Internet Reviews

Joni R. Roberts; Carol A. Drost


GovTrack. Access: https://www.govtrack.us/.

Brian T. Sullivan, Alfred University, sullivan@alfred.edu

Created in 2004 as a hobby site by Joshua Tauberer, at the time a graduate student in Linguistics, GovTrack has grown into an extensive source of information intended to make the U.S. Congress more transparent and to encourage civic engagement. Apart from its blog, social media, and Medium pages, the site is fully automated, pulling content from government websites such as congress.gov. Tauberer’s initial inspiration for the site stemmed from his discontent with what he perceived as the limited functionality of Library of Congress’ Thomas. GovTrack is supported by advertising and is nonpartisan.

The main sections of the site are “Members of Congress,” “Bills and Resolutions,” “Voting Records,” and “Committees.” On the “Members of Congress” page, users can look up their representatives, view maps of congressional districts, and search former members of Congress. Each representative’s page includes links to websites such as VoteSmart, C-SPAN, and their Twitter page. There is also an ideology score comparing them to other members of Congress, links to the committees they serve on, bills they have sponsored, and their voting record. Each representative’s material is neatly summarized in a yearly report card that is arguably the most valuable feature the site offers.

“Bills and Resolutions” allows users to browse for bills by subject, status, or date, or search for them by keyword. The browsable subjects include hundreds of detailed subcategories, making it easy to find bills on topics of interest.”

“Voting Records” and “Committees” allow users to get at the same information in different ways, such as votes by date, or a list of all Congressional committees.

By creating an account and logging into the site, users can track members of Congress, bills, and committees, receiving updates via email, RSS feed, Facebook, Google, or Twitter. This enables a high degree of customization, according to individual interests. Finally, for those who wish to create their own sites, all of the code on GovTrack is open source, and all of the information is freely accessible and downloadable.

Overall, this is a very helpful and user-friendly source of information on Congress that should be of interest to all engaged citizens regardless of political affiliation. While it is true that nearly everything here can be accessed directly from government sites, GovTrack consolidates and arranges the data in one place, conveniently saving the time of the user.

Lambda Legal. Access: http://www.lambda-legal.org/.

Bart Everts, Rutgers University-Camden, bart.everts@rutgers.edu

Established in 1973, Lambda Legal’s website states the organization’s mission is to “achieve full recognition of the civil rights of lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, trans-gender people and those with HIV through impact litigation, education and public policy work.” The non-profit’s site contains a wealth of easily navigable information, broken up into five main categories. Under the “About Us” section, users are provided a comprehensive yet accessible history of the organization, as well as board member biographies, career opportunities, and financial information, including executive salaries. The website Charity Navigator gives Lambda Legal an overall score of 90% based on the organization’s transparency, use of funds, and other criteria.

Under the “Our Work” tab, users can explore the issues that fall under the organization’s purview, each with personal stories and related court cases. This section demonstrates the variety of ways LGBT concerns and continued discrimination play out in the courts, from challenges to the Affordable Care Act to Social Security, to adoption. The website provides a bevy of examples of how divergent cases relate to LGBT experiences.

The site also provides information for individuals, including a help desk, which provides legal documents, a form for email, and contact information for regional offices. Further, users can explore LGBT-related law at the state level.

Finally, the site offers opportunities to get involved with Lambda Legal by attending events, donating funds, or volunteering. The events section lists fundraisers and other happenings; however, many of these listings fail to provide information about the cost of each event.

Anyone wanting an overview of the history of the LGBT community’s struggle for civil rights from the angle of courtroom battles will find Lambda Legal’s site useful. Individuals who face discrimination, or who live in states with discriminatory laws, will find the site a good resource to begin the process of fighting said laws in the courts and legislatures.

Photogrammar. Access: http://photogrammar.yale.edu/.

Michael Rodriguez, topshelvr@gmail.com

Curious about Depression-era outdoor privies? Wartime factories? Church suppers? The 1943 funeral of an Italian anarchist gunned down by the mafia? From the common to the esoteric to the weirdly specific, Photogrammar maps and categorizes 170,000 vintage photos from across the United States, enabling instant digital discovery and exploration by researchers or the public at large.

Dating from 1935 to 1946, the photographs were commissioned by the United States Farm Security Administration—Office of War Information (FSA-OWI). Photogrammar is wonderfully interactive and unique, capturing the lives of ordinary Americans during the Great Depression and World War II, as well as showcasing the data visualization power of the digital humanities.

Online since 2014, Photogrammar is a Yale University project partially funded by a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities. As stated in the grant, Photogrammar aims to “offer new ways of organizing, searching, and visualizing” the FSA-OWI archive, which is already available digitally through the Library of Congress.

Still, Photogrammar breaks new ground by offering a county-by-county GIS breakdown of where the photos were taken, along with a treemap sorted by subject tags (for example, “Homes and Living Conditions > Household Activities > Sleeping”). The photo collections are full-text searchable. Forthcoming projects include the Colorspace Lab, in which 17,000 color photos will be sortable by hue, saturation, and lightness.

As a platform, Photogrammar is a joy to use. It boasts a minimalist greyscale interface, mobile responsive design, fast load times, and no complications to access. Its single navigation bar lists only five tabs, clearly labeled “Home,” “Maps,” “Search,” “About,” and “Labs.” The odd typo or frozen map detracts only slightly from the user experience. Researchers will wish for the ability to sort the data themselves to create custom maps and other visual tools.

User-friendly with weighty, original content and visualizations, Photogrammar is recommended for digital humanities and history researchers at all levels, as well as for the curious genealogist or member of the public. It can serve as an afternoon’s serendipitous meander through the nation’s memories, a hook for undergraduates, and a model for data visualization. Researchers in American studies and labor, rural, or social history may find it useful.

While far from the only digital humanities visualization platform out there, Photogrammar ranks among the best.

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