The Beginning

March 15, 2017

Beginning in January, I decided to pursue a Digital Humanities project to supplement my dissertation and to open up my findings to the larger public (a public humanities project). My project visualizes the argument that the 1964 Freedom Summer, a key event of the civil rights movement, served as a catalyst for later social movements in the 1960s. I decided to begin with Esri’s ArcGIS, thinking that the pre-summer and post-summer locations of the volunteers were vital to my visualization. For the past month, I have been experimenting with Esri’s Arc GIS, slowly understanding the language of choropleth maps and vector data. I have found the software to be very effective in working with large sets of data, say increased postwar college enrollments or poverty rates in the 1960s. One map that I am currently working on layers the pre-summer location of the volunteers (vector data) onto a choropleth map with 1960 census data on poverty (attribute data). The draft below visualizes 1960 Census data on poverty rates (Note the high levels of poverty in the American South, especially in Mississippi where the Freedom Summer was focused). I hope to use this visual map to demonstrate that the 1964 Freedom Summer made real Michael Harrington’s landmark 1960s book, The Other America. While many of the volunteers had read the book (it was a bestselling book in the 1960s) and were aware of poverty at an intellectual level, the summer directly exposed the students to these conditions.


I believe these maps will be important for the larger story, but I have found ArcGIS limiting in visualizing the post-summer activities of the volunteers and activists. A key element of my project is to visualize the post-summer networks of the volunteers, many of whom went on to become key organizers for feminist, anti-war, and university reform movements. I find that relying on the ArcGIS maps temporally constrains the network. Moreover, it seems (at this stage) that geometic network analysis within ArcGIS focuses more on roads, rivers, and other more geographically based connections. While still experimenting with Arc GIS, this next month I also plan to explore social network and visualization platforms like Gephi to see how I can create a more fluid social network that can be explored in conjunction with the ArcGIS maps.