Digital History: Final Project Proposal

Digital History

For my final project, I will be working to create a prototype network visualization graph which can be supplemented or altered in conjunction with further research on my thesis topic and utilized for a final digital history component of my MA thesis project. The topic deals with the social connections and interactivity between Philadelphia Progressive Era reformers that allowed them to carry on extra-governmental social reform activity. The graph will visualize connections between locations, individuals, and institutions like colleges, aid organizations, and civic clubs.

Method and Tools

  • I will input the data on key figures, places, and institutions from my primary source material into GraphViz, an open source graph visualization toolset (chosen because I m familiar and comfortable with this type of data input syntax). This will yield a relationship diagram in .dot format. (A tutorial for this method is located here)
  • The visualization software Gephi will allow me to import the .dot file and create an interactive relational web, and tweak nodes and edges as needed to achieve a streamlined and user-friendly graphic visualization.
  • In order to render the graph visible and interactive on the web, however, I will need to take one extra step. After exporting the .gexf file visualization from Gephi, I will import it into Sigmajs, a javascript library for web rendering.
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Behold the beauty of sigmajs

Why Digital? Why These Tools?

This visualization software was specifically developed in order to display relational characteristics in a 3D way. In doing so, it provides an alternative way to view data that is difficult to conceptualize otherwise and reveal degrees of closeness of relation that might not otherwise be visible. The more connections ( edges ) that each subject ( node ) has to other nodes increases the strength of the relationship. This is a method of analysis for my research that I have not been able to work with so far. I have also never worked with network visualization tools and I look forward to learning something new.


I m struggling the most with this aspect of the project. While I strongly desire to create a stellar digital history project that will inform and impact the lives of today s Philadelphians, I’m not sure how to do that with this relationship diagram within the confines of this project and class. Ideally, I can envision a type of community scavenger hunt that incorporates the sites and people involved, or a six-degrees-of-separation type of interactive game. But the subject matter that I m currently studying, that of reform in Progressive Era Philadelphia, seems rather difficult to make engaging to the public in this way.


Anna Howard Shaw, professional badass, didn't get her own historical marker until 2014.

I think that rather than use the network visualization to engage the public directly, I might use it to be able to make a case for a few new historical markers in Philadelphia. Since the crux of my argument is that women Progressives have not been acknowledged for their contributions to social welfare in the city, and because there is a huge gender disparity in Pennsylvania historic markers, being able to show the relative importance of the profiled women to Philadelphia history and erect markers in their memory - would be a fitting outcome.