Final Reflection (Ben)

In addition to learning extensive information about the Sephardic Diaspora, the emergence of Sephardim, the conditions for medieval and early modern Jews in different regions and the various factors determining authorities attitudes them, this project also allowed me an opportunity to reflect on my role as a historian. Throughout my many weeks of researching, I found only a limited amount of primary sources from this area, illuminating the limits of historical reproduction. Most of the material I used was produced from a select group of well-off individuals and many remained anonymous. Thus, not just for my project but for all historical work it is important to represent the characters that I can but to also be cognizant of the majority whose stories gets lost through translation. These limits on history reassure my goal to make my project accessible to the public. By presenting these stories, I hope to teach the public about the events that occurred in this period but also to supply the grounds for them to recognize the limits and to reflect on the lost voices.

The field of Digital Humanities is not as straightforward as I initially predicted. The first few weeks we read a series of articles that attempted to define Digital Humanities as well as looked at one that  compiled Digital Humanists’ own definitions of the field. No two explanations were the same and some even pointed the frivolousness of attempting to agree on a definition. However, what revealed the variety and unpredictability of Digital Humanities was the diversity of our projects and our processes. Not only were all of our projects wholly unique, the course of action that we all took was one-of-a-kind as well. Even though multiple of us did mapping, we all approached it from different angles. Even when some us used the same digital tools, we ran into different problems and used them uniquely. The fact that we all, like the other digital humanists that presented at Bryn Mawr, have our own one-of-a-kind research topics makes it easy for us to have an affinity for that topic. Unlike traditional humanities research, there is more customization as a result of the digital component of the field; for this project there was an increased opportunity to create and to answer the question the way that I wanted. This sense of the project being even more original is why I have grown to appreciate not only my research question, but also my entire project, to a greater degree. In reflection, it was not just the questions that made our projects unique, but it was the way we approached them, the problems that we overcame, the choices that we made and the journey that we took over the past six weeks. I think that this path is what I really grew to appreciate. Looking back, it is knowing where I began, where I ended, and exactly what happened in between that allowed for the finished project that is most telling to me.

Knowing our my process is one thing, but being able to talk about it and explain it to others is another. This project, through the reflections, methodology and lit review sections of the paper, and presentation forced me to come to terms with all of the choices that I made. It forced me to be more conscious of every step in a way that other assignments do not. Furthermore, it forced me to be aware of how my research fits into academia more broadly. For the first time I reflected on how my work interacts with the larger community surrounding it.

This project was not just an exploration into one point in history. It was a meditation on history as a whole, on academics, and on my individual and unique thought process and approach to problems. In the end, the most exciting part of this endeavor is that the lessons learned here are only the beginning. Whether I continue to work on my map and website in the future remains up in the air, but the process the I underwent will continue to influence my forthcoming work. The critical thinking and the self-awareness that was required to create my own project from scratch will definitely prove useful in my academic, professional and personal life going forward.




Reflection Four (Ben)

My project so far has been a series of experimentations to see what data would work both best for my research question and for the approach that i am trying to use. From the outset by project was too broad and I had to struggle to define many different aspects of my research in order in order to proceed.

Firs off I had to reflect on a more specific question that I would be attempting to answer through my project. I knew that I wanted to map the migration of Jewish population from Iberia to the Ottoman Empire after the Spanish Inquisition but I had to determine what my particular argument was within that topic. Furthermore, I had to resolve a logical reason to present my argument on a mapping visualization. In other words, I had to find the proper data set that would fit a mapping project and this meant finding specific dates and location that I could track linearly in order to display the Jewish migration significantly. Once I determined that a set of specific locations and dates would make up my data I set out to find these, however, this endeavor proved tougher than I originally imagined. Most secondary sources do not supply such information but discuss more broad trends and or ranges of years. As a result I searched through relevant secondary sources to find primary sources that contained the information I was looking for. The problem here is that most primary sources present either a specific date or a location, but rarely both. Also, if I attempt to limit my data to these primary the stories that I can tell in my mapping are limited as a result. Because of my data still being undefined I still cannot determine what digital tool I am going to use or even If I am going to stick with my original idea of mapping.

Despite this obstacle, my investigation into primary sources has resulted in me finding a possible alternative data set. Daña Gracia Mendes was Jewish woman who converted to Christianity in the face of the inquisition. She married a merchant and then proceed to travel throughout Europe. She is remembered as a Jew who overcame the adversity of religious intolerance and, despite technically converting, remained close to her Jewish heritage. Her journey takes her from Iberia to other locations in Europe including venice and finally ended up in Constantinople. Although her route and story are uncommon among most Jews of the time, I could use her travels as a basis to discuss larger trends of Jewish migration that started in Iberia and ended in the Ottoman Empire. Whether I stick to my original idea and moderately reconfigure my data or if I change to a somewhat different approach is still u

Reflection 3 (Ben)

Digital Humanities has been a controversial subject in many ways from its initial emergence and one of the most prominent talking points is the discussing surrounding diversity. The current state of digital scholarship is dominated by racially white, culturally western players. Furthermore, according to “Towards a Cultural Critique Of Digital Humanities” by Domenico Fiormonte, the field is controlled primarily by a set of standards put in place by the same demographics at the hands of only a few companies, corporations or even individuals. Fiormonte argues that the central issue that causes this lack of diversity is that when new digital tools are developed, one reflects on their use or impact, but overlooks their cultural foundation. In “Pedagogies of Race: Digital Humanities in the Age of Ferguson”, two authors, Amy Earhart and Toniesha L. Taylor, reflect on the racial and cultural monotony of the field. They state that this lack of diversity has a series of negative results, a central one being that it takes away from participation in the digital humanities. In response the authors call for a “grassroots recovery project to expand current digital offerings.” This project would, in turn, broaden the digital humanities’ reach and engage with, at least on a basic level, people of all cultures, races, and socio-economic classes.

As I read about the monotony of the digital humanities community it reminds be to be cognisant of the cultural foundations of my own project. The origins of my research are based in my own cultural background and the genuine interest to learn more about my family’s history and more broadly the history of the Jewish people. As suggested in the readings, it is not only the culture associated with the project but also the environment that the project is created in that contributes to the finished product. What has my childhood in New York City contributed to my research process and project? What about Lafayette College and even the Digital Humanities Summer Program that i am in right now? In addition to this project being an opportunity to reflect on these questions and my own cultural environment, it is also a chance for me to further think about how my creation is going to be used. Earhart and Taylor inspire me to try and create a project that is accessible to all levels of education, in addition to all cultures. The primary goal when first thinking about my project was to provide academic information in an visual manner that it is not required to have prior knowledge about; to bridge the gap between common discourse and historical scholarship. Because general academic scholarship, like the digital humanities is dominated by small subjection of identities, this goal to make a project accessible to the public goes along with Earhart and Taylor’s proposal for a grassroots movement.

My project once again has shifter in terms of the data that I will be using. Instead of focusing on providing and series of information about particular cities relevant to Jewish migration, I needed a more of a practical and logical reason for mapping the information. As a result, I am now creating a map which the user follows mark in linear time progression, starting prior to the official start of the Spanish Inquisition in 1492 until the late 1500s. Each mark will be a either a specific event or a primary source entry. For example, one mark will be state: Istanbul, 1477: Government census records Jews as the third largest population in the the city by religious affiliation. As I continue my research I will have to determine if I can find enough events/primary source accounts or if I will have to expand my data set. Furthermore, most of the primary source accounts provide information about before migration, about life in Spain or about the pogroms as a result of the inquisition, or after the migration about the conditions in the Ottoman Empire, but i’m yet to find material regarding the actual migration process.

Reflection 2 (Ben)

Reflection 2


Wading through digital projects and readings, where are you finding your inspiration? What parts of things you’re reading and seeing resonate most with you? Where are the gaps in your research and what are you still looking for? What are your thoughts as you get started?


My project is already evolving just from delving deeper into my research as well as looking at different, comparable projects for inspiration. Last week we had to review three digital humanities projects and through that assignment I found Mapping the Rebellion. This project is a GIS mapping endeavour that implemented many innovative ideas that I think could work very well in my venture. Firstly, in Mapping the Rebellion, the creators decided to provide information through a series of platforms instead of solely through the map. They constructed an interactive timeline, as well as couple of audio podcasts that also provide relevant information. The timeline is particularly captivating to me because it takes some emphasis off of the map. I originally imagined creating a map that would show the progression of time but I think that producing a more static map may be more feasible, but I would be able to tell the story and visualize the progression of time through a timeline instead.

Another part of Mapping the Rebellion that I thought was encouraging was that the creators’ discussion of their data. They did a lot of research on the rebellion, but instead of providing as much information as possible, they picked and chose sections of material that they believed more relevant to their argument and project. I knew that I would not be able to provide all of the information about Jewish migrations, but actually seeing digital humanists discuss their decision to leave out some of their research and to still construct a sophisticated and academic project was encouraging.

The next step for me will be to continue finding sources and refining my subject and argument. I am already starting to select certain portions of materials that I think are essential to my project but I’m a little worried that I still will have too much if I continue on this path, so determining my goals is definitely necessary. Also I need to think about how exactly I want to portray my research in my map and timeline. I am attempting to use a collection of both primary and secondary sources but they provide different types of information. For instance, some primary sources display census statistics whereas the secondary sources are usually more analytical and textual. I need to consider whether I want to provide textual data or statistics or a mixture of both and how I am going to do that. I have also found good quotations from the secondary sources that I may want to preserve and display in my project as well for they help articulate the story that I am trying to tell and back up my central argument productively.






Reflection 1 (Ben)

For this summer I am excited to mix my knowledge of history with a new platform, Digital Humanities, specifically for my project, GIS mapping. As a History major and Art History minor, I have gained research and understanding skills that I have only been able to exhibit through papers or basic projects, but the Digital Humanities Summer Scholar Program will allow me to apply my prior learning and expertise in a new way. Furthermore, GIS mapping, and digital humanities in general are up-and-coming approaches to scholarship that help to alleviate a problem that has irked me ever since delving deeper into my history education: the disconnect between common discourse and historical research. Through the creation of a GIS mapping, I would attempt to fill in this gap in common discourse and learning, and create a historical mapping of Jewish Life before the Holocaust. However, I haven’t decided yet exactly which specific time period/migration to focus on which makes determining what specific aspects i’ll want to include/exclude tougher.

I am invested in the topic of historical Jewish migrations as a result of my recent connection to my personal past that I have explored through an academic inquiry. Growing up in a mostly secular background, I was distanced from the reality of my religious and cultural Jewish heritage. However, for the past few years an interest in this aspect of my life has expanded and as a result I have participated in a scholarly exploration of Jewish culture which has materialized in the form of research as well as travel to sites of Jewish history, including Israel during the winter of 2016. My GIS project allows me an opportunity for expanded research through new platform.  

When reflecting on the ambition of my project in regards to the limited time period, I realize that I need to come up with a very specific topic to focus on. Because Jewish history is characterized by migrations, I anticipate it will be hard to commit my research to a single one. Furthermore, I expect that determining exactly what kind of sources to use for my research will be a challenge. Initially I envisioned using census data from a variety of cities to track migration patterns, however, this would be a very tedious technique and most likely would only work for a more broad and expansive project. I may attempt to use a single traveler journal or diaries from a particular group of travelers to have a more condensed and defined set of sources if I can find appropriate ones. I think that the decision of a certain migration will come after the determination of sources; my exact topic will depend on the type of sources that I ultimately decide to use.