Database Dissertation

Last week for my Digital History class I presented a digital history web site.  I chose this site because it focused on how to use a database methodology for conducting dissertation research. The Early American Foreign Service Database web site is a data visualization of a scholarly dissertation. Jean Bauer, while in the PhD program at the University of Virginia, created a relational database for her study about the nature of the Early American Foreign Service. As a result of this and other similar projects, Bauer designed and built Project Quincy, “a Django application with a MySQL that uses information about people, places, and organizations to trace how social networks and institutions develop over time and through space.”[1] Django is a web development framework and MySQL is a relational database tool. While this web site holds some interest for those studying the American Foreign Service, it is more interesting in the way it provides information about the design and structure of the data model and its visualization. The general nature of the design holds promise for other scholars conducting similar projects that “connect people with other people at a particular time, in a particular place, and for a particular reason, allowing the user to map networks of correspondence, the growth (or decay) of organizations, kinship, patronage, and early institutional development.”[2]

The strength of this site lies in its appeal to digital historians interested in the technical aspects of developing a data model to analyze relationships between people, events, places and organizations. There is considerable detail regarding the actual design and structure, helpful for technically accomplished historians looking for such examples. It introduces Project Quincy, a publicly available code set that could be reused in a different historical project. The weakness of this website is its lack of appeal to the general public, even those interested in the topic of the Foreign Service. Missing essays, needed to provide the contextual approach, reduce the value of this site to its technical approach.

More information can be discerned by connecting to the Project Quincy website, projectquincy.org, and then to the author’s web site, www.jeanbauer.com, last updated in 2013. Bauer’s web site indicates she became the Brown University Digital Humanities Librarian in 2011. Her Twitter account is active as of March 28, 2014.

While this website provides an intriguing glimpse into a digital history project with a relational data model, integrated with web site design, the site appears to be an inactive project that was not fully completed. This project reinforces the reality that maintaining digital projects over time, without organizational structure, is a tremendous challenge.

[1] Project Quincy. http://projectquincy.org/. Accessed April 6, 2014.

[2] Ibid.

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About RPJHistories

Graduate Student UW Milwaukee, studying Public History. Background in computer science, non-profit management, politics. Interested in Midwest history and using digital tools to produce and share historical information.
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3 Responses to Database Dissertation

  1. tjstenstrup says:

    I appreciate that you chose to present on a website that was not only related to your own research, but that shows the incompleteness of most digital projects for our class. I find it interesting because while this project seems to be primarily for her own personal research, she is choosing to display it in the public arena. Its incompleteness wouldn’t be that big of a concern (besides for herself) if it was only utilized in private. I looked at her website as well as her info on Brown’s website, and she has continuously promoted the project. I think this is important for us novice digital historians to see, because it shows that putting your work out there in the digital space, in any stage of completeness, warrants recognition (and admiration).

    I did some digging on her website and she does have her CV on it, http://www.jeanbauer.com/images/BauerCV_WebVersion.pdf. Her CV states that her expected graduation date for her Ph.D. is August 2015. This may be why she doesn’t have the chapters from dissertation up on the website yet. She might be choosing to post only when she has the finished product. If that is not the case I do think she should take down the “coming soon” section, as it is disheartening not being able to connect her research with her writing.

    • plankinton says:

      Interesting that her Ph.D. is not complete. That would explain the lack of any narrative. And yet, it would be helpful to those of us who find her site, to understand the timing involved.

      • amandaseligman says:

        That suggests to me that if you build a site like this, you should put up the anticipated timing!

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