Digital Humanities

Digital Humanities Is for Humans, Not Just Humanists: Social Science and DH, by Kitty O’Riordan

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’riordan@uconn.edu.

Oral Histories and the Tech Needed to Produce Them, Part 2: Microphones, Accessories, and Editing Software, by Nick Hurley

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.

The Microphone

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.

Accessories

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.

Editing Software

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.

Future Plans

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 nicholas.hurley@uconn.edu and follow him on Twitter @hurley_nick.

DH and Narrative, DH as Narrative, DH-Narrative, by Elisabeth Buzay

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.

 

DH-Narrative

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 elisabeth.buzay@uconn.edu.

Visualizing English Print at the Folger, by Gregory Kneidel (cross-post with Ruff Draughts)

Screen Shot 2017-03-17 at 3.01.53 PMIn 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.vep_1

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).

vep_2

 

Here, the blue line in the right frame charts lexical patterns that DocuScope tags as “Sense Objects.”

vep_3vep_4

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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 gregory.kneidel@uconn.edu.

Digital Spaces and Designing for Access, by Gabriel Morrison

AccessThere 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 stairsdoorways 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 gabriel.morrison@uconn.edu.

Jennifer Snow, Digital Scholarship Librarian

Screen Shot 2017-02-24 at 11.29.44 AM1. 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.qa

New Graduate Certificate in Digital Humanities and Media Studies

graduates-4555027fc37869a5The 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 digbookparticipants 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.

Outcomes include:

  • 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.


DHMS Portfolio

dig_scholThe 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!

 

 

Can’t Find Your Way to Victoria? Here’s a “How To” for Home Use Blog Double Feature

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?netscape-navigator

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.staedtereise_urlaub_leipzig_innenstadt_11

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).

choosing-a-college

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.

Interested in Digital Humanities? Then Find Your Way to Victoria, by Marc Reyes

dhsi-1For 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.

dhsi-1Once 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

 

 

 

 

 

Joe Goodkin’s Odyssey is coming 9/29 – and it has everything to do with digital games and digital humanities, by Roger Travis

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!

 

Travis

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?

travis

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.