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The Google Books Ngram Viewer is a tool that can be used to make specific searches within Google Books. Unlike searching for a single title in Google Books, using the Ngram Viewer will provide you with actual data and a graph related to your research topic. This will allow you to see a timeline of how frequently or infrequently your research subject appears in Google Books’ massive library.

I realize that this sounds a little daunting, especially for those of us (myself included) who are not statistics wizards. However, the Ngram Viewer can still be used for doing historical research, which is what I’d like to show you how to do. Read on to learn more about this interesting tool:

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Flickr and Wikimedia Commons (also known as Wikicommons) are very effective image search engines for the typical twenty-first century individual.  I wanted to put these two websites to the test when it comes to finding useful images for a Greenwich Village historian.  The theme of my own project is Anarchy and Protest in Greenwich Village During the Vietnam War Era.  This was a more difficult task than I had anticipated given the goals of each of these two websites.  The majority of stakeholders and active users on Flickr utilize the site to post more recent and personal photographs than historical ones.  Wikicommons, on the other hand, is a fundamental online image encyclopedia that lacks depth in its collection, which will hopefully be rectified over time.  The body of this blog post will go into detail about my experiences with these online image databases.  The concluding paragraph will give a more general sense of how useful each website is for historians.

The names of the anarchy groups on which my project is centered skewed the results of image searches.  The most critical groups are Black Mask and Up Against the Wall Motherfuckers.  Black Mask returned images of tribal masks and comic book villains.  Needless to say, this was not what I was hoping for.  In an effort to improve my results, I added key words like “anarchy” to the search.  What resulted on Flickr were mostly masks from the movie “V for Vendetta,” while there were no results on Wikicommons.  Searching for images of the group Up Against the Wall Motherfuckers had slightly better returns.  I believe this was because the group name is so unique.  This was unlike Black Mask, which consists of more common words and thus brings with it many more times the number of results.

Screen shot of my "Black Mask" search on Flickr

Screen shot of my “Black Mask” search on Flickr

Screen shot of my "Black Mask" search on Wikicommons

Screen shot of my “Black Mask” search on Wikicommons

In discussing what I found from my search for Up Against the Wall Motherfuckers, I must first explain the group’s origin.  Over the course of my research, I discovered that Black Mask and Up Against the Wall Motherfuckers were tied together.  Black Mask was formed in the mid-1960s and was a very visual group.  Its members were often seen protesting in public in New York City ranging in places from the Museum of Modern Art to Wall Street.  Leaders of Black Mask decided to take the group underground, eliminating its publicity element, toward the end of the 1960s.  The group was renamed Up Against the Wall Motherfuckers.  For this very reason I expected to find very few, if any, visuals of Up Against the Wall Motherfuckers.  My search for the group on Wikicommons had zero results, and suggested that I reform my search to the more censored “up against the wall motherless”.  I did so just to see what would show up, and again “there were no results matching the query”.  Apparently, Wikicommons just wanted me to remove the word “Motherfucker” from the search with no intention of producing better results.  My search on Flickr for the group, as I briefly mentioned earlier, bore fruit.  There were two Black Mask images in the results.  One was a brief manifesto, and the other was a photograph from the group’s Wall Street protest.  Different Flickr users uploaded these two images.  The manifesto copy was even tagged “Black Mask” in addition to “Up Against the Wall Motherfuckers”, which is significant because the user who uploaded it knew the history and evolution of the New York City anarchy group.  Both of these positive returns for my Up Against the Wall Motherfuckers search were Black Mask in origin, and were likely buried by tons of other images in my Black Mask search.  They also were not tagged “anarchy”, which is why they did not appear in my refined search of “Black Mask anarchy group”.

Screen shot of my "Up Against the Wall Motherfuckers" search on Flickr

Screen shot of my “Up Against the Wall Motherfuckers” search on Flickr

Screen shot of my "Up Against the Wall Motherfuckers" search on Wikicommons

Screen shot of my “Up Against the Wall Motherfuckers” search on Wikicommons

Since the process had, so far, been like pulling teeth, I decided to try a different approach.  My new plan of attack was twofold: I began to search for images of specific events directly relating to the groups I had researched, and more current photographs of places where such historical moments took place.  This was where I had the most success with Flickr and Wikicommons.

The following were some positive examples that came from my change in approach, with some historical background:  In 1967, Black Mask led a protest outside the Pentagon that turned into a violent outbreak.  I found an image of a more peaceful moment on Wikicommons by searching “Black Mask Pentagon Vietnam protest”.  The Weather Underground Organization (also known as the Weathermen), a group that I have not mentioned yet, had an accidental explosion while assembling bombs in the basement of a Greenwich Village townhouse.  Three of the group’s members died and two escaped with serious injuries.  I found an image on Wikicommons of firemen putting out the fires at the site by searching “Weathermen townhouse explosion”.  Lastly, the Yippies, also being mentioned for the first time, were another radical leftist New York City group that held many public protests.  One of the most famous incidents involving Yippies was at the New York Stock Exchange.  Members of the group threw money from the balcony at traders on the floor.  This event was blown up by the media after-the-fact, which was probably why I could not find any photographs of the event as it unfolded.  I was, however, able to find recent photographs of the outside and inside of the New York Stock Exchange on Flickr.

Black Mask protest outside the Pentagon on October 21, 1967

Black Mask protest outside the Pentagon on October 21, 1967. (Wikicommons)

Firemen respond to the Greenwich Village townhouse explosion at 18 West 11th Street, which occurred on March 6, 1970.

Firemen respond to the Greenwich Village townhouse explosion at 18 West 11th Street, which was caused by the Weather Underground Organization and occurred on March 6, 1970. (Wikicommons)

Photograph of the outside of the New York Stock Exchange, taken in 2009.

Photograph of the outside of the New York Stock Exchange, taken in 2009. (Flickr, Chensiyuan)

Photograph of the inside of the New York Stock Exchange, taken in 2009.

Photograph of the inside of the New York Stock Exchange, taken in 2009. (Flickr, Kevin Hutchinson)

The goals of Flickr and Wikicommons are different and thus pose dissimilar challenges to historians.   Flickr is primarily a website for personal photographs, and is sometimes referred to as a social media website.  Tangential to that, it is a hub of images of much more current people and places.  Finding photographs from the 1960s on Flickr is a tall task in itself, let alone locating significant images pertaining to anarchy groups during the era.  Most of the time, the best that Flickr can do for historians is present recent visuals of important sites of the past.  Wikicommons, on the other hand, is more of an educational website than Flickr.  Wikicommons is more useful to historians given its purpose and that its collection includes images that may serve as a sort of primary document.  From my experience within the parameters of this project, neither image database provided me with much success.  In the end, I would say that Wikicommons is a better historical tool to study mid-20th century Greenwich Village than Flickr.

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Having trouble finding archives that have the materials you need? ArchiveGrid is a great tool to use if you do not know where to begin your search! It is a free resource that allows the user access to information about different collections and finding aids that any of the participating archives have.

ArchiveGrid Homepage

ArchiveGrid became a free website in 2012, allowing researchers to use its database without subscribing to it, like it had done in the past.  The database contains over two million searchable archival collections. According to the about page on the ArchiveGrid website, it“provides access to detailed archival collection descriptions, making information available about historical documents, personal papers, family histories, and other archival materials. It also provides contact information for the institution where the collections are kept.”The website is designed to recognize your current location so that it can best serve your search needs. When you receive your search results, they are ranked by both closest in proximity and the hits that best fits the phrase you searched.

ArchiveGrid is supported by the Online Computer Library Center (also known as OCLC). OCLC is an organization that connects different libraries from all over the world. OCLC also manages the infamous WorldCat, the database that Bobst Library uses to make their catalogues searchable. Like OCLC, ArchiveGrid gives archives and libraries the opportunity to share their collections with the World Wide Web, allowing them to reach out to more people than they could in the past.

For my digital archive and website, I am focusing on St. Vincent’s Medical Center, once located on Greenwich Village on W. 11th Street until its close in 2010. Since this institution is no longer open, I have been searching high and low for all sorts of documents that would be relevant for my research. ArchiveGrid was one of the major tools that I have used and has directed me to different archives that I can utilize.

The ArchiveGrid search bar is at the top right where you can enter any phrase or topic that you would like to search. When I typed in “St. Vincent’s Hospital NYC,” I received 631 results.

Search Results

The website divided its findings into a result list and a result summary. When you click on the “Result Overview” tab, it breaks down the results based on: people, groups, places, archives, archive locations and topics.

Results Overview Page

This is very useful when trying to narrow down the 631 matches that ArchiveGrid provided for me. You can conduct your search from here by choosing a specific topic. The results generated on the “Results Overview” helped me identify different topics about St. Vincent’s that I would like to focus on in my online exhibit. For example I can select the group “Catholic Church,” or the topic “Medicine and Health,” since St. Vincent’s was a Catholic medical center. I can also select narrow my search by the location of the archives.  When I click on New York, I am left with 69 results, much smaller from my first search. The different collections range from oral histories from 9/11 victims who were treated at St. Vincent’s, to the papers of doctors or an AIDS activist videotape collection. Under each collection is a description, if available and the name of the archive that the collection is located. The researcher can than click below that the link for either contact information for the archive or the finding aid for that collection. For example, the 9/11 oral histories are located at Columbia University and I am then directed to their contact us page on their website.

Contact and Collection Information

From here I can browse through their collection and determine if I need to make a visit to their library. I now know that I have the ability to include information on St. Vincent’s significant role after the events of 9/11 into my exhibit as well as any information regarding the AIDS clinic that was established at St. Vincent’s.

ArchiveGrid is a great resource to use if you are looking for archives to go to without having to visit them right away and making any unnecessary trips. It also helps you to be a more efficient researcher as you can go into any archive that you find on ArchiveGrid and know exactly which collection and even which folder you are looking for. For more information on ArchiveGrid and OCLC check out their websites!

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Historypin is a free, interactive, and interesting way to perform historical research. Unlike many digital archives or resources that you may come across in your research, Historypin relies on crowd sourcing for its content. Individuals and organizations from across the globe can sign up and upload their own historical photographs and information. This interactive format (supported by a partnership with Google) provides research opportunities that may otherwise be unavailable.

The goal of Historypin is “…to help people to come together from across different generations, cultures and places, around the history of their families and neighbourhoods, improving personal relations and building stronger communities.” Its founders appear to be achieving this. There is an emphasis on shared learning and community on the website – museums, schools, and archives are all encouraged to participate. This move toward sharing information isn’t going unnoticed. Although Historypin was founded recently (its official launch was in July 2011), it has already received 287,000+ contributions from around the world.

If you want to hear about Historypin from its creators and see a neat video they made, click here. But if you’d like to follow me on my quest for researching the history of the Washington Mews, read on:

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Listing 5.1 on page 70 of SAMS Teach Yourself HTML and CSS in 24 Hours reveals the source code for a web page depicting a Dorothy Parker poem. The poem’s three stanzas are aligned diagonally across the page, while its title and author are centered above it.

The code uses internal attributes to realize this alignment; there is no necessity for the code to go search for alignment instructions on a style sheet. (Does code search? I have always found the anthropomorphisizing of technology disconcerting; the code doesn’t “want” to do anything.)

In the process of creating my sample unordered list, I used the “div” tag in order to center my main heading. The “div” tag is convenient in that it delineates a sub area of text to receive formatting. I then realized that I had other headings within the body of my document that I wanted centered but they were surrounded by alternating blocks of text that were left-aligned. I dreaded the task of adding a “div” tag every time – a clunky solution.

Thankfully I had designated each of these headings to the same tag, “h1,” so I just added a “text-align” tag to the code in my linked style sheet with the result that all the headings snapped in place.

I’m sure there’s a better way to do it but I was thrilled that it worked nonetheless.

All of this reminds me of a Steve Martin routine that pops into my head from time to time – plumber’s convention – it’s not on You Tube unfortunately.

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Starting in Week Three, create a blog entry each week in Researching Greenwich Village History blog that highlights one of the following:

  • a how to on some kind of research related to Greenwich Village history
  • an interesting fact that you learned about the Village in the course of your work
  • an interesting web resource that you have come across and how you have used it
  • a short book review of a good book on Greenwich Village history and a general understanding of what it can be used for
  • how you relate the class readings or discussion to your Greenwich History project

Add the correct Category to your post and any other subject tags that you think describe its content.You must do at least one post from each category during the semester, the rest you can choose as you like. Posts should be at least 500 words, and directed not just to the class, but to anyone who is interested in researching Greenwich Village history.

Comment on at least one of your classmates posts each week.

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