Way back in February, I wrote about the Soldiers’ Home National Cemetery and how Evan Phifer and I sought to create a viable digital resource on the cemetery, the first national cemetery in America. Today I’m excited to announce the launch of that website: How Sleep the Brave: the Soldiers’ Home National Cemetery, Abraham Lincoln and the Civil War.
As with many digital projects, our final deliverable evolved from the proposal stage. Originally we saw this just as a digital resource that would document the burials in the cemetery. While we certainly do incorporate that database into our site, the database itself is the foundation of the project, rather than the end-all, be-all. Instead, the website robustly interprets and contextualizes the cemetery. Specifically, the website demonstrates that the cemetery profoundly effected Abraham Lincoln while he lived at the Soldiers’ Home, especially his evolving views on the bloodshed of the Civil War and the question of emancipation.
One element from the proposal that we did implement is a series of charts analyzing the burials. After assembling these graphs, it’s clear that the peak burial season occurred in September 1862, right when Lincoln issued the Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation. In addition to the focus on the timeline of the cemetery’s burials, we wrote about important soldiers buried in the cemetery, including General John Logan, and Medal of Honor recipient and Buffalo Soldier John Denny. We also asses how wartime death and suffering affected both Abraham Lincoln specifically, and Washington D.C. generally. We also wanted to use some of the tools we’ve learned this spring, including mapping techniques and culturomics. Thus we wrote about how people have visualized the cemetery over time, as well as the evolution of “National Cemetery” both in American history and American literature.
The authors of Digital_Humanities argue the key to the field of Digital Humanities is collaboration. What makes the field so exciting is the tantalizing new ways that scholars can work together to produce ground breaking interpretation. Fortunately, I can say that my project with Evan was a perfect encapsulation of this. He came up with some great ideas for the project, and I’d like to think I did the same. But regardless of who thought up an idea, we both worked on all aspects of the project. On every single page we both wrote, edited and contributed to the content and layout.
In addition to Evan, I’d like to thank several people. First, our colleagues at President Lincoln’s Cottage, especially Executive Director Erin Mast, provided support and allowed us to use several images and resources. Second, this project would not have happened without Paul LaRue, an Ohio history teacher, whose high school class created the database we used in this project. (You can read our interview with Mr. LaRue on the site as well.) Lastly, Dr. Dan Kerr at American University provided guidance throughout the whole process.
Most importantly, the main purpose of this project is to provide an interpretative lens of the cemetery for the public. So we hope that you help us achieve this goal by providing feedback. Please take a look and let us know what you think.