Category Archives: Digital Humanities

Digital Humanities: My Introduction 1.3

This post is part of a three-part series charting my introduction to the digital humanities. My entrance largely follows from attending a seminar that meets twice a quarter on Saturday mornings entitled, “Demystifying the Digital Humanities” (#dmdh). Paige Morgan and Sarah Kremen-Hicks organize the seminar and it is sponsored through the University of Washington’s Simpson Center for the Humanities.

As the spring term ends for the 2012-2013 school year, I want to conclude this series of posts with some reflections on introducing the digital humanities into my pedagogical practice.

Digital Humanities or Multimodal Composition Class?

The course I designed in March differs greatly from the class I ended with this week. My assignment was English 111. As the course catalog describes it, 111 teaches the “study and practice of good writing; topics derived from reading and discussing stories, poems, essays, and plays.” While the catalog says nothing about the digital humanities, so long as we accomplished the departmental outcomes, my assumption was that a digital humanities (DH) component would only provide us with new tools for thinking through literature and writing.

It was an innocent assumption.

The main issue was scope. For my theme I chose “precarity,” which Judith Butler describes as that “politically induced condition” wherein select groups of people are especially vulnerable to “injury, violence, and death.”[i] Because there are so many “precarious characters” in Wordsworth and Coleridge’s Lyrical Ballads, I used this collection for my primary literary text. In addition to investigating precarity, with the Ballads students could also explore multiple genres and how the re-arrangement of poems alters the reading experience. Third, I wanted to use a digital humanities approach. By a DH approach I mean that I would encourage digital humanities values with regards to writing (e.g. collaboration, affirming failure), using digital tools, and learning transferable skills.

By the second half of the course it was clear that the students were confused about the concept, unhappy with the text, and struggling to understand the purpose of the values, tools, and skills. During the second half of the course, I lost hope for my big collaboration project and I dropped the emphasis on the Ballads, focusing instead on rhetorical analyses of blogs and news sites addressing issues of precarious peoples and working conditions, which was especially timely after the recent tragedy in Bangladesh.

Without the literature component, students began to feel more comfortable with the tools and concept, which led to greater motivation and better papers. On the downside, these students signed up for a literature class, which I basically eliminated. The triad of concept, literature, and method should work. But I found that if all three areas are of equal difficulty you may risk blocking success in any of them.

The “transferable skills” were perhaps the most successful part of the course. It is not the case that my classes didn’t teach transferable skills prior to my digital humanities emphasis. But as Brian Croxall has emphasized, we can teach more of them. As far as the digital humanist is concerned, more “skills” is tantamount to learning how to use more tools, which I translated (perhaps erroneously) as more media. So this term, all of my students built websites and blogs.

From building blogs and websites students learned firsthand how medium shapes what we can write, how “writing” might necessarily include design and management, and rather than give a tutorial on how to build these sites, I showed students how they could use Google to search for help on their own. The transferable skills were twofold: build an online platform to host your work (which alters what you can present and how), and learn where and how to find answers to your building questions (and rather than “good” sources, I stressed more of them). While initially these sites were less than satisfactory, by the end of the class students began to realize the potential and implications of the medium, which prompted several of them to re-build their sites during revision phases, taking more time with the organization of pages, images, background colors, and hyperlinks, and then explaining why these changes were important.

The websites and blogs showed signs of success with regards to “building skills,” but these platforms might belong less to the digital humanities and more to “multimodal scholarship.” As the organizers of the Demystifying the Digital Humanities seminar stressed during the April 14th session, digital humanists use their tools to “produce” scholarship, while multimodal scholarship means using tools to “display and disseminate” traditional research. These differences are a bit blurry for me still, but the blurriness might be accounted for by the fact that some of us are “trickster figures” occupying multiple regions on the plane of digital scholarship, as Alan Liu explains in the most recent PMLA (410).[ii]

But Liu adds greater clarity to these distinctions when he explains how a digital humanities project uses “algorithmic methods to play with texts experimentally, generatively, or ‘deformatively’ to discover alternative ways of meaning” (414). The algorithms may be out of reach for English 111 (and me!), but by using Google Sites, Blogger, and Ngram many students were cracking the digital ice and playing. In other words, these basic multimodal tools might be a useful first step towards transferring to a more involved and complicated DH project.

For such a class to be really successful it will require much more planning. For the fall, I am refining what I have rather than adding more tools to the mix. Until I do some serious text mining of my own, it might be safer to design a “writing with digital media” course. But now that Pandora’s (tool) box is open, I don’t see it closing in the future.

 

After attending the Demystifying the Digital Humanities seminars and writing these posts, I wonder if my introduction has actually led me to media studies instead. My suspicion is that I will touch both areas, because it is ultimately the task or problem that will determine the approach. However, and I believe Liu also demonstrates this point, the digital humanities as a method might prove to be a problem or task generator. With these tools we will become like Darwin returning from the Galapagos with all those varieties of finches sitting on his desk, asking what all these birds have to do with one another. Perhaps the moral should be: the more materials the bigger the questions.


[i] Butler, Judith. “Performativity, Precarity, and Sexual Politics.” AIBR. Revista de Antropología Iberoamericana 4.3 (2009): 1-13. Print.

[ii] Liu, Alan. “The Meaning of the Digital Humanities.” PMLA 128.2 (2013): 409-423. Print.

Digital Humanities: My Introduction 1.2

This post is part two of a three-part series charting my introduction to the digital humanities. My entrance largely follows from attending a seminar that meets twice a quarter on Saturday mornings entitled, “Demystifying the Digital Humanities” (#dmdh). Paige Morgan and Sarah Kremen-Hicks organize the seminar and it is sponsored through the University of Washington’s Simpson Center for the Humanities.

The first post in this series attempted to define the digital humanities by considering some of its values. Today I want to make two points regarding what a digital humanist is and does. First, a digital humanist is not the same thing as a scholar. While the same person may occupy both roles, these roles nevertheless perform distinct tasks. Second, the digital humanist is distinguished by the tool set, and those tools are primarily for the purposes of visualization. So let’s explore these two points in greater detail, and I’ll conclude by looking at one of the many tools you can use in your own introduction to the digital humanities.


Tools, Tools, Tools!

On the last day of our Demystifying the Digital Humanities seminar (May 4, 2013), the organizers drew our attention to something surprising with regards to digital humanities scholarship: it may not be scholarship, at all. Many of those coming to the digital humanities already know how to conduct research, build and organize an archive, and employ “critical thinking” in order to arrive at some conclusions. The final step is often a presentation of these conclusions in the form of a written essay or a book.

Rather than adding data and conclusions in the scholar’s process, the digital humanist multiplies the perspectives and the media. The digital humanist uses tools in order to view and present collected data in the form of a diagram, graph, word cloud, map, tree, or timeline (or whatever you invent). Because a visual image allows us to see the “same” object or data set in a different way, the tool increases the scholar’s range of conclusions. So the scholar must demonstrate significance, but it is the tool that functions as a “bridge” for the sake of achieving that end.

Given the literary scholar’s tendency toward close reading, certainly an abstract diagram of the work(s) will lead to a less insightful reading. But here we are operating as if the tool provides a conclusion, which is the wrong assumption. The tool does not provide conclusions. The tool only allows us to see more at once.

My close reading of a romantic poem might be the most accurate, interesting, or revealing, but if I can see the same information in relation to more texts, across spatial and temporal fields, my tools will make conclusions regarding historical time periods outside my area of specialization. Wrong again! The map or graph only demonstrates correlations, intersections, and divergences. It is then up to the scholar to investigate those areas.

As the historian Mills Kelly says in his contribution to Debates in the Digital Humanities, “instead of an answer, a graph…is a doorway that leads to a room filled with questions, each of which must be answered by the historian [or literary scholar] before he or she knows something worth knowing.”[i] In this sense, the diagram functions like a treasure map that makes the X’s more explicit. And while that map will tell a scholar where to dig, it cannot tell us why the artifacts matter, what they mean, or how they are useful.

If the burden of the conclusion falls on the scholar, the digital humanist has aesthetic and logistic responsibilities. The digital humanist might ask questions like, “What kind of visualization most effectively represents my data?” It will also be important to consider financial issues like cost and maintenance. Often times, visualization software is free. But when depending on others for your tools, there are risks like the issue of ongoing support. If I use an online tool made by a company that suddenly “disappears,” I may have to go shopping. And let’s not forget the attachment people feel for an accustomed piece of equipment. Whatever tool one chooses, the old rule applies: backup your files. If you lose a tool you have only lost the medium through which you represent your information. Lose your information, and—well…

But everything we do comes with risks. To balance your decision as to whether or not you want to use these tools, I suggest having some fun with them first. An easy and fast way to see the benefits yourself is through IBM’s Many Eyes, a website devoted to free visualization software. The disadvantage is that Many Eyes’ visualizations must remain online; on the other hand, the site is so easy to use that you can test the water within minutes.

Below is a screenshot of a word tree I made from the Lyrical Ballads. In order to generate the tree, first I use the browser in the “data sets” to find the Ballads, which someone had already uploaded. Then I click the “visualize” button and select the first diagram option, “word tree.” From here I can enter any word from the Ballads that I want to explore. The 1800 edition begins with an “old grey stone,” so I enter “old,” which catches 47 hits. A diagram appears illustrating all the instances of “old” and how it connects to the words around it. Now imagine doing this with hundreds or thousands of texts. Many Eyes won’t tell you what all those connections mean; rather, it allows you to see them in the first place.

OLD in LB 2013-05-10 at 5.42.16 PM

For a closer look at this image, click here.

Rather than “new,” the word that best describes the advantage of digital tools is “more.” A Concordance to the Poems of William Wordsworth does something very similar to my word tree above because the book also supplies all the instances of “old” in Wordsworth’s poetry. But with digital tools, I could add the concordances to Virgil, Spenser, and Milton, as well as those writing manuals, law documents, and political pamphlets. Then all of these texts can be incorporated into the same visualization. In a way, these possibilities make me less nervous about the future of scholarship. Now I can see more ways of lengthening the narratives I was already generating, and find more to explore.

Beyond aiding our own scholarship, the visualization helps communicate what we do as scholars to a broader audience. The thing to remember is that the tool is not a justification in itself and it does not make one’s role as a scholar more relevant. But with these tools we can better demonstrate the power of the media we study to others using a medium held in common across discipline lines. Equally important, by working with these tools, we are in a better position to illustrate the necessity of the scholarship that actually makes these images meaningful.


The Demystifying the Digital Humanities seminar ended last week, but I hope that Paige and Sarah are able to continue these valuable workshops in one form or another in the years to come. For my final post in this series, I will discuss how I have attempted to incorporate the digital humanities into the course I am teaching this term, some of my success, as well as my failures.

 


[i] “Visualizing Millions of Words.” Debates in the Digital Humanities. Ed. Matthew K. Gold. Minnesota: U of Minnesota P, 2012. 402-03. Print.

Digital Humanities: My Introduction 1.1

appropriation by Christopher OttingerFor those who have yet to drink the digital humanities “Kool-Aid” (it’s the blue stuff they drink in Tron), for the next three posts I will chart my own introduction. My entrance largely follows from attending a seminar that meets twice a quarter on Saturday mornings entitled, “Demystifying the Digital Humanities” (#dmdh). Paige Morgan and Sarah Kremen-Hicks organize the seminar and it is sponsored through the University of Washington’s Simpson Center for the Humanities.

In this post I want to outline a brief definition of the digital humanities, and I will conclude by suggesting some things that you can do to advance your own understanding. Because these posts stem from my own introduction, they might be too basic for those already immersed in DH studies. Rather than an in-depth exploration, consider this post as an enthusiastic sharing of information.

Defining the Digital Humanities

During the first session of the seminar we attempted to define the digital humanities. A typical strategy towards definition might ask what a concept “is.” But the organizers challenged us to think about what this concept “does” and what “values” it embodies. The next two installments of this series will cover what you can “do” in the digital humanities. Today, I want look at some values.

Collaboration is one of the main values espoused in the digital humanities. “Instead of working on a project alone,” as Lisa Spiro says, “a digital humanist will typically participate as part of a team, learning from others and contributing to an ongoing dialogue.”[i]

In which case, a digital humanist might post his or her most recent progress, research, or problem on a blog or Twitter feed. Others can then add comments, suggestions, and criticisms. There is also a push toward finding people with the resources to do the job you have in mind (knowing he had the skills, I asked my brother to make the image above for this post). Overall, there is a common avowal among digital humanists that works ought to receive input and support from others before reaching the final product, and in addition, this feedback can come from more people from different disciplines.

Making works more available, as Paige and Sarah stressed, also means a greater willingness to be “open,” even with regards to “failure.” By being more open scholars can overcome the erroneous belief that every “success” equals “positive results.” As in the physical sciences, in the humanities there is little sense in reproducing the same bad experiment more than once. Sharing failures might ultimately lead to less repeat, and potentially more success.

It would be impossible to offer a full definition in this short space, but my conclusion so far is that, without knowing it, many young scholars are already invested in the digital humanities. For instance, writing for the NASSR Graduate Student Caucus blog qualifies as a digital humanist platform and method. I am writing in a public domain, making my interests more open for sharing and criticism, taking risks on what kinds of content I post, and focusing on producing more products more consistently, all of which embodies a DH ethos. During the first seminar in October, upon learning that I already shared many digital humanist values, it encouraged me to go familiarize myself with some of the tools, which I will now discuss.

Getting Started in the Digital Humanities

While not every university hosts a seminar like the one I attended, there are some traveling ones. According to the THATCamp homepage, it is “an open, inexpensive meeting where humanists and technologists of all skill levels learn and build together in sessions proposed on the spot.” These camps take place in cities all over the world and anyone can organize one. Or if you want something more intense, try the Digital Humanities Summer Institute at the University of Victoria (see Lindsey Eckert’s post on this site for an overview).

If you really want to jump into the digital humanities fast (this might sound self-indulgent in this context), I think the best method is reading blogs. The problem with blogs is the sheer quantity. But once you find a blog that works, they usually provide a blogroll that includes a list of the author(s)’ own preferences. At the bottom of this page I provide three blogs with three different emphases regarding the digital humanities for you to try (and please respond below if you have others to suggest).

The last thing is coding. It seems scary, but with simple (and free) online tutorials, learning how to code is like getting started with any foreign language: the first day is always the easiest. You learn “hello,” “please,” “thank you,” und so weiter. The difficulties arise later. But anyone who has travelled abroad knows that a small handful of phrases can actually satisfy a large range of interactions. For instance, it takes a few minutes only on w3schools.com to learn how to make “headings” in your blog post (like the emboldened titles above). Headings actually allow search engines like Google to more easily recognize your key words and phrases, which I didn’t realize until I started learning a little code. Ultimately, learning how to code can help you appreciate the rules that govern your online experience.

Last, I think it’s important to divulge why I became interested in the digital humanities. Because my dissertation started to focus more on tools, geometry, and the imagination in the eighteenth century, I found myself on the historical end of digital space. It made good sense then to start exploring current trajectories. But as I hope to show in the next two entries, “doing” digital humanities does not necessitate digital humanities “content.” Your introduction might be more about method, pedagogy, or even values. That said, it is worth having a good reason to invest your time in DH studies. As graduate students, time is always in short supply. But if it’s the right conversation for you, be open, be willing to fail, and enjoy the Kool-Aid.

Some Suggested DH Blogs:

If our blog is the only one you are reading with any frequency, perhaps the next place to go is The Chronicle of Higher Education’s ProfHacker. This blog features a number of authors writing on the latest trends in technology, teaching, and the humanities. For starters, try Adeline Koh’s work on academic publishing.

Ted Underwood teaches eighteenth and nineteenth century literature at the University of Illinois. His blog, The Stone and the Shell, tends to explain DH tools, values, and protocols for “distant reading.”

For a more advanced blog, in terms of tools and issues, I have found Scott Weingart’s the scottbot irregular resourceful, interesting, and it is also a great example of how to up the aesthetic stakes of your own blog.

 


[i] Spiro, Lisa. “This Is Why We Fight.” Debates in the Digital Humanities. Ed. Matthew K. Gold. Minnesota: U of Minnesota P, 2012. 16-35. Print.

Coming Soon: The 18th-Century Common

In mid-August, I had the great fortune of attending NASSR 2012 in Neuchâtel, Switzerland and presenting on a Romanticism and New Media panel with Andrew Burkett, Assistant Professor at Union College. Following our panel, I wrote a fairly brief blog post that introduced a DH project for which Burkett is co-creator and co-editor, with Jessica Richard (Associate Professor of English, Wake Forest University): The 18th Century Common: A Public Humanities Website for Enthusiasts of 18th-Century Studies.

For blog two of this three-post series on The 18th-Century Common (a series that I am writing for HASTAC), I am happy to provide some details about this project that its co-editors have shared with me before the website launch on October 1. This is the trailer, if you will. (The third blog will be a tour of the website after its launch.) Here we go!

The Mission of The 18th-Century Common:

According to co-editors Burkett and Richard, the mission of The 18th-Century Common website is to “provide a medium for eighteenth-century scholars to communicate with an eager public non-academic readership,” and Richard Holmes’ The Age of Wonder: How the Romantic Generation Discovered the Beauty and Terror of Science (Knopf, 2009) provides the perfect vehicle for a project like this. More specifically, the success of Holmes’ award-winning popular science book inspired the co-editors, along with student and faculty collaborators at Union and Wake Forest, to create a website that would continue to captivate and cultivate a broad audience of readers interested in 18th-century studies—like those that are so drawn to Holmes’ bestseller—and explore new possibilities for digital public humanities scholarship that reaches beyond the Academy.

In The Age of Wonder, Holmes tells the stories of several 18th-century scientists and explorers and their landmark discoveries, including Sir William and Caroline Herschel’s discoveries of comets and the planet Uranus as well as the creation of the forty-foot telescope, James Cook and Joseph Banks’ epic nautical expeditions, and Humphry Davy’s contributions to chemistry and the invention of a “safety lamp” for miners. Holmes’ compelling and accessible prose, coupled with glossy color image spreads, were so popular with non-academic readers that the book could be purchased at Costco for $11.

A Short History of the Project:

Since Fall 2009, Richard has convened an interdisciplinary faculty seminar at Wake Forest on the subject of “Science and the Arts in the Eighteenth Century.” In 2010-11, the faculty seminar used Holmes’ book as a case study for investigating possible platforms on which popular and scholarly discourses on science studies can meet and, furthermore, what could be gained from such a discussion. The faculty seminar received a Ventures seed grant from the Humanities Institute at WFU—a grant funded in part by the National Endowment for the Humanities—in order to explore these questions. The study resulted in The 18th-Century Common website, which is set to launch this fall.

What’s in the Common?

While the website is still “incunabulum” and being polished and augmented before its launch, the demo site reveals the skeleton of a robust and exciting project. The homepage and “about” page deliver requisite introductions to the project and a place to subscribe to a list for updates as well as share and follow the website on Twitter, Google+, and Facebook—crucial social networking platforms that reach through and beyond the Academy to a wider audience. There is also a “Forums” page that will serve as a suggestion box and collect website feedback and content ideas once the site is officially up and running.

At this very early stage, it appears that the primary content pages will be the “Explore” page and the blog. The “Explore” section contains a collection of short essays from authors ranging from undergraduates to associate professors in a series entitled “The Age of Wonder: Science and the Arts in the Long-18th Century.” For example, Trista Johnson, an undergraduate at Union College, authored an essay in this collection that calls for a reconsideration of Holmes’ treatment of Caroline Herschel as merely an aide to her brother’s astronomical endeavors. She reveals a fascinating gap in Holmes’ research on the correspondence between Caroline and physicist Mary Somerville, even linking to Mary’s letter in Google Books, and suggests that more needs to be published on Caroline’s work not as a collaborator with her brother but as an astronomer working on her own. The blog section features pieces written only by professors, at present, who share intriguing short essays, such as Jake Ruddiman’s piece on soldiers’ amicable and amorous relationships with civilians during the Revolutionary War.

Call for Contributions:

While the project aims to increase the amount of popular science writing for a public readership that is hungry for this material, it also offers publishing opportunities to the scholarly community that will provide the material. With the launch of this website, scholars of eighteenth-century literature and culture that usually publish their research in books and journals addressed to other researchers within their discipline and in neighboring fields will have a new free, public digital venue for sharing their work with an enthusiastic public audience that is potentially larger than their academic audience. Furthermore, sections like the “Explore” page will offer opportunities for students to learn how to research and publish short essays on interdisciplinary topics that are in vogue with both scholars and the general public.

Specifically, in order to create a site of “public humanities scholarship” that communicates the results of research to an audience not limited to the Academy, The 18th-Century Common will seek a variety of contributions that include:

  • responses by scholars and students that contextualize and enrich Holmes’ work;
  • short articles, media, and other content aimed at a wide audience of readers; and
  • content solicited from academic contributors written specifically for a lay audience, including descriptions of recently published scholarly work in 18th-century studies, interesting holdings in library archives and museum collections, and critical controversies or research problems in the field.

For more information on the call-for-papers or if you have questions or comments about this project, please contact the editors. To subscribe to the website and receive updates on its launch, enter your information here. I’m looking forward to the launch and to the scholarly and pedagogical opportunities that this website will offer for outreach beyond the Academy.

Questions:

Are you participating in a DH project that is under construction or published and underway with similar aims? I think it will be important to consider the relationship between The 18th-Century Common and other literary DH literary and related projects that share the goal of public humanities scholarship. How can these projects learn from one another to achieve the best possible results? Furthermore, what does “success” for a project like this mean or look like?

——–

Author’s note: This blog post was originally written for and published on the HASTAC website on Sunday, Sept. 9, 2012. Find the identical original post here.

Using Zotero

Intro: Zotero’s my new favorite research tool. Why? Because it’s a Rhizome. But what isn’t (nowadays)? No, seriously. It is a rhizome and it happens to be a rhizome of the most useful sort. Zotero helps to visualize the relations between ideas, images, and texts in a way that few other research tools allow. For those unfamiliar, Zotero’s a powerful citation management program, frequently used as an extension of Firefox (but also can be used as a standalone application) that makes possible multiple points of entry and useful exits from information you’ve assembled in your research. Moreover, and maybe most importantly, Zotero offers a degree of scholarly peace of mind by backing up all your citations and notes on their server automatically, courtesy of the Mellon, Alfred P. Sloan Foundations and others. You receive 100 MB of space free, but can move into the 1 GB tier for only $20/year. I’ve been using Zotero pretty extensively for about six months and have used only about 9% of my storage space.

While perhaps the best introduction to Zotero can be found on their website (http://www.zotero.org/support/quick_start_guide), I’ve set out as my task (complete with screenshots) to show how I use this incredible tool in my own early graduate research (#bravery) in hopes it may spark some ideas that might be helpful you all in your own respective scholarly practices.

How I Found Out About Zotero & How I Found Zotero Useful: I discovered Zotero last spring on the recommendation of my adviser–who’s a wonderful advocate for the absorption of digital technologies into Art History methods. I found downloading the program easy  (http://www.zotero.org/download/). After beginning to use Zotero, I quickly became impressed with how great it is to save even basic citations for later use–why I even refused to use EndNote as an undergrad, I don’t even know.

Zotero Main Screen Grab

I quickly became captivated by the usefulness of the “tag-function” as a means of exploring the interrelations between information. Indeed, in my case, this function allowed me to organize the flow of information between primary images, texts, and secondary source material in a really effective way. For instance, working on Blake and self-annihilation has generated certain challenges for me in navigating between where the idea comes up in Blake’s poetry, in the visual fields of the illuminated books, in other Blakean artistic media (his watercolors, his lithograph, etc.), its relation to period specific primary text materials, and more contemporary critical theory. Zotero allows me to see these phenomenon in relation to the ideas of scholars who have previously explored them, easily.

Quick & Dirty examples: For instance, hitting the tag “Self-Annihilation” allows me to visualize connections between the following range of texts, images, and tags I’ve created:

To the left, the blue tag indicates the primary idea I’m pursuing, while the remaining black tags indicate what other tags are related to the primary idea. To the right, Zotero displays what texts and images are tagged with the primary idea. As a second step, let’s say I’m interested in self-annihilation as it relates to Blake’s Enoch lithograph, specifically. To find new connections, I’d highlight both the tags “Self-Annihilation” and “Blake’s Enoch.”

The tag-function has allowed me to connect the lithograph to a diverse array of materials: two images I had tagged (but forgotten) as similar immediate objects of interest (“Christ Offers to Redeem Man” from Blake’s Butts Paradise Lost watercolor series and Jerusalem, pl. 41), a Hazlitt essay that I saw as exhibiting similarly self-annihilative concerns, and one of my favorite selections from Anti-Oedipus. Indeed, and also helpful, in this regard, is the ability to store copies of files–and namely images–within your personal Zotero database. With the way I use the interface, a simple click will load a stored image

(In the screen grab:) William Blake. “Christ Offers to Redeem Man” in Illustrations to Milton’s “Paradise Lost” (Butts Set), 1808. The William Blake Archive. Ed. Morris Eaves, Robert N. Essick, and Joseph Viscomi. 7 November 2011 <http://www.blakearchive.org/>.

Conclusion: In the end, after using Zotero for the last six months, I can’t even imagine going back to paper-based research note taking. It will be interesting to see how these new technologies drive humanities research forward in the future, and what new and more complex connections might be forged in all our studies. I also recognize that I’m not the only NGSC member who uses Zotero, and would appreciate comments on what tips and tricks you all have for using the program in your own work.

Adult Swim & "The Future of the Book"

Last night I attended Johanna Drucker’s talk entitled “The Future of the Book.” Looking for the new Visual Arts Center at the University of Colorado, Boulder, I followed a line of people through a set of doors and thought I was there. As I held the door for an older gentleman who seemed to be following his grandson, I asked him if he was going to hear The Future of the Book lecture. He giggled and replied, “We’re going to young scholars’ night. You’re in the chemistry building, dear.” Whoops. Some zig-zagging later and I found the VAC, my academic-looking crowd, and my seat.

I had never heard Drucker talk before, and knew only generally about her work and her most recent book, SpecLab: Digital Aesthetics and Projects in Speculative Computing, but that was enough information to charm me to the presentation. Her presentation attracted a somewhat-diverse humanities crowd: I saw several of my peeps from the English department (among them a Chaucerian who also studies comics; a Renaissance scholar; a new media scholar; a postmodernist; and a poet), and detected groups also from the visual arts, history, education, media studies, and librarians and archivists. Individuals ranged from professors to grad students to elderly members of the public to sub-ten-year-old children accompanying their parent. One little girl came with a mini suitcase of organized markers and paper, and colored quietly and diligently for the entire talk.

The little girl coloring seemed to have her marker-smudged fingers on the pulse of Drucker’s talk, as did the Young Scholars’ Night crowd I accidentally joined. Though the speaker’s material presented a very serious look at the history of the book and used that information to make a prediction about its future (or rather how we humanists can shape its future), her style was playful and, in fact, provided a serious message of the importance of “play” to the evolution of authorship, readers, and texts.

Drucker folded examples of play, humor, entertainment, and recreation into her talk with a subtlety that seemed not to phase the scholarly vibe of the majority of the audience.

The first slide showed Keanu Reeves in The Matrix–in order to illustrate the fantasy of a disembodied virtual utopia. Juxtaposing the intelligent virtual and Keanu drew chuckles round the house, and Drucker was just getting started. She also showed slides of e-readers in different shapes, including the form of newspaper pages large enough to shield the privates of a guy on the john. She then addressed the history of print and dove backward in time to Gutenberg’s press and figures like Tyndale, where she made the requisite “he had a lot at stake” joke. We then saw slides of early playing cards and learned how printers were asked by the church to stop producing them, as the populace took too easily to gambling. After other examples, she ended with a vision of the way a “novel” of the future might work: Drucker describes a narrative that seems folded into news in realtime that reaches you through mobile devices and that changes as you make decisions about how to interact with the narrative. It is multimedia, multi-player, and multi-platform. It sounded a bit like the Michael Douglas movie The Game, and also a little bit like Stranger Than Fiction. Serious play, in which our concepts of fiction and real life blend and disrupt each other in new ways.

Maybe I’ve just been studying for comps for too long and neglecting proper recreation, but I couldn’t help but find the message of seriously play–or “adult swim”–in Drucker’s talk about the future of the book. Her presentation suggested to me that the meaning of play, play-ers, play media, and conversely the definition of “work” (noun and verb), have a giant impact on the way we treat reading technologies now and will treat new reading and authoring technologies in the future.

The Technology of Sticky Flags

My name is Kirstyn, I’m the NGSC webmaster and a digital humanities (newbie) scholar and a sticky-flag addict. This post and confession was inspired by a ProfHacker article I read this morning.

Every scholar has his or her own particular way of marking the parts of a text that interest them most and responding to those passages with ideas, connections, hypotheses, comments, and the occasional cranky quip in the margin. For me, the e-reader development craze is not just about saving paper and being “green,”  e-ink reading comfort, battery life, page “turning” time, and feel of the device, but perhaps more important:

(1) the ability to access the 18th- and 19th-century texts I’m working with, and

(2) how to mark that text with “flags” (digital equivalent of the Post-it flag) and comments.

I want to spend my introductory blog thinking about the way in which we scholars typically mark physical books (not e-books … that’s my next post!). The book has a technology of its own, and casual readers and scholars manipulate and mine that technology in different ways. For example, I’m studying for my comprehensive exams right now and am note-taking in too many ways, if you ask me: in/on the actual texts, in notebooks, and on my computer. It’s a distillation of the transformative (and sometimes confusing) technological moment we’re reading, writing, and teaching in. Continue reading The Technology of Sticky Flags