THATCamp AJS 2012: Making Jews in the Digital Humanities

I recently proposed a session in which THATCampers could discuss the relationship between Jewish Studies and recent debates about race and ethnicity in digital humanities.  I am particularly interested in talking about how certain platforms (digital archives, gaming, blogs, online genealogy sites, social media?) present either opportunities or pitfalls for thinking about the social construction of Jewishness.


Rosh Hashanah greeting card from the early 20th century, Hebrew Publishing Company, between 1900 and 1920. Wikipedia Commons.

On the positive side, I am curious about how digital humanities offers opportunities to discuss the boundaries of our discipline and who gets included and excluded from the rubric of “Jewish Studies.”  I mainly work, for example, on the Sephardic Diaspora in the Americas, so I tend to think about how scholarship can either reify or reject mythical views of authenticity of a “pure” Jewishness that is thought to have existed before the Sephardic displacement into the Americas or in medieval Iberia prior to forced conversions.  How might software (such as Omeka) that encourages visitor participation, for example, allow people visiting online archives to contest the definitions of either “Jews” or “Jewishness” in meaningful ways?  Likewise, how can we use online gaming to help raise questions about identity?  (Here I am thinking about games like Trading Races and AllLookSame.)  Does the digital world offer new ways to challenge students to think about the history of how Jews created their identities in relationship to and in dialogue with others?

I’d also like to talk about potential pitfalls of the digital world with respect to identity making.  To what extent extent are “charged assumptions” about race, ethnicity, or Jewishness replicated in either the digital world through systems, codes, or tools (See Koh Slide 31)?  How does digitizing Jews relate to larger debates about Race in the Digital Humanities and what it means to “digitize” race or ethnicity?

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Mapping Family Diasporas in iPhoto

On the Family History and Migration page of Why Use Material Culture in Your Classes? I mentioned that one could have students use iPhoto to visualize the trajectories of different key families in early America.  In this post I want to explain how to use iPhoto to make maps.  At the risk of being obvious, you will need a mac and a version of iPhoto that has the mapping function (e.g. iPhoto ’11 or–I believe–’09). Below is an example of what you will be creating.  Photos around the map are optional, but it helps to decide ahead of time if you want them.

Jesurun Family Migrations

Mapping Family Migrations in iPhoto

To create this map, first search for a family you are interested in the Jewish Atlantic World Database. In this example I used the Jesurun family.  Click on one of the images.  If it is a single image there will be linked keywords to the right of the image.  If it is a compound image click on “about this image” at the top left and the keyword list will appear on the right part of the screen.  Now click on the keyword for the family name (e.g. “Jesurun Family”) to make sure you have all the correct images despite any variants in spelling.  (You could have also done this using the browse by family name function). Make a list of the locations the family lived in.  If there is a clear trajectory the family took, place dates next to the places to indicate the chronology.  You will want to enter the places in this order the fifth step.  You will notice in the map above however, I did not include arrows as the family dispersed to several locations simultaneously.  If I wanted arrows for this map, I would need to add them in manually.  Note: since it is not always clear where families migrated from (or family members arrived from more than one port) this step may make your students’ lives more complicated than you intend.

Second, you have some choices to make.  Do you want photos around your map?  If so, download the images from the family that you would like to include with your map. If you click on an image from your search list, at the top center of the screen there is an option for “download this image.”  Save the downloaded images to a folder on your desktop.  iPhoto will give you an option of how many images you want to include around your map.  The options are 0, 2, 3, 4, or 12 images.  There is no need to download more images than you want to use.

Third, open up iPhoto (’11) and create a New Album.  Imported the images you downloaded into the album in iPhoto.  If you don’t want any images, skip this step and proceed to “fourth.”

Fourth, make sure you don’t have any images in the album highlighted and go to the menu at the top of the screen and open FILE > NEW BOOK. Click CREATE (bottom right).  [If you don’t want to use images, don’t click on an album, just go to FILE > NEW BOOK. It will ask you if you want to create an empty project.  Click CONTINUE then click CREATE (bottom right). ] Click on a random page and then click LAYOUT (bottom right).  On the pull-down menu to the right click MAP.  Now chose which version of the map layout you want (a map only or map with some variation of pictures with it) and click on it.  This should create the map on your page.  Now click on the page you created.

Fifth, click one more time on the map so you can format it.  After you click on the map, a menu will appear on the right column: go to LOCATION click the + sign and add one at a time the “Places” your chosen family lived.  If you wanted to include arrows indicating movement, add them in the chronological order.  Once you have added all your locations you can change the look using the STYLE options at the top.  Check LINE to include straight or curved arrows.  You can also unclick boxes under SHOW if you don’t want certain information included on your map (for example countries may have changed, so maybe you don’t want “region text”). Unfortunately you can’t get rid of the national boundaries, but that might be something to discuss with students. You are almost done!

Sixth, once you map is the way you want it go to FILE > PRINT.  Under PAGES select SINGLE and the page with the map.  At the bottom LEFT select PDF> SAVE as PDF, give it a title.pdf and save to your desktop.  Once it is saved, open it in Acrobat, Preview, or Photoshop and resave (or “export”) it as a jpg.  If you wanted arrows but didn’t add them before, add them now manually.  You are done!

Note that this process minus the first step can also be used to create a general map of migrations e.g.:


Migration map with arrows using iPhoto.

In my mind, the above map is deceptive, however, as it suggests people went in a clear order through ports, whereas in reality some people came to Barbados directly from Amsterdam or Portugal or London (or returned to Amsterdam from Barbados).  I would be tempted to have each student do a map based on an individual’s migrations/travels and then have the students compare the trajectories all the individuals to see if any larger patterns emerge.  That is, maps with arrows are probably a better starting point for a conversation with students about migration patterns rather than an endpoint.

Questions or Comments?  Post them below.