3D Workhouse Project

Graham and I recently started working with History Professor Susannah Ottoway in hopes of starting a new 3D Workhouse project. From her experience, students tend to learn much more effectively through visual means, and accordingly, she dreams to create a 3D model of workhouses, incorporating her lifetime research on social networking in 18th century England.

An existing site containing 3D historical models is the Centering Spenser website (http://core.ecu.edu/umc/Munster/) made by East Carolina University. Viewing this site as a model example (pardon the pun), we decided to have a Skype call with the Spenser creators from East Carolina University, to learn about their process and timeline.

Unsurprisingly, setting up a website with 3D models is huge and daunting – Centering Spenser took five years to initially create, and is still undergoing continual changes. Compared to us, East Carolina University already had a ton of resources for 3D modeling projects, like a pre-existing animation program teaching Maya to students. Perfect. A selection of animation students then hopped on the Spenser project, creating 3D architecture and models. Their process in creating the site was more organic and unstructured, letting the project go its way.

Awesome. We, on the other hand, are starting from scratch – it’ll be difficult, but hopefully possible. We’ve narrowed the project down to starting off with modeling just one room, or one corner of a room. Considering different types of 3D modeling software (Maya, Blender, Inventor, Sketch-Up), we are currently experimenting with their usabilities and how they match with our skills, along with prices and our (little) funding. Looking at other nearby schools, St. Olaf and U of M may also have 3D programs or experience… so, possible collaboration! Exciting! In the meantime, we’re also compiling images and information of objects and artifacts in 18th century England, to use as texture in 3D models. We’ll see where things go from here!

Steve Hindle, Art History, and the Digital Humanities


Steve Hindle is on campus, and yesterday, I attended his talk, “An Economic Historian Plays with Art History.” It was a really enjoyable presentation, filled with engaging content.

Hindle started with a simple graph depicting seasonality of labor in agriculture (and also the periods when women worked), the result of lots of analysis of records from a well-documented estate in 18th-century rural England. However, he realized that this graph did not convey the information in as compelling a way as he would have liked (an issue Digital Humanists often deal with — presentation). The rest of the talk was a look at the same idea from a different perspective: the analysis of a painting of a harvest scene.

The reading of the painting and its implications was fascinating and a fun dive into art history, but, from a DH perspective, I do wish that Hindle had touched more on the techniques used for analyzing the data from these records in order to compile that initial bar graph. What techniques were used? To what extent was technology employed?

Additionally, in a discussion of various details in the painting following the presentation, a common point of concern was the location of various people and objects in the scene; these locations had significant implications in Hindle’s analysis. I wondered about the possibility of analyzing the perspective of the painting and digitally mapping out the landscape in order to clarify these questions. This may not have been a directly applicable solution to the issue (and perhaps it wouldn’t be possible in these conditions), but it was an interesting thought experiment nonetheless.

Overall, the talk was great. Hindle found a way to express his findings in an engaging and fun manner that certainly was more exciting than the bar graph.

Steve Hindle and Digital Scholarship

“The computer screen has provided a shaft of light that will illuminate, not eliminate, the book.”

I had the wonderful opportunity to attend a joint A&I class session with guest Steve Hindle, the W.M. Keck Foundation Director of Research at the Hutington Library in California. The purpose of the class was to encourage students to think about the nature of digital scholarship today, conceptualizing both its incredible value and some of its shortcomings. For the digital humanities, there are a few points from the class that I think are particularly valuable.

1. Digitization as Means of Conservation: Steve made some very interesting points about the incredible value of digitizing a document as a means of preservation. However, he also pointed out the potential damage that can be caused by high power cameras, as well as the limited guarantee of readability of digital formats in the future.

2. Democratization of Resources: One of the areas of DH that most excites me is the opportunity DH provides to open resources to broader audiences, providing nearly instant access across the world. Here Steve touched on one of my favorite topics, the dominance of English language sources in digital collections (see my post on DH around the world) and the necessity to encourage the digitization of materials in other languages.

3. Monetization of Resources: Along with the rise of access to materials comes the complex question of paying for those sources. Certainly, many of the resources that are currently being digitized are not available to all and require either affiliation with a university or money to access. This raises the interesting question: who should be able to access what? and who should make those decisions?

4. Materiality of Resources: How do we preserve the reading experience of a print text in an online format? Certainly, there are aspects of digitization that enhance reading experience. For example, with digital technology, we can get closer to resources than ever before. High resolution images allow us to zoom in on specific areas of a map and we can handle documents over and over again without damaging them. However, it is crucial to recognize that a 17th century manuscript was created to be read as a manuscript, to be held in someone’s hands, to be leafed through. Preserving that experience is one of the biggest challenges of digitization.

5. Digital Methods of Scholarship: One of the biggest debates currently waging in DH is the question of DH’s role in creating scholarship. Should all projects that use digital resources be classified as DH? Or should projects be required to use digitization as part of the methodology for the research? In other words, is a digital representation of humanities scholarship DH? Or does DH require digital resources as the main tools for creating that scholarship? I think Steve did an excellent job of addressing this question in discussing digital technology in terms of means and ends. Digital technology should be a means to an end, not the end itself. Thus, scholarship must actively engage with digital technology but should not abandon traditional research methods. Merely employing digital technology without critically accessing the results does not create a valuable DH project.

This was a very memorable talk and I greatly enjoyed thinking about some of the questions associated with the digital humanities and scholarship. I think such conversations about the role of digitization in the future are crucial.


Making a Humanities Lab out of Greek Mythology

During this last August, I took part in a 2-week-long Humanities Lab. There were eleven of us students from various liberal arts colleges – Wellesley, Haverford, Grinnell, Denison, etc. – divided into two groups, one focusing on mapping Greek mythologies (my group) and the other experimenting with aspects of preforming Greek tragedies. Our projects are hosted on Mapping Classical Mythology, part of Wellesley’s Omeka site and we used the Neatline editor to map them, an extra feature that can be added to Omeka. We started out learning about ancient artifacts, particularly Greek vases, and discussed how to cite these and which metadata to add to Omeka. Since I had little to no background in Greek mythology, I decided to map the Odyssey, one of the most well-known Greek epics and written by Homer.

Each map looks drastically different. We all went our separate ways when it came to design, and they all turned out great. I went for a minimalist look, whereas other maps are more realistic:

Sara’s (from Grinnell) map of Aeneas’ journey

In conjunction with our maps, we each added an “essay” (a rather loose term) to add additional information and further explanations not covered in our maps. I used mine to provide extra images of ancient Greek artifacts and to discuss contested locations. After all, how do we know these locations existed? While we were delving into museum websites and researching our myths, the other group was busy at work with their masks. They jumped right into the technicalities of how Greek tragedies had been acted out, much of which we no longer know except that they used masks. This group focused on how the actor may have communicated with the audience, particularly depicting emotion through body language.

Ryan (from Haverford) wearing his mask

In my opinion, the Humanities Lab was a success. Both groups experimented with new mediums (in our case, Neatline, and for the other – making masks and reenacting tragedies), simulating a lab-like setting. Given another chance, I would love to participate in another Humanities Lab.

Archives Facial Recognition Project – first thoughts

Currently, Sahree and I are working with Nat Wilson in the archives department to review existing facial recognition software tools. The end goal of this project is to be able to use a tool to recognize and label pictures of alumni with much greater speed and accuracy than we currently have by doing the process manually.To that end, the three of us are reviewing some articles this week dealing with exisiting tools. In particular, Nat gave us a list of 50 or so facial recognition tools (the list was current as of late 2013), and I highlighted five or so that I thought would be particularly useful. I tried to focus on tools that were free, independent of outside software (so we don’t have to send private information to external networks), and simple to use products designed to work on their own (as opposed to being part of a code library for use in developing larger applications).

Russian 205 Moodle Project

I spent most of last fall and winter working on creating an electronic version of an assignment for Russian 205. The assignment is a long-term task that requires students to watch clips from a Soviet movie, Courier, and then interact with those clips in a variety of different ways, from answering multiple choice questions to writing short answers to interpreting artwork and music. For many reasons, the course as a paper assignment made little sense. From the student perspective, it was difficult for students to access the video clips. From a professor standpoint, it was difficult to grade all of those paper tasks. I worked together with Russian professor Anna Dotlibova and Carleton student James Browning to update this assignment using the Moodle online platform. Moodle gave us an online interface that allowed us to expand the activities students could complete, as well as better adapt the assignment to fit students’ needs.

To get a better feel for the project, see the above video.

This project highlights some of the best aspects of DH at Carleton. As a DHA, I was able to work closely with faculty to develop this project. The collaborative element of the project was one of the most important pieces, as James and I had both taken the course for which we were creating this Moodle assignment and could thus provide feedback about what the best practices would be from a student perspective. Furthermore, this project allowed us to harness the powers of digital technology to create something that not only allowed for ease of access but also changed the way in which students experience this assignment.

I learned from this project crucial lessons about time management and working under a strict deadline (we were trying to finish the Moodle course in time for the winter 2014 term, a goal I am happy to report we met). The project also gave me a wonderful opportunity to further my computing skills. I learned about HTML, Moodle, and creating logical organizational structures for material online. This project really caused me to think about the ways in which DH can be used in the classroom and I greatly enjoyed working on it.

DH Around the World (Part II)

quantifying DH

I shared this infographic last week in its full form (see my post) but I want to devote a little more attention to the interesting issue of digital humanities research around the world. In the above image (cropped from the original to focus on the map), it is easy to recognize the dominance of DH in English-speaking parts of the world. As Isabel Gallina Russell claims in her article in Literary and Linguistic Computing, recent debates surrounding DH have necessarily shifted the line of thought from “what do we do” and “why do we do it” to “who is we” (Russell 2014). Russell argues that, for all its rhetoric of openness and a desire to engage in cross-cultural dialogue, DH remains dominated by a handful of English-speaking countries. She also positively acknowledges that members of the DH community recognize this dominance and are seeking to broaden the scope of DH scholarship. Exactly how digital humanists will go about making DH more inclusive requires some thought.

Russell’s article raises the difficulty of quantifying digital humanities around the world. The above infographic was creating using voluntary submissions and thus may not accurately reflect the breadth of DH work occurring across the globe. As such, Russell first calls for greater attempts to quantify what DH work is being done around the world and to welcome new voices into the DH conversation. Here Russell points to the importance of international DH events and online forums such as Twitter. She also highlights the issue of privileging English scholarship in DH work and the need for native English speakers to recognize their privilege in engaging in academic conversations in their native language.

Why does any of this matter for the DH work we do at Carleton? First of all, we need to recognize that, as we engage in conversations about DH and the changes that are so rapidly occurring in the humanities, we are entering a worldwide discussion that takes place through a variety of platforms and uses a multitude of languages. Second, I think we need to use DH to do more to research across traditional boundaries of time, space, and language. After all, the excitement of DH lies in engaging with the humanities in new and different ways than we have before. Our projects should strive to look at issues in new ways and to harness the potential of DH to ask different questions. Finally, we should not assume that we are alone. While there is certainly a need to develop DH in other parts of the world, conversations about DH are occurring everywhere. The difficultly lies in hearing them. I am so excited to be part of these discussions and to seek out new voices for collaboration.

Note: My interest in this topic came about as the result of research into the development of DH in Russia as an extension of my interest in Russian language and culture. It may be of some interest that conversations about цифровые гуманитанрые науки (DH) are indeed occurring in Russia. A very interesting initiative for Innovative Educational Technologies in Russia and Abroad recently publishing an interesting article looking at the effects of DH on teaching literature at the university level. It is these kinds of discussions that make me so excited about the potential for DH to reach across traditional boundaries and engage in fascinating conversations.

Digital Humanities Retreat

During the first weekend of the term, the Digital Humanities communities at Carleton and St. Olaf got together for a retreat to share ideas, lessons, and news about the field. The event was an excellent opportunity to see what was going on  in the Digital Humanities on the other side of the Cannon River.

We kicked off the retreat by breaking into small groups, each given a DH project to examine. After introducing ourselves and getting to know some other Olaf DH interns, we had some time to view and analyze our respective DH project websites. These sites ranged from the Willa Cather archive to a Civil War project collection created by a similar DH team at the University of Richmond. Each site had their own strengths and weaknesses in different respects, whether with content, layout arrangement, format, graphic design, or other factors affecting user accessibility. After discussing our opinions and potential improvements that could be made to the site, each group presented their analysis of their assigned project. In addition to being a fun ice-breaker, this exercise let us consider projects from a high-level perspective that can be difficult to achieve on your own projects.

During lunch, we discussed the relevance of DH in our growing world, and learned about the current status of DH at both schools. Us Carls shared some of the projects we were working on, while lamenting over our absence of a DH grant (that St. Olaf received). Since DH associates would regularly consult faculty members to assist them on their DH projects, we did a workshop helping us approach and conquer potential awkward situations. Some examples – how to approach a conversation when disagreements on design and usability arise? Or what to say when given limited information and unmanageable expectations? These situations come up more often than we expect, and we must be prepared to know how to effectively and respectfully deal with these matters.

We ended our retreat with an activity to re-design a DH project. Back in our groups, we examined another DH website and made specific suggestions for improvements for website usability, such as modifying specific navigation items and others. Overall, the retreat was an awesome way to get introduced and establish our connections to the DH community.