Category Archives: Uncategorized

Digital Humanities Journals

For this assignment I chose to review DHQ, a fully online journal known as the Digital Humanities Quarterly, a journal dedicated to digital humanities scholarship. The DHQ offers peer-reviewed scholarship in the forms of “scholarly articles, editorials, experiments in new media, and reviews.” In her article entitled DIY Humanities, author Ashley Dawson raises several valid criticisms of the attempts of scholarly publication to effectively embrace and utilize digital media. Namely, she claims that most online journals do little more than simply recreating the traditional print model in digital form. DHQ falls in this designation and their format certainly represents a basic digital recreation if the traditional print journal. But, unlike traditional print, the DHQ’s online format allows for users to post comments about articles and pieces and engage in discussions with other users via these comment mediums. This furthers the goal of scholarship as initiating a conversation, exchange, or debate over thoughts and ideas.

In terms of content and access, both of which Dawson also addresses, DHQ represents significant progress. First, the journal upholds an open access policy and allows scholars to maintain full ownership of their and redistribute it in any place or means they desire. Additionally, the site claims that as soon as materials “are ready they are posted in the preview section” addressing many of the issues Dawson raises with the significant time lag associated with publishing in traditional journals.

Secondly, speaking more to content, the journal also claims to accept scholarship that pushes the boundaries of what constitutes the digital humanities. For instance, many of the articles contain graphs and various data visualizations which represent a progressive application of data analysis to traditional humanities work. The journal also “publishes” multimedia works that go well beyond the traditional humanities paper. All “published” submissions, whatever their nature, all undergo a traditional peer review process. However, I searched for information about the specifics of this peer review process and couldn’t seem to find anything.

Despite the lack of information about the peer review process, the DHQ serves as a good example of the possibility for online, open-access scholarship. By staying within the framework of the tradition peer reviewed structure the DHQ provides an outlet for scholars to release their work in an accessible and progressive way, while still obtaining the necessary designation of scholastic achievement through the peer review process. I believe that more journals emulating this format would go a long way to mitigate many of the concerns rightly raised by Dawson in her article.

big data visualization

Big data is a term juicy and nebulous enough to take on many different definitions and orientations. A reference to scale (of data), speed (of processing and analyzing) and complexity (of the algorithms employed) at minimum, big data is heralded by Forbes as “the hottest sector in IT at the moment” and just as regularly explored as a tangle of political and ethical concerns. But most importantly perhaps for the conversations we have been having over the last two semester, I think big data means something quite different for the humanities and the social sciences. Typically for the humanities, the stirrings of data is seen as an exciting opportunity—as James Grossman notes the techniques and technologies of big data not only offer new opportunities of analysis and collaboration for historians, but also the possibility of non-academic employment opportunities (as well as academic one, one hopes). For the social sciences, and sociology in particular, thinking “data” is familiar territory—indeed as Burrows and Savage note academic sociologists were pioneers in data collection and analysis, particularly in the development of the social survey. One might say that social data collection is deeply methodologically and epistemologically foundational to sociology. Thus some social scientists, most prominently perhaps Bruno Latour, have argued that large scale data mining and visualization can perhaps allow for a reconfiguration of sociological epistemology, away from the levels of structure and individual. Lev Manovich writes of something similar when he critically analyzes the notion that new computational tools might mean that “we no longer have to choose between data size and data depth.”

While some are optimistic about what these new technologies might mean for the social sciences, others see more of a threat than opportunity (Burrows and Savage call it the “Coming Crisis of Empirical Sociology”), in large part because both the collection and analytics of this data has largely occurred outside the academy. Nigel Thrift has written about this as the emergence of “knowing capitalism,” when “capitalism began to intervene in, and make a business out of, thinking the everyday” (Knowing Capitalism, p.1). Indeed, it would seem that in for both humanists and social scientists working with truly big data requires, as Manovich notes, a reliance upon either the state (the military and domestic security apparatus being most data hungry parts of the state) or more likely privately owned, profit minded collections, many of which are only in part publicly accessible. What are the political ramifications of working with data that has been collected and (often) organized for purposes that rarely include critical inquiry (mostly, of course, the purpose is to sell stuff)?

As you probably have guessed at this point, my engagement with the phenomena known as “big data” has thus far been mostly been theoretical in nature, so in the interest of not letting that completely dominate my post here, I’m going stop now and pivot to some more practical concerns.

At their best, interactive web-based visual visualizations open up the possibility of some level of data “transparency” and even manipulation (A notable example being this CUNY designed slider map showing changes in NYC’s racial demographics). As “Tooling up for the Digital Humanities” notes, this allows the possibility of users themselves finding novel patterns and correlations. Unfortunately this level of transparency and interactivity still seems to be rare—more frequently data visualization is an increasingly popular way to tell a particular story, usually a relatively simple one. Tooling Up writes that “many viewers are not necessarily used to reading visualizations critically,” but perhaps there is something about engagement with data through visualization that thwarts criticality, or at least pushes towards simpler rather than complex answers to social questions. I’ll occasionally give class assignments where students will have to find a data visualization around a certain topic that they find particularly compelling, and quite often they bring me well-designed infographics that clearly tell a relatively simple story about a complex topic. Can we beautifully and clearly convey nuance and complexity in data visualizations?

More interesting to me than using visualizations to tell a story are the possibilities of data visualization as a research method for seeing patterns and tracing connections. Simply visualizing data by time or geography can reveal surprising patterns and connections. Mapping is an obvious area where visualizing can help us quickly see interesting patterns and connections in data, but it seem clear like things like googles ngram viewer and even word clouds could be useful tools in early stages of a research project. Has anyone used visualization tools in actually developing lines of critical inquiry?

Anyone interested in utopian/dystopian narratives?

Hey all,

Given the wide range of interests in our class, I thought that I would take the opportunity to (shamelessly) promote the Utopian Studies Seminar at the GC. The Seminars often involve questions of technology and ethics, and I thought some of these things might be intriguing to certain members of our class. There’s a seminar tomorrow evening (4:15 in room 3209) focusing on Nature, Utopia, and the Garden. Here’s a link to the Utopian Studies Seminar blog with more information on tomorrow’s event if anyone is interested:


Abstract Design: Some Project-Related Concerns

I am having a design-related issue with my project that overlaps with a lot of what we were discussing yesterday during class, so I thought I would try blogging about it. My problem has to do with how to present a set of images in a way that dynamically shows the differing relations between the representations in those images. While my design concerns largely have to do with information architecture and how I am going to stage my analyses of the images for viewers, crafting the aesthetic experience of my gallery is also important for how I want users to engage with it.

What I am running up against is how to convey abstract concepts through design. (Ashley, I really appreciated your post directing our attention to Maria Ebner’s use of “images as metaphors” because of how it speaks to this issue). My project brings Victorian illustrations and advertisements depicting female bodies together in varying visual configurations as a way of demonstrating how the shifting contours of these representations interact to form ideological spectrums. The abstract concept I am trying to figure out how to render through design is a spectrum. This concept is helpful to me because along a spectrum, the elements shift in prominence and blend in relation to each other, which is how I see different forms of female embodiment operating across the Victorian period. In my project brief, I proposed using a sliding image reel (see the image gallery of this website for what I have in mind) to render the concept of an ideological spectrum because “the sliding action across items in the reel mimics the blending that occurs within a spectrum and registers the changing prominence of forms across the period of a spectrum.” However, on the level of information architecture, I’m not sure whether a sliding image reel is really the clearest/most engaging way to relay my idea.

I can’t think of how else to convey a spectrum using images, but I worry that I am stuck on this because it is an aesthetic template I am already familiar with from web design. Along the lines of what Ben was suggesting in class, it is possible that that design aesthetic is affecting my thinking in a way that prevents me from conceiving another (perhaps more effective) approach.

project management, aka, your hand is not your day planner

Day planner of 17th- century scholar Placcius.

“Day planner” of 17th- century scholar Placcius.

ah, what to say about project management and grant writing?  that they are necessary evils?  sorting through the links and info pages in this week’s reading had that same queasy, fluorescent light feel of trying to survive eight hours of screen staring during the data entry desk job. if only money appeared out of nowhere and projects unfurled by the magical force of their sheer worth.

my relationship to that which we are referring to as project management is one of reluctant hope.  people, it seems, forever and ever, have been looking for ways to best organize their time, thoughts, activities, resources, collaborations, etc.  the 18th century puritanical preacher jonathan edwards used to pin his notes to clothes so as not to forget.  emerson kept an intricate and extensive journal system that allowed him to cross reference one book to another.  the 17th-century scholar Vincent Placcius turned his notebook into a hulking piece of furniture (see above).  and who can forget memento, whose protagonist inundates himself with tattoos, stickies, & polaroids to combat an amnesia that seems, metaphorically, to parallel the inevitable forgetfulness of the information-overloaded subject of today’s world.

sure some of this may sound more like notetaking rather than official project management, but who’s to say where one ends and another begins. despite my attempts to enforce a logic on my many different types of lists of thinking and doing, my projects/tasks/notes-to-self currently exist in so many different forms that i begin to wonder if i would not do better with none of them at all.  i know i’m not alone.  after the research management workshop last week, students asked whether there might be workshops on just calendars and organization.  i can’t imagine a less sexy topic.  yet it seems, if we could just sort out these two little things, the world would be ours! and so, i can see why an entire institute (PMI) has arisen over this otherwise banal topic even if i’d almost rather read ten pages of source code.

there is of course project management of one’s life and all its many cubbies, and group project management. they are not so wildly different. one of the problems is not so much writing tasks down or keeping up with tasks that are laid out before one — the problem is keeping up with all the different places one orchestrates their project management.  personally, i have a paper day planner, a phone calendar with alerts, a list making app and a note taking app on my phone, multiple groups on the cuny academic commons, stickies on my desktop, evernote to-do-lists, a membership with the project management tool asana for my fellowship duties, a membership with the digital tool trello as of five minutes ago for experimental purposes, and of course, for those few not-to-be-forgottens-!, the back of my hand which currently reads “blog post.” (the latter is reserved for only the most pressing (read late) as it is a practice i detest!) it seems it would take me an entire day just to go through all these different places and so i don’t and the result is that on top of all this technology, at the end of the day, the main task master is exactly what i’ve been trying to supplement — my memory.    though the idea of one universal “project manager” is wildly appealing (and one that many of the tools we’re looking at this week promise), it seems flat out impossible.  my day planner doesn’t come with alerts and can be misplaced, my phone calendar isn’t as accessible and flexible as my day planner, only the online platforms enable discussion functionality with collaborators through email, etc etc.  furthermore, i’ve become increasingly wary of trying new tools and systems for there is always the certain risk (or near promise) that despite the time one puts into the new tool, they will only further fracture and confuse one’s already too-complex ecosystem of project management methods.  and when one already has so much to do, who has time to adopt to a new system!

this is not to say that i think improvements are impossible, only that they will take a lot of research, time and experimentation to find out, and that one must make peace with the fact as soon as possible, that a) neither will the tools be the final solution nor b) will there ever be a utopian solution. while i think it’s great that terry smith’s fourth grade class had a positive experience with project management, i think that has more to do with terry smith than with the tools employed. i can easily see the same project-management inspired classroom becoming a total bureaucratic nightmare. for while writing about project management, and acknowledging its worth and necessity (in our social/economic context), i’m also wondering what this increasing cultural obsession with project management and its tools reflects. it parses individual and social activity into something that can always be boiled down into a mission statement, time frame and dollar sign. great for getting projects done, meeting deadlines, satisfying the bottom line, etc, but not so great, at least personally, for feeling enthused about a project. is this a sign of something else in decline? am i just being whiney? is there room to interrogate this a little?

i have little to say at the moment on grant writing.  the literature here will be much more compelling, i imagine, when using it to apply to the actual writing of a grant which it seems we will all have ample opportunity to consider as we formulate our itp projects.  for someone who finds the construction of even the most minute forms of professional correspondence to be a rather mind-paralyzing activity, these examples look particularly helpful in breaking down the immense task of grant writing into a sort of manageable paint-by-number activity.  at any rate, here are a few more questions:

what project management tools/systems do you use, whether for personal projects or group projects? 

has anyone had experience writing grants?  how do you approach it? are there ways to make the task less daunting, more personal?