In the final project for HIST3907O, Crafting Digital History, Professor Shawn Graham of Carleton University tasked his students with learning and putting to use a variety of digital related skills. From data mining, to coding, to the many different online resources we have at our disposal, we must create and present a digital representation of historical data. The topic I chose to do as my final assignment for this course involves mapping Canada's Wartime Atomic History. In otherwords, I want to visually represent the areas that participated in, or had some sort of involvement in the Manhattan Project.
Canada's invovlement in nuclear research has always interested me. I come from the small town of Port Hope, which is represented in this project, and I have always known we had some ties to nuclear activity. It wasn't until I began this project that I realized how much involvement Canada had in the development of the world's first nuclear weapons. Upon learning this, I set out with the intention of visually representing Canada's involvement in Wartime Nuclear Research. What better way to do that than a map? I am a Geography Major, afterall. There are seven interactive markers on the map, which, when clicked, pull up some details on the location of each marker. Every marker (except the marker for Cominco in Trail, British Columbia) has a clickable link that will open a more detailed information page, allowing the reader to better understand that locations involvement. I chose not to create a more detailed page for Cominco, because their involvement in nuclear activity in Canada is quite small, but kept the marker on the map as the location is important to both Montreal and Chalk River Laboratories. In this project, I use a variety of data gathered from websites around the web. The most helpful resource I found was actually a Historical Archive for Port Hope. Not only did they have newspaper articles from Port Hope's past, but they had articles relating to many of the other sites that I mention in this project.
Although all of the data presented in this project come from my own research, all having been sourced, I owe the inspiration for the map to the work done by Christina Ross, a HIST3907 Alumni. Most of the coding I used were adopted from her "St. John's Micro History Mapping Project". Similarly, Christina's project was adopted from the work done by students at Michigan State University in their Digital Atlas of Egyptian Archeology. Christina's project can be found here, and the Michigan State University Digital Atlas of Egyptian Archeology can be found here.
I originally chose to do my final project on Port Hope's involvement in nuclear activity, as, as stated above, I come from the small radioactive town. Thinking back to my experience with understanding radioactive waste as a child, I remember planes flying low over my elementary school. We later found out that they were testing the field beside my school for radiation. Because of the radioactive waste disposal during Port Hope's involvement in Canada's nuclear research, Port Hope has the highest amount of low-level radioactive waste in Canada.
Upon doing more research, I learned of Canada's involvement in the development of the first nuclear weapons. Canada played a critical role in the Manhattan Project, and I had no idea. Admittedly, I am not the best history student ever, but I feel like the significance of Canada's involvement in the Manhattan Project is not widely discussed. It is easy to blame the Americans for the deaths of so many in Japan, but as I aim to prove in this project, Canada played an important role in the development of the devastating atomic bombs. By creating a map, I hope to allow readers to understand where the processes of Canada's nuclear involvement took place, and to better represent the scale of nuclear activity. Canada's nuclear activity was not isolated, and as you will see, several areas throughout Canada have their own wartime atomic history,
Finally, this project aims to provide insight into the consequences of unregulated nuclear activity. From the radioactive waste dumps in Port Hope and Elliot Lake, to the high cancer rates in the "Village of Widows" as a result of men transporting uranium, Canada's involvement with nuclear activity had both environmental and health consequences that are still present today.
I chose to use the mapping format, as I believe that maps are incredibly engaging. Making the map interactive, with more information raedily available at the click of a button, allows the readers the ability to understand the locational context of each site, before learning the historical context. Visual representation of location allows the readers to better immerse themselves in each location as they learn about the location's nuclear involvement.
I originally intended to overlay historical maps onto the Stamen map that I am using as my basemap in hopes that the overlain historical maps would provide some context into the area. After implementing several different maps of different scales and areas, I decided that the original basemap was the best for this project. It is easy to read and understand, and the goal of my project is easy of access and understanding. Adding the maps didn't really offer much in terms of nuclear context, so I decided to keep them out, as they ended up just being more of a distraction.
As stated above, the online historical archive for Port Hope's past was incredible. This website allowed me to learn more about my little town than I thought was accessible. On top of that, it provided insight into some of the other locations that I address in this project, and as such was very helpful in the creation of my final project.
The data I used was all readily available and easily accessible, which was actually really interesting to me. As much of this project was part of the Manhattan, most of this information would have been top-secret and unavailable to the public. I enjoyed poking around many different government and non-government websites to learn about Canada's involvement in wartime nuclear research.
I really enjoyed doing digital research and implementing the data that I retrieved into my project. It allowed me to combine my existing research skills with my newly developed/still developing digital skills.
Putting together my own project was intimidating. The idea of developing scripts and codes still scares me. I did most of this project using code that was already established. For the most part, I just tweaked a few lines and substituted my name in place of the past author. And yet I had to learn what many of the codes meant. From implementing my own URLs to adding in my own photos, this project taught me a lot about putting together lots of lines of seemingly random words to make something cool!
When thinking back to this assignment, the biggest challenge I faced was lack of time. Coding and computery stuff is scary and hard and it's not familiar to me, but I think if I had more time to familiarize myself with it, I would have felt a lot more confident everytime I opened up my Slack or GitHub.
My second biggest challenge was trying not to compare my work to that of my classmates. Looking through some of their websites, blogs, and final projects, I have come to the conclusion that either everyone in my class is a computer science major, or I am severally lacking in my own computer science skills. Although I recognize the latter is true, I was blown away by some of the progress that many in my class have made, and feel like I just can't catch up to them.
I obviously struggled with using digital tools and technology to create my final project, but I expected to struggle with that coming into this course. Whenever I was challenged with something, I would do my best to workout where I went wrong, and fix it. Sometimes this took several frustrating hours, when I could have, and should have, just posted on Slack to find help. That leads me to my next challenge.
I struggled with using Slack to communicate with my fellow classmates. After falling behind, I felt like I was already playing catchup, and what I had to say would be long overdue, and so I refrained from asking for help when I got stuck. Luckily enough, many people ran into the same problems I had, and so the solution was often already posted to slack, giving me the opportunity to overcome some of the issues that I ran into.
This project taught me a lot of about the use of digital tools and technology to create a hub for hosting digital history. Before entering this class, my knowledge of digital resources pretty much began and ended with social media. I use reddit and facebook, and at one point regularly updated my own blog, but other than that, my experiences were quite limited. As a result, taking this course forced me to dive into the unknown. I had no idea what I was doing. GitHub took me weeks to understand, and even then the navigation Git from local to cloud storage frustated me to no end. I'll admit, I was tempted to drop the course more than once. After meeting with Profressor Graham a few times, I felt a lot more comfortable in what I was doing. Not because I felt like I knew so much more than I did previously, but because he understands that not everybody is a computer science major. I knew that as long as I put in the effort that he was looking for, I would be rewarded with, if not the best grade, at least a lot of new knowledge of digital navigation.
Having completed my project, I am really quite proud of myself. As stated above, most of what I used to create the map was already put together, initially in the Digital Atlas of Egyptian Archaelogy project, and then by Christina Ross' Newfoundland Newspaper Micro-History Project. Having such a resource at my fingertips made the production of this assignment much easier. I could never have put this map together without following someone else's instructions. Yet, although much of what I needed was already there, I had to manipulate the GitHub files to represent the historical narrative that I was attempting to deliver. This allowed me to familiarize myself with some of the different types of coding, from floating and padding an image, to creating new html pages that would be linked to my GitHub. It was a lot of work, but it was also a lot of fun. I can honestly say I've never enjoyed a final project as much as this one. I've also never spent so much time on one!
Finally, I am not only proud of myself, I am proud of my final project. I think that my project provides a good visual representation of Canada's Wartime involvement, and on top that, provides an insightful look into the involvement that many of these sites around Canada had. I believe my map, and the data along with the map, allows the reader to quickly and easily understand Canada's involvement in the Wartime effort to establish nuclear research. Although this data is all available on the web, my project not only compiles the data, but provides a visual representation as to where the activity took place. This, I believe, will allow the reader to make a connection between the information presented, and a physical location. I believe that it makes the information feel more real.