Using Mathematica for Passion Projects
As the semester comes to an end I find myself looking through the Wolfram knowledgebase, trying to use features that I feel are neat or interesting. I want to be able to find a way to make the software enhance my research abilities, and through many of the lessons I have seen small snippets of what Wolfram Mathematica can help me do. The last classes focused on photo image processing which always peaks an interest of a public historian. Images are universal, a great way to tell stories across many lines, they are fun for the public to interact with, and can be easily digitized. Maps are similarly gifted with the ability to tell stories. I recently completed a project using Story Maps and realized I could do more using Mathematica. Even if I can’t make a ‘story map’ yet using these tools, I can easily create my own map images or complete research for my Story Map in GIS.
My recent Digital Public History project had me working on a Story Map version of the journal Chief Shingwaukonse, from Baawating (Sault Ste. Marie, ON). He made a journey from his home to Toronto in the 1850’s to petition for funds to give his young people a schoolhouse and teacher. A decorated veteran of 1812, a treaty negotiator, and spiritual leader, Shingwauk’s archives are regularly accessed. However, there is only a typed copy of his journal, I thought it could be more engaging for younger people, or those who wanted to see the journey, the chance to go on the journey with him. I got curious after our class on Maps on how I could blend these mediums together to make my project better. (Blog about this project here)
I began to play around with maps of Canada. Why? For myself, maps can be reminders of settler-colonial occupation and they can be tools for digital storytelling and cultural knowledge sharing. I found an interesting feature that allowed me to see established settler borders at earlier stages in history, within their current state. It was interesting to compare.
I started with 1850, the time of my project and a short time before confederation. The borders are not much different than they are at present day. However, if I go back further to 1700 there is less settler-occupied space. It was neat to play with.
Another interesting feature I looked at was a layer that shows more land details. This could be applied when talking about traditional land uses, climate migration, or relationships to geographic landmarks.
I kept the border highlight to emphasize Canada, but when looking at the land details it really demonstrates how something whole was sectioned.
Wolfram Mathematica allows you to drop geomarker pins on your map. This is a similar styling to what was used in Story Maps. There is capability to fully customize the look of your pins and add pop-up tools and mouse-over tools, but I haven’t been able to use them effectively yet.
On this map I dropped plots for a few of Shingwauk’s stops; Sault Ste. Marie, Sarnia, and Toronto. Even if I can only make something marginally interactive right now, I can always use the Wolfram Alpha knowledgebase to do research for my Story Maps or Processing designed maps.
As it is a US-based knowledgebase I expected some of the smaller Northern Ontario towns not to have data. This can be easily rectified with Google, but it was neat to try it in Mathematica and see how I can use it for research.
How I Hope to Use My Skills- All the Possibilities Batman!
I hope to work in historical research consulting, or work to optimize collections for digitization. I feel like my small introduction to Wolfram Mathematica will help me in both of these endeavors. With historical research consulting I can use these tools to prepare and organize my research. I can create my own search tools and functions that will save me search and writing time in the future. I can even create research area specific RSS feeds to keep me up to date on my interests, or that of the client’s. I can pull from Alpha, then organize biographical and legal information to help prepare client reports. I can create visual tools like charts, graphs, maps, and word clouds to illustrate research data in ways everyone can understand.
If I’m interested more in image digitization, I can use Mathematica tools to help me provide researchers with the best information on images. I can pull several artworks from the same artist, analyze and compare their colour use, or layer them on top of one another to compare period style/shape use. There is also the famous use in Public History of ‘ghost image’ or landscape fade sliders. These are great tools when we want to show architecture alterations, landscape change, or soviet photo editing transformations. If I’m scanning text, I have now learned better ways to pick that text for keywords and subjects. This can be useful for filling out collection scope and content information in Archival settings.
The possibilities in which I can use Wolfram Mathematica professionally are endless. I plan to continue with the lesson textbook available on their website, as well as using their examples and forums. It’s been a great course and I’m sad it is over, but I’m looking forward to stepping into Interactive Exhibit Design with less digital fear and more skills to offer project development, research and organization.