all!

Password security wake up call

I have to admit that I’m one of those people who really hated changing my password every 30 days. My job had such irritating rules about password security too. Stupid stuff like you can’t reuse your last 10 passwords, you can’t use passwords that are too similar to your last 10 passwords (so no changing the number at the end of your password to the month you are in -a personal favorite of mine). No using passwords that repeat the same letter (like password). And the list went on. It was impossible to come up with that many unique passwords that you could actually remember.

I feel a little petty about that after these readings, especially considering the circumstances. I worked on a military base for a private, non-profit agency that provided financial counseling and assistance to military service members. We stored social security numbers, unit addresses, home addresses, pay grades, and budgets, as well as confidential case histories on every client. All of our offices, which were all over the world –just about anywhere that we have military personnel– were linked to our headquarter in Washington DC. One slip up in security at any of those offices would give access not just to local clients but to every client (current and past) who had ever come into any of our offices.

I guess I am just old enough to appreciate the convenience of the internet but not to really understand it. I still think of it as kind of a magic, mysterious devise that lets me write letters to people far away and get a response from them in moments, and lets me check on the balance of my bank account without spending forever on the phone. Little things that make life easier. It’s easy to forget the World Wide part of the web (www at the head of every web address notwithstanding). And to forget that just because it doesn’t occur to me to do malicious acts on the internet (not that I would know how even if I wanted to do them), doesn’t mean that everybody else feels the same way.

These readings really opened my eyes to the dangers out there. I have to admit, I went online and changed some of my passwords and removed some stored credit card information. I mean, I lock my house and car and shred anything with my personal info on it, why am I not equally diligent about my online accounts? I just shouldn’t be so cavalier about electronic security.