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.
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.
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.
Our trip to Scholars’ Lab at UVA definitely helped me form a clearer picture of what we are trying to accomplish in this class. It was especially helpful in getting us to think about the specifics of what we want to do for out project. The people at Scholars’ Lab gave us different ideas to think about and made it clear that we need to pick one idea and focus on that. Also that we cannot answer everything we would like to answer. We could focus on Ezra Pound and his relationships with editors of literary magazines or the probability of his alleged insanity. Or we could focus on his relationship with Tom Carter, or use the letters to look at life at W&L in the 1950s.
The trip also gave us things to think about that we might not have necessarily thought of ourselves, such as our intended audience. A project we created for W&L students would very different from a project we intended for a broader academic audience. This is something that could fundamentally change the project we decide to create, but it was not something I gave too much thought to before our visit to Scholars’ Lab.
The scope of our project is constrained by the time we have in the course, which is just four weeks (one of which is already over). The visit to Scholars’ Lab also helped out think about what is feasible and what is not based on the time constraints we are working under. For example, we realized that we probably could not digitize every letter exchanged between Ezra Pound and Tom Carter or interpret every letter in our project. The more feasible way to incorporate these letters and other materials (like Shenandoah) into our project is to think of a research question and use selected letters and materials we have to answer it.
This highlights the importance of research questions in digital humanities, especially with projects like the one we are creating in this course. A research questions is what will drive this project, and that is probably the case with most digital humanities projects. The research question helps narrow the scope of a project, which could easily become overwhelming with the amount of possibilities digital humanities provides. Instead of just a document or report, a digital humanities project can incorporate all different sorts of materials and link to other pages and projects and so a research question narrows the project to answering a certain question and makes it more comprehensible. This is true for our project and other digital humanities projects.
Professor Laura Gowing, a professor in the history department of King’s College in London, specializes in early modern British history. She joined the history department of King’s College in 2002. Professor Gowing is particularly interested in women and gender in England, history of sex and sexuality, history of crime, history of London, and women’s work in early modern England. She uses primarily legal records to study these areas of English history. Her book Common Bodies: Women, Touch and Power in Seventeenth-century England won her the Joan Kelly Memorial Prize given by the American Historical Association.
Her research profile shows that she has published four works since 2009 and sixteen since 2000. All of these works pertain to her scholarly interests of gender and sexuality in early modern Britain.
On her scholarly network, Professor Gowing has forty-nine nodes but only thirty-one show up initially. The thirty-one nodes that show up first are the latest content added to the network, and the other nodes can be seen by clicking “show more.” Most of the nodes are the sixteen published writings included on her research profile and other works she has contributed to, but the occasional person is also included.
Gowing has her works Introduction and Love, Friendship and Faith in Europe separated as different nodes, but upon closer inspection, these belong to the same work by Professor Gowing. The same two people are even connected to both nodes: Miri Rubin and Michael Hunter. Both are also connected to the node called “history.” Why separate out the introduction from the work it comes from when the nodes connected to it are the same as those of the entire article? Yet, only the introduction is connected to the publisher Palgrave Macmillan’s node, but surely the entire work was published by the same company, so why is only the introduction connected to them? Perhaps the introduction was published separately? If not, this shows a possible error in the network.
My initial understanding of digital humanities was that no one really has a straightforward definition for what it is, but most people who speak on it (like Meeks, Croxall, and Schnapp) have an idea of what it can accomplish. “Digital humanities” seems to me to encompass all attempts to bring the disciplines considered “humanities,” like history, literature, philosophy, etc., into the digital age. Most of these disciplines deal with items and ideas from all different time periods, from historical letters and novels to ancient philosophical ideas, and digital humanities creates a new way of looking at and understanding these.
Schnapp and Croxall both touch on how digital humanities has opened avenues of communication within the disciplines of humanities and how this has, like Schnapp says, broken down partitions between strictly scholarly discussions from those that are not. This is something Meeks also mentioned with his discussion of “fan culture.” Now, people who are academics (with a masters degree or Ph.D.) and people who are not can both contribute to scholarly discussions about the humanities using digital avenues.
Schnapp also makes the point that digital humanities is not trying to replace the physical with the virtual. My understanding of this is that digital humanities simply tries to provide another way of looking at and interpreting the physical (such as letters and historical artifacts like the letters between Ezra Pound and Thomas Carter that we are using in class for our projects) in a digital way. This could be simply digitizing physical documents or using software to create a visual representation relating to a discipline in the humanities (like the project Croxall discussed where his students made a visual representation of the frequency that Hemingway used certain words in his writing).
Digital humanities can impact areas outside of scholarship as well. A good example of this is the demonstration from our class on Monday. We took data that Facebook collected from our personal accounts (like our friend lists and mutual friend lists) and plugged it into a program that created a visual representation of the network of relationships between our friends and ourselves. This information was not academic, being generated from our personal Facebook accounts, and was really only relevant to our Facebook friends and us. Still, the activity shows how skills and methods used in digital humanities can apply to areas outside of scholarship and can be applied to daily life as well.