Visualizing Urban Change in Silicon Valley

Greetings all! I am Jason Heppler, a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and the Academic Technology Specialist for the Department of History at Stanford University, where I mostly work on evidence visualization projects and teach digital history. My dissertation, “Machines in the Valley: Growth, Conflict, and Environmental Politics in Silicon Valley” examines contested ideas about space and place as the cities of Silicon Valley grew during the postwar era. These debates gave expression to what I see as environmentalism growing out of specific local concerns, as well as a burgeoning discussion about sustainable cities.

For the Six Shooters, I wanted to talk about some of the data visualization projects I’ve been working on for the digital components of my dissertation. I’m curious to hear your feedback — what works, what doesn’t, what’s missing. In particular, I was interested in trying to examine the spaces of the cities ignored or overlooked by city planners and the reasons behind their absence. I have anecdotal evidence suggesting the uneven (and unequal) patterns of municipal expansion, but by visualizing this unevenness I suggest we can better see the spaces of the city that were given the most attention and the reasons behind their focus.

Creating Citizen Archivists


Fortepan Iowa and the Making of Kronofoto

Fortepan Iowa is a research-based, student-centered project conducted at the University of Northern Iowa between three different departments, in two different colleges, across four different disciplines. Bettina Fabos in visual communications and Sergey Golitsynskiy in computer science, from the Communication Studies Department, Noah Doely in photography from the Art Department, and myself in public history, from the Department of History are working to create an interactive digital platform for collecting, archiving, displaying, and utilizing amateur photographs of Iowa’s past.


The project embodies our individual specialties in creating digital platforms, collecting and documenting historical images, and displaying and interpreting those images, and it represents our collective commitment to open-source platforms and to student training. It also showcases the history of Iowa because the images it contains are of events and places throughout the state taken between 1860 and 2000, the era of print photos.

The name of the project itself, “Fortepan,” comes from the widely popular film paper made by the Hungarian company Forte and stands in for the idea of amateur photography. Fortepan Iowa is the sister site to the original Fortepan project.


The Fortepan Concept

The project is designed to showcase the snapshot, the ubiquitous window into the life of the ordinary citizen. The images featured on the project’s homepage have been curated for their aesthetic and documentary value. These images are arranged photograph by photograph chronologically along an interactive timeline, which users can use to browse through the collection year by year. All the images are scanned at a high resolution and available for download and use under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International Public license. These ideas collectively comprise what we call the Fortepan Concept.

Our students have largely been responsible for the core of the collections by documenting and digitizing these photographs from their own families and communities. In doing so, they have not only built a digital archive from the ground up, they have learned much about digital platforms and culture, archival and collections work, and working collaboratively.



The platform itself, called Kronofoto, is an original work unique to the project. The project collaborators have engineered it from the ground up to privilege the visual image, similar to the original Fortepan, but to also interpret the collections in a variety of ways. Currently, users can browse the images chronologically along the timeline, through individual collection, and by donor. But we designed Kronofoto to be highly malleable.

We are currently working on a spatial interpretation of the collections through an interactive map of the state and tagging individual images so that users can browse them by subject. We will also be adding excerpts from oral history interviews to some images to allow users to listen to the stories that accompany these photographs. Lastly, we are continuing to add to the collections by integrating all the donated images, including those not featured on the homepage. We intend to allow users to contribute their own images and stories, thereby making the project’s platform a bridge between professional archiving and citizen participation such that it becomes a pathway to create citizen archivists and empowers communities to document their own history for themselves.


The project has been funded by Humanities Iowa and through a university Capacity-Building grant and it launched in March 2015. To date, the Fortepan Iowa project has involved more than 165 students, worked with 200 donors, and collected and digitized almost 5500 images, nearly 2000 of which are currently featured on the public website. We are continuing to grow the archive, to improve the digital interface, and to use it to train and educate new cohorts of students. We will also be applying for grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities to continue to fund the project’s infrastructure and to prepare the Fortepan Concept and Kronofoto for public release.

Lineup for WHA 2015 Six-Shooters Session

Here are the presenters that we have confirmed for the Technology Committee sponsored session Six-Shooters: A Digital Frontiers Lightning Round Session:

  • Cameron Blevins, Rutgers University
  • Leisl Carr-Childers, University of Northern Iowa
  • Jason Heppler, Stanford University
  • Robert Jordan, Colorado State University
  • Verónica Reyes-Escudero, University of Arizona
  • Douglas Seefeldt, Ball State University

The session will be chaired by Douglas Seefeldt, Ball State University and is scheduled for Friday, October 23 from 2:30-4:00 PM in Parlor C of the Hilton Portland & Executive Towers, Portland, Oregon. Please check this site in the days leading up to the conference for introductions by each presenter and brief descriptions of the work they plan to present.

A View into the 2014 WHA Six-Shooters digital history session

This year’s Six-Shooters digital history lightning round session, sponsored by the WHA Technology Committee, featured nine presenters sharing their research, teaching, and public projects (photos by Doug Seefeldt, session chair):

Lineup for WHA 2014 Six-Shooters Session

This year’s Six-Shooters session is scheduled for Thursday, October 16, 2014 from 2:30-5:00 PM in Salon 1-2 in the Newport Beach Marriott Hotel and Spa, Newport Beach, CA. It offers a unique opportunity for WHA members interested in the ways digital technologies are being used in the classroom, in public history, and in research, to discover and discuss these new ideas in an “unconference” manner.

This session, sponsored by the WHA Technology Committee, chaired by Douglas Seefeldt, utilizes a lightning round format that limits each presentation to six minutes and six slides. The session will feature the following presenters and topics. Please join us for stimulating presentations, lively conversations, and valuable networking!

  • Jacob K. Friefeld,U. Nebraska-Lincoln, “The History Harvest Project” The History Harvest is a collaborative, community based digital history project and learning initiative that aims to democratize and open history. The project utilizes digital technologies to share the experiences and artifacts of people and local historical institutions. At each harvest, conducted by undergraduate students, community members are invited to share their letters, photographs, objects, and stories, and participate in a conversation about the significance and meaning of their materials. Each artifact is digitally captured and then shared in a web-based archive for general educational use and study. Overall, the History Harvest project aims to raise visibility and public conversation about history and its meaning, as well as provide a new foundation of publicly available material for historical study, K-12 instruction, and life-long learning. I will discuss the History Harvest as a concept, and explain its philosophical grounding. Then, I will briefly outline the harvest process and flexibility of the project, and conclude with a discussion of the History Harvest Archive and the future vision for the project. This short presentation is an invitation to join this growing project in increasing the availability of artifacts that help us to understand our shared history.
  • Erik Johnson, George Mason U., “Discover Historic Places Digital Project” The National Park Service, in collaboration with State Historic Preservation Officers, Tribal Historic Preservation Officers, and other local governments, administers a remarkable historic preservation program called the National Register of Historic Places. With advancements in web publishing and social media platforms, there is an opportunity to publicize the country’s historic resources to a wider audience and, in doing so, boosting historic preservation and the communities that are served by the National Register. Discover Historic Places (DHP) is a digital project that aims to work with the public to achieve a better understanding of its history by publishing National Register documentation in a highly accessible format. DHP is built using Omeka and uses the city of Philadelphia as a model for the project. The website organizes around historic themes within the city with the hope that thematic categories, along with map visualization, improve the accessibility of National Register resources for all users.
  • Robert Jordan, Colorado State U., “The Lory Student Center Project”In the midst of year-long renovations of Colorado State University’s (CSU) Lory Student Center (LSC) from the fall of 2013-2014, the history department, the Public Lands History Center (PLHC), university administrators, archivists and librarians from the Fort Collins and CSU archives, and undergraduate and graduate students worked collaboratively to produce digital, historical content to be showcased as part of the grand opening of the new student center. This digital content created by the university’s own students provides a link for past, present, and future Rams to their university, creating a sense of pride in the accomplishments of previous generations. The content is composed of twelve physical markers linked to digital, web-based “brand stories.” Working together, students in one undergraduate and one graduate history course (HIST580A1 and HIST480A5) produced narrative content for each of the twelve brand markers, as well as visual digital components for use by the LSC on a website or mobile application. Over the course of a single semester, students utilized a wide range of primary and secondary source materials and digital tools to create a dynamic, digital, public history project, learning new skills and gaining invaluable practical experience.
  • Paula Petrik, George Mason U., “Is 3-D Reconstruction Worth It?” In other words, what can we learn as historians from the laborious task of recreating a historical landscape in three dimensions, given that 3-D digital work is labor-intensive and time-consuming? Using Helena, Montana’s Wood Street neighborhood as a case study, this very short presentation illustrates what spatial analysis can contribute to historical analysis. Recreating the neighborhood adds an extra dimension to the history of “capitalists with rooms.” Not only did the Wood Street “soiled doves” create a micro-economy in their area but they also controlled its space both through the buildings’ design and location.
  • Jana Remy, Chapman U., “Digital Humanities at Chapman University” Jana will speak about two new Digital Humanities courses offered to graduate students at Chapman University, “An Introduction to DH” and “Humanities Computing.” In addition, she will share insights about serving in an “alt-ac” administrative position on her campus (as the Associate Director of Digital Scholarship), and her role in DH-related research initiatives.
  • Rebecca S. Wingo, U. Nebraska-Lincoln, “Can I Get a Witness?: Network Analysis of Homesteaders in Nebraska” In 2014,, a subsidiary of, finished digitizing over 75,000 records of successful homestead claims for the state of Nebraska. In 2009, Richard Edwards called for a reassessment of homesteading in “Changing Perceptions of Homesteading as a Policy of Public Domain Disposal,” arguing that scholars need to approach homesteading through data analysis rather than anecdotal evidence (however compelling it tends to be). Using the newly digitized records, I sampled ten townships over two counties to thoroughly examine and document every homestead claimant, creating the most complete data set of homesteaders to date. I then used Gephi to map the social connections of homesteaders based on the witnesses they listed in their Proof of Posting. Network analysis of homesteaders indicates the prevalence of fraud (spoiler alert: it’s not as much as previous scholars have led us to believe) and traces community formation. Geolocation of the homesteaders further reveals patterns in witnessing that demonstrate the function of neighbors and neighborhoods in the rural west. Ultimately, this project merges qualitative methodologies with close-readings of the documents to produce ground-breaking research on homesteading in Nebraska.

Do you use digital tools in your research, teaching, or public history profession? If so, and you are planning to attend the 2014 Western History Association conference and are willing to share your thoughts and experiences at this session, please contact Doug Seefeldt: wdseefeldt[AT]bsu[DOT]edu and we’ll try to add you to the slate!

Call for “Six-Shooter” Lightning Round Presentations: Western History Association 54th Annual Conference, October 15-18, 2014

Greetings! The Western History Association’s Technology Committee members are seeking proposals for a roster of presentations for their “Six-Shooters” lightning round session to be held at the WHA’s 54rd Annual Conference in Newport Beach, CA on Thursday October 16, 2014 from 2:30-4:00 PM. Each of the 8 or so presenters will have 6 minutes and no more than 6 PowerPoint slides to share topics with a significant digital history component related to research, teaching, or public history initiatives. Before the conference, each confirmed participant will post a brief paragraph to the WHA Digital Frontiers blog outlining what they plan to present. Check this space for updates and feel free to contact Doug Seefeldt via email at wdseefeldt [AT] bsu [DOT] edu if you would like to like to be considered to participate in this alternative-format session.

Inaugural “Six-Shooters” Lightning Round Session

On Saturday October 12, 2013 seven presenters participated in the inaugural “Six-Shooters” session from 2:30-4:00 PM in the Finger Rock III room at the Westin La Paloma Resort & Spa in Tucson, AZ. This session, sponsored by the WHA Technology Committee, utilizes a lightning round format that limits each presentation to six minutes and six slides. The session was chaired by Douglas Seefeldt, the committee chair, and the presenters were:

  • Jason Heppler, Stanford U., “Spatial History and the Western Past”
  • Leslie Working, U. Nebraska-Lincoln, “Visualizing Data with Open Source Tools”
  • Sharon Kilzer, Theodore Roosevelt Center, The Theodore Roosevelt Digital Library”
  • Jeremy Johnston, Buffalo Bill Center of the West, “The Papers of William F. Cody”
  • Douglas Seefeldt, Ball State University, “Cody Studies Digital Research Platform”
  • Larry Cebula, Eastern Washington U./Washington State Archives, “Using Mobile Interpretation to Strengthen Preservation Communities”
  • J. Wendel Cox, “Shifted Research”

Do you use digital tools in your research, teaching, or public history profession? If so, and you are willing to share your thoughts and experiences with other WHA conference attendees at our 2014 meeting, please contact Doug Seefeldt: wdseefeldt [AT] bsu [DOT] edu