Eastern Apps: Visualizing Historic Prison Data

Scott Ziegler is the Head of Technology at the American Philosophical Society Library where he manages digitization services, digital scholarship...

As part of the Center for Digital Scholarship’s Open Data Initiative, we have been reformatting APS Library collections as computational data.

We’re happy to announce the launch a great new project that uses our open data created from the Admission Books of the Eastern State Penitentiary. These books contain inmate name, crime, sentence, place of origin, race/ethnicity, time in and time out, and comments on moral and educational condition.

Eastern Apps: Visualizing Historic Prison Data is a collection of interactive apps that allows researchers to explore trends in the admission book data. The first app analyzes word frequency in the moral instructor’s notes, the second app explores trends in sentencing lengths, and the third app surfaces demographic information about inmates based on the sentences they were given.

Built by 2017 APS Digital Humanities Fellows Steve Marti, Eastern Apps represents a turning point for the Center for Digital Scholarship. This is the first major project that uses APS Library collections as data to explore the material in ways that would have been unavailable in other formats.


figure one
Word clouds generated the 50 most common words that occur in each corpus, as defined by the categories on the left.


figure two
Map showing how sentencing varied in length and frequency in different places.


figure three
Graph showing the charges received by inmates; map showing the courthouse where these charges were prosecuted.


The data used in Eastern Apps is available on Github: https://github.com/AmericanPhilosophicalSociety/Historic-Prison-Data.

The data has been written about on Slate.com’s blog The Vault: http://www.slate.com/blogs/the_vault/2017/05/02/datasets_hold_information_from_admissions_books_for_philadelphia_s_eastern.html and has been used in a variety of teaching scenarios.

The data is free to use; if you use it for your own projects, we hope you’ll let us know. You can reach us at: [email protected].

Header image by Adam Jones, available on WikiMedia, under the CC BY-SA 3.0 license.