Digital History Project Proposal/First Post

Short Introduction

A brief introduction before I get into talking about this project. I hope to update my about me page soon, so that way people can actually have some introduction as to who I am. With the semester hitting the midterm point, everything has been very busy, but I have noticed a sharp spike in my viewers since the airing of Justin Clark’s interview with me on his podcast, Reason Revolution, earlier this week, so I feel the need to not only put something here, but also to introduce myself and my research a little bit before I just jump right into discussing the current project.

My name is Kelsey Gordon, and I am a Master’s candidate at Ball State University. I study mid-twentieth century popular culture. This is generally the time period from 1945 to 1965, or as many historians refer to as “The Atomic Age.” Specifically, I study and examine methods of popular entertainment – i.e. films, television programs, literature, propaganda, etc. – that was produced and/or distributed during this span of 20 years. I also hold a Bachelor’s degree from Indiana University-Kokomo, also a minor background in Communication Arts, which is where I was influenced by a few of my professors and instructors to pursue the study of the topic that I do now.

My current program at Ball State focuses on the use and implementation of digital tools and programs to help better understand and visualize history. Essentially, this is to bring history to a new platform, one that can reach more people and help to provide an understanding that monographs and text books simply cannot. I am absolutely honored to be a part of such a movement and change within the history discipline, and hope to show all of you not only how the digital age has impacted my work, but also how it can impact the rest of the field of history as well.

The Project

For this semester, my digital history seminar is focusing on the basics of learning how to work digital tools and how to use them in the study of history. I have loosely titled my project Lessons of Atomic Survival: Mid-Century American Values in Industrial Propaganda Films, 1945-1965. I say loosely simply because more than likely this title will change as my research on the topic develops and strengthens. However, I feel like this topic is pretty clear to read and to understand what I’m studying. I am specifically looking at 9 films, there may be more added to this, that I feel embody the zeitgeist of the “Atomic Age.” My goal is to study these films and track the messages and overarching themes to see what they wanted to imply to their viewers.

By comparing this information to secondary literature, I hope to see whether these trends, once put through digital tools, either support or contradict theories held by historians such as Elaine Tyler May and Paul Boyer. This includes asking research questions such as:

  • What are some common themes among all of the films that have been viewed?
  • What messages are being promoted? Is there an overarching message that connects all of the films?
  • How did these messages influence and/or affect audiences?
  • Did these movies change common ideas? Or did they rather reflect already held assumptions?
  • How does this information, and these messages, compare to other forms of popular entertainment in the 1950s?

Through this project I intend to employ the use of tools such as Voyant and/or Palladio, Cinemetrix (almost positive I’m spelling that wrong, will edit later), and mapping tools such as Carto. This way those examining my project will get a textual, numerical, and spacial representation of my research and be able to easily understand my thesis.

For those who wish to keep updated on the progress of my project, please note that this is only one small step in what will be a much larger project to be completed by (hopefully) December of next year. THIS WILL NOT BE THE FINAL PROJECT. This is only a way to stay updated on my research, as well as another platform to ask me questions. 

I plan to tackle this project in a series of steps that will hopefully give me enough time to spread out the work so that I can focus on each bit individually without getting overwhelmed. As of right now I have selected 9 films to study, I have gathered secondary source material, I have begun taking notes on these sources, and I have decided on what tools I wish to use. By the end of October, I hope to have all of my secondary sources read with notes taken on them, as well as have notes taken on the films. I also aim to be in touch with a representative of Gallup regarding questions I have that their polls may have answers to, and also have selected a few scholarly articles relating to my topic. Therefore, November can be dedicated processing the data and information I have gathered and working them into the tools. If all goes as planned, the last few days of December before the project is due will be for final adjustments and putting everything together.

My main goal for this project is to explore the ways that the information gathered from studying these messages and central themes can be visualized digitally. This means also having the ability to deconstruct and pull apart key components of these films and describing them bit by bit. Rather than just discussing them briefly through the method of writing a book, showcasing them through digital tools helps to better understand the impact of these themes and how they were interpreted by the public. While these ideas can be understood through means of text and diagrams within a book, being able to explore them through the tools I mentioned above will help to explore them on a deeper and more personal level, where I will be able to track changes and links within themes, rather than just having them as broad concepts on a page.

Concluding Remarks

So this first entry is incredibly long, and I hope anyone reading this has understood the majority. Any questions please feel free to leave a comment or email me at I hope, again, to fill out the “About Me” segment soon. That might actually be a task for over the weekend. However, until then I am content with having this first post up and over with!

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