Tag Archives: DH

[Cross-posted] The conundrum of public creation

In the first blog post for our Travelogue: Mapping Literary History project “Welcome to Travelogue” written by our great Project Manager Sarah, she talked about the excitement the group felt at embarking on this project and our eagerness to learn new things and to create a great digital project. She was speaking the truth; we are all excited about working on this project.

For me, as the web site developer, the first thing I had the opportunity to learn was WordPress. The idea was that I would create a meta-blog site and the whole group would use the site to blog and post about the process we were all going through to create out project, “Travelogue – Mapping Literary History”. The process of creating this meta-blog site would give me the opportunity and a place where I could learn and play with WordPress so that when I had to create the official web site for our actual public project, I’d be comfortable and familiar with the CMS.

In her post Sarah also referenced a post I had written for our Fall 2013 Digital Praxis seminar, where I talked about not being afraid to fail. While I wrote about not worrying about failing and how the process itself of learning and trying new things was a success, whether the project failed or not, I must admit that while that may sound good, in reality it is hard to live that philosophy. I was afraid to fail, I was afraid to create a site which would be less than and to do it in public no less is not easy. It is not easy working and creating “in public” (a phrase our professor Matt Gold likes to use). It is not easy to talk about your worries and concerns in public. In my work life I’ve worked where you don’t show the process to the public, just the results. You know, you don’t want to see sausage being made; you just want to eat the sausage. I had to keep reminding myself that part of this class and project was actually doing a good portion of our work in public and letting the public see what we were doing, the difficulties we were having, along with our successes. Stay tuned for my next post where I will write about some of my failures and successes so far in creating these 2 sites and what I’ve learned so far working on this group project.


Travelogue: Format Selection and Other Updates

The team chose the ESRI ArcGIS Storymaps platform for the Travelogue project.  Last week the team had a vote on which ESRI ArcGIS Storymaps format to go with, the options were:

Sequential, Place-based Narratives Map Tour http://storymaps.arcgis.com/en/app-list/map-tour/

A Curated List of Points of Interest Short List http://storymaps.arcgis.com/en/app-list/shortlist/

Comparing Two or More Maps Tabbed Viewer  http://storymaps.arcgis.com/en/app-list/tabbed-viewer/

Comparing Two or More Maps Side Accordion http://storymaps.arcgis.com/en/app-list/side-accordion

A Curated List of Points of Interest Playlist http://storymaps.arcgis.com/en/app-list/playlist

The winner was…Map Tour http://storymaps.arcgis.com/en/app-list/map-tour/

Each team member has an Esri ArcGIS organizational account that can be used to practice and publish.  With the format selected and a large volume of research content done we can now start building.  The American authors that we have chosen to initially feature are Zora Neale Hurston and Ernest Hemingway.  We have shared Google Drive folders for each that feature spreadsheets with the research collected so far.  The spreadsheet entries are organized with a unified chronological date so that the journeys can be mapped chronologically.  All of the locations on both spreadsheets also have coordinates.

Informational text about each author is being written and audiovisual material to be featured on the Travelogue site is being collected.  Notably, direct links to Hemingway images from the JFK Library’s Media Gallery http://www.jfklibrary.org/JFK/Media-Gallery.aspx For the content sources we have chosen to use the MLA citation format.

The Travelogue’s Twitter account has received a few new followers.  Also, a Travelogue tweet was favorited by a San Francisco Chronicle newspaper Book Editor (all acknowledgements count).  The Twitter logo has been redesigned.  The look of the Twitter page has been updated to reflect the biblio and cartographic aspects of the project. Check it out @dhtravelogue

The team is looking forward to providing a status update presentation to the DH Praxis class on Monday, March 24th.

If you want to contact us please do. Our project blog is at  travelogue.commons.gc.cuny.edu. Email us at dhtravelogue [at] gmail [dot] com or follow us on Twitter @DhTravelogue

DH Box: Tackling Project Scope

We have this great Digital Humanities project idea, but what happens between now and launch time?

With an idea like DH Box (a customized linux OS with preinstalled DH Tools and the flexibility to operate on a computer as cheap and portable as the Raspberry Pi) there are a number of directions we could take, and will certainly consider for further iterations of DH Box beyond the Spring term (this blog currently documents the experiences of a project team enrolled in a graduate course in Digital Humanities Praxis at the Graduate Center, CUNY).

In order to refine the scope of our tool, we asked ourselves some questions:

  • What approach will we take around educating users about coding, the infrastructure around the DH Box software, hardware, and operating system?
  • Which DH Tools should we include? See Alan Liu’s curated list for more info on the scope of DH tools out there
  • What user(s) are we building this for?

The success of our project hinges on our ability to carefully model the scope of the tool by shaping the answers to these questions . . . all by May 12th (public launch date)!

Educational Value

Beyond providing a collection of accessible DH Tools, we want DH Box to help bridge knowledge gaps by delivering a strong educational component. We’d like for instance, undergraduate English students to gain exposure and develop proficiency in Digital Humanities inquiry through the kind of guidance and practical experience DH Box will offer. To that end, we will begin an interactive textbook to provide instruction about the specific tools included in this first iteration of DH Box. We are most inspired by the Learn Code the Hard Way interactive textbook series by Zed Shaw.


We are gearing this version of DH Box to bring Topic Modeling and Text Analysis to Humanities students!

We began by considering the most popular DH Tools out there and quickly realized it made a lot of sense to whittle the list down for this current project phase. We’ve made choices based on optimal software performance with the Raspberry Pi. We also want to provide DH Tools that haven’t yet had the level of proliferation like some of the more popular content management systems such as WordPress.


Undergraduate Humanities students currently have little familiarity with terms like tokenizationsentiment analysis, etc., and how these components of text analysis can open expansive modes of textual inquiry. As part of its mission, DH Box will work to make these methods accessible to a broad audience!

Stay tuned for exciting updates on implementing the install scripts, using IPython Notebook, and more!


Questions? Comments? Tweet us!

Easy Access to Data for Text Mining

Prospect Workflow

Will 2014 be the year that you take a huge volume of texts and run them through an algorithm to detect their themes? Because significant hurdles to humanists’ ability to analyze large volumes of text have been or are being overcome, this might very well be the year that text mining takes off in the digital humanities. The ruling in the Google Books federal lawsuit that text mining is fair use has removed many concerns about copyright that had been an almost insurmountable barrier to obtaining data. Another sticking point has been the question of where to get the data. Until recently, unless researchers digitized the documents themselves, the options for humanities scholars were mostly JSTOR’s Data for Research, Wikipedia and pre-1923 texts from Google Books and HathiTrust. If you had other ideas, you were out of luck. But within the next few months there will be a broader array of full-text data available from subscription and open access databases.

CrossRef, the organization that manages Digital Object Identifiers (DOIs) for database publishers, has a pilot text mining program, Prospect, that has been in beta since July 2013 and will launch early this year. There is no fee for researchers who already have subscription access to the databases. To use the system, researchers with ORCID identifiers log in to Prospect and receive an API token (alphanumeric string). For access to subscription databases, Prospect displays publishers’ licenses that researchers can sign with a click. After agreeing to the terms, they receive a full-text link. The publisher’s API verifies the token, license, and subscription access and returns full-text data subject to rate limiting (e.g. 1500 requests per hour).

Herbert Van de Sompel and Martin Klein, information scientists who participated in the Prospect pilot, say “The API is really straightforward and based on common technical approaches; it can be easily integrated in a broader workflow. In our case, we have a work bench that monitors newly published papers, obtains their XML version via the API, extracts all HTTP URIs, and then crawls and archives the referenced content.”

The advantage for publishers is that providing access to an API may stop people from web scraping the same URLs that others are using to gain access to individual documents. And publishers won’t have to negotiate permissions with many individual researchers. Although a 2011 study found that when publishers are approached by scholars with requests for large amounts of data to mine they are inclined to agree, it remains to be seen how many publishers will sign up for the optional service and what the license terms will be. Interestingly, the oft-maligned Elsevier is leading the pack having made its API accessible to researchers during the pilot phase. Springer, Wiley, Highwire and the American Physical Society are also involved.

Details about accessing the API are on the pilot support site and in this video. CrossRef contacts are Kirsty Meddings, product manager [kmeddings@crossref.org] and Geoffrey Bilder, Director of Strategic Initiatives [gbilder@crossref.org].


What Does Digital Humanities Mean for Pedagogy?

I was so happy to read Stephen Brier’s essay in Debates in the Digital Humanities, which echoed many of my thoughts:

…this recent rush toward the technological new has tended to focus too narrowly, in my judgment, on the academic research and publication aspects of the digital humanities, in the process reinforcing disciplinary “silos” and traditional academic issues while also minimizing and often obscuring the larger implications of DH for how we teach in universities and colleges and how we prepare the next generation of graduate students for careers inside and outside of the academy.

For me, yesterday’s class discussion really got to the heart of my Digital Humanities questions. Using digital tools like text mining and data visualization are nice for higher-level research, but what about undergrads preparing to go out into the real world? Yes these things are used by people outside of the academy (see here and here ), but shouldn’t we be introducing students to a broader range of digital tools earlier on? When we incorporate technology in pedagogy, is it “Digital Humanities,” or just teaching and the internet? Does it matter?

As a Literature major, I was taught minimal digital skills in my undergrad courses. I took one required programming course that didn’t really stick, but I had a basic understanding of the internet and computers because I grew up in the 90s. While the degree helped of course, I was hired into my first desk job mainly because of the practical skills I picked up on my own. When I started working at a magazine, I picked up things that anyone in media needs—a basic understanding of HTML, how to work with content management systems, and how to be a project manager. My school didn’t offer courses in digital media, though I’m sure some students who have the foresight about what kind of job they want (that is to say, not most 18-year-olds), would be able to pick up similar skills in such classes at their own universities.

Many of my undergraduate teachers encouraged us to incorporate digital tools into our projects, I guess assuming that most kids these days were adept at programming and building websites. I remember only one student going this direction in a Creative Writing seminar – a friend of mine who learned to code on her own because she enjoyed it. On presentation day, instead of reading from a novella, she presented a video game, and moved the characters around the screen to act out her story. Jaws dropped. How could an English major use computers like that?

Anyway, that Literature student works for Google now.

As Stephen Ramsay says in his Programming with Humanists essay , “…if an English or a History student finds his or her way into a class on programming, it is not because of some perceived continuity between the study of Shakespeare or the French Revolution and the study of for-loops and conditionals. Most students see programming—and not without justice—as a mostly practical subject” (228).

It is to an undergraduate’s advantage, especially if he or she will not pursue graduate school, to have an active understanding of technology and its practical uses (even if they aren’t working for Google). I had a rockstar intern at my marketing agency who: knew some HTML and could help me with e-mail newsletters, could use Adobe Illustrator and InDesign to help me put together marketing brochures, and knew how to use Excel to make charts and do calculations (thankfully for me, because Zzzzz…). He will have a leg up from other people his age applying to the same jobs after graduation. I usually assume most humanities students learn practical job-related skills on their own in an internship, or when they get a Master’s degree. And while internships are a great place to learn on-the-job skills, many students in smaller communities don’t have this opportunity.

While undergrads in the humanities are learning excellent skills such as how to present an effective argument, they aren’t getting enough practical skills from humanities teachers that will make them competitive in the current job market. But outside of programming, business, science or digital media, how do you do this for students with broader interests who are unsure of what exactly they want to pursue for work? To further complicate things, because technology changes as quickly as it does, how can you ask teachers to keep up?

I think the whole area of pedagogy is where it becomes most important to define what we’re talking about when we talk about “DH.” Shouldn’t we be teaching students to use technology effectively in order for them to better interact with the modern world? The Looking for Whitman project  is a great example of how you can combine practical skills (collaboration, writing for an audience, using blogging software) with academic ones (thinking critically about texts, etc.). While writing an effective essay is important, it isn’t everything. This recent Slate article brings this point home.

For me, DH has wider implications for the university system because the people who are involved seem to be the most open to new ideas. Without trying to seem too idealistic, shouldn’t we be harnessing this power somehow to change the system and the way students learn, rather than just using  it in our own research?

As Brier says,

CUNY’s growing focus over the past two decades on the scholarship of teaching and learning has by no means been limited to the digital humanities, narrowly defined. If we are willing to broaden our definition of digital humanities beyond academic research and related issues of academic publication, peer review, and tenure and promotion to encompass critical questions about ways to improve teaching and learning, then CUNY’s various digital pedagogy projects and strategies offer an alternative pathway to broaden the impact of the digital humanities movement and make it more relevant to the ongoing and increasingly beleaguered educational mission of contemporary colleges and universities.

Educating the next generation of informed citizens ultimately falls on the shoulders of teachers. Now that technology is a part of that world, it should be a part of teaching as well. Because the impacts of technology are forcing things to move faster than say, the printing press, I don’t see academia catching on quickly enough on its own. But it’s also important to note that everyone is struggling to keep up, not just the academy.

Theory As A Tool

When it comes to hacking and coding one rolls up their sleeves to build models and prototypes to engage visually, open debate and uncover new meanings.  Theory as applied in methodologies leads us away from the mundane and toward bold ways of assessing existing humanist issues that are embedded in abundance in big data through literature, history and sociology.  The work of the digital humanist asserts that which is regarded as traditional narrative notions might gain new meaning or insight through further research and closer inspection.  The question “How does theory support the digital humanities” is critical because theory compels consideration.

Drucker raises the notion of “creating computational protocols that are grounded in humanistic theory and methods”, and “suggest it is essential if we are to assert the cultural authority of the humanities in a world whose fundamental medium is digital”.(3)  The term “cultural authority” suggests epistemological knowledge that is central to creating new digital approaches to engage critical thinking.  These new digital approaches would assist in revisiting unresolved concerns as well as in observing thought processes to determine outcomes around current day critical issues and to create models using the digital humanist toolbox to reflect these findings.  For instance the digital humanist can explore myriad issues on the political or social worldwide human landscapes and derive appropriate useful outcomes.  Prototypes then aid in accessing which digital tools best assist and inform this work.

Ramsay and Rockwell put forth the idea that “prototypes are theories”(4).  These prototypes aid in the ability to create, to do, and to build, yet the “guidelines for evaluation of digital work”(3) may restrict prototypes as scholarly. The argument can be made that such restriction could ultimately have the effect of working against the investment of skill and time during the course of the digital humanist’s workflow.  As Drucker noted, “more is at stake than just the technical problems of projection”(7).  It is the potential of the prototype to assist workflow and serve to aid thoughtful response around humanist issues.  The efficient use of mechanisms to devise tools in the digital realm assist the user in multitasking, and aid in the completion of data rich and-or quantitative digital tasks.  Theory then is a tool that aids the work of the digital humanist to build and create.

Kirschenbaum’s, “The Book-Writing Machine”

Warning: tangents ahead….

What I found interesting about Kirschenbaum”s article “The Book-Writing Machine” (aside from the window being removed and the weight of the computer) was the absurd amount of coincidences that overlapped with Len Deighton’s novel Bomber and the MTST.  It seems like Kismet when Len Deighton was told about IBM’s MTST and that he used it to write his novel, Bomber, .  Was it happenstance that his assistant, Ellenor Handley would be complaining to a typewriter technician, further that the technician was aware of the latest “machine” that could possible aid her in writing or rather rewriting, makes you wonder about what we lose when we rely solely on computer mediated communication, here we see how ideas were shared face-to-face, a solution was produced.  Social media/collaboration back in the 70’s.

I read more on MTST, apparently Jim Henson was requested by IBM to produce a PR film “Paper Explosion” extolling the benefits of MTST: ( and now completely off track…the man at the end film looks like the inspiration for Henson’s muppets Statler and Waldorf (stage left balcony box)

and that Deighton was the first novel to be written via word processed….

I did a quick search and found an article from 2007 (ancient) that states “In Japan, half of the top ten selling works of fiction in the first six months of 2007 were composed on mobile phones.”

any clues as to what could be next…..