Timeline Map for Books Read by Alice Dunbar-Nelson: When and Where She Read Them from Jesse Erickson on Vimeo.

This animated chronological timeline map plots out all the listed locations for each of the noted entries in the journal. The amount of travel noted in Dunbar-Nelson’s reading journals directly corresponds with her lecture activity and organizing work as documented in her diaries. Note how the largest burst of activity appears between the years of 1928 and 1932.

[Audio: “Rhapsody in Blue, Part 1” composed by George Gershwin, performed by Paul Whiteman (Menlo Park: 1924). Public Domain]



This graphic display of reading locations covers the same information included in the timeline map with the minor addition of Bermuda. In a static format, it lists all the cities and states that she read in. The relative thickness of the connection lines represents the volume of titles read across each location. Looking at this graphic, for instance, it is clear that Dunbar-Nelson read most of the listed books in Wilmington, Delaware. Philadelphia and Washington, D.C. follow as the next two locations with the highest numbers of listed titles.



Combining data from her diaries and her reading journals, a graph was generated detailing the specific spaces where Dunbar-Nelson read her books. The graph shows that whereas Dunbar-Nelson mostly read in her home library, she also enjoyed reading on trains and occasionally found time to read at work.


Volume (by year)

This graph accounts for the total 1,136 documented titles by measure of her annual reading rates. Dunbar-Nelson read an average of about 57 books per year. The annual rate tended to vary narrowly from one year to the next. The volume of books read for 1906, 1908, and 1916 was particularly low, mainly because the entries do not account for the full year in those three cases. The other outlier is the reading rate for 1931. Dunbar-Nelson recorded 128 books read during that year.


Affect (by year)

Affect, or one’s emotional state of mind, can be difficult to represent graphically, especially when attempting to account for this factor quantitatively. Dunbar-Nelson’s diary entries, however, have provided us with enough information to visualize her different moods quantitatively within a specific time range. To arrive at this data set, I searched each dairy entry for a range of affective indicators. Fortunately, Dunbar-Nelson was hardly shy about documenting her emotions as she experienced them from day-to-day. As a result, I was able to code the textual data under a single set of descriptive terms. The set captures a spectrum of emotional states that have depression, stress, and exhaustion on one end and boredom, motivation, and inspiration at the other. The amount of days spent that she experienced each of these states was then cumulatively combined and divided according to the year. The result offers a glimpse into how the total volume of each of these states aligns with the amount of books she read in a given year. Of course, numerous other factors must have had an impact on her annual reading rates; nevertheless, this graph offers at least some insight into how the emotional state may have played a role. Note, for example, how the high measure of stress experienced in 1921—a year when Dunbar-Nelson and her husband were trying desperately to get their newspaper business established—correlates strongly with a relatively low reading rate for the same year.

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