August Blog Post: Rare Books at the Library of Congress

Working in DC in August was exciting with the opening of the Metro’s new silver line. A station opened within walking distance of my home, significantly shortening my commute to the Library of Congress. This month, I read texts in the Rare Books and Special Collections reading room at the Library of Congress. The Special Collections are in a separate section of the library from the Main Reading Room, and researchers need specific permission to enter this area. The Special Collections hold the pre-1800 materials of the Library of Congress. I gained familiarity with handling rare books at Swem Library. The key to reading rare books without damaging them is to touch the pages as little as possible. The pages are often very fragile and brittle. Many of these books have broken spines and have to be transported very carefully. Multiple cameras in Special Collections monitor the handling of the books by the readers, and bringing any bags or even pens into the reading area is prohibited. Although the Library of Congress takes significant steps to protect these original texts, anyone can apply for permission to read them because it is considered the library of the people.

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July Blog Post: Travel and Intellectual Development

During the month of July, I read secondary sources discussing travel in Europe and America. One of the most interesting texts was English Travellers Abroad, 1604-1667, by John Stoye. Stoye researched travelers abroad, particularly in France, Italy, and the Netherlands, in order to explain the origins of the Grand Tour. Stoye identifies how politics at home influenced travelers and shaped their journeys. The search for patronage and courtly politics impacted distant locales like Venice, where Englishmen formed small communities that replicated the hierarchy and conflicts of the court. Stoye argues that not all Englishmen abroad were committed to improving their classical education, instead regarding travel as a social activity. Many returned from traveling unmoved by their Grand Tour. However, others would be significantly impacted by their life abroad, such as John Milton, whose literary discussions with Italian scholars likely encouraged him to write Paradise Lost. Stoye’s book influenced the direction of my research and led me to focus on how the British developed intellectually through travel.

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Wrapping Up

By the end of the summer, I grew more comfortable running my data through R and setting up graphs using R. I have a working draft of a literature review and a number of article summaries to draw on in the upcoming year.  I have not yet begun any statistical analysis of my data, but I do have a number of histograms of word distributions at the national and state level.  This is helpful for seeing exactly how many times a word or phrases was mentioned at least once in an article.  I am excited to continue to create new charts and graphs to help others better visualize my data.

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Piloting an experiment in the field

One of my final activities for the summer was assisting in a pilot research project using crowdsourced data. U-report is a UNICEF tool for gathering citizen feedback on what’s happening at the community level. Using this free SMS-based system, U-reporters send in both unsolicited information and responses to polls asking about service provision and soliciting other community information. Development partners and local leaders can then use this crowdsourced data to take citizen voices into account as they make decisions. The hope is that this will help complete the feedback loop between donors, government officials, and community stakeholders.

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The U-report team goes to Karamoja

One of the highlights of my time in Uganda was hosting a conference with the U-report team to introduce district government and civil society organizations to crowdsourced data. It took a full day’s drive to reach Moroto, in Karamoja (the northeastern region of Uganda). Though it was known for a history of violence, the area is now experiencing peace and growth. The leaders we met from Abim and Moroto districts were very receptive to incorporating U-report data into their decision-making processes.

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