Hardtack and Software: Digital Approaches to the American Civil War

AHA Session 39
Friday, January 6, 2012: 9:30 AM-11:30 AM
Sheraton Ballroom II (Sheraton Chicago Hotel & Towers)
Matthew Pinsker, Dickinson College
The Future Is Here: Digital Methods in Research and Teaching in History
Sherman's March and America: Mapping Memory
Anne Sarah Rubin, University of Maryland Baltimore County
Civil War Washington
Kenneth J. Winkle, University of Nebraska-Lincoln; Susan C. Lawrence, University of Nebraska-Lincoln
Mapping Emancipation
Scott Nesbit, University of Richmond

Session Abstract

Digital history at once aims to develop new methods to answer new questions and to use new media to reach new audiences.  Some work in digital history involves methodological innovation using algorithmic techniques to analyze what would otherwise be unwieldy amounts of evidence.  Other work involves using digital technologies, primarily the web, as a medium for public history.  Most work in digital history is located somewhere between these two extremes.  That is certainly the case with the four digital history projects that will be showcased in this panel. 

All of these projects use visualization to investigate and offer new views of the dramatic events of the American Civil War.  Two of these projects examine the histories of the Union and the Confederate capitals, both cities near the front line of the conflict that experienced explosive, extraordinarily disruptive population growth as soldiers, bureaucrats, the wounded, and refugees flooded into Washington and into Richmond.  A third project explores evolving memory of the remarkable destruction wrought by Sherman's army during its march through Georgia in 1864.  A final project analyzes what is arguably the most dramatic social change in American history: the complex process of emancipation where the combined actions enslaved men and women, the Union army, and federal policymakers combined to gradually undermine and eventually end American slavery.

These projects all use visualization to make sense and encourage exploration of these disruptive, and in the case of emancipation revolutionary, changes wrought by the war.  In addition to presenting new research on the Civil War and emancipation, this panel will explore the potential of digital visualizations to help us see and explain patterns obscured by the complexity of past events and the sheer size of the historical record with which we wrestle.  Finally, the panel will consider how new media allows us not just to reach but also to more substantively engage public audience beyond the academy; we of course have a particular opportunity to reach audiences interested in the Civil War and emancipation at this moment given that the next few years will see the sesquicentennials of those two events.

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