My Final Project: Where to Go From Here?

Two weeks ago, I finally finished my digital history project just in time.  Other than a few errors, I’m extremely proud of how it turned out.  The project is a interactive story map that navigates  through the narrative of the fire while giving reader a sense of historical context of Gwinnett County during reconstruction.  The most time consuming part of the project is three GIS maps that reflect the demographic change between 1850 to 1880.  I spent countless hours not only learning how to build the maps individually through the Archmap software, but I also was compelled to spend my whole spring break vacation painstakingly going through four or five different censuses in order to analyze and compile the projects data.  This, along with navigating the responsibilities of being a new father, drove me to the brink of what I believed that I could accomplish.  Like I said, despite some flaws, I’m extremely proud of the final result.

Although the project accurately represents my research up that point, in the past two weeks I have learn more about the Klan as a whole and Gwinnett’s role as a producer of illegal liquor.  As I endeavor to work on and expand my research into my final thesis, I hope to update my story map project to reflect the totality of the end result.  I suspect that my thesis topic will expand in scope to the neighboring Jackson and Walton Counties.  I believe that Gwinnett’s Klan activity wasn’t concentrated within the boundaries of Gwinnett, but it was a small section of a tri-county illegal liquor distilling operation.  I want to include the same demographic information in these two counties to see if my hypothesis is correct.  Also, if I could ever find the time, I would also like to include every element of the 1870’s U.S. Census (Name, age, sex, race, occupation, Realestate and personal value, and illiteracy).  In doing this, I can expand my analysis to create an interactive map that can display other explanations behind the Klan’s concentration in that region.

As my research has become more focus, it has led me to reexamine my topic.  The result, I believe, will be an original thesis that discusses an aspect of the Klan that has previously been unexplored.  The proposed title of my thesis is: The Ku Klux Mafia: Arson, Liquor, and Organized Crime in the Post-War Klan.  At first, I believed that using the word “Mafia” would be in appropriate because the reference would be an anachronism.  However, I soon discovered that “mafia” originated in the 1860s and it developed from an Italian word that means “swagger” or a sense of masculine bravado.  This seems to fit perfectly with a certain part of the Klan during reconstruction.  I’ve discovered that the Klan during this time was organized roughly among two overarching groups: one that descended from the Klan out of Tennessee, and the other which were composed of a hodgepodge of independent splinter groups.  Also, according to testimony given before the Joint Select Committees in October of 1870, a large portion of these splinter groups operated not out of a political motivation but as a protective force that regulated illegal activity.  Supposedly these Klan members engaged in liquor distilling and horse theft.  In addition, the violent members of these groups were young, rambunctious men, who seemingly constantly drunk.  They would not only attack freedmen who were suspected to be informers, they also attack legal liquor distributors and those who threatened their local authority.  With most research focusing on the Klan as the result of political and racist motivations, I hope to provide a fascinating expose into the Klans dark world of organized crime.

If you would like to check out my final digital history project, here is the link: Ghost in the Pines.


Rounding the Corner to my Digital History Project

With a week to go my project is beginning to take shape.  I’ve spent a little time at Clemson’s GIS lab trying to create a map of Gwinnett County with its historic militia districts as as accurately as my conjecturing will allow.  This has been long and tedious, and I still have a lot more to learn by next Wednesday.

Last week was my spring break, and despite coming down with the flu, I have managed to create a small demographic list from the 1860’s, 1870’s, and 1880’s censuses.   In order to cut time I had to decide to limit my research to just a few categories: number of family units, total white population, total black population, and total population.  With these numbers, I have calculated the percentage of white and black residents in each district.  If time allows, I would like to look into the agricultural, non-population census, and see which districts produced more cotton versus corn (the latter of which would suggest a higher propensity for liquor distilling).

Yet, not all the census’s were forth right in giving up its information.  For example, a large portion of the 1870’s census wasn’t gathered along militia district lines like the 1860’s and 1870’s census.  I had the arduous task of taking names from the 1870’s census and cross referencing them with land owners in the property tax records and 1880’s census.  At that point I had to decide which pages correlated with which militia district.  I’m sure its not completely accurate, but its a close enough approximation.

When it came to the 1860’s census, I quickly found another problem that wasn’t as troubling as the 1870’s issue.  Unlike the 1870’s and 1880’s censuses, the 1860’s census only had individual white families, with a few freed African Americans.  However, after I collected all the information from the white population, I then looked through the slave schedule for all the remaining black demographics.

As this week unfolds, the chief challenge that I now face is synthesizing all this data into a story map on ArchGIS-online.  I still have much to learn and hopefully I can get really quickly, but Gwinnett’s story desperately needs to be told.



Project Update

With my project’s deadline quickly approaching, the next week and a half is crucial.  My problem is that I’m being quite ambitious–I’m trying to do too much.  However, after last week’s class, when my fellow students and I discussed research organization, I believe that I have a plan and realistic goals.

First step: I need to create three basic maps of Gwinnett’s militia districts ArcGIS.  That won’t be a problem.

Second Step: I will take a day and collect statistic information from two sections of Gwinnett during the 1860, 1870, and 1880s Census (I will expand it to other areas if time permits).

Third Step: I will attempt to identify the region and places that the Klan attacks took place.

Fourth Step: Integrate all the data into those three maps.

Fifth Step: Write out the information to go in each section of my story-map.

Sixth Step: Put it all together and polish up the story-app.

There is still a lot to be accomplished in a short time, but if I can collect the data, everything else should fall together.

Obstacles in my Digital Histories Research

This semester in my Intro to Digital History class, we are tasked with developing a project that integrates various forms of digital history.  I decided to create a ArcGIS Storymap that will serve as a visualization of my Master’s Thesis on Klan violence in Gwinnett County, Georgia.  I was going to have and interactive sight where the audience could see a timeline of each attack in the order they occurred.  Also, I was going to include a series of maps that shows the change in socio-economic factors from 1860 to 1870 and 1880.  Yet, as I commence in the research, I find myself hindered by unforeseen obstacles.

The first obstacle is the shear amount of research time it is taking me as I gathering statistical information from the 1870 Gwinnett County Census.   With approximately three-hundred pages, I have to go through each page and, in most cases, have to individually count each person, their occupation, and their level of education.  Each page takes me five to seven minutes.  Also, when considering that Gwinnett’s Klan was present in the neighboring counties of Jackson and Walton, I would have to gather a portion or the whole of those counties as well.  There’s just not enough time to adequately represent the counties over three decades.  However, I could simply focus on the districts that were Klan hotspots and then have enough time to show their changing demographics over time.

This leads to my second obstacle:  how do I split up the county in order to reflect the population?  The obvious answer is that since the census was organized in militia districts, then simply reflect each districts demographics in their boundaries.  This is problematic in Gwinnett’s 1870 census because the census takers organized the census around post offices in stead of districts.  Also, the earliest map containing militia districts is in 1955, after Barrow County was created from portions of Gwinnett, Jackson, and Walton Counties.  In fact, modern day Barrow County is the region that the Klan thrived during its different incarnations.  However, the only way I can navigate around this obstacle is to take the 1955 map and recreate the boundaries as best as I can imagine it.  This will be functional, but not completely accurate.

I’m daunted by the task that is due in the next couple of weeks, but I am confident that I can make it work.  I look forward to showing everyone my finished product.



The Question of Integrating Oral History in My Master’s Thesis.

I am fascinated by concept and methodology of oral history.  When I was seventeen, I remember driving with my father up to the north Georgia mountains to visit my uncle in his cabin.  That night by the bonfire, I meet a good friend of my uncle whose name I have long forgotten.  Yet, what I will never forget is the story that he intimately shared after a few beers.  He was a Vietnam veteran whose camp was ambushed sometime during the war.  He told me the name, but I had long forgotten it.  With the most serious lugubrious eyes, which was staring-entranced-at the fire, he told me how his whole unit was ambushed by the Viet Cong, with only a few U. S. servicemen surviving.  He told me that after being shot in the face, he had to play dead as the enemy walked over each soldier to make sure they were dead.  It was one of the most somber moments of my life that I can remember.  I could never begin to image what it was like to be shot in the face and have to remain utterly and completely still as my life hung in the balance.

Memory is powerful, and its associated experience is the soul of history.  Yet, memory is inherently unreliable.  In 2007, when I began my genealogical inquire into the Whitley family, I knew absolutely nothing beyond my grandfather.  To start, I contacted my oldest living relative, a 92 year old great-aunt named Mary Kate. She gave me a wealth of information about her parents and grand parents.  However, along with that information, she also included a substantial portion of family myth.  As I begin to uncover my lost ancestors, a huge portion of the information was correct, and a large portion of the myth was dispelled.  This unreliability is one of the chief factors behind positivist’s criticism of oral history.  However, by framing the memory within the historical context and backed by documentary evidence, oral history can be extremely reliable in its ability to provide facts and the experience of everyday peoples of the past.

As I approach my master’s thesis in Klan violence during Reconstruction in Gwinnett, Jackson, and Walton Counties, I have been considering how, or if its appropriate, to include oral history in my research.  The obvious problem that I’m encountering is the fact that there isn’t anyone who is alive today that lived during the 1870s.  A colleague of mine suggested that I find current Klan members in these counties and interview them in order to uncover how historical memory affected the way the organization has remembered the courthouse fire or Reconstruction itself.  Apart from the personal concerns for my safety, I’ve thought that this suggestion would be counter productive.  They would probably just give me the obvious myth.  Also, I know that they will expect to read my completed thesis, which would include prominent family names.  This is unacceptable because I am pretty sure they don’t respect the scholarly tradition of academic transparency.  I will not place my family in the path of Klan retaliation.  Yet, a somewhat improved approach could lead me to interview the region’s African Americans that have lived on the land for generations.  How did they pass down the memory of Reconstruction?  Will there even be a memory there?  I expect that most of the memories will be more in regards to the Klan in the 1920s and the 1960s, which is not in the time frame that I want to write.

In the future, as I go on in my academic pursuits, I do want to adopt a project that will facilitate oral history in its makeup.  The way that oral history can reconstruct the lost experience of marginalized groups is absolutely crucial in understand humanity during historical change.  Yet, there are issues in the methodology to adapt to.  Myth is important because its based on some grain of truth: whether actual or experiential.


Maps that Change the Way we Think about Segregation

This week in my Introduction to Digital History Class, we will discuss different ways one can present their interactive maps.  In preparation, my fellow students and I were assigned to read a compelling article published on, entitled “The Best Map Ever Made of American Segregation.”  Although segregation has been extensively studied and a copious amount of data presented, text alone fails where visualization speaks a thousand words.

The abovementioned article discusses a series of incredible maps created by Dustin Cable from the University of Virginia.  The construction of the map is in response to a study out of Duke University which concludes the end of segregation in America.  The map is expansive collection of over three hundred million points of color that represents the race of an individual living in the city. The resulting image reveals that America remains relatively segregative, with each race distinctively self contained in different portions of the city.

Further Thoughts on GIS

Following along the same lines as last week’s blog-post, I wanted to write a few lines about the growing demand of GIS and its importance in the historical profession.  For those who may not know what GIS is, its an acronym for Geospatial Information System.  GIS is a comprehensive visual representation that consolidates vast amounts of data in the usual form of an interactive map.  At this moment, GIS programs are chiefly being utilized by multi-leveled government agencies, engineers, and statistical analyzers.  Yet, as my previous blog-post mentioned, GIS technologies are revolutionizing the history and geography fields by bridging a traditional gap between the two–a merger that has been long overdue.

Traditionally, history and geography have been two sides of the same coin–both try to understand underlying patterns of humanity; yet, both are restricted by distinctive scopes.   History is a dynamic investigation of human change over a period of time.  While, geography is a static representation of humanity and various political, social, and economic patterns in a finite moment.  GIS has a potential to amalgamate and improve both fields by offering both historians the context of location and geographers with the aspect of time.  In addition, by providing a visible representation of various data, it makes possible to analysis  new information and connections previously unavailable in solely researching date alone.  In other words: GIS is an interdisciplinary nexus.

As the Information Age transitions into a Hyper-Information Age, history will undoubtably transition along with it.  In doing so, one can conjecture that GIS and information-mapping will be a staple of the field.  Yet, in doing so, the importance of unbiased mapping should be stressed.  However, You maybe wondering: hold up, can maps really be biased?  Well, according to Mark Monmonier, professor of geography in the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs, they most assuredly are.  According to Monomier, its not necessarily what is placed in the maps that makes them misleading, its what is typically omitted from them.  Also, statistical maps, the ones that many historians will rely on, could be considered misleading by inaccurately representing the appearance of uniformity, especially maps of rural areas whose population is disproportionate with a urban center.  To remove this bias, the historian should provide many maps featuring the same data.  As I embark on my thesis project, Monomier’s warning is one that I take deep to heart.