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 #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 #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.


Blog Post #3: Reacting to Scholars’ Lab

On Thursday April 30, our class traveled from Lexington up to the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. We toured the Scholars’ Lab there and met with several people to discuss digital humanities and our final project.

I enjoyed my experience at the Scholars’ Lab at UVA for several reasons. First, I was able to learn more about digital humanities by listening to different scholars talk about their research and how they are able to incorporate DH. I also learrned that the role of research questions in DH is super important. At this point we have refrained from learning about the tools available in DH to analyze and manipulate physical items, so the entire project is being driven by the choosing a research question. Our friends from the Scholars’ Lab also emphasized the importance of making sure to discriminate among the many areas of interest and narow down a project to a feasible number of good research questions.

The second reason that I enjoyed our field trip to the Scholars’ Lab was that I feel that we received valuable input about the direction for our final project. We were able to brainstorm together about our project, including the materials we have, some potential research questions, and possible audiences. I was most surprised that our primary audience should be ourselves, or at the very least that we should be our own starting point.

And the thing that I found most exciting about my experience at the Scholars’ Lab was how excited everyone from UVA was about the materials in our collection. Over and over again they reminded us how lucky we were to be able to have these materials, especially the personal letters between Ezra Pound and Thomas Carter. To actually have other people excited about your project and looking forward to what you will create, gives the whole process a new sense of purpose and motivation.

To be honest, I am still not sure within DH what is and what is not feasible given that we only have three weeks to complete our project. Knowing our own constraints is certainly important and hopefully over the next few days we will be able to nail down realistic boundaries for our project.

Blog Post #2: Exploring Scholarly Social Networks


Dr. Sarah Fine is a lecturer in the Department of Philosophy at King’s College London. Dr. Fine’s research interests are political philosophy, ethics, and the history of political and social philosophy with a specialization in migration and citizenship. She is also interested in theories of justice, the ethics of political violence, democratic theory, nationalism and patriotism, sovereignty, race, ethnicity, feminism, and gender.

Dr. Fine received her undergraduate degree from the University of Cambridge, and she received her Masters of Philosophy and Doctorate of Philosophy from the University of Oxford. She joined the Department of Philosophy at King’s College London in 2012.

Dr. Fine’s research profile lists 10 publications since 2010 with four of those still in preparation. Her dissertation, Immigration and the Right to Exclude, will soon be published from the Oxford University Press. The publication critically examines the standard view that nations have a moral right to limit immigration. Dr. Fine is also co-editing a book with Dr. Lea Ypi called Migration in Political Theory which too will soon be published from the Oxford University Press.

In addition to understanding Dr. Fine’s research profile, we can also examine her network graph to identify any social network within her field of study. While the network graph provides a visual means for displaying data and identifying connections, we are responsible for interpreting that data and analyzing those connections.

Dr. Fine’s network graph on the research portal contains only 16 nodes. Of these 16, 15 fall under the category of Research Options (the remaining one is her Research Group-Philosophy). Selecting the node that represents a particular book chapter or journal article written by Dr. Fine reveals more information and allows us to see the other external connections.

For instance, selecting the node Migration in Political Theory brings up a specific network graph just for this work. We see that the Publishers node is filled by the Oxford University Press, while Sarah Fine is a Researcher and Lea Ypi is an External Person. But this brings up an interesting question because we know that Dr. Fine and Dr. Ypi are co-editors of Migration in Political Theory. So why does the network graph assign one as the Researcher and the other as an External Person?

The only other person that Dr. Fine has collaborated with according to her original network graph is Andrea Sangiovanni. Dr. Sangiovanni is also part of the Department of Philosophy at King’s. Dr. Fine and Dr. Sangiovanni collaborated on writing a chapter for The Routledge Handbook of Global Ethics entitled “Immigration”.

Dr. Fine’s network graph also shows that she has written multiple journal articles for the same journal. For example she wrote both “Freedom of Association is Not the Answer” and “Avery Kolers, Land, Conflict, and Justice: A Political Theory of Territory” for the journal called Ethics.


Blog Post #1: Understanding Digital Humanities

What is Digital Humanities? And to what degree is it about the classical described set of fields known as the humanities?

First, there is not one single agreed upon definition for what digital humanities (often abbreviated DH) actually is. But with that being said, my understanding of digital humanities is that it is all about applying computational methods to digital objects. In essence, digital humanities takes the tools developed by the military industrial complex, security agencies, financial institutions, energy companies, etc. and applies them toward the study of history, culture, literature, philosophy, and other disciplines.

Digital humanities is about applying computational methods to digital objects.

Second, digital humanities are not just about the humanities. It obscures the boundaries between the social sciences and the natural sciences. Digital humanities has deep roots in various fields and disciplines. But it does allow for the skills, practices, and methodologies used in analyzing classic humanistic objects to be used on non-traditional subjects.

Whether being applied to a traditional set of fields or a broader range of subjects, digital humanities provides us with the ability to communicate research effectively to specific audiences. There are many different computational methods available to digital humanists, including network analysis, interactive visual modeling, digital publishing, and complex mapping. First we can digitize physical text and data and then we can take these methods and answer specific questions.

What is the role of digital humanities beyond scholarship? Digital humanities help us to expand our understanding of what counts as scholarship. The curation of objects is just as much a part of scholarship as the study of texts. Digital humanities permits us to take digital tools to find patterns because the processing power of the personal computer dwarfs the ability of individuals to analyze texts and objects to discover patterns and connections. The visualization of data and text can be used to tell stories of that far exceed that possible by individual scholars.

Digital humanities help us to expand our understanding of what counts as scholarship.

Digital humanities integrates computer technology to humanistic scholarship. These tech-based activities are transforming physical information sources into computer data that can be analyzed and manipulated in fascinating and informative ways.