In an article published online last month by The Guardian—“AI programs exhibit racial and gender biases, research reveals”—the computer scientists behind the technology were careful to emphasize that this reflects not prejudice on the part of artificial intelligence, but AI’s learning of our own prejudices as encoded within language.
“Word embedding”, “already used in web search and machine translation, works by building up a mathematical representation of language, in which the meaning of a word is distilled into a series of numbers (known as a word vector) based on which other words most frequently appear alongside it. Perhaps surprisingly, this purely statistical approach appears to capture the rich cultural and social context of what a word means in the way that a dictionary definition would be incapable of.”
This tool’s ability to reproduce complex and nuanced word associations is probably not surprising to anyone familiar with digital humanities—and the fact that it returned associations that match pleasant words with whiteness and unpleasant ones with blackness, or that associate “woman” with the arts and interpretative disciplines and “man” with the STEM fields shouldn’t be surprising to anyone who has been paying attention. The distressing prospect that AI and other digital programs and platforms will only reinforce existing bias and inequality has certainly garnered the attention of scholars in media studies and DH, but one could argue that it has received equal attention in the social sciences.
As a graduate student in cultural anthropology drawn to DH, I sometimes find myself considering what exactly demarcates digital humanities from social science when apprehending these kinds of topics; somehow, with the addition of ‘digital’, the lines seem to have blurred. Both ultimately represent an investigation of how humans create meaning through or in relation to the digital universe, and the diverse methodologies at the disposal of each are increasingly overlapping. Below are just a few reasons, from my limited experience, as to why social scientists can benefit from involvement with digital humanities—and vice-versa.
1) Tools developed in DH can serve as methodologies in the social sciences.
Text mining, a process that derives patterns and trends from textual sources similar to the phenomenon described above, is particularly suited for social science analysis of primary sources. Programs like Voyant and Textalyser are free and easily available on the web, no downloads or installations required, and can pull data from PDFs, URLs, and Microsoft Word, plain text and more. Interview transcripts can also be analyzed using these programs, and the graphs and word clouds they create provide a unique way to “see” an argument, a theme, bias, etc.
Platforms like Omeka and Scalar can provide an opportunity not only to display ethnographic information for visual anthropologists, but can give powerful form to arguments in a way that textual forms cannot (see, for example, Performing Archive: Curtis + “the vanishing race”, which turns Edward S. Curtis’ famous photos of Native Americans on their heads by visualizing the categories instead of the categorized).
2) Both fields are tackling the same issues.
Miriam Posner writes that she “would like us to start understanding markers like gender and race not as givens but as constructions…I want us to stop acting as though the data models for identity are containers to be filled in order to produce meaning and recognize instead that these structures themselves constitute data.” Drucker and Svensson echo that creating data structures that expose inequality or incorporate diversity is not as straightforward as it seems, given that “the organization of the fields and tag sets already prescribes what can be included and how these inclusions are put into signifying relations with each other” (10). Anthropologist Sally Engle Merry, in The Seductions of Quantification, expounds on this idea in the realm of Human Rights, proving that indicators can obscure as much or more than they reveal. Alliances between DHers as builders and analyzers of digital tools and platforms, and social scientists as suppliers of information on the effects of these on the ground in various cultural contexts, provide benefit to both.
3) Emerging fields in the social sciences can learn a lot from established DH communities and scholarship.
Digital anthropology, digital sociology, cyberanthropology, digital ethnography, and virtual anthropology are all sub-disciplines emerging from the social sciences with foci and methods that often overlap with those of digital humanities. Studies of Second Life, World of Warcraft, or hacking; the ways diasporic communities use social media platforms to maintain relationships; or projects that focus on digitizing indigenous languages all have counterparts within digital humanities. Theoretically, there is much to compare: Richard Grusin’s work on mediation intersects with
anthropologists leading the “ontological turn” like Philippe Descola and Eduardo Viveiros de Castro; Florian Cramer’s work on the ‘post-digital’ pairs interestingly with Shannon Lee Dawdy’s concept of “clockpunk” anthropology, influenced by thinkers both disciplines share like Walter Benjamin and Bruno Latour.
Though I am still relatively new to DH, one theme I find repeated often, and which represents much of the promise and the excitement of digital humanities for me, is the push for collaboration and the breaking down of disciplinary boundaries. Technologies like AI remind us that we all share the collective responsibility to build digital worlds that don’t simply reflect the restrictions and biases of our textual and social worlds.
Kitty O’Riordan is a doctoral student in cultural anthropology at the University of Connecticut. Her research interests include anthropology of media and public discourse, comparative science studies, and contemporary indigenous issues in New England. You can reach her at caitlin.o’firstname.lastname@example.org.
Welcome back! To pick up where my last post left off, I’d like to discuss some of the accessories and optional equipment you can use to augment your basic interview “kit,” as well as several editing programs that can be used for post-production work on your footage.
An external microphone might be a good investment if you’re interviewing multiple people at once and want to ensure you are recording clear, distinct audio for each person. Almost all of the microphones you’ll come across will fall into one of two categories: dynamic and condenser. The difference has to do with how each converts sound vibrations into electrical signals. In addition, condenser microphones require a power source, provided by batteries or whatever device they’re plugged into (this is known as phantom power).Within these two broad categories, there are a number of different patterns in which microphones record sound.
True to their name, omnidirectional mics pick up sound in every direction equally. This pattern is utilized by many lavalier (aka lapel) microphones, the “clip-on” types you’ve probably seen on TV and elsewhere. If you’re going to go with a lavalier, make sure whoever you’re working with is comfortable wearing one. It seems like a trivial concern, but it could be significant depending on the circumstances of your interview. One of my participants had never been interviewed before, and was visibly nervous before we started. In cases like that, the less invasive you are, the better.
In addition, an omnidirectional lavalier isn’t ideal for multiple-person interviews; in these circumstances, a cardioid microphone is a better choice. Named for its heart-shaped sound pattern, cardioids will capture audio well from the front and sides, and, though they’re usually a bit more expensive, cancel out ambient noise better than an omnidirectional mic. There are also shotgun microphones, named for the linear pattern by which it picks up sound. Like a shotgun, it must be pointed directly at its “target” in order to properly record it. This results in a “tighter” sound when compared to a cardioid mic, but again isn’t ideal for multiple-person interviews, where you will have more than one source of audio.
There are plenty of options out there for camcorder tripods, ranging from the too-cheap to the ridiculously expensive. Unless you’re going to be conducting the interview outdoors or will be moving around with your subject while he/she talks, you don’t need anything heavy duty. Just make sure you get one that breaks down easily and is relatively compact.
Bags and cases are another instance where you don’t need to go too crazy. Overseas I was able to fit everything I needed (minus the camera tripod) in a padded laptop case. If you’re going to invest in cases, buy them for the camcorder and audio recorder, although in many instances one might be included when you buy these items.
In a perfect world, you’ll be able to have your camcorder plugged into a wall outlet for an indefinite power supply while conducting an interview. Since that won’t always be feasible, you should look into a spare battery. A tip: if you use a Canon device, purchase a decoded battery for your backup. These batteries are manufactured by a third party and don’t have the Canon microchip to track things like number of shots, battery charge, etc. but otherwise behave exactly the same as their name-brand counterparts—and cost significantly less. Make sure you read the reviews however, as not all decoded batteries are created equal and some manufacturers are more reliable than others.
I’ve used Adobe Premiere Pro CC for most of my post-interview editing. While truthfully a bit more than
what I needed, it offers a lot in terms of manipulating audio tracks and syncing them up with video footage. Burning DVDs is easier as well (the software you need will be included in your Premiere subscription). Another upside to Adobe is the flexibility of their subscription plans. Individuals have the option of choosing which apps from the “Creative Cloud” they’d like to utilize or subscribing to the entire package, and can sign on for an entire year.
If you’re just looking to apply some simple edits like a title slide, transitions, and captions, you may be able to get away with using free video editing software like Windows Movie Maker. Here’s a short clip I put together to illustrate what can be done with that program:
If you simply need to import your audio files into a program where you can listen to them, transcribe, and do some basic editing, I would recommend Audacity. It’s free, relatively easy to use, and available on a number of operating systems.
Tech challenges notwithstanding, I found my entire project to be an incredibly worthwhile endeavor. Because the Second World War had until recently been somewhat of a taboo subject in post-war Germany, most of my participants had never discussed the topic at length with anyone. The fact that I was the first to hear, record, and preserve these stories made every ounce of effort worth it. I’m still not quite sure what I’ll do with the 5+ hours of footage I collected, but I could see using it as material for a series of small “episodes” featured on a personal website, a longer documentary, or a written collection of oral histories or narrative work.
I wish others similar success in their oral history endeavors, and I hope that these two posts will help simplify the process when purchasing the necessary equipment. Please feel free to contact me with more questions, or if you’d like to know more about anything I discussed here. Thanks again for reading!
Nick Hurley is a Research Services Assistant at UConn Archives & Special Collections, part-time Curator of the New England Air Museum, and an artillery officer in the Army National Guard. He received his B.A. and M.A. in History from the University of Connecticut, where his work focused on issues of state and society in twentieth century Europe. You can contact Nick at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @hurley_nick.
While both I—and many others—would argue that those who work in DH agree that they do not agree on what DH means, as I have encountered more and more digital tools and projects, I have begun to think of DH work in a provocative way: DH work should be considered a form of narrative-making or storytelling. For fields such as digital storytelling or tools such as story mapping, this argument may not be that surprising. But what about other types of DH projects and tools? If we think of archival or curated sites, such as those created with Omeka, or book or network conglomerations, such as those made in Scalar, I propose that these forays are equally forms of narrative or story: we pick and choose what to include and exclude, we form paths and groupings and connections to guide or suggest methods of understanding; in other words, we give shape to a narrative. Here I will advance an initial iteration of this argument, which, I believe, ultimately provides another perspective on how DH is truly a part of the humanities.
DH and Narrative
If we take Hayden White’s description of narrative, in conversation with Barthes, in The Content of the Form: Narrative Discourse and Historical Representation, which argues that “[a]rising, as Barthes says, between our experience of the world and our efforts to describe that experience in language, narrative ‘ceaselessly substitutes meaning for the straightforward copy of the events recounted’” (1–2), as one of the basic definitions of this concept, we can see how this term could easily be used in reference to various methodologies and tools used in DH. More particularly, however, we must expand the definition by including not just language, but also image and sound. It is worth a look, for instance, at DH projects that create digital archives, such as The Digital Public Library of America or the Bibliothèque nationale de France’s Gallica, in which digital tools are used to create digitized versions of (an) actual archive(s). Or other such projects, like The Internet Archive, The Sonic Dictionary, or The Story of the Beautiful, in which a digital archive is created. Or we might think of digital editions of texts, such as the Folger Digital Texts or digitized resources such as The ARTFL Project. Or, in a slightly different direction, there are tools one can use to compare versions of texts, like Juxta or JuxtaCommons, or to annotate a text (collaboratively or not), like Annotation Studio. In these varying cases, the digital approach and tools used are the methods through which meaning is provided, whether that meaning be the coherency of an archive, the evolution or development of a text, or the preservation of narratives that themselves might otherwise be lost.
DH as Narrative
A DH approach is not limited, of course, to archival or editorial projects, however. In many cases, DH projects are clearly narrative in form. The case of digital storytelling is, perhaps, the most obvious such example. StoryCenter, previously known as the Center for Digital Storytelling, is a well-known entity whose basic elements of digital storytelling are often cited. And digital storytelling is also being used in a slightly different manner by teachers and students in the field of education in order to teach and learn about topics beyond those of telling personal stories, as can be seen on the University of Houston’s Educational Uses of Digital Storytelling site. Digital storytelling approaches have been expanded in other directions as well, for instance in
- tying stories to location, with the use of tools like StoryMapJS, Esri Story Maps, or Odyssey, in which specific events and places are linked,
- tying stories to timing, with the use of tools like TimeLineJS, TimeGlider, or Timetoast, in which specific events and times are linked,
- or tying stories to time and location, with the use of tools like Neatline or TimeMapper, in which specific events, places, and times are linked so that a user can follow a story both geographically and/or chronologically.
In all of these cases, the digital approach is one that is explicitly used to shape a narrative or story. In other words, here DH is again a form of narrative or narrative-making.
Big data projects, such as those of the Stanford Literary Lab or approaches, such as that of Matthew L. Jockers in his Macroanalysis: Digital Methods and Literary History, may present an exception to my argument in comparison to other DH projects and approaches mentioned thus far; nonetheless, I suggest that even projects or approaches such as these also create narratives or stories, in that they provide meaning to observations, calculations, or data that otherwise would not be comprehensible, given their size. How could they not?
This brief overview brings us to a final point to ponder: in their Digital_Humanities, Anne Burdick, Johanna Drucker, Peter Lunenfeld, Todd Presner, and Jeffrey Schnapp argue that the design of DH tools and projects are themselves essential aspects of the arguments they create:
The parsing of the cultural record in terms of questions of authenticity, origin, transmission, or production is one of the foundation stones of humanistic scholarship upon which all other interpretive work depends. But editing is also productive and generative, and it is the suite of rhetorical devices that make a work. Editing is the creative, imaginative activity of making, and as such, design can be also seen as a kind of editing: It is the means by which an argument takes shape and is given form. (18)
In other words, a narrative-making approach is literally embedded in form, in design. Like these authors, I wonder whether this perspective cannot be extended. They write:
DESIGN EMERGES AS THE NEW FOUNDATION FOR THE CONCEPTUALIZATION AND PRODUCTION OF KNOWLEDGE.
DESIGN METHODS INFORM ALL ASPECTS OF HUMANISTIC PRACTICE, JUST AS RHETORIC ONCE SERVED AS BOTH ITS GLUE AND COMPOSITIONAL TECHNIQUE.
CONTEMPORARY ELOQUENCE, POWER, AND PERSUASION MERGE TRADITIONAL VERBAL AND ARGUMENTATIVE SKILLS WITH THE PRACTICE OF MULTIMEDIA LITERACY SHAPED BY AN UNDERSTANDING OF THE PRINCIPLE OF DESIGN. (117–118)
If we apply these points to the entire field of DH, this provides insight into significant food for thought: if
design is the foundation of DH, then isn’t the result of this design necessarily a narrative or a story? And might not this be one further aspect that confirms that DH is indeed a part of the traditional humanities?
These questions invite others: are DH narratives and their design different or new or innovative in comparison to traditional narratives, and if so how? What can DH narratives tell us about ourselves and our world? To circle back to White and Barthes’ view of narrative, if we accept that DH is narrative, what new meanings can be distilled from the events DH recounts?
Elisabeth Herbst Buzay is a doctoral student in French and Francophone Studies and in the Medieval Studies Program at the University of Connecticut. Her research interests include medieval romances, contemporary fantasy, digital humanities, video games, the intersection of text and images, and translation. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
In December I spent two days at the Folger’s Visualizing English Print seminar. It brought together people from the Folger, the University of Wisconsin, and the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow; about half of us were literature people, half computer science; a third of us were tenure-track faculty, a third grad students, and a third in other types of research positions (i.e., librarians, DH directors, etc.).
Over those two days, we worked our way through a set of custom data visualization tools that can be found here. Before we could visualize, we needed and were given data: a huge corpus of nearly 33,000 EEBO-TCP-derived simple text files that had been cleaned up and spit through a regularizing procedure so that it would be machine-readable (with loss, obviously, of lots of cool, irregular features—the grad students who wanted to do big data studies of prosody were bummed to learn that all contractions and elisions had been scrubbed out). They also gave us a few smaller, curated corpora of texts, two specifically of dramatic texts, two others of scientific texts. Anyone who wants a copy of this data, I’d be happy to hook you up.
From there, we did (or were shown) a lot of data visualization. Some of this was based on word-frequency counts, but the real novel thing was using a dictionary of sorts called DocuScope—basically a program that sorts 40 million different linguistic patterns into one of about 100 specific rhetorical/verbal categories (DocuScope was developed at CMU as a rhet/comp tool—turned out not to be good at teaching rhet/comp, but it is good at things like picking stocks). DocuScope might make a hash of some words or phrases (and you can revise or modify it; Michael Witmore tailored a DocuScope dictionary to early modern English), but it does so consistently and you’re counting on the law of averages to wash everything out.
After drinking the DocuScope Kool-Aid, we learned how to visualize the results of DocuScoped data analysis. Again, there were a few other cool features and possibilities, and I only comprehended the tip of the data-analysis iceberg, but basically this involved one of two things.
- Using something called the MetaData Builder, we derived DocuScope data for individual texts or groups of texts within a large corpus of texts. So, for example, we could find out which of the approximately 500 plays in our subcorpus of dramatic texts is the angriest (i.e., has the greatest proportion of words/phrases DocuScope tags as relating to anger)? Or, in an example we discussed at length, within the texts in our science subcorpus, who used more first-person references, Boyle or Hobbes (i.e., which had the greater proportion of words/phrases DocuScope tags as first-person references). The CS people were quite skilled at slicing, dicing, and graphing all this data in cool combinations. Here are some examples. A more polished essay using this kind of data analysis is here. So this is the distribution of DocuScope traits in texts in large and small corpora.
- We visualized the distribution of DocuScope tags within a single text using something called VEP Slim TV. Using Slim TV, you can track the rise and fall of each trait within a given text AND (and this is the key part) link directly to the text itself. So, for example, this is an image of Margaret Cavendish’s Blazing-World (1667).
Here, the blue line in the right frame charts lexical patterns that DocuScope tags as “Sense Objects.”
The red line charts lexical patterns that DocuScope tags as “Positive Standards.” You’ll see there is lots of blue (compared to red) at the beginning of Cavendish’s novel (when the Lady is interviewing various Bird-Men and Bear-Men about their scientific experiments), but one stretch in the novel where there is more red than blue (when the Lady is conversing with Immaterial Spirits about the traits of nobility). A really cool thing about Slim TV that could make it useful in the classroom: you can move through and link directly to the text itself (that horizontal yellow bar on the right shows which section of the text is currently being displayed).
So 1) regularized EEBO-TCP texts turned into spreadsheets using 2) the DocuScope dictionary; then use that data to visualize either 3) individual texts as data points within a larger corpus of texts or 4) the distribution of DocuScope tags within a single text.
Again, the seminar leaders showed some nice examples of where this kind of research can lead and lots of cool looking graphs. Ultimately, some of the findings were, if not underwhelming, at least just whelming: we had fun discussing the finding that, relatively speaking, Shakespeare’s comedies tend to use “a” and his tragedies tend to use “the.” Do we want to live in a world where that is interesting? As we experimented with the tools they gave us, at times it felt a little like playing with a Magic 8 Ball: no matter what texts you fed it, DocuScope would give you lots of possible answers, but you just couldn’t tell if the original question was important or figure out if the answers had anything to do with the question. So formulating good research questions remains, to no one’s surprise, the real trick.
A few other key takeaways for me:
1) Learn to love csv files or, better, learn to love someone from the CS world who digs graphing software;
2) Curated data corpora might be the new graduate/honors thesis. Create a corpora (e.g.s, sermons, epics, travel narratives, court reports, romances), add some good metadata, and you’ve got yourself a lasting contribution to knowledge (again, the examples here are the drama corpora or the science corpora). A few weeks ago, Alan Liu told me that he requires his dissertation advisees to have a least one chapter that gets off the printed page and has some kind of digital component. A curated data collection, which could be spun through DocuScope or any other kind of textual analysis program, could be just that kind of thing.
3) For classroom use, the coolest thing was VEP Slim TV, which tracks the prominence of certain verbal/rhetorical features within a specific text and links directly to the text under consideration. It’s colorful and customizable, something students might find enjoyable.
All this stuff is publicly available as well. I’d be happy to demo what we did (or what I can do of what we did) to anyone who is interested.
Gregory Kneidel is Associate Professor of English at the Hartford Campus. He specializes in Renaissance poetry and prose, law and literature, and textual editing. He can be reached at email@example.com.
Last summer I had the pleasure of spending several weeks in southwestern Germany, visiting family and conducting interviews with five local residents who lived through the Second World War. In doing so, I fulfilled a goal I’d had in mind ever since the death of my great-grandmother in 2013. She had been one of a host of relatives and family friends that regaled me with stories from “back then” every time I’d come to visit, and her passing made me realize that I had to do more than just listen if I wanted to preserve these memories for future generations. This time around, I would sit down with each of the participants—the youngest of whom was in their late 70s—record our conversations, and eventually send each of them a copy of their edited interview on DVD. While I had a clear idea of why I was undertaking the project, and had done a lot of reading on oral history practices (including this fantastic online resource), I was less confident in just how I would go about carrying out the actual interviews. I was inexperienced with audiovisual equipment or video editing, and the seemingly endless number of tech-related questions I faced concerning things like cameras, microphones, and recording formats left my head spinning.
It took a significant amount of research and self-instruction before I was comfortable enough to purchase the necessary gear I needed. These two posts are my attempt to share what I learned and hopefully save other oral history novices some of the headaches I endured putting together an interview “kit” which, at a minimum, will consist of a camcorder (possibly), your audio recorder, and a way to store your footage.
You’ll need to decide early on whether or not to record video as well as audio for your oral histories. While choosing the latter option will greatly reduce the amount of equipment you’ll need to buy, it really depends on the nature of your project. If you do decide to film, steer clear of mini-DV and DVD camcorders, as these record on formats that are quickly becoming obsolete. Your best bet is to go with a flash memory camcorder, which utilize removable memory cards that can be inserted into your laptop for easy file transfer.
High definition (HD) camcorders are fast becoming the norm over their standard definition (SD) counterparts, and they’ve become affordable enough to make them a viable option for amateur filmmakers. In terms of capture quality, AVCHD usually means a higher quality image but a bigger file, while MP4 files are compressed to reduce size and are a bit more versatile in terms of how they can be manipulated and uploaded. Either way, you can’t go wrong, and will get a great looking picture. I’ve shot exclusively in AVCHD so far with my Canon camcorder and have had no issues.
The Audio Recorder
If you’re going to splurge on anything, it should be this. You may or may not elect to include video in your project, but you will always have audio, and the quality should be as clear as possible—especially if you plan on doing any kind of editing or transcribing. There are a few things to consider when choosing a recorder:
- Whichever model you go with should have at least one 3.5mm (1/8”) stereo line input, to give you the option of connecting an external microphone, and one 3.5mm (1/8”) output, so you can plug in a pair of headphones to monitor your audio.
- If you know you’re going to use an external microphone, having one or more XLR inputs is a plus. XLR refers to the type of connector used on some microphones; they are more robust than a 3.5mm jack and harder to accidentally unplug, making them an industry standard.
- Some recorders are meant for high-end professional use and have a plethora of features and buttons you’ll simply never use. Look for one with an easy to use interface.
- WAV and MP3 will be the most common options you’ll see format-wise, and many devices can record in either. WAV files are uncompressed, meaning they contain the entire recorded signal and are therefore much larger than MP3 recordings, which are easier to move and download but sometimes experience a slight loss in audio quality.
The three main types of memory cards that you’ll encounter are SD (Secure Digital, up to 2GB), SDHC (Secure Digital High Capacity, 4-32GB), and SDXC (Secure Digital eXtended Capacity 64GB-2TB). Almost all cameras, computers, and other tech manufactured after 2010 should be compatible with all three types, and the cards themselves are fairly inexpensive. Useful as they are, memory cards shouldn’t be considered a means of long-term storage for your files. For one thing, you’ll run out of room fast; while things like compression and format will determine the exact amounts, for planning purposes you can expect to fit only about 5 hours of HD video on a 64GB SDXC card and 12-49 hours of WAV audio on a 16GB SDHC card. Even if you’ll only be doing one or two short interviews, you should still plan on migrating your files to a more secure storage media as soon as possible after you’re done recording. Cards can be broken or lost, and digital files, like their analog counterparts, will “decay” over time if simply left sitting.
My raw footage is stored on two external hard drives. Any editing work is done using one of them, while the other is stored in a separate location as a backup. Edited interviews are likewise copied to both hard drives once they’re completed. (This practice of having multiple copies of the same material stored in separate locations is known as replication, and is an important aspect to any digital preservation plan; for more info, check out this great page from the Library of Congress.)
Again, these three pieces are the minimum you’ll need to properly record and store audio and (if you desire) video footage. Depending on the circumstances and scope of your project, however, you may want to utilize some optional gear and accessories, which I’ll bring up in Part 2. Until then, feel free to contact me with any questions, and thanks for reading!
Nick Hurley is a Research Services Assistant at UConn Archives & Special Collections, part-time Curator of the New England Air Museum, and an artillery officer in the Army National Guard. He received his B.A. and M.A. in History from the University of Connecticut, where his work focused on issues of state and society in 20th-century Europe. You can contact Nick at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @hurley_nick.
There has been a lot of talk about how digital humanities scholarship has the potential to be democratizing, and the internet allows for connectivity that extends across cultural, geographical, and institutional boundaries. DH scholarship can directly reach the public outside of academia, and digital spaces allow for collaborative enterprises that have seldom been attempted by humanities scholars. But are all things digital inherently more accessible, or do we simply imagine them to be so? Are we designing for access or just assuming that access is no longer an issue?
Tara McPherson points out that exclusionary practices and ideologies (based on class, gender, race, sexuality, language, or ability) are often built into software in ways that are not always immediately visible to privileged users. This limits not only who has access to and ownership of DH work but also how diverse users can develop their work. One of these exclusionary ideologies is what disability theorist Tobin Siebers has termed the ideology of ability. This ideology assumes able-bodiedness as a “default” state. It either elides difference or else assumes that the disabled body must find a way to be “accommodated” rather than acknowledging any responsibility for designers to create spaces and environments that are inclusive to the diverse range of human ability.
Just as physical spaces are often inaccessible by design (e.g., stairs and doorways that do not permit wheelchair access or loud, brightly lit public spaces that can result in sensory overload for persons with autism), there are many ways in which digital space is constructed to include only the able-bodied, including text fields with small or difficult-to-read fonts, videos without captioning, podcasts without transcripts, images without descriptions that can be read by screen readers, web spaces that cannot be manipulated by users, and so-called “accessible” software that is built for the able-bodied and only retrofitted to “accommodate” diverse users when they complain.
Those engaging in digital humanities scholarship cannot hope to dismantle oppressive ideologies (something which is part of the core work of the humanities) while uncritically using technology that reifies these same oppressive structures. We must realize that part of digital humanities scholarship involves critical and intentional design. In order to truly encourage access, digital scholarship should include principals of universal design.
How can we do this? While it’s true that no design can be said to be truly universal, the Web Accessibility Initiative offers important guidelines for more inclusive digital publishing, and Yergeau et al. lay out a theoretical groundwork for accessibility in digital and multimedia work. The National Center on Universal Design for Learning, CAST, and Jay Dolmage address concerns specific to integrating digital media and technology for access in the classroom, and Composing Access advises on how to prepare for conferences. Here are a few tips for more accessible design:
- Think critically about the implicit ideologies coded into the platforms you use, and consider the affordances of your technology before using it. As Johanna Drucker and Patrik BO Svensson point out, middleware incorporates various rhetorical limitations—do these constraints limit access?
- Aim for commensurability across modes. While multimodality can be a great way for users to interact with your text in different ways and with different senses, if information is not presented redundantly through different modes, it increases the chance that users may not be able to access your text. For instance, if a video delivers information both visually and aurally but doesn’t include captioning and description, then it becomes inaccessible for both blind and deaf users. And of course, delivering information through more than one mode helps all Captions, for example, allow hearing users to access the text in a noisy place, on an airplane with someone sleeping in the next seat, or on a device without audio capability.
- Digital projects are more accessible when they are easily manipulable by users. For example, text that cannot be copied/pasted, as is the case in an image or some publishing platforms, might not be easily read with assistive technologies such as screen readers or braille pads.
Though digital media can present accessibility issues, when used critically and conscientiously, multimodal affordances open up the possibility of creating content that is more accessible to all users, regardless of level of ability.
Gabe Morrison is a first-year doctoral student in Rhetoric and Composition at the University of Connecticut. His research interests include multimodal writing and graduate student writing instruction. You can contact him at email@example.com.
1. What initially intrigued you about research/teaching in digital humanities or media studies?
I began my work at UConn as the History Librarian six years ago, and I have slowly grown my skills and interests from there. I have a Master’s in History, although I was trained in the traditional research methodologies. Digital humanities didn’t really feature in my education. However, as I worked with scholars and colleagues on various projects, I saw key ways that the Library could be more involved in digital humanities. As research and scholarship change, the Library must adapt as well to remain relevant. My skills and knowledge in this area are mostly self-taught, and I enjoy teaching others and seeing students become excited over the research possibilities opened up by a digital approach.
2. Has entering the DHMS realm changed your approach to research and teaching in general? If so, how?
Absolutely! I find my research and teaching to be much more collaborative now. I’ve learned as much from students and scholars as they have from me. We each bring our own expertise to the table, whether it’s a technological skill or subject knowledge. I also actively seek out from others what they would like to learn, so I can tailor workshops and research consultations to their specific needs. Whenever I work on a new project, I immediately think about who else might be interested and have something to contribute. It’s a very different experience from individual work on an article for publication. The projects I work on are multidisciplinary, and I have grown as a researcher from these collaborative opportunities.
3. You have three (commitment-free) wishes to receive support for your research/teaching in DH or media studies: what are they?
First, I would love to have more staff in the library dedicated to DH. Web developers, graphic designers, coders! We are always trying to do more with less. It would be nice to never worry about finding time to work on a project because there is plenty of people to work on it. Second, the opportunity to offer student internships or assistantships would be great. I think this will be forthcoming in the future, though, so I am very much looking forward to that. It would be a wonderful opportunity for students to learn more about DHMS and to work on interesting projects. And third, more time is always welcome! There are so many fantastic projects out there that I want to be a part of, but unfortunately, there are only so many hours in a day, and I have other responsibilities.
4. First struggles and successes: do you have any best-practice advice?
My advice is really to just dive in! If there’s something you’re interested in learning about, whether it’s a new tool, platform, or something else, don’t hesitate to start working with it. Try and find other people who have a similar interest, and you can help each other. Look for workshops, seminars, and meet-and-greets related to digital scholarship. DH is collaborative by nature, so networking is hugely important. There will definitely be struggles. You may not master a particular tool as quickly or easily as you had hoped. You will have other things competing for your time. My advice is to not get discouraged and keep plugging away. Don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it, whether from the library or from your own departments.
5. How would you like to challenge yourself in DH or media studies? Or what is a project you most seek to realize?
As the Digital Scholarship Librarian, I am tasked with working beyond the humanities and branching out into the social sciences and sciences. This is certainly a challenge for me as my background is squarely in the humanities. However, I am working on developing skills in areas such as data visualization that can be of benefit to people in the sciences. I would absolutely love to work with a researcher outside of the humanities who is new to digital scholarship. We can educate each other and become more well-rounded researchers because of our collaboration. I somewhat actively avoided the sciences in my academic career (to this day, I have never set foot inside the science buildings at my alma mater!) so this is definitely a new area for me. The silos between the disciplines have begun to break down as research becomes more multidisciplinary, and I’m very excited to be part of that.
Jennifer Snow has a BA in History from Vassar College and an MA in History and Master in Library Science from Florida State University. She currently serves as the Digital Scholarship/Humanities and Social Sciences Librarian for UConn. Her academic background is in early modern French history, and she has worked on a number of digital scholarship projects on a variety of subjects. She has published articles and a book chapter on topics related to digital scholarship and critical pedagogy.
In a January 2017 Forbes article on scholarly publishing, historian Sarah Bond takes aim at platforms ready to host academic articles or chapters. For pay. Her case in point is academia.edu:
As privatized platforms like Academia.edu look to monetize scholarly writing even further, researchers, scientists and academics across the globe must now consider alternatives to proprietary companies that aim to profit from our writing and offer little transparency as to how our work will be used in the future. In other words: It is time to delete your Academia.edu account.
In order to broadcast our academic work beyond the conference panel or occasional tweet or personal webpage – and depending on the copyright and marketing arrangements we have with our print publishers – hosts like LinkedIn, academia.edu, ResearchGate and others have become common “marketplaces.” Here is another opportunity to connect with international scholarship, browse, and
offer our own to share and discuss. But as we saunter and sample, how many of us look at the fine print to know how these repositories actually work? Do we understand what happens with our work once it gets uploaded? How is it distributed? Who can access it? Does it get altered when it’s downloaded? Who owns the copyright?
“Monetizing scholarship” is the big, mysterious, compound noun Bond seeks to warn us about, and she has a point. Copyright issues, including where and how we share our finished work, are usually only part of our research conversations when keeping ideas close to our chest. We don’t always trumpet the thesis of our next book or article out into the world, partly because it has not been tested, partly because we might be wary of someone else snatching it up. Yet, how many of us are well trained, or at least reasonably conversant in, the minutiae of legalese it takes to comprehend a publisher’s contract? Do you know or remember what media rights you signed off on in your last contract? I can only speak for myself, but getting to my first contract had me so thrilled and excited that all I needed to comprehend was that there was a line for my signature. Exclamation mark.
That has changed. In a landscape of oscillating international copyright law, the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA, which has also become a verb), and increasing hybridization or digitization of scholarship, your old contract arrangements are no more. Your scholarship now has the potential to move or be translated into many different media, and for-profits such as academia.edu are just one way to monetize your work.
Publishers and librarians have long been aware of these trends as they impact purchasing, disseminating, curating, and archiving. Scholars? Not so much – unless you had the good fortune of receiving detailed advice from a mentor or peer group or learned the hard way over time. And the dismissive will argue that most of our books or articles are not on the fast track to be signed as a major motion picture deal or radio show anyhow. Still, we often sign away rights to repurpose our work, host our work elsewhere or don’t take advantage of how our ideas and scholarship can work in a world of media convergences.
To address some of these issues, Jennifer Snow, a Digital Librarian at UCONN, is organizing a mini-conference on copyright issues in (digital) publishing on April 14th, 8:30am-2pm. Understanding your rights in scholarly publishing is key to maneuvering the treacherous territory of multi-media and multimodal communication, including open access outlets and platforms. And often, we don’t even know of the repositories that are directly available to us from our home institutions: for those of you interested in learning more about UCONN’s own Digital Commons, please take advantage of Marisol Ramos’ workshop this coming Monday at 3pm!
The first brainbytes blog of the spring semester serves as an announcement: UCONN has a brand new Graduate Certificate! Welcome back. Pending final approval by the Board of Trustees, the Humanities Institute is pleased to announce a Graduate Certificate in DHMS. This certificate will supply interested graduate students with crucial training and with marketable skills and approaches for careers within and outside of academia. As the initiating director of this certificate, I am providing a summary of the contents below.
Need for the DHMS grad certificate
The UCONN grad certificate in DHMS is unique insofar as it is fundamentally interdisciplinary: it will not be solely oriented, as certificate programs are at other schools, towards digital humanities methods, research, and practice, but also towards integrating media studies as an interdisciplinary and international field of critical inquiry and theory. It seeks to enhance the talents, interests, and success rates of our humanities graduate students entering the academic job market, as digital humanities and media studies research and scholarship has proliferated across North American campuses at the undergraduate and graduate levels, as well as internationally. In addition, employment opportunities for graduate students with training in digital humanities and media studies have increased in non-governmental organizations, libraries, museums, and other public and corporate entities as such training is often closely linked to public humanities.
Educational Objectives of the Graduate Certificate
The certificate prepares students to conduct humanities research with digital tools by providing participants with the knowledge about same tools, about methods, and, importantly, about theoretical issues central to the interfaces between digital humanities and media studies. These may include: text analysis, data mining, visualization, geo-spatial inquiries and mapping, multimedia and digital storytelling, hybrid and digital publishing, information or knowledge design, network analysis in combination with the history of media, media archeology, media aesthetics, media theory, media philosophy, digital cultures and game studies.
- a DHMS Portfolio (see requirements below)
- a deepened and theoretically sound understanding of the interfaces between Digital Humanities and Media Studies
- an in-depth practical and theoretical understanding of the humanities in the digital age as they apply to sectors within and beyond the academy
- an understanding of and experience with collaborative practice in the humanities, social sciences, and the arts as such practice applies to research and teaching with digital tools
Course Sequence and Educational Objectives
The Graduate Certificate in DHMS for graduate students enrolled in CLAS or Fine Arts PhD or MA/MFA programs will require a total of twelve credits: 3 credits in one of the core courses, two 3-credit electives, and one 3-credit independent study, working on the DHMS Portfolio.
Electives (students take two electives and one independent study, with 3 credits each)
Electives will be chosen based on the student’s major field of inquiry, her/his departmental home, and her/his dissertation or thesis research, in consultation with the student’s PhD or MA/MFA advisor and the director of the DHMS grad certificate. One of the courses as well as the independent study can overlap with the requirements in the home department. Other courses might qualify as electives if they meet the following criteria: electives should deepen the student’s understanding and theoretical and practical application of DH and Media Studies and facilitate her/his direct translation of these skills and knowledge to her/his scholarship.
The DHMS Portfolio serves as an independent research project, realized alongside and as a product of the independent study and culled from work accomplished over the course of working on the DHMS grad certificate. Students should be able to communicate the intellectual rigor and theoretical foundations of their project. They should also address some of the evaluation guidelines put forth by the Modern Language Association, the American Historical Association, or the College Art Association, as listed below:
- describe the process underlying creation of work in digital media (e.g., the creation of infrastructure as well as content) and their particular contributions
- describe how work in digital media requires new collaborative relationships with clients, publics, other departments, colleagues, and students
- explain and document its development and progress and its contributions to scholarship
- include colleagues and take advantage of opportunities to explain how your work contributes to the scholarly conversation in on-campus forums, professional meetings, and print or online publications
- consider process as a form of scholarship and as a valid, even essential, part of knowledge creation
The final product must be publicly accessible on the web and include examples of the student’s work as well as how the project contributed to the student’s growth as a scholar (process writing). The portfolio must include a short statement of purpose.
More information on the application process and certificate details will be available on the DHMS website. The first core course, “Digital Humanities, Media Studies and the Multimodal Scholar” (LCL5020), is on offer this semester. Feel free to ask questions, share with colleagues, and join in on the conversations and events at DHMS in 2017!
1. What initially intrigued you about research/teaching in digital humanities or media studies?
My interest in media studies is a longstanding one and is no doubt rooted in my inter-disciplinarity. My MA in history was about the ideological valences of one of France’s most successful early pulp fiction writers, Eugène Sue. Working on Sue forced me to consider the problem of distribution and audience. I realized from correspondence about him that different groups had very different investments in Sue’s work. Because of the difficulties of describing reception, the explanations of these differences were often uncomfortably reductive (class interest, commercial distraction for the masses, etc…). As I developed a potential subject for my Ph.D., about the ways in which theater was rooted within Parisian cultural networks, I realized that what I was really after was to imagine new ways to account for and describe these differences. This is how my Ph.D. project evolved into a much broader study of early mass culture. The research has led me, over the years, to explore the countless ways that media in the 1830s, ’40s and ‘50s transformed how people were positioned—and positioned themselves—in terms of a reality that was increasingly defined by large numbers of other people. And though it is true that media could be a weapon, what we find when we look more closely was that it was more often—and very self-consciously—a resource that helped people to make sense of how they were being redefined as individuals and as collectives. The active investments of individuals in media as well as in countless other practices that media helped support played a major role in propelling the rise of a culture increasingly defined by scale.
2. Has entering the DHMS realm changed your approach to research and teaching in general? If so, how?
This past semester I taught a new graduate course on 19th-century media. It would have been impossible to give this course even a decade ago, since it was built on the shoulders of major digitized archives including Gallica at the Bibliothèque Nationale de France, Hathi Trust, and ARTFL, to name but a few. To make use of them effectively, however, I had to build an extensive website as a platform from which to organize the many primary sources that we explored as a group as well as to give a picture of what 19th-century media would have looked like. What is more, I tried, as much as possible, to get the students to experience what it would have been like to consume media in the 19th century, for instance, by reading a pulp fiction novel in installments in a newspaper. This experiment was more successful than I could have hoped. What is more, occasionally I sent the students to the Dodd archive to encounter 19th-century artifacts more directly (illustrated newspapers, daguerreotype, stereoscopes, photographic technology). The impact of those encounters was intense in large part because the students had been engaged with primary sources throughout the semester: they had seen the exploding variety of media forms in the 1800s, but also knew firsthand how even very disparate forms were interconnected. They had also read theoretical and historical articles that helped them think about what kinds of cultural work these different genres and platforms were performing. Touching the actual artifact was meaningful because to them it was already embedded in a web of references and ways of thinking about media, but also because it contrasted with all of the digital content they had been using throughout the semester. It was thus doubly a material encounter with material culture.
3. You have three (commitment-free) wishes to receive support for your research/teaching in DH or media studies: what are they?
- I would love to get support for teaching students how to conduct big-data research on historical sources and to also become critical about the strengths and limits of such research.
- I used a digital lab for this graduate class. It was essential to the conduct of the course. Each student was seated at a desktop computer. We often looked at things together in class (illustrations, plays, newsprint, exhibition sites, audio and early film recordings) either as a group or did individual research on a question that was raised in class in real time (this is where the website I built was indispensable as all the resources we needed were centralized and accessible). Making sure such classrooms are available was essential (and it was, it turns out, a struggle to find such space especially for a graduate class).
- I put in a good hundred hours building my website. Some support for this would have been great too.
4. First struggles and successes: do you have any best-practice advice?
- Imagine your course as an overall process of active engagement and experimentation as opposed to being about a set of materials or themes. Organize it it in terms of activities versus readings.
- Try to step out of your normal reflexes in designing your class. As I got more deeply into the selection of my materials, I worried about the quality of individual samples — their canonicity in other words. It finally dawned on me that this was exactly the wrong approach. Letting the students be exposed to media more randomly and giving them tools for engaging with it meaningfully was far more useful pedagogically in terms of the development of their critical and interpretive skills. They learned how to make fine distinctions between medium, platform, genre, device, formula, topos, so they actually learned to become better readers in a literary sense. Even as they became increasingly fluent in these distinctions, they also became aware of how much, especially after the 1830s, the development of one genre and platform affected the development of others, even if they did not seem to share obvious affinities.
- Do not worry about the interest of any one artifact. It turned out that the students were interested in everything, precisely because it fit into a whole web, both at the level of 19th-century media production, but also in the conversations we were having about it in class.
5. How would you like to challenge yourself in DH or media studies? Or what is a project you most seek to realize?
To learn about a new media form as a tool for teaching, but even more as a subject for research. This applies as much to 19th-century media as to the latest platforms. I am most invested in considering the problems media raises and solves in terms of communication, cognition, socialization, cultural impacts. I am always interested in mastering new digital tools to be able to create new learning environments (while noting that in many of my classes I have a “no computer/phone” policy). Ideally, I’d love to happen upon a question in my research that might lead, organically, to being able to develop a meaningful crowd-based research project.