Reflecting on my DH Journey

Hope College’s Andrew C. Mellon Scholars Program

My story of encountering and working with Digital Humanities has been a long one, now five years long and counting. Reflecting on this journey has provided a unique lens on my own growth and development in the field. It all began with Hope College’s Andrew C. Mellon Scholars Program for Digital Liberal Arts, a two or three year-long Digital Humanities program that fostered faculty-student mentorship, digital skill-building, and student-driven independent research. This program taught me how to conduct my own research projects from start to finish and be bold when encountering new technologies. The program also sent me to numerous conferences as well as to art museums throughout Europe and India for research. It was through the Mellon program that I developed my own definition for Digital Humanities:

“Pursuing traditional humanities research questions through technologies and digital methodologies, or studying the humanistic impact of technologies in society, all with a uniquely interdisciplinary approach.”

In other words it goes both ways: the technological tools and methods can enhance the humanities, and the humanities can enhance or interrogate the influence of technologies on humanity writ large. After five years, I stand by this definition. Sure there are increasing complexities, and this definition is not all encompassing, but after another semester dedicated to furthering my education in the Digital Humanities, I think this definition not only still fits but helps convey what it is that I mean when I tell peers, colleagues, and scholars that I am invested in the Digital Humanities.  Another facet I would add to the definition though because admittedly it is the reason I applied for the Mellon Program in the first place, is that the Digital Humanities allows for such creativity, especially because of its interdisciplinary nature. I enjoy writing traditional academic papers, but I love that the Digital Humanities provides opportunities to explore new mediums and presentation platforms for displaying and crafting research projects. As someone interested in too many fields, the Digital Humanities was a haven of opportunity to do projects in music, fine arts, and pedagogy.

The Undergraduate Network for Research in the Humanities

Another step along my journey with the Digital Humanities includes the Undergraduate Network for Research in the Humanities (UNRH). In 2015 when I went to my first academic conference — ILiADS 2015 at Hamilton College with Pr. Claudine Andre to work on an art museums and institutions mapping of Mexico City project — I was blown away at how much I learned. It was here that my passion for the Digital Humanities actually came into being because my first year with the Mellon Program, the year-long introductory course, was lacking and frustrating. Seeing people collaborate, learn from each other, and explore such fascinating projects was so inspiring. Likewise, meeting peers who were also working in the field suddenly granted us undergraduates with a network of students all working through similar experiences. I learned a great deal from my peers here, and this is what led to our push for and eventual founding of an undergraduate-only Digital Humanities organization and annual conference. It was such an exciting experience to formulate a mission statement, spontaneously present on a panel, organize, and plan a conference all in two and a half months. Our first conference was a huge success, and since then it continues to be. Now as a graduate student I am looking to pass the reigns off to another undergraduate but this has proven challenging. Hopefully I am able to do so and keep UNRH afloat and undergraduate-focused. Nonethless, UNRH has taught me so much about organizing conferences, about the Digital Humanities through connecting with other scholars, technicians, students, and administrators, and about what is really possible in institutions for students. Furthermore, UNRH has brought together students from all across the globe, and I have had the honor and privilege to learn from these talented individuals from Nigeria, Pakistan, Canada, and the Ukraine. UNRH also gave me practical skills like project management, budgeting (managing an average budget of $7000-$1000), website design and maintenance, and peer review. Basically, reflecting on my experiences with the Digital Humanities requires acknowledging the huge and influential role that UNRH has played.

Mellon Post-Baccalaureate Digital Fellow

I owe the Digital Humanities all of the aforementioned experiences, most notably of independent research opportunities, traveling, scholarly relationships and personal friendships for a lifetime, and, after graduating in 2017, my first academic job as a non-student! For the 2017-2018 school year I served as the Mellon’s Post-Baccalaureate Digital Fellow through which I co-planned and hosted the 2018 UNRH InterHumanities Conference, as well as redesigned and co-taught the same year-long introductory course I took back in 2014-2015. This course struggled because it was co-taught between a tenured humanities professor and a techy young graduate student, but the power dynamics were odd and the attempt to make an interdisciplinary class by bringing together the two fields, but the result was two disjointed courses rather than a truly interdisciplinary experience. It was a noble attempt but felt lacking. My design for the course was to emphasize the research project design process from start to finish and to trace the development of the Digital Humanities through traditional approaches to humanities research. The units were as follows: Early Stages and the Archives, Midway and Public Scholarship, CCP-Collaboration, Communication, and Presentation, and Advanced Tools and Topics. Based on the student evaluations in which students reflected on how much comfort, knowledge, and skills they had before versus after taking the course, I would say it went well! I personally learned how to design a course syllabus, prepare effective tutorials, and help mentor undergraduates through projects and the program. I loved this job working with students and this position inspired me to seek jobs in the future that are dual appointments in humanities (philosophy for me) and the Digital Humanities. I felt so honored to have been featured in Hope’s Magazine that celebrated the successes of the program and of UNRH.

MSU Digital Humanities Certificate Program-DH865

All of the previous experiences have led me to where I am now, a graduate student pursing a PhD in Philosophy and the Certificate in Digital Humanities. I am constantly looking for ways to integrate the two fields and in fact, after this course, I am inspired to complete a summer project, funded by the College of Arts and Letters to write an article that debunks the myths philosophers generate and believe about using the Digital Humanities in their classrooms. I am excited about this project. Another valuable part of this course was meeting other students from different departments. Once part of a graduate program you seldom get to meet students outside of the department. Like I said earlier, this is one of the beauties of the Digital Humanities: its interdisciplinary and pulls people from a multitude of departments. I learned a great deal from my peers, and formed friendships with some of the students in this course. I especially loved hearing from Ablie and his decolonial work and Ja’La’s projects in Digital Media and Rhetoric. The podcasting assignment was probably my favorite specifically because I had an opportunity to learn more about Ja’La’s work. Since I have had a vast amount of exposure to the Digital Humanities before coming to MSU I admittedly did not encounter any new tools or technologies in this course, but I enjoyed discussing their different uses and applications for students working in fields different from my own. Of all the readings, this was new and my favorite: Catherine D’Ignazio, and Lauren Klein’s Data Feminism. 

All in all my experiences with the Digital Humanities have been exceedingly rewarding and I do not plan to stop working in this space any time soon. I look forward to further engagement with the certificate program, and hopefully, a dual teaching appointment after graduating.

[for more direct feedback on the course specifically I refer to the SIRs]

Scholarly Communications

Scholarly Communication

I really appreciated the focus on the burden of Open Access on young and precariously-situated scholars. Regarding embargoing one’s dissertation, I agree with the AHA’s guidelines and considerations to at least let newly-minted graduate scholars choose for themselves whether or not they want to embargo. The bigger issue I see with this whole debate is the tenure demands and the capitalist structuring of journals. Why is the value of scholarship, competence, and job qualifications all highly contingent upon publications? This creates a monetary hierarchy for starters, considering how expensive submitting can be and this economic burden falls often on young scholars or their institutions. Changing the nature and demands of tenure as publication-focused I think would contribute to more receptivity towards Open Access that then would not put as much of a burden on young scholars.

Of these weeks readings, I loved Kathleen Fitzpatrick’s article “Giving It Away: Sharing and the Future of Scholarly Communication.” I know technically this isn’t considered a “philosophy” piece, but oh, how it felt like philosophy and I thought it was fantastic! I love her emphasis on shifting of values and academic culture. The epistemic commodification that acts as a gatekeeping, capitalist, ivory tower-preserving mechanism is deeply troubling. It seems so blatantly obvious that capitalism has influenced education and knowledge-sharing in the United States such that to freely share is to “lose” or “cheapen” the value of the knowledge itself. This harms! This creates epistemic violence! I especially love this quote from her piece:

As Dave Parry has commented, “Knowledge which is not public is not knowledge.” It is only in giving it away that we truly produce knowledge; it is only in escaping our self-absorption as a field and sharing our ideas with others, instead of talking among ourselves, that we
can pay forward the loan that we have been so generously given. (355)

YES. I think knowledge implies relationality. This is typical epistemology/metaphysics question in philosophy about what does it mean to know and can we know anything without other people? Is knowledge intrinsically social? Can we teach knowledge? Socrates suggested in the Meno that knowledge is actually innate and that the role of the scholar is to help people remember what they had forgotten during their transition from a free pure sole into an embodied human being. This is a pretty ancient and frankly spiritual understanding of what it means to be human and to know, but nonetheless it is one conversation among many about the nature of relationships and knowledge. I do argue that knowledge is culturally and socially embedded such that it cannot be extracted from these contexts. Bearing this in mind, Parry and Fitzpatrick’s arguments ring with a certain clarity: “knowledge which is not public is not knowledge.” This then lends itself to a discussion about what constitutes “public.” I am guessing that traditionalists in publications, tenure requirements, and knowledge-generation are strong brick-layers of the ivory tower and would argue that the general masses are not an experienced, informed audience such that “public” need only be the tight-knit academic community behind those walls. I agree with Fitzpatrick when she appears to push against this perception of the public, advocating for a generosity, sharing, and reciprocity as leading values in knowledge generation and distribution. These questions encapsulate what I think her mains points are:

So rather than giving our work away to corporate entities that will profit at our expense, might we instead find a way to make a virtue of our market failures? What if we understood sustainability not as the ability to produce revenue but the ability to keep the engine of generosity running? What if we were to allow the engine of generosity on which so much of the enterprise runs to affect the final point of distribution? What if we were to embrace the gift economy of scholarly communication and make a gift of our work to others? What might happen if outreach, generosity, and ‘giving it away’ were our primary values? (356)

Wow would academia be so much better, I think, if these questions were addressed, realized…

Open Access

This week we discussed the tricky topic of Open Access in academia. As a young scholar I find myself in a position of seeing the challenges of both sides of this “issue.” On the one hand I can see where as a precarious young scholar, making my work widely available could lead to others easily taking my ideas, not being recognized as more prestigious as one with paywall-protected journal publications would be, and prematurely having to share ideas at earlier stages in my development that might not align with later ideas and works. However, I think these are small concerns in the grand scheme of institutional knowledge. I am a firm believer that knowledge should not be commodified and held captive to privilege audiences as often takes place in academic institutions. The capitalization of academia is creating knowledge as a form of currency where only limited numbers of people have access. This is deeply problematic and a pervasive structure in the US against which I stand. I am currently in a Philosophy of Science course that focuses on the commercialization of science and its worrisome tendencies, especially with patent law. As I move through this class I have come to be deeply skeptical of patenting because this has seriously detrimental effects on actual human lives (as in the case of the patent of AIDS medication that keeps the cost so high that people around the world who are unable to pay are dying at unnecessarily high rates.) Patents hold a level of prestige, and the argument is that they motivate innovation; I think this is acting in a similar fashion to the structuring of “un-open inaccessibility” in that there is an idea about paywall journals and publications motivate high levels of research and knowledge production. I think patents do more harm than good and that they are not necessary for innovation; in a similar sense, I think restricting access does more harm than good and is not necessary for prestige, rigor, and intellectual innovation.

Furthermore, on a global level, restricting access to knowledge is a form of epistemic violence. Communities all over the world I believe have the right to knowledges and histories that are preserved through institutions but often not made accessible. The United States has a plethora of resources for research; thus, I think we are responsible to at least share the fruits of these resources by sharing the knowledge crafted and curated. I’m trying to refrain from going on an anti-capitalist, anti-colonial global pedagogy, socialist-fueled tirade so I will end here by saying I fully support Open Access. This is not an issue of academics, but of ethics, of global responsibility, reparations, and reciprocity.

ODH Project Abstract

Across Time and Space: Empowering Undergraduate Researchers Through Virtual Community Building

Taylor Elyse Mills

My project aims to further the infrastructure and mission of the Undergraduate Network for Research in the Humanities (UNRH), an organization founded by and for undergraduates in order to reclaim student agency and reimagine the undergraduate role in innovative humanities research by providing space for students to present, collaborate, and form community across departments, institutions, and countries. UNRH was founded by a group of undergraduates interested in exploring two central questions: what is the undergraduate role in the Digital Humanities? and How can undergraduates be empowered and equipped to navigate this emerging field? UNRH was the response to these questions with a two-pronged approach: hosting an annual conference to provide students the space to meet, present, develop professional skills, and network, and hosting a virtual community to continue to support students with ongoing projects, professional opportunities, and collaboration possibilities. UNRH’s annual conference brings together students from all across the United States and abroad; during these brief weekends, students learn from one another, collaborate, and teach each other. This conference has been incredibly successful. In fact, since its founding in 2015, UNRH has accepted 76 projects, involving 108 students from 34 institutions all across the United States, Canada, Nigeria, Pakistan, and Ukraine. However, once the conference ends, participants lose substantive professional contact. UNRH has tried several WordPress plugin tactics to create a virtual space for post-conference and cross-cohort community building, but with little success due to technological inflexibility. UNRH has also tried platforms and applications like Facebook, Slack, and Whatsapp, but none of these encompass all of the specifications UNRH would like to incorporate as both a social and professional platform. I envision an application where students have individual profiles indicating research interests and skills such that they can search for and contact other students who may be able to assist them with projects and tools. Additionally there would be a discussion board to post updates on projects, share upcoming conference or funding opportunities, post relevant articles, and ask general questions. Ideally this platform would be browser compatible but also take the form of a phone application. The UNRH Steering Committee would be responsible for sustaining and maintaining this technology, falling under the role of the Media Coordinator position specifically. Undergraduates in the Digital Humanities often do not have this structure built in like faculty do within institutions. Hence, I see to develop or modify existing technologies, perhaps like Mastodon, to bring together a community and continue to empower undergraduate researchers in the Digital Humanities. As co-founder of UNRH, I am eager to continue to support the vision of this organization.

This project idea and its affiliates are under a Creative Commons License as intellectual property of Taylor Elyse Mills and of the Undergraduate Network for Research in the Humanities.

Digital Humanities Pedagogy

Of all the possible topics within the Digital Humanities, pedagogy is by far my favorite! I love exploring ways to not only incorporate Digital Humanities-based skills and tools into my teaching, but also ways of teaching the field of DH itself. I’ve had the opportunity to observe several styles of teaching Digital Humanities over the years, and their influences have contributed to my own approach. Arguably the most important aspect of my philosophy of teaching (particularly in the Digital Humanities) is:

Your medium should support your message. 

A pitfall for Digital Humanities is to make everything digital, or to shape a research project around trying to use new exciting technologies. Sometimes a paper is the best medium for a particular project to convey the message! I emphasized to my students in the Digital Humanities Mellon Scholars Program that part of the process of developing a research project entails identifying what the message of the project is (which entails considering audience, scope, and project outcome goals) and then determining the best medium for supporting this message. For example, when I introduced documentary-making, the first questions students need to ask themselves is, “Why is it important that I make a documentary? What is my message, and how is a documentary going to enhance, support, and communicate this message?” A possible exception maybe to use technologies as an exploratory research project, like text mining or textual analysis across extensive bodies of text. However, even then one could probably articulate why that approach is best for the type of work one is interested in researching.

Something I have learned after teaching an introduction to Digital Humanities course and working with undergraduate researchers is that students greatly appreciate taking the time to discuss ways to utilize Digital Humanities skills, methods, and theories in future spaces of higher education, but also outside of academia in nonprofit organizations and industry. I recently attended a conference and co-facilitated a workshop with Arianna Montero-Colbert about Digital Professional Development. The structure was flexible and based on the questions the undergraduate researchers asked, I ended up showing them my CV to demonstrate all the ways of communicating Digital Humanities skills into a CV/resume. In the classroom, students asked about technology capacities that could work in spaces outside academia. Having worked as Community Coordinator for Lighthouse Immigrant Advocates, a nonprofit immigration law office, I was able to have an open conversation about how to use Digital Humanities as a selling point for being hired and how to then incorporate these skills into roles at nonprofit organizations. For example, just showing my students how to install and customize WordPress plugins that can take donations is a valuable, applicable skill.

The biggest challenge I faced teaching the introduction course was finding undergraduate-appropriate readings. As of now, much of the literature is rather advanced, technical, and jargon-laden. Assigning blogs, podcasts, and YouTube videos was much for effective than book chapters, but much of the  foundational histories of the field are stuck in lengthy chapters that deal far more with theoretical debates than with useful, graspable concepts that introduce students to the field, its history, its shortcomings, and its strengths. My time as a student and then as a teacher has inspired me to consider making an Introduction to Digital Humanities anthology that organizes aspects of the field in a structured and digestible manner. I have no idea if I can accomplish since I would want to include work that is already out there in addition to some of my own work. Perhaps if I can successfully land a Digital Humanities–Philosophy dual appointment position I will embark on such a project.

In regards to the assigned readings and materials for this week, I love the University of Minnesota’s “Accessible U” site. It is such a great resource and one I needed years ago! In fact, this semester as a TA one of my students in a recitation section is legally blind. We have developed a strong relationship with open communication about meeting her needs, but the more I can preemptively do so that the burden of responsibility to tell me all of the specifications needed, the better. For example, the process of using Word Document heading sizes for screen readers is such a simple but valuable avenue for making content more accessible.

I also really enjoyed Mark Sample’s talk-turned-article “Building and Sharing (When You’re Supposed to be Teaching). As a side note, I’ve had the privilege of meeting Mark and it’s fun to see his personality and voice clearly reflected in the language of this article. I love his point that students tend to write, research, and create for an audience of one, for the professor or instructor. Digital Humanities projects are almost always publicly available though, so shifting this notion and letting it influence the way students engage with projects is significant. His statement that classrooms were made for sharing brought back memories of kindergarten show-and-tell days. Maybe we as teachers need to bring more of the spirit of kindergarten back into the classroom: a space to show-and-tell, to share, to create, to make messes and explore, to work together (and maybe also nap time?).

Lastly, I’ve sensed a scrambling around how to teach the Digital Humanities that is only starting to be documented, formalized, and interrogated. I think those of us engaging in this field have a unique opportunity to develop pedagogical strategies and course designs that are highly reflexive and anticolonial, and that include queering language, intentionally making spaces accessible, and avoiding canonizing the same patriarchal, whitewashed Anglo-centric narratives. Other disciples have been around for centuries and the fight for change is a slow one. The Digital Humanities holds promise for being intentionally formed and avoiding the aforementioned pitfalls. We need more Marisa Parhams, Miriam Posners, Safiya Umoja Nobles,  and Zeynep Tufekcis.

Text Mining

A Word Cloud of all the words I have used in all of my blogs.

I will shout from the heavens that I love voyant-tools! Before Voyant I didn’t have much of a concept or appreciation for text mining. I was first introduced to Voyant by Laura McGrath when I was a TA for the Mellon Scholars Program at Hope College. She was a English Major and much of her work involved distant reading and extensive text analysis, so she built a lot of the Mellon seminar around working with data sets, utilizing text and data analysis tools, and producing visualizations. I was blown away at the speed, user friendliness, and insightfulness of Voyant. I love the visuals with colors, the interactivity, the multilingual capacity, and the embedding functions. Such a brilliant tool! Okay, rant over. I was inspired and chose to incorporate this as a unit in the Mellon seminar when I taught it the following year as a post-bacc. (See Blog Tutorial here) I had my students do a simple activity to introduce them to Voyant and similar methodologies by having them read a Edgar Allen Poe short story about a murder mystery, “Murders in the Rue Morgue.” When they came to class having read the story we then ran it through Voyant to see what the tool might reveal about the text that was unexpected, and whether or not we could see any representations that were accurate reflections of the text. For example, looking at terms like “murder” and “weapon” in the Terms Berry visualization revealed in-text close presence with “monster” and “animal” which corresponded with the murderer actually being an orangutan (spoiler).  Additionally, since I intentionally chose a murder mystery, could Voyant reveal any crucial plot points, who the main character is based on name recurrence and so on? The Word Cloud matched the close reading that the window was key to unraveling the mystery and that Dupin is the main character. It was a fun, light exercise but feedback from students was great in getting their feet wet with what text analysis and mining could do.

In general I have not conducted extensive research using text mining but through projects like Ben Schmidt and Mitch Fraas’s “Mapping the State of the Union,” I have come to appreciate its potential, as well as the nuances and intentional decisions that get made about key terms selected. Lisa Rhody’s “The Story of Stop Words,” did an exception job of bringing to the forefront many of the nuanced decisions and implications of said decisions in the realm of text mining. I think that is one of the main takeaways I have for this seminar thus far: that every facet of a project involves intentional decision-making, which prompts the reality that bias in research at all stages, whether conscious or not, is quite possible, and one should actively interrogate their decisions, and document them. In fact looking back, before exposure to Voyant, Brandon Walsh ran a workshop for the 2017 annual Undergraduate Network for Research in the Humanities conference; there he introduced the concept of text mining, walking us through “bags of words” and what it means to make selective choices about which words to include and the impact such choices can have. It seems that because the Digital Humanities incorporates technologies there is a false perception of the field that this scientific technology makes research more objective. I think this is wrong on two accounts: one, scientific research is value-laden and not as objective as one may want to think (as my Philosophy of Science course would attest, see Robert Merton’s Social Theory and Social Nature but also Safiya Umoja Noble’s Algorithms of Oppression highlights the biased, prejudiced nature of human-made technologies many take for granted as objective, like Google searches). Two: the number of perhaps small, but still significant, deliberate choices that have impact on the scope, nature, results, and effects of a project within the Digital Humanities through using such technologies to me indicates a higher degree of subjectivity, and this, I’d argue, is extremely important to remember.

This week I played around with an idea I mentioned in class: putting my own papers into Voyant to see if I can identify a particular style. Not the most relevant to my research, but text mining is not exactly in my area anyway, so I went for something different and relevant for me as an emerging scholar. I made the following decisions:

  • I chose the final papers I wrote for my first semester graduate school seminars
  • I did not include the bibliographies
  • I did include the Titles of the papers
  • My citation format is MLA so there are in-text parenthetical citations

This Word Cloud is fascinating to me. It definitely fits with what the content of the papers are, but it’s also helpful to track recurring themes in my work, and possible topics for my dissertation.

I think the most interesting results of the Terms Berry is showing the relationship of church, which occurs with Maracle, indigenous, and structure, and the word spiritual occurring with music, physical, and knowledge. This has reignited my passion in these subjects and given me an interesting lens into my writing style.

I also noticed that the Bubblelines tracked the main terms across all of the papers, noting that language and body were the most consistently-used term throughout all of my writing. Perhaps Philosophy of Language is where I am headed…

Visualization and Networks

This week focused on visualization tools with an emphasis on relationships or networks within data. I decided to pursue my more law-focused passions and see what such tools could show about the current state of immigration within the United States. After some quick searching I came across the United States government’s Department of Homeland Security datasheets about immigration, particularly about remittance inflow and outflows. Remittance is the sending of money either from someone working in the United States to family in one’s country of birth or vice versa, receiving money from one’s country of birth while in the United States. I downloaded the spreadsheet tracking remittance inflows (which I believe means the amounts going from folks in United States to other countries) since 1970 to 2018. The results were interesting to look at for each country as some increased rapidly and others decreased. I was most interested in looking at Latin American countries like Mexico. What this shows is a staggering amount of folks from Mexico working in the United States are in fact here to support family. The Breve chart (screenshot below) captures this steady increase in remittance inflow, currently at an all-time high in 2018 of 33,675 million and representing 2.8% as a share of the GDP in 2018.

On the World Bank site where I found more information I came across this brilliant TedTalk that uncovers the broken system of remittances and just how much of the humanitarian relief weight immigrants are bearing. In fact, annual remittances account for $413 billion sent to developing countries which is over three times the annual amount spent in humanitarian relief aid ($135 billion). Millions of immigrants are NOT sneaking into the country to try to make it rich or coast off US government programs but are in fact a massive driving force in sustaining their own countries, no thanks to the shady colonial, exploits of the United States in developing countries.

As for other tools, Palladio is brilliant when it cooperates. I’ve used it before and when it works, it’s a remarkable streamlined tool. I have the most difficult time getting the mapping part to work. Even after painstakingly entering in Longitude and Latitude for every country listed on the United States Department of Homeland Security data on how many people from countries all over the world were “apprehended” between 2005-2014. The exact language is “Aliens Apprehended by Region and Country of Nationality” which is all kinds of offensive. Here is an image of the spreadsheet with the input coordinates columns I added. Click the photo to access the full spreadsheet.

I was hoping Palladio would show sized nodes on a map with layers to show changes over time, but even after copy-pasting coordinates from this chart I still had no luck, so below is a Palladio graph that looks like a sunflower showing sized nodes indicating how many people were “apprehended” corresponding to different countries.

Not exactly helpful. But the map would be, and again, when Palladio works, it’s great. Here is a link to a tutorial I made for Palladio during my post-baccalaureate position for the Mellon Scholars Program. For general reflection, visualization and network programs are incredibly powerful tools that enhance arguments and clearly communicate relationships. In some ways I think these tools can be the most difficult to conceive of for a research project but can be the most rewarding when applicable and effectively utilized.

Spatial and Temporal Visualizations

One of my favorite types of projects in Digital Humanities is mapping. Mapping can tell stories, argue, and reveal different perspectives. The readings from this week talked about several tools and platforms I have used before, but I was surprised by the sheer number of other tools of which I had not heard! The volume of options can be overwhelming, but I like the flexibility this can allow for when crafting a specific project.


One of the main tools we dealt with this week was Knighlab’s StoryMapJS. Having used this before, I was reminded by how clean, straightforward, and pleasant the interface is. Google Maps is great for its layers, media integration, and easy import/export of data, but what I appreciate about StoryMap is that it does force a linear narrative, or direct path for interactions. This is not always convenient for every type of project, but for a project I did investigating the life and philosophies of celebrated Indian poet, playwright, musician Rabindranath Tagore, StoryMap was a great tool. In particular, I was exploring Tagore’s philosophy of education and architecture and how the two influenced one another. Thus, space was very important. I needed to be able to show a chronological progression of Tagore’s life and influences, as well as his geographic sites where, for example, he designed, built, and ran a college in Santiniketan.

In terms of just chronology, Knightlab’s Timeline JS is similar, but the flexibility of using a spreadsheet, especially one integrated with Google Drive is excellent. As I have studied various ethical theories, I tried to keep the progression of thinkers and influences all in my head but found this frustrating. So, I created a small timeline of key thinkers/writers within the Western canon to outline the evolution of ethical theories and standpoints in Western ethics. I say Western repeatedly because to think that these are the only theories of ethics and the only contributors to the field is vastly mistaken. Unfortunately it is treated as though it is the all-encompassing field of ethics and it accompanies the courses I have taken in ethics. So, this timeline is small and specific, but I found it useful to visualize and conceptualize how one theory reacted in contrast to another or evolved into a different one.

Having made this timeline several years ago, I found making a new timeline refreshingly familiar. I decided to display the typical history of the Digital Humanities as if often presented/the dominant narrative. Then I wanted to show the holes in this story and the silenced contributions by creating a counternarrative. The two timelines are here:

While I do not have datasets for my current research, watching class demonstrations of the exciting possibilities of Tableau makes me wish I did have a dataset! What I liked about this tool in addition to its clean interface was the integration of labels and colors with data points to have options for how best to represent quantities and information. I am thinking about doing a pedagogy-specific project sometime in the near future, and I wonder if doing some assessments of education systems, allocations of resources, measures of success and so on mapped across the United States might serve as a compelling visualization to argue that educational segregation essentially persists and that the country needs intentional reform…perhaps! All in all this was a fun week and a good source of inspiration to think about projects in new ways.

Audience Engagement

This week in the DH865 course we were delayed by a true Polar Vortex, hence a delay in this post. However, the focus of the week, audience engagement, is one that can never be delayed when creating a digital project (in my opinion). I argue that it should drive the research project, and be one of the very first aspects considered when designing the project. The intended audience should influence numerous decisions, especially in the design, including the style of language (how much jargon versus explanation is acceptable), use of graphics, and platform choice. I loved learning about the Mukurtu project specifically designed to preserve and share indigenous aboriginal knowledges with other tribe members. The article, “A Community of Relations: Mukurtu Hubs and Spokes” by Kimberly Christen, Alex Merrill and Michael Wynne, did an excellent job of demonstrating the specific design decisions to meet the needs of the intended audience who is concerned with sacred knowledges only to be viewed by certain people within the community. The tension in the digital age is noticeable with audience engagement considering that on the one hand most digital projects are accessible to anyone with an internet connection, but on the other hand, each project is not intended for every single person in the sense of utility and comprehensibility. Perhaps it may be best to be transparent about the intended audience while nodding to the fact that others can certainly view and potentially benefit from the project. I think Miriam Posner is particularly good about this with her blogs.

Considering my own audience, much of my work is for the world of academic. Philosophical engagement is more often full of jargon and nuanced argumentation styles that cater to other philosophers and academics. However, this is exactly a problem I see with the discipline. I think philosophy is most valuable when it is applicable beyond the walls of academia. This is my social justice orientation showing. Thus, my audience for digital projects is typically an academic one, but hopefully also a broader one when dealing with matters of social justice. Because I don’t yet have a area of specialization I can’t say much in terms of specifics, but in reference to recent digital humanities projects, I can say that my audience includes musicians (professional, academic, and otherwise), Christian/theology philosophers, Continental philosophers, and hopefully as I learn more, decolonial/anticolonial and feminist scholars. As a dual degree student pursuing a JD with an emphasis in immigration policy and reform, my audience may also come to include policy makers and/or individuals going through the immigration process.

In addition to various readings about audience and audience engagement, we read about the idea of creating project personas. As mentioned in class, this process has some benefits (especially for larger companies) but I think it would be uncomfortable and problematic to creating characters with backgrounds, epistemological standpoints, and livelihoods based on people you know for the sole purpose of company development. So, when thinking about possible personas for my digital work, I kept them generic in some sense, because any more specifics in terms of gender, race, class and so on again seems problematic.

  • My first persona is a music educator who teaches high school choir. This individual teaches for 6 hours a day, working with different choral ensembles to both teach students about music and theory, as well as bring students and the community together in collaborative concerts and events. This music educator has been teaching for 12 years and is quite familiar with the school and local community and is also up to date on the politics of music education. This individual’s goals are to teach students about music and theory principles, develop good singing techniques, foster team work and pride in collective music-making, and give back to the community. This individual would be affected by work in aesthetics and pedagogy in terms of how this individual teaches and perceives music and the role of theory.
  • A second persona is a typical Continental philosopher, tenure track at a small liberal arts college in the United States. This professor does conduct some research but is primarily focused on teaching philosophy courses like Applied Ethics, Continental Feminism, or Moral Psychology. This professor’s main concerns are to continue to be knowledgeable in the changing nature of these fields, receive tenure, and introduce important philosophical concepts like critical thinking, argumentation, writing skill improvement, and consideration of alternate perspectives.
  • A third persona is a immigration attorney working in a nonprofit. This attorney is early in the career and full of energy and passion, though certainly tired and worn down daily by the obstacles of the legal system. The attorney is constantly up to date on immigration policy and looking for ways to inform the local communities–both people in need of immigration services and those who do not–of the issues and nuances of immigration processes in the US.  The attorney has passion for social justice and is concerned with serving immigrants, refugees, and undocumented people, as well as educating larger communities.

Bearing these possible personas in mind, I want to be transparent about my own values and interests, because I think they deserve to know this. I recognize that these are three very different personas so not all of my research fits for each space. Therefore, I will continue to be conscientious of language choice and academic references. As a first year, I look forward to continuing my studies so that I can then be more specific and understanding about who my audience will be. Until then, these are a broad series of considerations for possible future digital projects.


Data in Humanities

Archives, Data, and Humanities: A Philosopher’s Reflections

This week our Digital Humanities seminar served as a good reminder of the possibilities and breadth of data potential in humanities fields. Miriam Posner’s blog “Humanities Data: A Necessary Contradiction” was not only an excellent introduction to the notion of all objects bearing metadata, but also a further case for why philosophers should consider data-based projects because data speaks, data can argue. Though I am not a historian and do not actively seek out archival projects, I have had a few experiences with archival-turned-dataset research projects that have taught me a great deal about the local history of Dutch Holland, Michigan, Portuguese influence in the former colony of Goa, India, and the vast works of Indian philosopher and writer Rabindranath Tagore. Visiting archives was both astounding and concerning for different reasons. (As an aside, there was something so profoundly sad about visiting the Goan archives in India and seeing worn, worm-eaten, molding diaries falling further into decay. The loss of cultural history like that hurts the soul.) As discussed in class, it is important to remember that an archive tells a story, and there are those in control of this narrative actively deciding to sculpt this story in a particular fashion. Remembering that archives are the results of decisions made by specific people is crucial to pushing against problematic understandings of history and modern culture; one must challenge easy excuses that historically oppressed or marginalized communities were not participating in events and narratives, because more often than not these communities have been intentionally curated out of such narratives. For example, during my sophomore year of college I was struck by this fact when I was faced with the task of producing a Holland-based digital humanities project. I was concerned about the lack of visibility of the Hispanic/Latino community in Holland both in terms of businesses and physical design and presence (or rather lack thereof) in the archives. According to the most recent census comprises nearly 30% of the Holland population and yet there are next to no references of this community in the archives. There was such a contradiction between what the Tihle Archives said was the history of Holland and what the actual communities, physical architectures, and ongoing traditions like Fiesta, said was the history. I loved the Data Feminism book by Catherine D’Ignazio and Lauren Klein because this book specifically addressed the ways in which data can be shaped to ignore, or, in contrast, intentionally reveal undocumented narratives. This focus on articulating narratives, especially counternarratives to the dominant historical discourse was one I sought going forward into actual data-centered projects like Ethics of Expropriated Art, involving museum permanent collection data that demonstrated power dynamics and complex international relationships in art expropriation. This project taught me about the challenges of data curation and standardization.  The readings by Gilliland, Tanner, Milligan, and the Library of Congress all pointed to various facets of data and metadata curation standards and practices which were insightful and would have been incredibly helpful when I was designing my project! Though I am still not 100% clear on all of what TEI does, from what I do understand, this is just one more tool to help systematize, organize, and standardize data to make it accessible and computer analyzable, which is fantastic. Also these readings reminded me of how much I love that Omeka lets users add their own metadata categories. The flexibility is so valuable for big messy projects!

When considering the new capabilities of big dataset curation, I am fascinated by the new possibilities of research approaches. Specifically, with data analysis and visualization tools like Voyant, Palladio, and Raw Graphs, plugging datasets or text files into these programs can actually prompt questions, not just attempt to reveal answers. I liked reading Franco Moretti’s book Graphs, Maps, and Trees in my undergraduate years because he dissects the ways in which computer readings of texts present new perspectives and questions for exploration that may not have been realized otherwise through close readings. As aforementioned, philosophy does not lend itself to many obvious avenues for data-based projects, so I have not had extensive time to devote to this method of work; however, my understandings of this type of research were broadened by Moretti and then greatly enhanced when I designed and taught the datasets unit of the Mellon seminar. I reengaged in the process with my students as they chose sources like rare books or twitter hashtags to curate into spreadsheets, ask research questions of the data, run them through data analysis and visualization programs, and draft prospecti about projects based on these initial findings. Taking students through this process was tedious for them, much more so than working with pre-made datasets, but I think it was valuable for them to see from just how many sources they can glean valuable information and compelling research topics. Most importantly and most relevant to being a philosopher, this work can form arguments, and strong ones at that! For me and many of my students, this type of work was the first of its kind to be argument-based but without just citations and occasional statistics. Graphs, maps, tables, charts, and figures coalesced into robust statements that translate to broader audiences. I love this aspect of the digital humanities and though philosophy may not be an obvious or easy fit with this type of work, when the two can come together, I think there is great potential for powerful projects, especially in the areas I am interested in: Latina Feminism and decolonial/anticolonial studies.