Multiple Architectures and Multiple Media: The Salem Witch Trials and Boston's Back Bay Fens Projects

panel / roundtable
  1. 1. Daniel Pitti

    Institute for Advanced Technology in the Humanities (IATH) - University of Virginia

  2. 2. Chris Jessee

    Institute for Advanced Technology in the Humanities (IATH) - University of Virginia

  3. 3. Stephen Ramsay

    Institute for Advanced Technology in the Humanities (IATH) - University of Virginia

Work text
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Multiple Architectures and Multiple Media: The Salem
Witch Trials and Boston's Back Bay Fens Projects


Institute for Advanced Technology in the
Humanities, University of Virginia


Institute for Advanced Technology in the
Humanities, University of Virginia


Institute for Advanced Technology in the
Humanities, University of Virginia


University of Tübingen







The Salem Witch Trials and Boston's Back Bay Fens Projects have been under
development at the Institute for Advanced Technology in the Humanities
(IATH) since July 1999. Professor Ben Ray of the Religious Studies
Department leads The Salem Witch Trials project. Kathy Poole, a professor in
the School of Architecture at the time of the award, leads Boston's Back Bay
Fens project.
While the two projects have distinctly different subject matter and
objectives, they have in common an historical perspective and analysis, and
the use of interrelated geographic, social, documentary, and interpretive
data and information. Specific challenges involved identifying the key
"objects of interest;" analysis of their nature and characteristics;
identification of appropriate representation architectures and development
of appropriate models and implementations; and finally, interrelating the
diverse architectures to fulfill the pedagogical and research objectives of
each project. Three papers will be presented describing both the
intellectual and technological methods employed in the design and
implementation of these two projects.
"Data Diversity and Integration in Two Socio-Cultural Historical Research
Projects" will provide an overview of each project. In particular, it will
describe the people (faculty, student, and staff) involved and the essential
research and pedagogical objectives of each project, the analytic methods
employed to identify the essential intellectual components and appropriate
representational architectures for each, the data and textual schemas
developed, and the overarching relational architecture that integrates the
diverse, data specific architectures. Each project comprises relational
database, XML textual documents (both documentary and interpretative),
pictorial material, geographic information, and real-time dynamically
created XML data instances used to integrate the various architectures, and
data structures and content.
"Flash GIS: Delivering Geographic Information on the Internet," using
examples from the Salem Witch Trials and Boston's Back Bay Fens, will
discuss the challenge of delivering geographic information on the Internet
for the humanities researcher. Current GIS-to-web solutions have the benefit
of being easy to use and fast to deploy if their features and functionality
meet project requirements. However, if the research requires high quality
display, animation, a custom interface, or advanced interactivity, these
systems will be inadequate. Combining the high quality vector display of
Flash with an SQL database, the Institute has developed a system which it
has named "Flash GIS." This system offers the extensibility and
functionality needed to handle complex geographic relationships. The Flash
plug-in was designed to display animated advertising in a web browser, but
it is broad and general in function, and thus can be applied to a range of
humanities data visualization problems.
"Relational Ontologies and the New Historicism," will discuss the opportunity
offered by these two projects to think about the ways in which computer
technology can assist historians in effecting the union of macro- and micro-
historiographic methods. Both projects employ schema with conventional
records, but enrich that record set with an extremely rich relational
ontology that can capture the complex relationships between divergent record
types. This paper discusses the ways in which the system uses those
relational junctions to bring forth the micro-narratives implicit in the
data--narratives that were perhaps beyond the view of any individual
researcher entering data into the database. This paper also presents the
Sibelius libraries (a set of generic Java classes for rendering database
relationships), and goes on to propose several possibilities for more
elaborate data visualizations.

Data Diversity and Integration in Two Socio-Cultural Historical
Research Projects
Daniel V. Pitti

Each year the Institute for Advanced Technology in the Humanities
awards a two- year fellowships for computer-assisted research in the
humanities to a member of the humanities faculty at the University
of Virginia. The selection committee evaluates proposals based on
the merit of content and on innovative use of computer technology in
humanities research. The Salem Witch Trials and Boston's Back Bay
Fens projects were awarded fellowships in 1999, under the
Institute's early policy of offering two one-year fellowships each
The Salem Witch Trial project is using computer technology to
document, research, and interpret the witch trials that took place
between 1692 and 1693 in Salem, Massachusetts. The Boston's Back Bay
Fens project is using computer technology to document, research, and
interpret the history of the infrastructure of Boston's Back Bay
Fens park and surrounding area from 1878 until the present.
While the two projects differ significantly in the subjects being
investigated, we can characterize each as an historical, social, and
cultural study. The similarities in methodology and the related
focus on social and cultural phenomena in a bounded space and time
lead to similar computer data representations and architectures.
At the outset of each project, the faculty researchers leading each
project began a series of meetings with Institute faculty and staff,
and graduate students assisting the projects. The goals of these
meetings are to analyze the objectives of each project, to identify
the resources and relations among them required to meet the
objectives, to identify the appropriate computer architectures for
representing the resources and meeting the research objectives, and,
finally, to develop appropriate, detailed representational schemas.
Both projects utilize a wide variety of both primary and secondary
resources. While many of these resources are textual in nature, many
represent a variety of other forms: geographic information,
pictorial and other graphic materials, as well as social and
cultural data extracted from primary resources and represented.
A central challenge in all projects at the Institute is identifying
the central "objects of interests." Objects of interest comprise
both the key artifacts and resources that constitute the core
evidence under study, as well as the people, places, things, and
events documented in these resources. While the resources and the
various social, cultural, and political entities they document are
of primary importance, the relations among them are equally
Both projects employ relational databases at the center of their
architectures. The Salem Witch Trials database has primary tables
representing people (accusers, accused, witnesses, and the like),
organizations or corporate bodies (including courts, juries,
households, and town, church, and legal officials), legal and
judicial events (accusations, arrests, trials, convictions,
executions, and the like), public and private buildings and
structures (court houses, homes, and so on), and bibliographic
resources (court records and other documentary evidence, critical
early and modern secondary resources, pictorial materials, maps,
derived and original digital materials, and so on). Many of the
materials described in bibliographic records in the database are the
sources for describing the individuals, organizations, events, and
structures represented in the databases.
Each primary table defines a set of descriptive attributes for each
object. In turn, each object represented in a primary table is
related to each of the others in a variety of ways through secondary
tables. People, for example, are related through secondary tables
from which family structures can be dynamically derived. Families,
in turn, are related to households, which encompass broader
relations than families. Families, further, are related to houses,
which are also related to specific geographic information locating
them in space, as well as in time. In this manner, people,
organizations, structures, events, and resources function as
primitives that, when interrelated, comprise more complex structures
serving particular research and analytic objectives.
Boston's Back Bay Fens has five primary tables: people, organizations
or corporate bodies, events, objects or structures, and
bibliographic resources. While the primary tables are remarkably
similar to the tables in Salem Witch Trials tables, there is only
some overlap in the attributes associated with each object. The
differences in attributes primarily reflect differences in the
nature of the disciplines (religious studies and history of
architecture) and the nature of the objects and relations being
investigated. The primary objects identified and the attributes
identified and associated with them reflect the disciplinary
methodology employed, and assumptions about which phenomenon will
lead to furthering our understanding. In essence, the entities
represented in each primary table and the relations between them in
secondary tables reflect the hypothetical assumptions of each
The information represented in the databases is extracted from a
variety of primary and secondary resources. The latter category
includes both second and first generation digital materials.
Decisions concerning the appropriate architectures and
representations of the primary and secondary resources required
additional analysis, though not independent of the analysis and
design of the databases. The entities represented in the database
are necessarily related to the documentary and secondary sources,
and these relations must necessarily be maintained. Maintaining
these relations requires identifying and representing in both the
database representations and the representations of the resources
machine-readable data facilitating correlations.
Given the historical nature of each project, spatial and temporal
orientation of the people and organizations that play significant
roles, the natural and cultural objects that coexist with them, and
the events that reveal significant relations among them, become of
critical importance. Geographic and temporal information thus plays
a critical role in each of these projects. We can characterize
existing Geographic Information Systems (GIS) as generally dealing
with change over time through a series of static maps linked to
relatively flat structures representing the data being plotted
through time and space. Both of these projects, however, wanted to
be able to display (visualize?) people, objects, and events in
geographic space and through time dynamically. This presented the
challenge of not merely re-presenting maps as images or even GIS,
but representing geographic information in relation to entities
represented in the respective databases. The data in the databases
is used "to drive" dynamic temporal-geographic displays.
Each project also had to consider the representation of texts,
pictorial and other graphic material. Given past and extensive
experience with markup and imaging technologies, texts were not a
difficult challenge. Neither project had significant interest in
text bearing artifacts as such, or in exploring text or editing
theory. Both projects were primarily interested in the information
content of texts: reading, searching. In addition to reading and
searching, individual texts and people, objects, and events
documented in them also had to be represented in a machine-readable
manner that would facilitate correlations with entities in the
relational databases, and, through them, maps. TEI Lite was chosen
as the method for representing texts. Some texts from primary
resources are also represented as images, and some texts, where
creating machine-readable texts was not deemed necessary or
currently economically feasible, are only represented as images.
The Salem Witch Trials and the Boston's Back Bay Fens projects are
socio- cultural historical studies. While the subject matter in each
differs, the similarities in methodology lead to similarities in the
phenomenon represented and the methods for representing them. Both
projects employ relational databases as axis around which are
correlated sophisticated dynamic GIS systems, and resources
represented using XML and XML systems, as well other technologies
appropriate to the nature of the data and research objectives. While
the databases play a central role in the analysis and navigation of
the data and resources, XML plays the role of representing texts, as
well as integration of the various resources and resource systems
employed in the two projects.

Flash GIS: Delivering Geographic Information on the Internet
Chris Jessee

Delivering geographic information on the Internet is a great
challenge for the humanities researcher. Current GIS-to-web
solutions have the benefit of being easy to use and fast to
deploy if their features and functionality meet your project
requirements. However, if you need high quality display,
animation, a custom interface or advanced interactivity these
systems will be inadequate. Combining the high quality vector
display of Flash with an SQL database, we have developed a
system we call Flash GIS. This system can offer the
extensibility and functionality needed to handle complex
geographic relationships. The Flash plug-in was designed to
display animated advertising in a web browser, but it is broad
and general in function and thus can be applied to a range of
humanities data visualization problems.
In order for Flash GIS to move beyond its current
proof-of-concept state and become production ready, automated
conversion of standard GIS file formats to Flash's .swf format
will be needed. If we can overcome this hurdle, Flash's
flexibility and ease of integration with immerging technologies
gives it the potential to be a robust GIS-to-web solution for
humanities research.

GIS-to-Web Solutions
Slow download, lack of customization and limited animation are
the major problems with current GIS-to-web solutions. Commercial
solutions like ESRI ArcIMS or AutoDesk MapGuide share the same
organizational model: 1) a database, 2) an application server on
a web server and 3) a display engine in the web browser. The
application server functions to negotiate the communication
between the database and the display engine. The display engine
may be as simple as the web browser or as sophisticated as a
Java applet. The display engines vary but provide these common
Pan and zoom
Show and hide layer or coverage
Cursor location readout of latitude and longitude
Hot linked objects and areas to web resources
Object information rollovers

If the browser is used as the display engine, all user
interaction requires message passing to the application server,
thus making response times slow. Java applets are large and slow
to download and inherit the poor quality of the Java display
technology. Java applets may not function properly across
multiple platforms and browsers and may not be supported in
future versions of web browsers. Current GIS-to web solutions
use native GIS file formats for storage. Native file formats are
convenient as preprocessing is reduced or eliminated, but their
inefficient structure results in large files sizes. Only limited
tools and functionality for showing change over time or
animation are available in these off-the-shelf systems.
Customization of interactive functions and user interface are
also very limited without extensive programming.

Flash GIS
With installation on 96 percent of all web browsers, the Flash
player plug-in is a more stable delivery target than the web
browsers themselves. There are hundreds of thousands of Flash
users - far more than all GIS users combined. Although Flash was
designed to deliver animation and advertising, not GIS data, the
ease with which we have re-purposed Flash demonstrates its
flexibility and adaptability to a broad range of display and
data visualization tasks. Flash GIS follows the same
organizational model as commercial GIS-to-web solutions with the
Flash Player plug-in serves as the display engine on the web
browser. We store data in a temporary XML file to reduce server
hits, speed delivery and allow the display to run independent of
the server. When the database contents change, the temporary XML
file is updated to reflect the changes. If the data changes
frequently a direct XML socket connection to the database would
replace the XML temp file. Our configuration is as follows:
PostgreSQL Database > Java Servlet > XML > Flash Player
Flash is composed of an authoring environment and a browser
plug-in. Using the plug-in as the GIS display engine and the
authoring environment for tool and interface development
provides significant advantages over commercial GIS-to-web
solutions. Flash offers the following features:
Fast downloads via open, compact, streaming media file
format. (SWF).
High quality vector and raster display.
High-level customizable interactivity.
Automatic viewer scaling in the web browser.
Complete control over interface customization.
Animation - positional, shape and display property
Tight integration with off-the-shelf web development
Retrieval and display of HTML, XML, images, movies and
other map files.
Standards based scripting language. (ECMA-Script,
Encapsulation - separation of data from display.
Data driven from local or remote files or any ODBC
Deliverable to a broad range of devices and media,
including removable media, web browsers and wireless

The Valley of the Shadow Project: This initial effort shows the theater-level movements of
American Civil War units from Augusta County, Virginia, and
Franklin County, Pennsylvania. Each major battle they fought in
is linked to a database fact sheet, which provides detailed
information on that unit's experience. All urls are hand coded
and all animation hand tweened.
Production details available here: This link includes information on projection correction of
historic maps as well as detailed information about conversion
from the Shape to .swf file format.
The Salem Witch Trials Project: This map shows the occurrence of witchcraft accusations in
the Massachusetts Bay Province during 1692. Animation and object
properties are driven by externally loaded XML data. This
regional map also demonstrates pan and zoom, lat long tracking,
external file loading, an advanced menu system and dynamically
calculated date values.
The Salem Township Map is in early development, serving as a
test-bed for arbitrary coordinate system re-mapping and point
plotting accuracy.
The Boston Back Bay Fens Project: This case study of Boston's Back Bay Fens and its surrounding
urban landscape demonstrates the extreme data density that Flash
can manage, while maintaining small file sizes and a high level
of interactivity. This map is also in a state of early
Page Viewer Project: This simple page viewer demonstrates the ease with which
Flash tools can be generalized and reused. The pan and zoom
navigation tool shown in the page viewer originated in the Salem
Regional map. It was re-purposed into a page viewing utility in
a matter of minutes.

Remaining Challenges
Flash's .swf file format is an open standard and available for
developers to integrate into their products. Our technique for
migrating Shape files into .swf format optimizes the data by
converting simple segmented lines into bezier spline curves
using the MaPublisher Plug-in running in Adobe Illustrator.
However, This conversion and optimization process is labor
intensive. An automated conversion from standard GIS file
formats into .swf format is needed for Flash to work well in a
larger production pipeline. Ideally, ESRI would adopt the Flash
format as a direct output option.
Software vendors and users have a great opportunity to deliver
better products and projects based on Flash's strengths. For
example, Flash uses a technology termed SmartClips, which allows
a user to create a Flash interface that assists users in
repetitive authoring tasks. A single high-level user can empower
any number of lesser skilled users with advanced functionality
using SmartClips. Another Macromedia product, Director, has
recently added 3d capabilities with Shockwave 3-d. This promises
rich and highly customizable 3d elements and environments that
integrate cleanly with Flash.
Despite Flash's roots as an advertising and animation tool, the
humanities GIS community should consider it as a display engine.
Flash, more than other available technologies, can offer the
extensibility and functionality required to display these
complex geographic relationships.

Relational Ontologies and the New Historicism
Stephen Ramsay

Modern historiography, in whatever discipline it might occur, is
primarily an attempt at multi-leveled contextualization--a weaving
together of anecdotal evidence and "micro-narrative" with broader,
and perhaps more data-centric quantitative evidence. The modern
historian, in other words, cares as much about letters, photographs,
and snippets of conversation as about census data, geographical
information, and tax records. The former has traditionally resided
in digital archives; the latter, in relational databases and GIS
systems. Effecting the union of the various technical approaches is
not by itself a difficult matter. RDBMS, GIS, and digital
collections all participate in a similar quest for order and
organization. But with the rise of humanities computing has come
opportunities for thinking about how technology can be brought to
bear on the two-pronged historicism now current. How can the
traditional forms of computer-assisted data representation be used
to draw forth unforeseen connections, micro-narratives, and
anecdotal anomalies in the large and diverse datasets available to
the modern historian?
The Institute for Advanced Technology in the Humanities confronted
this problem recently with two historiographic projects: "The Salem
Witchcraft Papers" and "Evolutionary Infrastructures: Boston's Back
Bay Fens." Both of the scholars initiating the projects wanted to
capture large datasets concerning events in a sizeable geographic
area over a long period of time. They both envisioned databases that
would contain the usual large-dataset materials, like GIS data,
building records, and population census materials. In both cases,
however, the usefulness of the historical record was thought to
depend equally upon individual images, biographical information, and
individual documents.
The database schema we designed (discussed in a previous paper by D.
Pitti) organizes the data into a deliberately heterogeneous
ontology: people, places, significant events, objects, corporate
bodies, and bibliographical records. The data in each of these major
tables is organized according to its own internal logic, but these
five tables are related in an overall schema that in both systems
reaches to almost a hundred separate relational junctions and
subtables. The schema, therefore, consists mainly of many-to-many
relationships of the form "person/corporate_body.owner(),"
"object/event.role()," "bibliographical_record/person.about()," and
so forth. The data entry mechanisms for the projects involve a
combination of both large-scale import, as well as more finely
grained data entry. The former method is employed for entering the
main records themselves, but the relationships are hand-drawn and
classified by members of each respective team.
The knowledge possessed by any particular team member is necessarily
partial and imperfect. A scholar might have evidence of a connection
between the builder of the Boston Conservatory and the building
itself, but not about the relationship between that builder and
other buildings, or about the relationship between that building and
what stood before it. However, the database is all the time watching
and recording these connections. We developed a generic Java class
library (called the Sibelius libraries) that can search through the
junction tables for any particular record looking for these
relationships. Whenever the user arrives at a particular record, all
of the relationships with other tables are then aggregated and
presented to the user.
We believe this function is significant for two reasons. On the one
hand, it creates synergies out of the partial ontologies possessed
by the individual team members; what was partial before may now
reveal itself in full. More significant, however, is the fact that
these "unwound" connections often have the character of
micro-narratives. A typical search result for buildings in the Muddy
River Watershed in Boston, for example, might yield information
about the New England Conservatory. The linking mechanism will in
turn yield further connections to various architects, places,
buildings, and events, each of which will yield further connections.
One is therefore able to create statements like, "The New England
Conservatory, which was once the Harvard Medical Library, was built
by Henry Hunnewell, who also built the student house at 96 Fenway,
which was once owned by T. Frothingham . . ." At no point was this
narrative explicitly entered into the database in this form, and yet
the system can use the local connections to build the larger
This paper will discuss our method from both a philosophical and
technical standpoint, and will go on to suggest some directions for
how research might proceed on the visualization of these "unwound"
narratives. We have been experimenting, in particular, with graph
visualization software, which we hope eventually to apply to the
ontological submaps created by the Sibelius engine.

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Conference Info

In review

"New Directions in Humanities Computing"

Hosted at Universität Tübingen (University of Tubingen / Tuebingen)

Tübingen, Germany

July 23, 2002 - July 28, 2008

72 works by 136 authors indexed

Affiliations need to be double-checked.

Conference website:

Series: ALLC/EADH (29), ACH/ICCH (22), ACH/ALLC (14)

Organizers: ACH, ALLC

  • Keywords: None
  • Language: English
  • Topics: None