Topic: Erica Cavanaugh

Visualizing George Washington’s Voyage to Barbados

by Erica Cavanaugh, Research Editor
August 3, 2017

In anticipation of the upcoming edition of the diary George Washington kept during his trip to Barbados, I worked with editors Lynn A. Price and Alicia K. Anderson to create an interactive map of Washington’s voyage. The map not only illustrates the ship’s progress and landing but also describes the weather encountered and the food eaten during the journey. Such details are revealed by selecting from the various elements included on the map. Users can customize the display by toggling the selection of these elements on the legend or by zooming in and out on the map.

Washington’s voyage began prior to September 28, 1751, in the Chesapeake Bay (indicated by a red circle on the map). From there, a green line maps the latitude and longitude as recorded in Washington’s ship log from September 28 to October 30. At the end of the journey’s first leg, 19-year-old George Washington’s calculations placed the ship to the east of Barbados by about 450 nautical miles, as illustrated on the map, but the ship was actually about 10 miles west of the island. An icon in the shape of a pineapple marks his final destination. When selected, a map of the island is displayed, indicating where Washington’s ship landed.

Along the green line are four ship icons that reference notable points of Washington’s passage. When clicked, each ship icon displays an excerpt from the diary, highlighting common themes of his voyage. For example, the entry from October 6, 1751, discusses the food consumed on the journey. Throughout the diary, Washington was interested in the various types of fish he saw, at times detailing how they were caught, brought aboard the ship, and dressed. Another entry, dated October 19, 1751, discusses the stormy weather and a nearby hurricane.

The map also includes illustrations of the Bermuda Triangle and the North Equatorial Current. While it is unlikely that Washington’s voyage took him through the Bermuda Triangle, his brother Lawrence probably sailed through it when he traveled from Barbados to Bermuda, searching for relief from his illness. It is likely, however, that the North Equatorial Current and trade winds (not illustrated) would have impacted the brothers’ journeys to and from Barbados.

Developed with help from the Center for Digital Editing, this interactive map was created using Leaflet, an open-source JavaScript library for mobile-friendly interactive maps, and MapBox, an open-source mapping tool for creating custom-designed maps. To plot the points from George Washington’s ship log, the latitude and longitude were converted from degrees, minutes, and seconds to decimal points. A map from the Department of Geography at Hunter College was referenced to plot the North Equatorial Current. Public domain images were used for the ship and pineapple icons. The map of Barbados is courtesy of the John Carter Brown Library, Map Collection.

You can view and explore the interactive map of Barbados here.

 

 

Testing the Financial Papers Website

by Erica Cavanaugh, Research Editor
March 17, 2017

One of the primary goals of the George Washington Financial Papers Project (GWFPP) has been to make Washington’s financial records freely accessible. The GWFPP team has worked tirelessly to provide accurate transcriptions as well as to build and illustrate relationships among people, places, and themes. However, what would be the point of all this if no one could use the website? In order to make sure the GWFPP site is accessible, efficient, navigable, and meaningful, we conducted usability testing in December 2016. Using the University of Virginia’s Scholars’ Lab, we invited students and some faculty members to explore the site and assess its navigability and accessibility.

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Documentary Editing at the Digital Humanities Summer Institute

By Cathy Moran Hajo, Director of the Jane Addams Papers Project
July 1, 2016

IMG_20160617_124340732-300x222Since 2001, the Digital Humanities Summer Institute, held annually in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada, has been an annual gathering of technologists, scholars, librarians, graduate and undergraduate students…and editors. For the past three years, Jennifer Stertzer (Washington Papers) and Cathy Hajo (The Jane Addams Papers Project), joined this year by Erica Cavanaugh (Washington Papers), have offered a course titled “Conceptualising and Creating Digital Editions,” one of a rich slate of hands-on and theoretical week-long immersions into digital humanities.

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The George Washington Financial Papers Project: Building Content-Specific Taxonomies and System Specifications

By Senior Editor Jennifer Stertzer & Research Editor Erica Cavanaugh
April 28, 2016

One of the many interesting challenges the George Washington Financial Papers Project (GWFPP) team has faced is how best to make content accessible, or more accurately, intellectually accessible. This is hardly a new challenge, though, as editors have always worked to move beyond mere availability.

Regardless of approach (whether print or digital), documentary editions are created to make documents and content accessible: transcriptions make hard-to-decipher text readable; annotations provide contextualization and aid in understanding; and indexes allow users to search for both explicit text as well as indirect references, concepts, themes, and ideas. Indeed, several of the project’s goals relate directly to this intellectual accessibility: to provide accurate and understandable transcriptions and manuscript images, to supply context for these materials, and to create an opportunity for reader/user engagement.

What makes this challenge particularly interesting for the project has been the opportunity to create accessibility while developing a content management/publication platform. This allows us to experiment with how best to organize and structure the content within the system so that we can build a variety of access points. We will explore the different aspects of this process in the next few blog posts from the GWFPP team, beginning with our work with taxonomies.

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The Financial Papers Project Visits the Library of Congress

By Erica Cavanaugh
January 23, 2015

Erica is a Research Assistant for the Financial Papers Project.

The Financial Papers Project at the Papers of George Washington focuses on GW’s numerous account books, which illustrate the financial aspects of his everyday life. We have primarily worked with scanned digital images from the Library of Congress website when doing transcriptions, and have been trying to gain a better understanding of Washington himself. Recently however, I was given the opportunity to visit the Library Congress with Senior Editor Jennifer Stertzer, in order to actually see, touch, and use the original financial documents housed there.

Upon arrival, we were able to walk through the closed stacks, seeing the vast number of volumes and documents, which are no longer open to the public. The documents covered a variety of topics, including a number of the presidents. Many of the documents have been microfilmed and are also available online for public use. After seeing the closed stacks, we made our way to the reading room for the manuscript archives. We were assigned a locker where our bags, jackets, and anything other than a phone or laptop were stored, and were then provided with paper and pencils. Once settled, a cart with the financial volumes we requested was brought out and we were able to begin.

Each of the financial documents and books were in different physical conditions. Some of the account books were in their original bindings and relatively easy to manage considering their age, while others were extremely fragile and delicate. Additionally, there were a few books that had been repaired and rebound by the conservation department at the Library of Congress. Due to the fact that a number of the books were in the original binding and were fragile we needed to take certain precautions. These precautions included the use of cradles to view a number of the materials. The cradles stopped the books from opening too far, preventing any additional cracking of the pages or spine of the books.

While viewing the original material and handwriting was interesting and allowed us to fully comprehend the various sizes of the account books, the purpose of our visit was to verify the order of the material online, which we were using for our transcriptions. Jennifer and I went through a number of the volumes page by page in order to make sure we hadn’t missed anything. By doing this, we realized that some of the material had been difficult to scan due to its fragile state. Because of this, numbers or text written towards the center of the book did not always show in the digital image. By using the original documents, we were able to update the transcriptions in the database with the previously unknown text.

Our final goal of visiting the Library of Congress was to gain some deeper insight into the material by conversing with Julie Miller, an Early American Historian at the Library of Congress who is also currently working on this material. By conversing with one another, we were able to see what we each thought about particular documents and account books. A number of questions were asked, some of which were as simple as “what is this,” and “why is it here.” Some questions we were able to answer for one another and others still remain unanswered.

Overall, our visit to the Library of Congress was both fascinating and insightful. We were able to handle the original documents, and update and correct some of our transcriptions. Additionally, we gained a better understanding of the numerous account books George Washington kept, how they may have been related to one another, and at times the purpose of particular books. As the project progresses, I hope we are able to visit again.