Hi folks. Lest this newsletter’s status be downgraded from occasional to sporadic, let me catch you up on the latest news about digital history and American religion from my small corner of the world.

My colleagues at RRCHNM and I have started a newsletter about our work. Titled “American Religion @ RRCHNM,” the newsletter is headed up by our excellent outreach manager, Bridget Buckovich, meaning that is published regularly at the middle of each month. We’ve published our first two issues. There is lots of good stuff in the most recent issue, including blog posts by our graduate research assistant Caroline Greer, an interactive visualization that the whole team worked on, and fascinating materials for Passover and Easter from our pandemic collecting projects. Check it out, and then consider subscribing{target="_blank" rel=“noopener noreferrer nofollow”}.

Mapping historical congregations in U.S. cities

Speaking of our work on American religion at RRCHNM, we recently released an interactive map of urban American congregations drawn from the 1926 Census of Religious Bodies. Here’s a bit more about the map.

In the early twentieth century, the U.S. Census Bureau conducted surveys of American religious congregations every ten years and published reports on the data it collected. The Bureau categorized denominations into different denomination families, linking together churches that had shared history, theology, or practice. This interactive map displays congregations by denominations and denominational families in American cities, including places with 25,000 or more residents.

To give you a taste, here are Pentecostal congregations located in cities in 1926.

Pentecostal cities map

We will be releasing the underlying data and adding three other decades (1906, 1916, and 1936) soon. The whole team worked on this dataset and map, but special thanks to my colleague and our developer-scholar, Jason Heppler.

DataScribe’s version 1.0 release

And how does one go about getting the dataset for such a map? Well, you have to transcribe the historical sources—in this case, the published records of the 1926 census—into structured data. And how does one do that? For sometime, my colleagues at RRCHNM and some former colleagues now at the Corporation for Digital Scholarship have been working on DataScribe, a module (i.e., plugin) for Omeka S that helps you transcribe historical sources into datasets. The software, which is led by my colleague Jessica Otis, recently reached version 1.0. You can find the software on the project home page.

DataScribe preview

Computing Cultural Heritage in the Cloud

During the fall semester, I had the privilege of working with the Library of Congress Labs—cool place, cool people—on a project called Computing Cultural Heritage in the Cloud. The LC Labs team did an amazing job documenting the project’s progress, and you can find all their blog posts on the project home page. But you might as well start with the blog post on project outcomes, so you can hear about the fascinating work done by my fellow researchers, Andromeda Yelton and Lauren Tilton. You can find the software I developed for the project on GitHub. If you’ve ever had a hankering to download all the digitized collections at the Library of Congress and run machine-learning models across them, then this is for you.

Shoutout to the Uncivil Religion project

Finally, a shoutout to one of the most interesting and significant digital projects on American religion to be released recently. Uncivil Religion is an online set of essays and media galleries, seeking to capture and interpret the religious dimensions of the January 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. The lead essay describes the insurrection as “a religious, yet religiously incoherent event.” Perhaps you, like me, found the ways that religion “showed up” (to borrow another phrase from the project) to be an endlessly tangled pile of confusion. Uncivil Religion is the best source I’ve found for trying to understand the religious dimensions of that event. The project comes out of the University of Alabama and the National Museum of American History, and it is directed by Michael J. Altman and Jerome Copulsky with Peter Manseau as an advisor.

Recent blog posts

City-level data post


Reading: Herman Melville’s The Confidence Man.

Listening: I’ve been enjoying an “American roots music” (mostly bluegrass) band called The Petersens that I found on YouTube.

Planning: My wife, Abby Mullen, has accepted a job at the U.S. Naval Academy teaching—you guessed it—U.S. naval history.

Working: America’s Public Bible is through editorial board approval, and I need to submit the final manuscript in one month’s time exactly.