Resource Highlight: Libraries+ Network

Had enough of “big data”?  Check out the consortium effort to rescue “small data” created by the U.S. federal government data at the site Libraries+ Network.

The Libraries+ Network is a nascent consortium of research libraries, library organizations, and open data communities with a shared interest in saving, preserving, and making accessible born-digital federal government information upon which researchers, citizens, and communities rely.

The effort is particularly focused on federal agencies who’ve had their funding cut (or are proposed to be eliminated altogether).  Their videos and blog are a terrific way to introduce students to the issues in data gathering, storing, and accessing.

Resource Highlight: Fragile States Index Data

Data used in the Fragile States Index from The Fund for Peace can be used to create many different kinds of visualizations and explorations: scores and rankings, country dashboards, comparative analyses, trend analysis, FSI heat maps, and so on.  Use it to see which indicators FFP says are getting better or worse in a country, to argue over the political importance/relevance of those indicators, and to spark discussions about methodology.

For example, the United States is a stable country, but according to the index it has been worsening over the years:

Data from the U.S. country dashboard

(One irritating thing about the site is that it’s not responsive, so you will have to enlarge the window until the whole thing fits if you don’t want to continually scroll side-to-side.)

Resource Highlight: the IT History Society

The IT History Society http://www.ithistory.org/ is an international group of over 700 members working together to document, preserve, catalog, and research the history of Information Technology (IT). One of their most useful things for students and teachers on their site is an International Database of Historical and Archival Sites, where you can look up and research everything from pre-Apple history to ZZT-oop (an early in-game scripting programming language). The databases are listed alphabetically, and can be sorted by institution or country.

Data Visualization

The featured image is an example of first-rate data visualization. It depicts the totality of the trans-Atlantic slave trade, with a column for the number of people who embarked in a given year, and a column for the number of people who disembarked.  Not only is it clear and easy to read, but the use of a lighter color to denote “embarked” vs. a darker color for “disembarked” means that the difference — those who died during the Middle Passage — looks ghostly.

The graph is part of an interactive timeline from the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database.  The database is an incredible compendium of information from shipping manifests, logs, and so on for over 27,000 voyages.

Learn more about the trans-Atlantic slave trade in WorldView Software’s World History A, particularly Chapter 20: The Age of New World Exploration, and Internet Project: Triangular Trade.


BulbgraphOnOffGuided essays lead students step-by-step through the essay writing process, from selecting the main idea to writing the conclusion.


Preview WorldView Software’s programs for free at company logohttp://www.worldviewsoftware.com/preview/

Social morphogenesis and the limitations of political modelling

“If we rely on past and present data to predict future events, the weakness of the model we use will reside in its capacity to cope with genuine novelty. One response to this might be to account for such novelty as once-in-a-lifetime chance occurrence. But one of the conclusions we might draw from the Centre for Social Ontology’s Social Morphogenesis project is that social novelty is being generated at an ever-increasing rate.”

— Source: Mark Carrigan

[Interesting discussion of the concept of novelty, using the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign for examples.  Brainstorming or scaffolding about novelty with the class is a tremendous way to introduce or conclude units!]

Resource Highlight: USAFacts.org

We’ve posted before about sources of U.S. government data, but there’s a new kid on the block: USAFacts, the brainchild of Microsoft billionaire Steve Ballmer. The new site takes publicly available data and makes it easier to query.

Endgadget’s review is mostly glowing: “Oh, and perhaps the most important thing: it’s just beautiful, thanks to help from Seattle-based design firm Artefact. True accessibility requires elegance and simplicity, and USAFacts has it.”

Apparently Ballmer found the existing plethora of resources frustrating according to Recode: “There’s no — at least, I couldn’t find an — integrated source of data, because to me integrated is important. If everything is integrated, everything has to add to 100 percent, no numbers can be taken out of context.”  He wanted something like the 10K report that companies file with the SEC, which is a comprehensive summary report of a company’s performance through financial statements.

CNN says he’s already spent $10 million on researchers in Seattle and at the University of Pennsylvania.  Furthermore, Endgadget reports that he’s willing to spend “several million dollars a year” to keep the service up and running — an important consideration when many transparency initiatives wither after the initial burst of enthusiasm and funding.

But TechDirt notes that the site is not without problems:

“The problem with Ballmer’s site is that it’s not properly open. There isn’t (enough) linking back to source data; there aren’t ways to examine how conclusions are reached; you can’t, in most cases, download their data…In many ways, it’s a black box – it tells you what they say the numbers say, but if you want to be certain, you don’t have any way to query the data properly…It’s a useful start, but it’s honestly hard to see it as $10m worth of a start. Three things that would improve it at once: 1) link back to the source material for each dataset; 2) show the working (and any conflicts in the data; 3) make the datasets downloadable in something other than PDF.

We recommend the site as a way of getting your students’ feet wet with data.  For deeper dives, there are more complete sources, where you can also see how the data were generated and download the datasets.


BulbgraphOnOffClicking on “Questions for Thought” in the overview brings up questions to focus poor readers on the section’s content.


Preview WorldView Software’s programs for free at company logohttp://www.worldviewsoftware.com/preview/

Resource Highlight: Social Networks and Archival Context (SNAC)

The Social Networks and Archival Context (SNAC) is basically a social network of archives. It’s a bit like one-stop shopping: it exists to help historians and other researchers make connections among the people they are studying by mapping the ways in which they can be connected through archival materials.

From the blog post introducing SNAC to the public:

Let’s look at an example of Shirley Chisholm in SNAC. In just the National Archives Catalog, Chisholm has an authority record and is connected to just five descriptions. There are a pictures of her, an interview, and more… But the Archives is not the only repository to collect Chisholm’s work: 51 collections in SNAC either list her as the creator or have a referenced to her. For example, Chisholm’s letters are located in the New York Public Library.

Not only can you find a single person in multiple archives using SNAC, but you can also find records for people and organizations associated with them — so for Chisholm, some associated names are “major historical figures like Presidents Jimmy Carter and Lyndon Johnson; Shirley Bernard, a professor and an active member of the National Organization of Women; and Constance Baker Motley, an important African American judge and social reformer.” (The featured image is of the network of names associated with Chisholm’s, which also shows if the names were connected apart from their connection through Chisholm.)

This makes SNAC a tremendous tool not only for doing historical research, but for situating research in context.