Monday, 2 November 2015

My First Digital Humanities Project

At the annual American Society of Church History meeting at Washington D.C. in January 2014, I presented a paper entitled, "The Role of Samuel Kneeland and Daniel Henchman as Jonathan Edwards's Chief Printer and Publisher in Boston." The chair of the panel that I was on, Catherine Brekus, challenged me to do some extensive work on Jonathan Edwards's subscription lists. I remember my initial feeling of being overwhelmed at the thought of analyzing Edwards's extant subscription lists, each of which contains hundreds of names. I decided to bite the bullet, however, and dive into a detailed analysis of some of Edwards's subscription lists.

One of my intended projects involved creating digitized subscription maps that would show concentrations of subscribers. Early last summer, I approached UTC's GIS manager Andy Carroll with a proposed project to create digital maps of subscription lists that were included in four of Jonathan Edwards's books, Freedom of the Will (Boston: S. Kneeland, 1754), The Great Christian Doctrine of Original Sin Defended (Boston: S. Kneeland, 1758), A History of the Work of Redemption (New York: Robert Hodge, 1786), and A Treatise Concerning Religious Affections (Elizabethtown: Robert Hodge, 1787). We have now completed these maps and are happy to make them available to the public.

This was the process:

Step #1: Plot the subscriptions on Google Maps

This part of the process took a long time. I spent weeks plotting the names of individual American subscribers on Google Maps, and when I wasn't sure where a particular person resided, I used Google Books and other means to try and locate precisely where that individual was living at the time of the publication.

Subscription list for Religious Affections (1787)
This brings me to an important caveat for these maps: I was not able to plot every single subscriber, and I only plotted the names of people living in America (not Britain). Because some names on these subscription lists did not offer their place of residence, and there were a few common names (such as John Smith) that would be impossible to find information about, I did not plot them. The good news, however, is that I was able to plot over 90% of the subscribers using all the available resources that I had at my disposal. Overall, the maps provide an accurate picture of the concentrations of subscribers for each of the four subscription lists. One final note. Andy Carroll and I are still making a few adjustments to some of the plotted points on the websites that we have created. For the most accurate picture, please continue to check our maps for updates.

Step #2: Turn the Google Maps that I created over to Andy Carroll at UTC

At first Andy tried to use a "honeycomb" grid system to convert my Google Maps to digital forms, but we decided to abandon this initial software program. The major problem here is that the software program that he tried using pulled subscribers to the center of the nearest honeycomb, many times skewing the representative numbers for a particular area. One example is Boston. Because Boston was not located in the middle of a grid point, but rather was the site of a convergence of three honeycomb grid borders, the subscribers in the town were pushed out of the center of the town to locations on the outskirts. Another problem emerged when subscription points on coastal towns were pulled to a grid out on the water, making it appear as though subscribers could be found on parts of the Atlantic Ocean!

Ultimately, Andy settled on heat maps to convert the plotted points on my Google Maps. Below are the links for each of the subscription lists. Simply click on one of the titles, and it will take you to a heat map that we created.

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