Defending Our Project

With the semester quickly wrapping up, it’s time to look back on HIST 325: Doing Digital History and the Mapping Marriage Project. This semester marked a rather large undertaking for our class as we attempted to navigate the world of digital history by stepping into it ourselves. Though it was at times and arduous process, we came out months later with a product worth being proud of. Let’s take a step back to see how we got here and how our end product for the project stacks up against our expectations.

Beginning this project was daunting and confusing at first. We were given a research question — one we didn’t devise — and a slew of documents that, when confronted with the data we didn’t know, didn’t feel like very much at all. It was difficult to see what we needed to do to accomplish even a semblance of directed research. So we decided to start simple.

Our professor, Dr. Lintelman, created two Excel spreadsheets for 1901 and 1921 marriage licenses registered in Clay County, Minnesota. Each spreadsheet contained the names listed on the license and the license number for reference. To access the marriage licenses, Mark Peihl, archivist at the Historical and Cultural Society of Clay County and the man who initially posed our research question, made PDF scans of each license which Dr. Lintelman then uploaded onto our group’s shared Google drive. These documents contained not only the couples’ names, but also listed a county and state of residence as well as their age at marriage.

So to start out, we scoured through all of the marriage licenses and added counties and states of residence and ages to each couple. This created a base of information from which we began our research. To measure the distances between couples, we decided it would be best to find their address, or the closest approximation, to make our data as accurate as possible. This was especially important for those couples that were located in the same county. Finding their addresses allowed us to differentiate and get a more accurate read on how far apart they were when they were courting.

For this part of the process we used two different programs: HeritageQuest and FamilySearch. Both are online heritage sites used for genealogical research which contain a variety of documents and records, like national and state census records, military records, and death indexes. With these records we were able to locate roughly half of the couples listed in the 1901 and 1921 Clay County marriage licenses.

My role up to that point was similar to everyone else’s. We split up work between the 1901 and 1921 spreadsheets, and I worked on 1921. This included going through the marriage licenses to find county, state, and age, then taking those same couples and searching for their addresses using our two research sites.

After we compiled all of that data, we split off into more specialized groups for the creation of our final product.

With some discussion, we decided to present our research via an ArcGIS StoryMap and a short video presentation explaining our research, the process, and the StoryMap. We chose these mediums because they best fit our needs. The StoryMap is easy to set up and curate, and we didn’t have to worry about paying for a website or anything of the sort. So that provided an easy way to present our research for anyone to see. The video came about because we needed some sort of presentation element for the Celebration of Student Scholarship. Video was the best option for that because it didn’t take as much effort as creating a narrated PowerPoint or a paper, but instead acted as an add-on piece to our already constructed StoryMap.

To more quickly complete this work — we were running short on time before our project needed to be presentable for the Celebration of Student Scholarship — we divided up the labor again.

We split into two basic groups, the video group and the StoryMap group, and each person had their own sub-responsibility within the larger group. My task was to research marriage and dating trends around the turn of the 20th century, when our couples were courting and marrying. To do this, I read through a half dozen books on the history of marriage and dating find the information I needed.

Afterwards, I wrote up a brief piece for the StoryMap about the trends that I had found. we decided to do this to provide our audience with more context for the data we presented later in the StoryMap.

Based on our final product, I belief our group accomplished our contracted goal. We were meant to research the distances between married couples in 1901 and 1921 to look for trends. We did as much and went beyond to create a presentation of our data to be consumed by our contractor Mark Peihl, the general public, including those interested in the Celebration of Student Scholarship.

I do think we could have done more contextual research to support our data. It would provide a stronger base and actually give direction to the information we gathered rather than how we presented it . However, we didn’t do that, which is a shortcoming of our final product. It leaves questions for the audience, which isn’t optimal.

Regardless of failings or accomplishments, the Mapping Marriage Project embodies a lot of the principles we discussed during this semester of Doing Digital History.

We worked closely with digital repositories of historical information, which is one of the hallmarks of the growing digital history field. With the information gleaned from those sources, we created a digital presentation of historical data for others to consume and comment on via the internet. Sharing research and collaborating digitally is another mainstay of digital history.

Overall, I believe that what we’ve done this semester is a testament to the growing interest and power present in digital history as a field. And through our experience, we ourselves have become digital historians.

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