Blog Post #6: Reflecting on Emerging Scholarship: Cecilia Marquez

Cecilia Marquez came to our class on Wednesday May 13th and gave a very interesting presentation about the digital humanities. Cecilia is a Ph.D. candidate in history at the University of Virginia. She spoke about DH in the study of history, particularly in an area known as DHPoco, that is, Postcolonial Digital Humanities.

Cecilia asked that the class read two articles before our meeting time: All the Digital Humanists Are White, All the Nerds Are Men, but Some of Us Are Brave and Postcolonial Digital Humanities Mission Statement.

Taken together these two articles provided a thorough overview of Postcolonial Digital Humanities and the importance for expanding digital scholarship beyond traditional boundaries. This area of scholarship attempts to do three main things: (1) define the postcolonial digital humanities, (2) locate ways postcolonial studies can and should shift in response to digital changes and challenges, and (3) write alternative genealogies of the digital humanities.

Because digital spaces remain susceptible to racial oppression and white supremacy, postcolonial digital humanities is needed to bring critiques of colonialism, imperialism, and globalization and their relationship to race, class, gender, sexuality and disability to bear on the digital humanities.

In the second half of the class, Cecilia had us each present on a postcolonial digital project and answer the following questions:

  • What do you think is the goal of this site?
  • Is the site making an argument? If so, what is it? How is that argument communicated?
  • Think also here about what you talked about with Brandon and Sarah about design. What argument is the design of the site making? How does it shape your consumption of the site?
  • Who is the audience of the site?
  • What does the site do well? What could be improved?

This exercise in analyzing a website and a DH project was very helpful and was the most interesting part of the day because we were able to explore DH projects and think about incorporating certain aspects in our own project. The most important take away from the examples was that we decided we want to have a Collections tab and an Exhibits tab. The Collections tab will simply provide raw unedited access to the materials while the Exhibits tab will provide a curated and analytical approach to the material.

I really enjoyed Cecilia’s talk and think that we not only learned a lot of really cool information but also that we expanded our understanding of DH and learned of the possibilities for applying a Postcolonial Digital Humanities approach to our project.

Blog Post 6

Cecilia Marquez, a doctoral candidate in history at UVA, spoke in our class on Wednesday about a topic we hadn’t really discussed before. One theme of the talk was to think about who has access to digital humanities and what voices are being heard in a digital setting. In her talk she pointed out that the digital humanities has tended to be dominated by white males, which leaves a lot of perspectives excluded. We then looked at some of the ways in which other groups can find an audience through digital humanities avenues like blogs or internet shows. We looked at a few of these as examples during class and talked about how in these online spaces, real issues of race, gender, and class can be talked about because the preliminary assumption (that these issues are important and should be talked about) is already in place. So, the creators of these blogs and videos do not have to first convince their audiences that the issues they are discussing are important, they take that importance as an understood fact. We also looked at some digital humanities projects that attempt to remedy the issue of under-representation of certain groups in digital humanities. This was a very interesting part of the class and even helped us think of some ideas for our own project.

We also looked at how this idea relates to the postcolonial digital humanities mission statement. That mission statement sees these issues of representation of all genders, races, and classes in digital humanities as one of the most important issues to discuss. We talked briefly about our own views about the mission statement and whether we agreed with it, then started talking about how social media is used to discuss these issues.

We talked in class for a while how social media is used and what people generally use it for. For example, we talked about how people might be willing to say something online, using technology as a sort of barrier, which they would not have said if they were having a conversation face to face with someone. Further, if the online platform was anonymous, like tumblr or twitter can be if you do not include personal information on your accounts, people might be willing to say a lot more than they would in person, because in person they might filter their words more in order to not offend the person they are speaking to directly.

This was probably the most interesting aspect of the class for me because it is something I personally experience all the time while reading posts that people write on more anonymous online platforms, tumblr in particular. A lot of the things that are said on that website probably would not have been if the conversation occurred face to face instead of online. Overall this was a very thought-provoking class period that raised a lot of questions I had not really considered before.

Blog post #6

Cecilia discussed with us the different aspects of various digital humanities projects, and their strengths and weaknesses. We also discussed gender roles in the digital humanities field, and talked about how many people exhibit different behavior online than they would in a face-to-face conversation. I thought that going through the three different digital humanities projects and actually talking about specific aspects of each project that either strengthens or weakens it. The “Black Liberation 1969” project is very similar to how we envision our final project looking. It utilizes a timeline, as well as “collections”, both of which we intend to use. This project will likely serve as a model for our project. We also discussed some organizational issues in the “African Diaspora blog. In discussing these various projects, Cecilia she does not have an exact definition for a digital humanities, although she does believe that a digital humanities project must make an argument rather than simply present data.

Cecilia also discussed gender differences in the digital humanities field. Since education in technology has masculine implications in society, digital humanities is often geared toward men simply because more men have training in technology than do women. In my opinion, this is one reason of many that we need to push more girls toward education in STEM fields. Cecilia also asked us to consider where and how our devices such as computers and iphones are produced, and how that affects our perception of digital humanities. I had never really thought about how my devices were made, but it certainly does make me question the validity of technology as a whole. As a society, we typically envision that technology is indestructible, but seldom think about how many of our devices are made illegally. Finally, we discussed how people often act differently online than they would in real life. This also takes some validity away from DH for me, since I would not consider arguments that people would make online but not in person to be valid. I found this discussion to be the most interesting part of the conversation, since many discuss technology’s affect on communication in the context of social interaction, but not in the context of Academia. If we had more time with Cecilia, I would ask her if she has experienced people in Academia who act differently online than they would in person, and if she thinks that their online presence remains valid.

Blog Post #5: Kindred Britain

For this blog post, I read the essay “Developing Kindred Britain” to gain a better understanding of the project Kindred Britain.

The authors of this essay, Elijah Meeks and Karl Grossner, provide vast insights into how they were able to develop the Kindred Britain site, including the model of the data structure, the design methods that present the data, as well as the coding components and overall structure of the site.

By reading this essay, I learned many things that I would not have known just by browsing Kindred Britain. First, there was a long process that took place in creating the data modeling system. The creators used a web-based content management system (CMS) called PHPGedView to illustrate the complex genealogy. PHPGedView has the ability to annotate individuals with events, place those events in the appropriate time and space, describe family relationships, examine paths between individuals, and change the perspective to geographic locations.

However, the creators found that PHPGedView was not able to do all that they wanted their site to be able to do, so they integrated their design into PostgreSQL. PostgreSQL has the capacity for sophisticated geospatial, network, and chronological queries. Using the PostgreSQL version of their database, they were able to store and represent the genealogical data through participation arrays, event periods, and network-based estimation of event dates.

Even this transition from PHPGedView to PostgreSQL does not complete the story of how the data modeling was developed. The authors also talk about GEDCOM and the conversion of GEDCOM into a relational database. The point being that the development of the Kindred Britain site was not one step process, it took the creators several iterations of the design to finally create an interface that they were looking for.

The second thing that I learned by reading this essay that I could not have gleaned by simply exploring Kindred Britain myself was how the group responded to certain challenges in designing the site. For instance, as with other historical work, they didn’t know the precise start and end of all of the people’s lives or the exact dates of the events that took place during their lives because of a lack of robust primary and secondary sources. In response to this, the team developed a lifespan algorithm to fill in the missing data. Their script proved reliable after they compared the results with updated records discovered after the function had been run.

Reading this essay did change the way that I view my own role in the course project. I am now realizing that we will not be able to produce a fantastic final project in just 10 days. However, we can begin the scholarship and produce something that can be built upon and further developed over the course of many months or years.

Thinking back to Blog Post #2: Exploring Scholarly Social Networks where I explored the King’s College London network, I can see that my understanding of social networks has changed quite a lot after learning from Professor Eastwood. One of the big things that has changed is that before I thought about it as the social network for King’s College. Now I understand that there is no such thing as “the” social network. There is only “a” social network. A given social network is simply a particular one in an extremely complex overlay of social networks.

 

 

Blog Post 5

Digital Humanities was necessary for the Kindred Britain project to be created. Without the blog entry, “The Events at Henley,” posted on the Internet, this story never would have been pieced together and the network of people involved never would have been connected. The author posted this blog about the murders in his family background, and not long after received an email from Anthony Andrews, a retired British army officer. After discussing this project for a while and not coming up with much, the two moved on to tracing the genealogy of other British families like W. H. Auden. Doing so, they connected a vast network of British families that spanned 12 centuries and 30,000 people, which is how Kindred Britain came to be.

The author wanted this project to be a comprehensive study of family lines so it does not focus on just a few families in detail. Some famous names like Jane Austen and Shakespeare are included in this network and it links them to other famous and non-famous British people across time. The network also does not provide biographical information on these famous people but attempts to contextualize them and provide another way of looking at their lives by looking at their families.

The network titled “Family Relations Near Edward I as a Network” is interesting and I think we could use a similar one in our own project. Instead of showing family relationships through the network, we could use a similar looking network to map letter correspondence between Tom Carter, Ezra Pound, and the other author’s Tom Carter wrote to (suggested by Ezra Pound).

Based on our class sessions and the guest speaker today (Professor Eastwood), I’ve definitely learned how to interpret different visual networks and understand the information they convey. Probably the most interesting part of today’s discussion with Professor Eastwood was when he demonstrated how networks can look very different but convey the exact same information. But, how you choose to display to same information can still affect how people interpret it. For example, as Professor Eastwood pointed out, if a node is placed closer to the center of the network graph, the audience would instinctively think that node is more central to the network, even if it is not necessarily true. So, the layout of a network is also important to think about, even if the information stays the same.

Blog Post #5

I thought the part about how the scholars decided to keep the design for “Kindred Britain” very simple is both interesting and relevant to our project. I am generally very interested in graphic design and spatial layout, so I like to see the thought behind the aesthetic design of things. I thought their reasoning was very sound, in that it is easiest for the eye to follow simple designs. They did not want a complicated aesthetic design to detract from the information, which is also very complicated. This is why they used a monotone color scheme and circles rather than bright colors or a more intricate shape. I think keeping the graphic design, color scheme, and design of our project simple would be beneficial, since we will likely have a lot of potentially confusing information. We do not want the design to detract from the information, or confuse the viewer.

 

 

Furthermore, I like how the author deciphered between explanatory and exploratory tools. This goes hand in hand with what Professor Eastwood said about descriptive vs. inferential statistics. “Kindred Britain” not only presents the data in an organized and systematic way, but also analyzes it and tells stories about it. Most social networking projects are only able to incorporate either exploratory or explanatory tools, but Kindred Britain exhibits both. I think our project will also be able to incorporate descriptive and inferential statistics, as well as explanatory and exploratory tools. We will present the data in an organized way and make sense of it, but also be able to analyze it and tell stories about it by explaining the context in which each letter was written, and showing the article that each author wrote. Based on what this author had to say, I think this will be a huge strength for our project.

 

Before Professor Eastwood spoke to our class, I was not aware that social network graphs could have different weights or signs. This is applicable to our project, because Tom Carter inevitably had more correspondence with some authors than others, which would affect the weight of the edge. Furthermore, many of Tom Carter’s letters were unanswered, which would affect the sign of the relationship. Adding sign and weight adds an extra element of precision to the social network graph. I think it would be most interesting to replicate figure #14, which looks like the social network graphs that Professor Eastwood showed us, and the research profiles at King’s College. It is the most basic social network graph, and lays out individual connections between people. This would allow us to see the people with the highest degree centrality, and also identify different communities. This graph is an example of an explanatory tool, since it does not analyze the data, it simply organizes it.

Final Project Charter

Goal: Create a timeline of the Shenandoah Literary Magazine for the years that Tom Carter was involved in the editing process that includes the people who contributed to the Magazine with whom he had written correspondence, and explore the influence that Ezra Pound may have had on these connections.

 

Objectives:

  • Make a DH project using the letters between Tom Carter and Ezra Pound, and old copies of Shenandoah.
  • Each group member fully learns how to use whatever technology we choose to help us accomplish this goal.
  • Actively learn from the process and have a positive attitude about what we are learning
  • Create a deliverable that will be useful to the W&L community in the future
  • Defining and completing a specific, feasible goal
  • Completing all assigned blog posts

 

Communication:

  • Maintain a Google doc to manage responsibilities
  • Clearly delegate equal tasks to each group member
  • Speak up and share ideas; or communicate about which tasks you are interested in
  • When in doubt, ask a group member first then the Professors
  • Speak up if you can’t complete something or are having a hard time

 

Accountability

  • Do the work you are assigned to do
  • Have a weekly to-do list with agreed-upon responsibilities and tasks

 

Differences of Opinion

  • Respect other peoples’ opinions
  • Realize that other people will have different opinions than you
  • Majority rules
  • Appeal to authority if everyone disagrees

 

Skills

  • Learn new technical skills
  • Learn project management skills and stick to the charter
  • Public writing skills

Blog Post #4:

Jim Ambuske came to our class on Thursday and gave a very interesting presentation about the digital humanities and its relation to history scholarship. Jim started off by asking three big questiontions: (1) what is history, (2) what is/are (the) digital humanities, and (3) what is digital history.

Though, prior to jumping into this discussion Jim wanted to know how our visit to the scholars lab went last week as well as how things were going on our project. I really appreciated the fact that Jim was interested in us and our project enough to take the time to ask us how things were going. This brief preliminary conversation set the tone for the rest of his visit as friendly, genuine, and respectful.

After we explored the three big questions and attempted to come up with somewhat satisfactory answers, Jim turned our attention to spatial humanities projects, specifically mapping projects. Jim walked us through several examples of mapping technology and projects before taking us through a demonstration of  Neatline. Neatline allows users to manipulate maps by layering other maps on top of them, adding timelines, inserting text and graphics, and much more.

After wrapping up our walk through of Neatline, which was the best part of my week, our group brainstormed how we could use the mapping technology we learned on our project. We came up with a few suggestions, including showing the geographic locations of the various writers that Tom Carter convinced to write for Shenandoah. Also, Neatline can be used as a plug in for Omeka, which was a tool that we probably will be using for our project.

I really enjoyed Jim’s talk and think that we not only learned a lot of really cool information but also that we expanded our understanding of DH and learned of  the possibilities of adding mapping applications to our project.

Lemons!

Blog Post 4

James Ambuske gave a very helpful presentation in class today. He first went through what “digital history” is and how digital humanities projects can present historical events. He then tied that into a presentation on the creation of mapping projects, starting by showing us completed digital humanities projects that used maps in their arguments. The examples he showed in the presentation were one of the parts I found most interesting, especially the projects where the older maps (from the 18th century) were fitted onto a current map, which is something creative that I would not have thought to do.

We then briefly discussed how this skill of using mapping in digital humanities projects could be useful in our own project with the letters of Tom Carter and Ezra Pound. For example, we could map out where Tom Carter was writing from (Washington and Lee and his home in Martinsville, Virginia) and where his correspondents were from, including Ezra Pound who was writing from D.C.

Probably the most helpful part of the presentation was when we got to practice using Neatline, which could be very useful if we decide to include maps in our project. Neatline, as a plugin for Omeka, allows us to manipulate maps and add information onto maps to create a digital project with them. We practiced with a map of Charlottesville, Virginia, where we learned some of Neatline’s features. For example, we learned how to insert timelines onto a map, highlight certain portions, draw circles or polygons around certain areas, and insert information and pictures that link to certain sites on the map.

One question I might have asked but didn’t was how Neatline maps would appear in the public view if we used it with Omeka. Would the map be something we linked to? Or be a page by itself? This is something I could easily find out by practicing using the program a little bit more though.

Blog Post #4

Jim discussed the role of digital resources and the DH community in his field of study, which is history. He also posed questions regarding the boundaries between traditional research projects, and digital humanities research projects. He made it clear that the digital humanities community itself has not yet defined where exactly the boundary lies, and many scholars are still working to define what exactly makes something a digital humanities project. Some would define it as anything that is produced with the help of a computer, including an excel sheet or word document. Some scholars suggest that a DH project is defined as something that is analyzed with the help of a computer. However, there is no definite answer as of now. The DH community continues to explore this question, especially given that nearly every piece of modern scholarship uses computers in some form. In an increasingly digital world, it may become more and more difficult to determine where the boundary is between digital humanities and traditional research. Jim also discussed the challenges of convincing more traditional scholars that digital resources can enhance their field of work rather than change it. It is highly understandable that people who have been studying history for many decades would be wary of drastic changes, although it becomes clear after further exploration that digital tools can greatly help the field of history rather than hurting it.

Jim exhibited multiple digital projects that he worked on with mapping using Omeka and Neatline. Neatline was developed by the Scholars’ Lab at the University of Virginia, and seems like an incredibly useful tool. As Charlotte Roueche discussed, mapping is an integral part of digital humanities, and Neatline opens up many different mapping possibilities for DH scholars.I think it will be an incredibly useful tool for the Tom Carter/Ezra Pound project somewhere down the line. Neatline allows the project to incorporate old maps, which is especially interesting when studying the route of mail to many different parts of the country.

I thought Jim’s description of the connections between the digital aspects and the humanities aspects of his project was interesting. He described the collaborative process between himself and people who are experts in the field of technology. I am astounded by how much Jim was able to accomplish digitally given that he is a historian, and not a computer science scholar. I would love to know more about how Neatline was actually developed, and the process of creating such a powerful tool from coming up with the idea to actually implementing it.