The Wild West in New Jersey: Mapping Western Influence around Ramapo College

Name: Sarah Koenig

Discipline: History

Course(s)/Semesters Taught: HIST 300: The American West, Spring 2020

DH Tools to be Used: Fulcrum, Palladio or ArcGIS

Sample ESRi Story Map screen

From the Wild West shows of the 1890s to revisionist westerns of the present, media representations of the American West have profoundly shaped Americans’ understandings of and interest in Western history. Historians of the American West thus must navigate both the historical West and the mythical West of popular culture, understanding where they intersect and where they diverge. Increasingly, scholars like Christine DeLucia, David Wrobel, and Jared Farmer have addressed this challenge by examining how images of and myths about the American West have shaped specific places. The vast majority of these studies, however, focus on locations that lie West of the Mississippi.

This semester-long project brings together traditional history research and writing skills with digital humanities resources to produce an interactive map of Western-influenced places in northern New Jersey and southern New York. The project will demonstrate how popular images of the West have shaped the areas surrounding Ramapo College. The project will satisfy History Student Learning Outcomes 3 and 4, contribute to the School of Humanities and Global Studies’ digital humanities initiative, and provide students with vital skills in public history.

The project will have five components and will take up the bulk of the semester.

First, as a class, we will read and discuss relevant scholarly works on the West, memory, and place. Students will write a 1-2-page weekly reading response on these texts. We will then generate a list of terms on a shared Google Doc that we can use as our baseline for locating Western-influenced places.

Second, students will use a combination of contemporary online tools (such as Google Maps and Trip Advisor) and traditional primary sources (such as historic New Jersey newspapers, guidebooks, and advertisements) to locate specific places that contain (or used to contain) Western works or imagery.

Third, after learning in class how to use Fulcrum, students will go out in pairs to collect textual and visual data on their chosen sites.

Fourth, the students will write a 5-6-page research paper on the sites to offer additional historical context (for instance, if a student chooses a Wild West theme park, she may look for newspaper accounts that discuss the building of the park, whereas if a student chooses Cheyenne in Wayne, he may conduct research on the Cheyenne tribe and its history) and explore what the chosen sites show about historical memory of the West. They will also create a paragraph summary on their sites for use in the final web site.

Finally, we will assemble the collected data as a csv file to be used with Palladio, ArcGIS, or both. Using Palladio, we can plot connections between New Jersey place names and their origins (i.e. between Cheyenne Way and the Cheyenne reservation). Using ArcGIS, we can create an interactive story map in which users can click on locations to see images and student writeups.

There are two areas in which I might require technical assistance for this project. First, while I am trained in using Palladio and ArcGIS, I am new to Fulcrum and might have questions about setting up the central web page for students’ data collection. Second, because Fulcrum is a for-profit company that grants educational institutions free licenses at its discretion, I may need assistance in finding an alternate way for the students to collect geolocated information if Fulcrum does not choose to offer Ramapo access.