Category Archives: History

Grave Trails

I went driving looking for things of interest to photograph. I saw a small cemetery on the side of the road and stopped to take a look. I thought it might be a local family cemetery and it was . . . only the family was from much farther back than I thought.


View Snead Cemetery at Edgewood in a larger map

Robert Snead

That he was born within 9 miles of Hanover court House on the 23 day of May 1762,
that, he has seen a record of his age in the family Bible, and that he believes it is now in
possession of Benjamin Thomas, of the said county; that when he went into service, he lived at
the place of his nativity, that since the Revolutionary war, he has lived in the same county near
Ground Squirrel Meeting house1 and still lives in the same place; that he served many tours; the
first he substituted himself for his brother John Snead, in the company of Joseph Cross, that
he marched as a private in that company in the fall or winter of 1778, as he thinks to
Williamsburg; that he served at that place and at a place called Rich Neck [in Richmond
County] until discharged after two months; that during this tour Gen’l [Thomas] Nelson2
commanded; that there was but one regiment as well as he remembers, at that place; that they
were engaged in guarding the coast and that nothing material occured. that when Arnold
invaded the state [Gen. Benedict Arnold, 5 Jan 1781] he was drafted, and served as a private
under Capt. John Anderson;

from this source (links/footnote are mine)

Sophia Snead

Twelve children. Seems more heroic than the whole Revolutionary War thing but also disturbingly like baseball card stats.


1 Now known as Cavalry Christian Church. I prefer the old name.

2 Founding father

Hollywood Cemetery – Preliminary Thoughts

Hollywood Cemetery

I’m pretty excited about a new project we’ll be working on this year. We’re going to look at a local historically significant, but still active, cemetery through a variety of disciplinary lenses. Hollywood Cemetery is the permanent home of two presidents of the USA (James Monroe and John Tyler) and one president of the CSA as well as a variety of other interesting local people. Dr. Ryan Smith from VCU’s history department has already had students doing quite a bit of work with local cemeteries. Back Story also recently republished a podcast (Grave Matters) which mentions Hollywood cemetery quite a bit and is all kinds of good. Even the Girl Scouts have some great information on Hollywood Cemetery1. So that brings up the question- What can we do that hasn’t been done and how can we make this something really valuable to the community- both locally and at large?

SA Lacy

The Players and Their Lenses

Looking through the lens of sociology, Dr. Susan Bodnar-Deren will be helping us think through work around mortality, social status etc. by analyzing the data from gravestones.2 Dr. Bernard Means will be bringing an archaeological3 and 3D imaging background4 that he has honed in VCU’s Virtual Curation Lab. Dr. Ryan Smith will round out our professorial group with his focus on history. I will be playing the motley fool who is trying to create workflows, repositories, and visualizations of these data that make sense and are useful. In the end we hope to have the potential for at least one, and possibly more, interdisciplinary courses that focus on Hollywood Cemetery. Additionally we will create an interactive, informative, and interesting way for a variety of audiences to interact with the information we gather.

Open to the  public

I think that universities should focus more on how they take advantage of where they are geographically and use their courses to create value for students and community members because of their location. It is rare for non-educational organizations to have the energy, people, and time to attack a project like this. VCU is only minutes from so many historic areas. We could do a lot of good. Location is part of what makes VCU unique as a university. Here is a chance, one of many, to create real value for scholars and community members while driving student learning in valuable and interesting ways. Win, win, and win.

SA Lacy

Data

  • Name
  • Date of birth
  • Date of death
  • Implied/Defined Gender – guess based on the name or defined through statements like “wife of/husband of”

There’s the obvious data associated with grave markers (although even this varies a good bit).
From this we should be able to figure out the age at death and we should be able to divide the data by quarter decades and see it broken down by gender. I need to think through how make this most efficient technically. Currently, I’ve been playing with a Gravity Forms to WordPress post solution and then pulling the birth/death data from the Gravity Forms database. It may be more sensible to do that another way, maybe custom post types and custom metadata.

There’s also an entirely different world of additional data that reflects everything from the time period and religion to economic class and the age of the deceased. I need to consider the way this data will be used and the workflow in gathering it so that we get what makes sense with as little pain as possible. It is interesting how quickly I find I need better, more specific words than I currently have. Taxonomic considerations like this are always interesting. It may be that a chunk of these don’t matter but I find it helpful to start big and then slim down.

  • Type of marker – statuary? marker? mausoleum/shrine?
  • Construction material – limestone vs granite vs iron
  • Size
  • Iconography – engraved or the shape of the marker itself, same/different as other stones within the plot/locally
  • Stone location – family plot, top of the hill etc.
  • Epitaph
  • Descriptors – wife of, son of, etc.

The key is trying to think through how people will want to see and interact with this information. We have lots of audiences and I’d like to make a number of them happy through different interfaces but we’ll need the core data to do that. It’ll also be important to think through how to deal with incomplete data- grave markers without birth dates for instance.

Hollywood Cemetery Map

I can see at least three main interfaces – one would be focused on the grave markers themselves (something very visual with some sorting/filtering options), another interface would be built around an aerial view of the cemetery (current map is pictured above), and the third would be a data focused interface which may be modeled after GapMinder.

There would also be the possibility of writing posts that reference various grave markers in the collection. If we leave trackbacks on, we should be able to automatically interweave the resources (individual grave makers) with larger understandings/narratives simply by linking back to them in the larger analysis posts. I think that simple but also pretty interesting. It’d also be interesting to see how and how frequently different grave markers are used over time.


1 Warning- Word document

2 Already, I feel the need for better vocabulary. Grave marker maybe?

3 His Death and Burial course sounds pretty awesome.

4 Incorporating these types of files has led to all sorts of interesting 3D js library exploration.

“Truth” through omission

The mission is “Truth” through omission. Can you get at the underlying truth of a historical document through blackout poetry?

Blackout poetry has been fairly popular for a while1 but I haven’t seen any done on historical documents with the intent to get at a deeper, if fairly melodramatic, “truth”. I decided to use The Gulf of Tonkin Resolution. It makes for a pretty interesting way to interact with a dry document and requires a pretty close, and repeated, reading. I like the idea of redaction being a way to expose, rather than hide, things the government would rather not have said.

Gulf of Tonkin Blackout Poetry

The text from above . . .

The United States of America

in violation of the principles of the of the Charter of the United Nations and of international law, have deliberately and repeatedly attacked the Communist regime in North Vietnam

the United States has territorial, military, political ambitions in that area

desires the Congress approves

the United States regards the Constitution
its obligations
reasonable assured
except that it may be terminated earlier by concurring resolution of the Congress.


1 It appears Austin Kleon invented the idea in 2010 which seems crazy.

A Strange Aside – A Rejoinder About Crackers

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I saw this interesting photo on the Smithsonian Libraries Tumblr which led me to this online archive of Forest & Stream from the 1890s. Where I found the letter included below (because of the interesting photograph beside it). Bonus points for the ability to download specific pages with or without the OCR data.

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The letter makes for an interesting read in a variety of ways. Just another example of how much amazing content is out there.

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A Rejoinder About Crackers

While I do not wish nor intend to enter into controversy with “A Georgia Cracker” over the manner in which I described my first meeting with a “Florida Cracker,” still if you will kindly allow me a little of your valuable space in which to defend myself, I promise not to transgress again.

Now, in the first place, if “A Georgia Cracker” will kindly look on page 507 of Forest and Stream, in the first column near tbe top, he will find these words: “There may be a better class of this part of the human race than we met. I hope there is.” I did not say that there was not a better class of these people. That I hoped there was. My assertion that we did not meet this better class, however, I still stand by. While I do not in the slightest doubt the word of your Atlanta correspondent when says he has met this better class, still what he has met and what I have seen are “horses of different colors.”

Secondly — 1 do not wish “A Georgia Cracker” nor any one else, from anything I may have written, to infer that I include all persons born in the State of Florida categorically as “Crackers.” Far from anything of the kind. I always supposed that they were to be found exclusively in the lower class of Southern whites. And from all accounts of camping, hunting and fishing in that State that I have read (for I, too, have read Forest and Stream very closely ; in fact, as I write my eyes rest on more numbers of that valued journal than an able-bodied man could very well lift, as they date as far back as 1879), I do not remember having read anything that would lead me to infer to the contrary. I would not for one minute class the considerate Fernandina storekeeper with the concave-chested exister.

Thirdly— It puzzles my mind considerably, in fact, it is utterly impossible for me to get it through my head — how under the sun friend “Georgia Cracker” could investigate such cases so thoroughly as in one place to say that if I “had taken the trouble to inquire of them their birthplace,” as he had done in Georgia and Florida, “I am sure their answer would have been Philadelphia or other refined centers of the North;” when in another place he distinctly says he never has run afoul of a case of the kind while hunting, fishing and traveling in every State east of the Mississippi.

Fourthly— Of the hospitality of the people of the South as a whole there is no question. But as to his inferring in one place that my article was written to suit the taste of Northern readers of Forest and Stream; then again, in another place, of his distastefulness of my use of Forest And Stream’s columns in which to vent spleen and prejudice against the South he simply is ‘way off the track, as I have no feeling of prejudice whatever to vent against the South— for, list you, Sir Georgia Cracker, while I gently whisper in your ear the fact that every drop of blood that flows through my veins is Southern. My parents and grandparents, uncles, aunts and each and every one of their preceding ancestors, extending far back into the past, years before the signing of the Declaration of Independence, all first beheld the light of day in that sunny land to the south of Mason and Dixon’s line.

With good feelings for all — even concave-chested “Crackers”— and animosity to none, I close.

Wm. H. Avis.

New Haven, Conn., July 4.

Historical Selfies

These were all focused on historical “selfies” right before disasters but you could do the opposite. I was inspired by the horrible and fascinating Selfies at Funerals Tumblr. You might also be appalled/inspired by Rich Kids of Instagram. I really don’t know quite enough about the selfie/hashtag culture to do this really well. The details with hashtags are what make it interesting and you need to do some research to make it work properly. There is work in humor.

Get the Photoshop template here.

George Armstrong Custer Selfie

Cpt. Smith Titanic Selfie

Napoleon Selfie

Rasputin Selfie