Databases and Civil War Washington

Civil War Washington seeks to understand the complexities of a city that existed one hundred and fifty years ago by employing new tools of digital analysis and presentation.  Using large datasets, statistical analysis, maps, images, narrative accounts, and government records, we are attempting to recreate aspects of the city and to envision the connections and interactions between people and the place. To facilitate this work, our team elected to use a relational database to manage the content and connections we want to track in the project.

Databases can be tricky to create and to manage.  Civil War Washington’s first database was centered on place and associations (such as military regiments).  Defining relationships between people in the database was possible only through shared membership in an association.  As the project grew, in both scope and focus, it became clear that the original database design limited the possibilities of the project.  We determined that there was a clear need for a redesigned database that can better address the needs of the project now and in the future. The addition of new content to, and the revision of existing content in, the database has been paused so that issues with the design and web interface can be resolved.

The new database will be based on a simplified—yet also more robust—design that allows us to document the variety of relationships that existed in the District, including those between places, events, organizations, documents, and, of course, people. Documenting these relationships in the database will allow for more sophisticated querying of information and for us to visualize the connections that existed within Civil War DC.  The database overhaul is a major change for the project and will allow us to make efficient use of the vast array of information we are compiling, treating, and analyzing.

–Rob Voss

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