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 in April. 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.
During the recent protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline, staged by the Standing Rock Sioux, Facebook users were asked to “check in” to the site of the protest taking place at the reservation. Ostensibly, it was meant to throw police surveillance off track since Facebook locations were being used to track and arrest protesters. As the post to check-in went viral, it generated a counterpoint response almost simultaneously. Blogs decrying social media solidarity that appears lazy and without any actual risk or effort involved sprung up within hours of the check-in going viral. “No, Checking In at the Standing Rock Pipeline Protests on Facebook Will Not Confuse the Police. It’s a waste of time,” wrote Mother Jones. Another friend cringed on social media: “Solidarity is great, and so is media attention, but if you really want to help protesters: donate to the Sacred Stone Camp Legal Defense Fund, call elected officials, or fly your ass over there if you’re able – your body is a lot more useful than your “check-in” at Standing Rock.” Elsewhere, an article mocking the phenomenon appeared: “ISIS Flees After Millions of Americans ‘Check In’ to Mosul on Facebook.” It had not even been 12 hours.
Debates about digital activism have always questioned the significance of the protester’s body. The Arab Spring was heralded as crucial in allowing for a “digital revolution” to take root. But in hindsight, the moment of cyber euphoria seemed to have yielded mixed outcomes. Though digital media was seen as a catalyzing force and has resulted in an extraordinary collective convergence in Egypt and Tunisia, it was also seen as having negative effects; most notably the counter-use by governments to intercept dissent and use the digital for amping up surveillance. More recently, the #BlackLivesMatter movement started as a hashtag on social media and has since been used 12 million times according to studies conducted by the Pew Research Center. That the hashtag became a movement and that the movement is now ushering in the most resistant and radical thinking around race in the USA is not debatable. Yet the actual role of social media is moot unless the physical impact of these hashtags eventually becomes apparent, and this can generally be gauged through the amount of actual protesters, or through shifts it may bring about in local or governmental spheres.
While digital activism has certainly become entrenched in individual and institutional realms, it seems to have also given rise to the narcissistic clicktivist. Detached from any real action and armed with no more than a do-gooder mentality, the clicktivist tends to like, share, tweet, tumblr and post generously but is seen as not necessarily showing up when it counts and when the going gets tough. It is argued that their contribution cannot be ignored and that if solidarity goes viral so does the cause. The Dakota Access Pipeline check-in protests on Facebook were less interesting because of the virality of the phenomenon itself; but they were unusual because they illustrated how much we have come to dislike the online activist, how quickly there has come about an “obvious” knowledge that there is a real dichotomy between the body and the digital. In my opinion, the significance of this particular clicktivist is yet uncertain, and I hope we can arrive at more incisive understandings of this phenomenon.
This conversation will be taken up in some depth by the Digital Humanities reading group sponsored by the UConn Humanities Institute. We will meet on November 17th, Thursday from 12-2pm at the Homer Babbidge Library, 4th floor, room 4-153. We will be working through a variety of readings that include the Black Lives Matter syllabus, surveys that ask how social media users see, share and discuss race and the rise of hashtags like #BlackLivesMatter, skeptic critics such as Robert McChesney, Micah White and Jessy Hempel who make strong arguments against online activism, and academics who have engaged in longer and sustained ways with the impact of these new media.
This meeting is open to all faculty and graduate students. Please email email@example.com for the full list of readings.
For scholars in the humanities interested in making maps there is a wide range of available tools. At least half-a-dozen programs exist that allow a scholar to upload data, visualize it, analyze it, and then share it with colleagues and the public. These tools provide the enterprising scholar the ability to augment their arguments with exciting visual components or to reveal new questions or patterns that can provide strong evidence or push research in new directions.
In this blog post I will discuss some of the options available, focusing on how each tool matches with different kinds of projects and skill levels. While not an expert in GIS or mapping, I have been working on a mapping project on 17th-century New England that has plunged me into an overwhelming array of websites and software. I made the time-consuming mistake of experimenting with each new software I came across, but hopefully after reading this post others can avoid this quagmire and get to making exciting and fun maps.
Before continuing a little should be said about the different uses for maps (from my perspective as a history PhD candidate). Maps make a striking visual argument that can both stand on its own when crafted well or can complement a text or webpage. For example, while I can point out that dozens of towns in New England were destroyed during King Philip’s War, actually mapping this destruction with intensity bubbles across the region makes a powerful statement. As an analytical tool, maps allow scholars to repurpose heavily used sources in order to find new patterns or to compile relatively insignificant data from ignored sources into more useful aggregated forms. Continuing with examples I know, by plotting something as mundane as the dates of town settlement throughout New England, the chronology of English settlers breaking away from their coastal and riverine settlements becomes clear. Simply reading dates and locations would not have yielded this conclusion. Richard White has presented a particular strong argument for spatial history.
Before you actually start to use any mapping programs, you will need a few things, including something to map! You will also need to know your goal. There are three types of things you can do with mapping software: you can make cool visualizations or tell stories, you can plot and analyze vector data, or you can overlay historical maps on contemporary maps (and even plot your vector data on them or extract data from them). Vector data is usually stored in a spreadsheet, although most programs also allow you to add data points internally in a time consuming process. With your goal in mind, gather your vector data, an image of a historical map, or information/a story you want to visualize.
If you are using vector data, you probably already have a location associated with what you want to plot. If your location is expressed in lat/lon numbers you are ready. If it is a town name or street address, you will want to convert it to lat/lon coordinates unless you are using Google Maps or Carto (they can do it automatically). A simple google search will yield some websites that will convert your locational data, but they are somewhat clunky. A better method is to upload your spreadsheet into Google Sheets (Google’s version of excel) and to create a macro. While that may sound intimidating, it really only involves copy and pasting a line of code that can be found here.
For the digital neophyte looking to either visualize or begin an analytical project, the best place to start is Google Maps. While you may be familiar with using Google Maps to get directions or look at a street view of your house, it also has the ability to plot vector data, or become a complex map imbedded in a website. For the purposes of the only moderately technologically savvy, this is best done through “My Maps.” My Maps has built in georeferencing and is linked to Google Sheets, so it is easy to transfer vector data over with basic locational information and have it quickly plotted through a series of intuitive commands. Your data can be classified by Google Maps in a few basic ways including simple color coding. You can also upload customized images to act as icons for your data in addition to Google’s icon library. You are able to easily manipulate your data in the program, change how it is classified or displayed, and isolate specific ranges of data with a few simple clicks.
Using Carto will avoid several of these problems while requiring some additional technical skill. In general Carto is similar to Google Maps My Maps. It is good for plotting and visualizing vector data and you can modify uploaded spreadsheets within the webpage. While at times a little less user friendly, it is also enables you to use custom base-maps and to apply limited coding to change the style and interface of your maps. Like Google Maps, it is extremely easy to share on social media or embedded in your own webpage. Overlaying images, while possible, is still a difficult task in this program. Additionally, it only has a limited ability to create a fully customized interface.
Perhaps the strongest tools for analysis, although not visualization, are ArcGIS and QGIS. While very similar, QGIS is open source and free, but ArcGIS is proprietary and very expensive for those without access through their institution. These programs provide powerful sandboxes for mapping and uploading data, but are relatively difficult to use. When you open these programs, you are presented with a blank canvas.
It is up to you to upload base maps and data, or plot data in the program. Because you have a blank canvas, anything you upload needs to be georeferenced. If you are uploading a spreadsheet this means lat/long geographical coordinates, although some formats can be georeferenced within the program. The spreadsheet to be uploaded needs to first be converted into a .csv format, which can be done from excel or Google Sheets using “save as.”
Additionally, all layers of data need to have a consistent CRS (Coordinate Reference System) value applied to them.
Once uploaded, you can add to your data, categorize it in several ways, and style it with great freedom. Historical maps and images can easily be uploaded to your project and stretched and overlaid wherever and however you want. These programs are not ideal for creating visually polished maps for internet distribution (frequently people augment them with photoshop or illustrator for this purpose). Despite stylistic limitations, the Arc/QGIS alone are fine for making the mind of maps that can be included in printed publications. QGIS, which I have more experience with, also allows you to make maps into a format that you can integrate into a webpage through one of its many useful plugins. If you are interested in learning how to actually use GIS, the Programming Historian has a few useful tutorials.
Once installed Neatline has several plugins of its own that allow you to add timelines to your map, create an interactive text in which words are linked to points on the map, and for you to upload images to overlay on the map, or even a custom background. These demos really show its power. Its greatest strength is its friendly interface and plentiful documentation. Oddly enough, some of its issues emerge when doing things that one would imagine would be relatively simple for it, like trying to batch transfer items with lat/lon associated from an Omeka database (luckily there is a helpful internet community for both Neatline and Omeka).
Hopefully, this post has given those of you interested in mapping a guide on where you might want to start your project. Personally, I find myself using a combination of Google Maps, QGIS, and Neatline for different aspects of my project, with the intention of eventually taking advantage of the Google Maps API and Leaflet to bring my project online. Please feel free to contact me with any questions or suggestions.
Nathan Braccio is a Ph.D candidate in the UCONN History Department. He received his B.A. and M.A. in history from American University. His research focuses on the conflux of geography and identity in 17th and 18th century New England. More information on mapping and his research can be found on his webpage nathanbraccio.com. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
On October 24th, about 25 people gathered for the first DHMS Meet & Greet at the Humanities Institute’s new library location. Representing different campus groups, including librarians, professors, graduate students and one undergraduate, the group discussed how to build our fledgling community, how to obtain training in digital tools, and how to translate familiar methods of scholarly inquiry and venues of publication into digital formats. Brendan Kane gave a superb and inspiring presentation of his “Project in Process”: “Reading Early Modern Irish” with the help of interactive texts in the original and in translation, complete with grammatical and lexical references built by an international network of scholars. While political issues surrounding the use of social media, for example, were on many peoples’ minds – what happens to privacy? – one particular question stuck with me: who is my potential audience outside of print formats? Indeed: how DO you determine, find, and even secure an audience for your scholarly blog, your tweets, your online exhibition or your video?
In print venues, the path from author to readership is pretty much set in stone or paved in concrete: you present your research paper to small audiences at various conferences, in addition to soliciting responses from your peer reading networks or teaching some of the content in your classes. Following feedback and rewrites, you submit your article to an established, peer-reviewed journal, and, upon some more revision, the journal publishes your work. Voilà, your print article is available to those who subscribe to the journal or who search specific databases for your topic. Unless your publisher presents your article – or your book – to a larger public via open access platforms, your audience is limited to closed infrastructures. At the same time, you can rely on thorough quality control and on tapping into an established brand within your field. You know scholars in your field read the journal. There are slight deviations of this path, but this is essentially it. Ah yes, and then there are copyright issues and monetary transactions. But that’s not for this blog post…
Digital venues, in contrast, offer a MUCH bigger audience – a website or blog with, potentially, a global audience, and your social media accounts can invariably be found on the internet. So how do you reach those you seek to speak to or with whom you would like to engage in conversation? The Chronicle’s ProfHacker is a solid source for these sorts of questions, with Ryan Cordell addressing the benefits of tweeting, and Lee Skallerup Bessete reflecting on how twitter usage has changed over the years. For starting your academic or scholarly blog, InsideHigherEd published Liana Silva’s recommendations, while Pat Thomson’s recent article in the Times Higher Ed points to more selfish reasons to start your own blog: improving your writing. Of course, there is a top-10 list for this new enterprise as well, in this case assembled by Tom Crick and Alan Winfield. And it is always instructive to study some of the best, as curated and presented by Alexis Madrigal in 2013.
Most of these authors point to one important element of establishing an audience, no matter what part of your research you make available or which venue or medium you choose: you should not engage one without the other. If you are blogging, let others know on twitter or other social media that you just published a new post. Read others’ posts. Follow others on twitter. Mention your just-out print book on your blog or add the link to your twitter account on your website. You don’t just seek an audience – you also become one. You don’t just build networks within your research community and audiences “out there” that may find your work interesting – you also network within audiences yourself. So, it’s really not that different from print, it’s just much bigger and much more public. As Bianca Elena Ivanof and Caspar Addyman argue: it’s how to be an academic in the 21st century. Thank you, everyone, for coming on Monday!
In last week’s guest blog Marc Reyes enthusiastically reported back from the DH Summer Institute in Victoria. It is by all accounts a terrific first step towards all things Digital Humanities, if one can swing it, time wise or money wise. For those who will have to wait or who just want to try another route, there are plenty of opportunities to find one’s very own answers to: How do I get started with Digital Humanities??? It all depends on what you want to explore: the theoretical, the practical, the experimental or the just plain playful? Because there are so many ways to go, this blog is extra-long and therefore a double feature.
Part I: Retracing Steps and Missteps
When I think back to my own “humanities + digital” beginnings, I recall
- visiting my very first web page in 1993. The always up-to-date Lab Director pointed at the screen and said: “This could change a whole lot in language learning!” No kidding. Will this become part of my teaching?
- getting involved in what used to be CALL (Computer Assisted Language Learning) and teaching myself HTML (remember Netscape?). But I was also writing my dissertation, so I had no time. The motto was, expressly, “publish or perish”: how could I possibly squeeze in this new digital stuff?
- receiving a grant in my first job that allowed me to buy two SMART boards, revolutionary technology at the time and quite a mystifying wall of multimodality to all who dared start teach with it. Not everyone was gung-ho, though. That experience begged the question: is all new tech fundamentally good?
- co-founding an online peer-reviewed open access journal, against my peers’ and mentors’ advice. It would either not count for tenure or cast doubt on my scholarly integrity. To me, it was all about matching form with content, or, in this case, the other way around: a media philosopher’s work should also be presented and discussed digitally, no? Yet, would digital publishing be recognized in merit reports?
Let’s face it, these are recurring questions for most of us, no matter whether we are at the beginning of our Digital Humanities explorations or well traveled. Often, engaging with DH is a start and stop process, testing our patience, our capacity for the new, and our skill sets. No one can deny that the humanities have long entered the digital realm. But can you define your own involvement with it?
Of course! You don’t have to pull all-nighters or pursue perfection to learn how to
- build webpages for teaching or research. A profile of your own making matters today, and it is often the first thing you learn at DH workshops. But no rush: take days, take months, take a whole year – practice makes playful. My own webpage changes frequently, whenever I have a moment to try out a new widget or add a piece of media.
- blog. It’s like writing a scholarly journal or reflecting publicly on any aspect of your work. Yes, it’s public. Yes, most of us are share our process only with a select few. Yet, most of the time, I am surprised about how learning to blog (or using digital tools in general) also helps me reflect on how I think. I started various blog writing enterprises on different topics, sometimes with colleagues. I found out that I am not that good at collaborating in the blog venue for practical reasons and just do better composing by myself.
- participate in social media. Even if you have no interest in building a profile or tweeting to announce your latest article publication to the world, do set up an account and try it out. You can always delete your profile if it’s not your channel – but you move on and find out what is.
- take your visualization skills to the next level. You like taking photos? You have made videos on your digital camera? You want to create images from your data? My own latest exploration is with digital storytelling and video essays: writing the script, assembling the imagery, recording my own voiceover, and producing. This took a number of missteps and misadventures, but the results are passable. That’s good enough. And it will get better with time. I was also thrilled to find that there was an audience – vimeo has scored the work at over 12,000 views.
Try and fail, and enjoy the process. You have no interest in coding? Don’t. You want to hold off on writing a blog, it’s just too personal or too public? No problem, a tweet only has 140 characters. No interest in data mining? Certainly – perhaps text editing is your thing! Entirely your choice, in your own time and your own place. Your medium at your leisure.
I continue to try numerous tools, depending on what’s new, what interests me, and what is of relevance for my research and teaching. Does that make me a Digital Humanist? I don’t know. I think of myself as working in media studies with DH proficiency or a DH intermediate with a strong background in media studies. I do not code. Ditto for mapping. I do not mine data; so far I’ve just had no purposeful interest in it, but that could change. I do not (yet) work in a large collaborative team on a big multi-level, multi-year project, with substantial grant support promising a formidable outcome. But I’d like to. That’s next – at least I will try.
Part II: Building your own map
So how can you start on your own way into the Digital Humanities? I remember looking at Lisa Spiro’s recommendations several years ago. Although her thoughts date back to 2011 – five years is a long time in DH – and some of the initiatives and/or links are out of date (thatcamps don’t seem to happen as frequently as they used to), I still agree with many of her pointers. Most everyone just insists: start somewhere! That “somewhere” can be anywhere, really. Ideally, it connects with your ongoing research or teaching, unless you just want to take a break from that very research or teaching and occupy a different part of your brain (as in, PLEASE give me a break so I can reboot!).
There are a great many “how to” pages that provide you with lists, similar to the one Spiro set up. She remains the most cited, with the Modern Language Association and the NEH still linking her site. Duke’s DH Initiative has put together a plethora of tips and resources that get you going. Our colleague Tom Scheinfeldt created his own list, making it exceedingly easy to get your feet wet. An excellent mélange of links and lessons comes from the College of Charleston, complete with videos and tutorials. Then there is the ACH’s Digital Humanities Questions & Answers section that connects your pressing issue with someone who can assist. In fact, most libraries or DH centers and initiatives now offer some sort of “How to Get Started” page or workshops that generate ideas. Just choose what appeals to you. And most everything gets explained on youtube these days anyway. Take a look at a series on Humanities + Digital Tools available from Stanford or search for the presentation of a particular tool.
A decided favorite (DH sleuthing!) still is Miriam Posner’s “How did they make that?” She presents the finished project (what is it?), traces it back to its origins (what you’d need to know), and then gives tips on how to do it yourself (get started). This reverse-engineering perspective is great for analyzing process because once your project is done you are most likely on to the next thing. And your failures and missteps cannot inform your succeeding projects or generate new ideas and approaches. Posner also produced a video about these steps – yet another way to show her own process.
Well, here we are. Understood if this load of suggestions on how to get started is exhausting. You have not finished that article. Your students’ exams remain untouched. You haven’t read the report for the meeting that starts in 20 minutes…. And it’s time to get some fresh coffee! Then don’t start today, start tomorrow. Sleep on it. Or come to the “DHMS Meet & Greet” on October 24th from 12:30-2pm at the new UCHI location on the 4th floor in the library (209).
Meet colleagues who are thinking about DH, have started or are well on their way. Enjoy lunch together. Discuss the DHSI in Victoria with other participants. And if Victoria does not appeal to you consider a DH summer in Leipzig or Oxford.
For students interested in the digital humanities (DH), it can be difficult to know how to jump into such a wide and varied field. Sure, there are books and blogs, but for those ready to get to work, there is a dearth of formal training or established DH institutions. To those budding digital humanists, my advice is to find your way to Victoria, British Columbia.
Amid the beauty of Canada’s Pacific coast and the harsh Brutalist architecture of the University of Victoria (UVic), Victoria is home to the Digital Humanities Summer Institute (DHSI), the largest North American gathering of digital humanists. Since 2001, hundreds of scholars, from a variety of humanities disciplines and academic backgrounds, converge every June on UVic for weeklong courses that combine the best elements of a technology conference, an accelerated seminar, and a DIY-workshop. And this past June, I was among many like-minded scholars ready to take my digital humanities enthusiasm to the next level.
I first heard about DHSI from Twitter (follow them @DHInstitute) in spring 2015 and contacted Digital Media & Design Professor Tom Scheinfeldt to ask what he knew about the program. Tom informed me of DHSI’s sterling reputation as a structured, yet relaxed environment for digital humanists to meet, collaborate on projects, and learn the latest in digital pedagogy. Besides course offerings, there are also dozens of presentations, lectures, workshops, and roundtables on numerous DH-related subjects. One reason I was attracted to DHSI was that I was tired of reading about DH or imagining the projects I could build; I was ready to find a place that would teach me the skills necessary to function as a digital humanist. And because DHSI happens in the summer, I could devote a full week to my DH education without conflicts from coursework or my teaching assignment.
Once I decided to attend DHSI, I applied via their website and selected my course preferences. There is no guarantee you will be assigned to a course you request. The program’s foundational courses – on coding, digitization, and text encoding, etc. – fill up fast so I advise you to submit your application as soon as you can. I submitted mine in early fall 2015 and was fortunate to be enrolled in one of my requested courses: “Building a Professional Identity and Skillset in the Digital Humanities.” I chose a professionalization course because it can be difficult for graduate students to keep track of all the different online career platforms that exist (Academia.edu, ResearchGate, Google Scholar, LinkedIn, etc.) and how to make the most of them. Today students regularly hear that they need an effective online presence or multiple presences, but what does that mean, which platform is the most effective for humanities students, and how do students know they are producing quality online representations of themselves and their work? With these questions in mind, I selected this course believing it would provide guidance on improving my online presence and assist my long-term professional goals of teaching at a university or working at a presidential library.
Depending on the course, your class size could be anywhere from five to twenty people. The 2016 professional identity and DH skillset course was on the small side with eight students enrolled in the class. For my first time at DHSI, I appreciated working in a smaller seminar where I could have more one-on-one time with the course instructors. And my course colleagues could not have been more friendly or enjoyable. Most of them were History or English graduate students, and all of them were excited about transforming their respective projects – whether it was a dissertation, a writing program, or archival work – into a layered piece with digital dimensions or a wholly work of digital scholarship. My colleagues spoke of building websites that would serve as interactive versions of their CVs where potential collaborators and employers could experience the type of writing, research, and teaching they can produce. The course also benefitted from the involvement of the librarians, game studies researchers, and returning students enrolled in the course who could speak to the ways their institutions and businesses were changing because of the latest developments in digital technology.
Over five days, our course covered plenty of ground. On day one, we examined how we are currently viewed online (whether its through a department website, institutional affiliations, and social media) and how our work can become more searchable. I came away seeing my online presence as another version of an “elevator pitch” where I convince someone unfamiliar with my work of its significance in a short period of time. Like a honed presentation, your online profiles should give interested parties an engaging yet concise overview of what you offer as a scholar.
On day two, we set up Academia.edu accounts, created or refined LinkedIn profiles, and learned how to deploy Twitter for both personal and professional uses. Twitter is usually my preferred social media account, a space where I share random thoughts or my latest attempt at a joke. During the course, I challenged myself to see how my Twitter account could also be a space for sharing articles connected to my research, ideas about how future history departments might run, and how contemporary issues relate to my area of study (U.S.-India foreign relations). Day three discussed how scholars are increasingly using podcasts as a way to reach humanities audiences and how blogging should be an integral part of a student’s writing portfolio. Whether it is through a personal site or collaborative blog calling for submissions, blogging in the academy is a great way to sharpen your writing chops, gain publication experience, and ruminate on topics in and outside your research.
The fourth, and last full day examined the type of grants and fellowships that await digital humanists, both before and after the PhD. In countries such as Canada, Great Britain, and Germany, U.S. and other international scholars are eligible for numerous prizes designed to promote DH scholarship. During this session, our class examined grant writing and fellowship application opportunities and how perspective committees might view our research topics. Working from Dr. Karen Kelsey’s (author of The Professor Is In) grant writing template, each class member put their own research topic and questions to the test to gauge the strengths and weaknesses of our projects and hear constructive feedback.
By Friday, our class concluded with presentations of what we accomplished. In just a week, some of my colleagues created personal websites through Squarespace, Wix, and A Small Orange to showcase their skills as writers, researchers, and archivists. Others left with new ideas about developing half-written/half-digital dissertations or creating app versions of their thesis. As for me, I overhauled my LinkedIn profile, created an Academia.edu account, built an About.Me page, fashioned a Wiki about books I am reading for my comprehensive exams, and started blogging again through WordPress. Because of my time at DHSI, I have a better online presence that demonstrates my abilities to a variety of audiences and a stronger sense of the skills necessary to thrive in the digital humanities.
I can attest that my professional growth happened because of what is possible at DHSI. Having the time and space to learn and adopt the latest digital skills, in a relaxed but structured environment, is an opportunity more graduate students should experience. Since returning from DHSI, I have told anyone and everyone who would listen about the benefits of attending the program. And I hope, that with each passing summer, the University of Connecticut sends a growing contingent of digital humanists to Victoria and their experiences are as rewarding as mine.
Marc Reyes is a doctoral student in the Department of History at the University of Connecticut. He received his B.A. in History from the University of Missouri and his M.A., also in History, from the University of Missouri-Kansas City. His research investigates the United States and its interactions – diplomatically, economically, and culturally – with India. Marc is a Multicultural Scholars Program Fellow and has presented his work at local, regional, and national history conferences. This semester he is assisting Professor Tom Scheinfeldt’s DMD course, History of Digital Culture. You can follow Marc on Twitter @Marcus5F9.
*DHSI/Uvic/Victoria, BC photos courtesy of Matthew Reeves, doctoral student, University of Missouri-Kansas City
You may well be surprised to hear that the way towards finally welcoming the study of videogames into the fold of digital humanities lies through Homeric epic and Platonic philosophy. I’m hoping, though, that a marvelous recomposition of the Odyssey by classicist-musician Joe Goodkin, in Schenker Hall at 4pm on Thursday, 29 September, will help me convince you. You might as well come just for the outlandishness of my proposal!
First of all, Joe’s work, of which you can find a sample here at his website, charms above all because of how honestly and straightforwardly it reawakens the bardic tradition that gave us the Odyssey (as well as the Iliad, Hesiod’s Theogony and Works and Days, and the Homeric hymns in which are found some of your favorite stories about the Greek gods). All the things I’ll try to suggest in the talkback Joe is kindly allowing me to inflict upon him, about how digital games provide their players with the opportunity to do what Joe does on a gamepad rather than a guitar, shouldn’t get in the way of the simple observation that Joe has done it in the same way the bards did: he learned the rules and he played the epic game the old-fashioned way, alone with a lyre in front of an audience with a right to expect to hear something relevant to their own lives.
That’s mythmaking at its finest, purest, and most moving. I don’t want digital concerns to get in the way of that act of performance any more than any practitioner of digital humanities wants to obscure the ancient, fundamental questions that only humanists can ask. Joe’s Odyssey, like the Homeric one, concerns the struggle to learn what it is to be a person. The most dramatic of returns home from war emblematizes the essential problems of identity we all face every day—how do we present ourselves on Facebook? In a department meeting? At our own homes after a long day of battling our instructors, our students, our colleagues? It’s not for nothing that Plato, trying to solve those problems another way, had a love/hate relationship with Odysseus.
To find someone like Joe recomposing the Odyssey according to his new version of the Homeric ruleset, however, seems to me too good an opportunity to pass up, to share with students and colleagues here at UConn the essential connection I’m always on about—the thing that makes the interactivity of digital games, as well as that of the many digital-rule-based practices in which we engage these days, like social media on the one hand and experimental forms of art and literature on the other, a way to use digital means to study our traditional humanistic domains.
Plato saw that the political performances of his peers in classical Athens were like meaningless contests in a cave full of shadows. Videogames and social media encode the rules of those contests in digital form: posting on Facebook is a performance within the same cave, just like killing virtual aliens. The works of the Homeric bards, the works of Joe Goodkin, our Facebook posts, and our videogame playthroughs all become susceptible to a new, digital kind of reading in which we examine them as performances within the possibility-spaces created by their rulesets. In the terms of the questions of identity I posed above, how many different ways do the rules of Facebook or World of Warcraft let us present ourselves? How does the encoded digital portion of their rulesets make the choices they present differ from the choices Plato gave his cave-dwellers?
My own current work concerns the affordances of interactive storytelling, and what we can learn about them from the way Homeric epic got transformed by the famous authors of the Athenian Golden Age—Aeschylus, Herodotus, Thucydides, Plato. My point is that they played the Homer game just as Joe Goodkin plays it now, and I’m hoping we’ll all be able to hear more about how to keep doing that, whether by analog or by digital means.
Roger Travis is an Associate Professor in the Departments of Literatures, Cultures & Languages and of Digital Media and Design in the University of Connecticut. He is a founder of and contributor to the collaborative blog Play the Past. Roger also works on developing and studying a form of game-based learning, practomimetic learning, in which learners play the curriculum as a role-playing game wrapped in an alternate-reality game. He has published on Homeric epic, Greek tragedy, Greek historiography, the 19th C. British novel, and digital role-playing games and first-person shooters including Halo, BioShock, Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, and World of Warcraft.
Two weeks ago, I featured Jeffrey Schnapp’s video on Digital Humanities where he mentions emerging genres within DH that “don’t look like anything we are familiar with.” The go-to concept here has become knowledge design, a kind of humanist merging of information design, graphic design, and communication design. In truth, the more conventional – and boring – term would be scholarly communication. There’s no debate, however, that the changes communication is undergoing are profound.
Seriously: we are at the point of an epistemological turn in our digitized cultures. How do we gain, analyze, and disseminate knowledge? How is knowledge curated and archived? How do we translate ideas? How do (not only Western) notions of creativity, imagination, and production evolve and change in a multi-media environment? It is the task of the humanities to contribute to the shaping of new knowledge that is not accessible only in print and linear forms.
Ok, then. How do we do that? This scholarly-communication-cum-knowledge-design question presents, actually, a poignant issue for DHMS perspectives. Media studies scholars have engaged these design challenges for a while now, with Katherine Hayles’ how we think (2012) announcing that the “Age of Print is passing” and that we better acknowledge the accompanying changes in our wetware (aka neuro-network). Her title, of course, is a play on a much older piece by Vannevar Bush, “As We May Think” (1945), in which he describes the concept of the “Memex.”
The Memex, then, foreshadows Ted Nelson’s “hypertext,” coined in 1965. And his Computer Lib/Dream Machines already in 1974 emphasized the use of computers for knowledge design, decidedly a creative process in collaboration with audiences and through open access.
So knowledge design is not new. The end of books is not near. The humanities aren’t dead. But we are finding ourselves in the non-linear, multi-media, digitized universe of scholarly communication that appears to scream Nelson’s “You can and must understand computers NOW” at us. So as we may scramble somewhere between hardware, software and wetware, reaching for the comforting book or printout, it’s the middleware I find particularly interesting.
In 1986, the media theorist Friedrich Kittler declared that “media determine our situation.” Johanna Drucker and Patrik O. Svensson, based on their just published “The Why and How of Middleware” (2016), would argue that “middleware determine our knowledge design.” Whether it’s PowerPoint or Scalar or Zotero, middleware presents a “set of mediating and remediating protocols,” compelling us to look under the hood of the platforms we use as their design is set up to structure our thoughts. “At stake is how we may think as well as what we may think as we struggle to design environments that contain tools for thinking in arguments.”