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Situating Ourselves
in Cultural Heritage

Situating US tool screenshot

What if you could see the breadth of content across hundreds of thousands of historical documents at a glance? What if a machine could read all of them and help you find your own connections — and your own understanding of America?

This experimental project aimed to use, learn about, and help improve computational access to Library of Congress digital content, and to expose more of the Library’s rich collections to scholars and the public. Using machine learning, this exploratory tool serves as a proof of concept for finding potentially similar or related content outside of manual classification. It incorporates all available documents from the Reconstruction era (1865-1877), because how we tell the story of this period is critical to how we understand America.

Exploring the Collections

As you begin an exploration of the collections, items will scatter across the screen. There are thousands of articles, letters, book chapters, manuscripts, and other text-rich items represented in the display, so some clusters or dots may represent several items; zoom in to see more.

Here’s a short video overview (to come):

 

The collections included focus on the post-Civil War era of Reconstruction in the United States, and may include challenging material. Read more about the content.

Explore the Collections

Where should I start?

You’re welcome to dive in anywhere! Zoom and pan with your mouse and use the color-coding options to look for groups with interesting shapes. Then hover or click on the dots to learn more about the documents they represent and look for common themes. Click through to the originals at the Library of Congress to read the full text, which may give you even more insights. I invite you to discover your own meanings in the collection.

Not sure where to start? How about:

Try it out!

Find something interesting? Share it on social media with #SituatingUs.

About the Collections and Subject Area

The project includes documents in the Library of Congress from the United States, between 1865 and 1877, which have been digitized as full text. This is mostly newspapers from Chronicling America, but also includes a wide array of other things, including broadsheets and pamphlets; books; and content from the papers of Abraham Lincoln, Walt Whitman, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and others. The focus is on the Reconstruction era. Learn more.

A Note about the Content

As this material is historical, you will come across language, material, attitudes, and opinions that may be disturbing or uncomfortable to read. The material is presented as-is, in order to be transparent and honest about American history.

About the Project

This project is part of the Computing Cultural Heritage in the Cloud project of the Library of Congress Labs, which aims to increase computational access to collections. Learn more about the project.