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October 2, 2013

Matthew Marvin’s Civil War diary, visualized

Filed under: What's New — Lizzie Ehrenhalt @ 4:24 pm

The diaries kept by Civil War soldiers make for gripping reading.  They’re full of the sights and sounds of military life in the 1860s, from routine dress parades and picket duty to dramatic battles like Gettysburg and Antietam.  But while the content of these accounts is priceless, it’s sometimes hard for the average person to access.  Soldiers’ handwriting is messy; their grammar and spelling are inconsistent; and the words they use are unfamiliar.  Sifting through all of a diary’s entries in search of recurring themes can exhaust even the most dedicated reader.

With this in mind, a team of staff in the Collections Department is exploring creative ways to distill and display the content contained within historic manuscripts.  They hope to determine whether data visualization–the practice of transforming data sets into interactive graphs and pictures–can be used to make primary sources more accessible.  Funded by a grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services, their project will produce three visualizations of a diary written by Matthew Marvin, a farmer from Winona, Minnesota who served in the 1st Minnesota Volunteer Infantry between 1861 and 1864.

The first of the visualizations, created with the web-based presentation tool Prezi, is now available to the public.  For the best viewing experience, be sure to open the Prezi in full-screen mode. To do this, click on the screen enlarger icon in the bottom right-hand corner of the presentation tool bar.  You can move backwards and forwards through the Prezi by clicking on the arrows that appear at bottom-center of this tool bar.

Enjoy the visualization, and be sure to record your observations on the Prezi itself.  The project team welcomes your feedback.

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