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Friday
Mar152013

Happy Birthday John Snow

One of the pioneers in mapping epidemics was born two-hundred years ago today. In the second edition of On the Mode of Communication of Cholera, physician John Snow meticulously plotted water pumps and cholera cases in London in August and September 1854. The result was a revelatory map, illustrating that the disease was caused not by miasma in the air, as was generally thought, but by contaminated water. In the case of the 1854 outbreak, a pump on Broad (now Broadwick) Street proved to be ground-zero of an epidemic that killed some six hundred people.
Tuesday
Mar122013

Preparing for the Next Smallpox Epidemic

The next smallpox epidemic may never come, but federal officials are preparing for it and at great (excessive?) cost. Pox Americana shows a worst-case scenario. We now have better tools to combat the virus. On the other hand, we travel more frequently than we did in the eighteenth century, and since there are few living survivors of the last outbreak, nearly every one will be susceptible. Individuals born in the United States before 1972 were vaccinated, but the effectiveness of the vaccine is unlikely to persist forty years later.
Friday
Feb222013

Census Dotmap

Brandon Martin-Anderson at MIT has produced an endlessly fascinating dot map of the current population in North America. Most maps showing population distribution bin the data by state, county, or province. Those representations can be misleading and are simply less revealing than the fine-grained map created by Martin-Anderson. The M.A.P. Project aspires to create a version of Martin-Anderson's map for early America -- with far less precision, of course.
Friday
Feb222013

AHR Prize for the Best Digital Article

The AHR has announced a new prize for the best digital article. According to guidelines, the article must leverage "digital tools and modalities to ask new questions about the past," rather than "merely adorning a presentation with multimedia features or materials." It will be fascinating to see how far the awards committee will be willing to stretch the requirement that entries be "roughly comparable in scope and scale" to a journal article. Some of the more interesting projects lie on the edge of eligibility.
Tuesday
Feb192013

Digital Approaches to Literary History

Ted Underwood has posted his fascinating talk, "How Well Do We Understand Literary History?", delivered at the Nebraska Forum on Digital Humanities on February 7. Basically Ted uses a data mining algorithm to rip through the Hathi Trust's approximately 700,000 volumes of British and North American literature produced between 1700 and 1900, searching for clues as to how literary genres and the use of point-of-view has changed over time.