Archives for January 2012

Intro to GIS

I’ve read and reread Yuan’s chapter “Mapping Text” and studied the figures – and yet it remains so abstract to me.  I hope that our hands-on activity in class will give me the knowledge I need to understand what exactly GIS is!

In reading, I realized that my primary definitions of map, text, value, and place cannot be transferred to the same words within the article; these words have such a different (broader yet more specific?) meaning within the field of DH.  Text is more than a literary work (duh, Katie); and map, both a verb and a noun, is not just an indicator of county lines in the state of Tennessee – in fact, a map could just be dots and vectors, no need to indicate where I-440 and I-65 intersect.  (I know TN was nowhere mentioned in the article; I’m just illustrating my narrow idea of maps before reading the article).  Place is not the same as a location … but a location becomes a place when associated with more than just geographic positioning (121)?  Values are any key words or significant information that the mapper (cartographer?) wants recorded.  Maybe?

With this vague understanding of GIS, the applications to my teaching might be “simplistic” and uninteresting (118) – but I still think it would work!  I think GIS could be very helpful in organizing narratives with an abundance of and interconnectedness between characters, such as in Les Faux-monnayeurs by Gide, La Princesse de Clèves by Mme de la Fayette, and La Comédie humaine byHuHHHh Blazac.  One could even use GIS to perhaps trace the effects of genetics within the Rougon-Macquart novels by Zola.  Among early French language learners, Jules Verne’s Le tour du monde en quatre-vingts jours would be fun both to read and then to use GIS to track the destinations.

My research too could only benefit from GIS.  I think I am going to be researching applications of Standards within higher education classrooms – so I could use mapping to see which SES backgrounds or which geographic regions incorporate which Standards…  or more broadly, what factors influence a department’s or teacher’s Standards within the classroom, and then which Standards are emphasized and which are neglected …  I’m not too sure right now, but I know that there’s a definite application!

In conclusion, I appreciated Yuan’s open and multiple acknowledgements of the gaps and shortcomings of GIS in its current state.  And yet, Yuan confidently points to the “next step”, to the future and the possibilities that could be realized with more research and more practice.  Although we’re not developing tools or writing programs (speaking for myself here), I believe our DH class is nonetheless contributing to the field by promoting the study of GIS.

Another Introduction!

Hello! My name is April Stevens and I am a third year graduate student in the French Department at Vanderbilt University. I am currently embarking on the first stages of preparing to write a disseration. My research focuses on the circulation of information between France and the New World during the 18th century (prior to the French Revolution). I am particularly interested in how French authors appropriated the “New World” or fictionalized versions of it to explore philosophy and the application of philosophy.

I hope that this exploration of the Digital Humanities will help me to find new methods of visualizing my research, and I think that GIS in particular could be helpful in mapping out the connections I see between the old and new worlds. Aside from my research, I am also committed to excellence in my teaching, which I think could also be greatly enhanced with DH tools. I have taught introductory language courses since 2010 here at Vanderbilt, but this semester I am also fortunate to be a TA for a literature course on the French Enlightenment. I already see many possible technologies that could help me to enhance both the language and literature courses that I teach.

Thank you!

Another Grad student !


My name is Roxane  Pajoul. I am a first year graduate student in the French Departement.

I have always been interested in feminism, literature and I love teaching.

One day I hope to be able to combine the three of them to have an ideal job — I am allowed to dream, right?

My participation in this project of Digital Humanities is so far limited because there is a lot of information and material to grasp and I have to admit that I am pretty old-school, clinging to my books and pieces of paper.

However I hope that this project will help me to develop a more interactive teaching style and will make my classes more interesting to my students.



My name is Annette Quarcoopome and I am currently a second-year graduate student in the French program at Vanderbilt University. My research focuses largely on questions of history and memory in Antillean literature. My most recent project focuses on literary texts and legal documents in the context of the French and Haitian revolutions, and the conceptualizations of racial and national identity contested and reshaped through translation. I am curious and excited to discover new and useful intersections between translation and digital technologies.

A brief introduction

Hello! I’m a third-year graduate student in the French and Italian Department at Vanderbilt. I’m currently working on French Linguistics and the development of opera in 17th-Century France. I have several popular keywords so far: Lully, Grimarest, Bacilly, airs, Lambert, Mazarin, Colbert, and La Fronde.

My research so far has revealed the various routes that opera took in Europe before coming (to stay) in France. It’d be really interesting to trace this journey with the use of various technologies, revealing the cultural, political, and social influences of each location on the development of the art form in France.

If you have any leads I could follow, or any interesting bits of info. to share, I would love to hear from you! You may contact me by e-mail (, or find me on
Thank you!

Hello, online community!

My name is Katie Gandy, and I am in my fourth semester of graduate work within the Department of French at Vanderbilt University, in Nashville, TN.  Up to this point, the focus of my studies has been literature (especially French, but also English); but recently my interest has turned more towards Second Language Acquisition.  I enjoy researching questions of the relationship between first and second languages within a language learner’s mind, of effective classroom practice of theory, and of the best ways to bring authentic texts into the foreign language classroom.  My teaching experience ranges from teaching French to inner-city elementary students in an after-school program to teaching English as a Second Language to adults in a community college.  Through this Digital Humanities course, I hope to acquire a deeper understanding of digital tools that can help me not only in my research but also in my teaching.

iBooks Textbooks

As though in (some kind of) response to Cory’s post on HASTAC, apple launched yesterday iBooks Textbooks, basically interactive textbooks that one may purchase and use on their ipad. I find the interactive aspect of this idea potentially intriguing. I’m not sure to what extent students think of textbooks as something to interact with. Workbooks maybe, but textbooks are more of a top-down, one-way monologue. In middle school I remember we were not allowed to write in textbooks or really engage with them in any way beyond passively absorbing the information.

I’m playing around with a biology textbook now as I type (the only free one I could find) and it reminds me a lot of the Encarta Encyclopedia CD I used to use way back in the day. The textbook basically incorporates videos so you can see and hear the author talking about ants, you can zoom in on drawings of DNA helices and move them around etc. It’s certainly more fun, and the fact that this particular textbook is free says something about open/free access.


This article suggests caution: but I’m not quite convinced that apple’s initiative is not a good thing for education.

The question of money and ownership with textbook publishing companies (similar to the questions we raised about the music industry in class) is very much at the forefront of the discussion. But from a student’s perspective, I think the novelty of it all, and the idea of interacting closely and even meaningfully with a textbook draws me in and changes the one-way model of knowledge transmission that has been my experience so far with textbooks.

Still pondering the Digital Humanities…

The day after our first class, last Thursday, I had lunch with a friend and colleague from the History Department where we were talking about our work for the new semester. I told her that I was taking this Digital Humanities class, and her question was of course: What exactly is the Digital Humanities? As I launched into my fumbling explanation of my understanding of DH I was simultaneously thinking, “This is exactly what we talked about doing in class!” Ultimately in our discussion I found myself explaining DH through illustrations of how I thought it could enhance my own and her own dissertation research. After I left that day, I was reflecting on the “strategy” I had used to explain DH and I think it is one that could be very useful in convincing those in our profession who don’t understand or doubt the usefulness of DH. As we all know, people relate most to things that are personal to them. We discussed at length the possible concerns that some have with the emergence of DH and how we can encourage better understanding and acceptance of DH. So, as we as a class, learn more about the possibilities of DH, we can keep in mind how we might encourage others to use these tools, perhaps through relating our explanations to their own research.

In addition to Wikipedia’s blackout …

Google Homepage seems to be doing something similar with a large black box placed over the logo.  Click on the black box, and it leads you to the following website, named “End Piracy, Not Liberty”:  There is even a form on this page to send an anti-online censorship message directly to Congress!

Also, the following is a link to an article that summarizes the extent of the protest:

Jonathan Lethem’s article “The Ecstasy of Influence” addresses this triangular tension among consumers, creators and corporations (the three players affected by/interested in SOPA and PIPA): “But the truth is that with artists pulling on one side and corporations pulling on the other, the loser is the collective public imagination from which we were nourished in the first place, and whose existence as the ultimate repository of our offerings makes the work worth doing in the first place” (68).  Earlier, in his explanation of the “usemonopoloy”, Lethem writes, “Whether the monopolizing beneficiary is a living artist or some artist’s heirs or some corporation’s shareholders, the loser is the community, including living artists who might make splendid use of a healthy public domain” (64).

The refrain seems to be that copyright and anti-pirating laws not only block creative progress but also negatively affect the public — and this 2007 article still strikes true, especially in light of Wikipedia’s black-out, which is explained by Wikipedia as a defense of public (and global) information:  “Wikipedians have chosen to black out the English Wikipedia for the first time ever, because we are concerned that SOPA and PIPA will severely inhibit people’s access to online information. This is not a problem that will solely affect people in the United States: it will affect everyone around the world.”

Good to know…

I just read the short article entitled, “Whatever made you think it was your data anyway?” (Thanks, Lyn!)
I appreciate Steven Poole’s matter-of-fact tone, and I think his article will inspire me in two main ways: (1) to become more aware of the roles I play as an internet user, and (2) to become more vigilant in how I manage my data online. Interestingly enough, these two ideas are already being explored, as I learn how to use WordPress; I’ll become a webmaster (not just a “product being sold”), and will be in charge of the “metaspace” in which my data is stored.

Wiki blackout!

Wikipedia will have a 24 hour blackout beginning tomorrow in order to protest the legislation concerning copyright law which will soon be put before congress. This is the first time I have heard of any type of boycott by a web site provider. Not only is this tactic new, it is meant to address copyright law.

Wikipedia To Be Blacked Out Over Anti-Piracy Bill

So, what’s this all about? How is it different from what we normally do?

After our first class, I wondered if many of the students had a grasp of exactly about what we were discussing.  There were two salient questions that I felt were unanswered.

First, what exactly IS Digital Humanities?  It’s hard to describe, as you can imagine.  If you were to ask, “what is French literature?”  The most immediate response would be something like “the corpus of written text produced in France.”  But, we all know that it’s considerably more than that.  So, I’ll give you the “bare bones” description of Digital Humanities, and I’ll follow it with the standard caveat:  “we all know that it’s more than that.”

Digital Humanities–  The first part of the term is digital, meaning that its information stored by machines in a format consisting of zeros and ones.  Computers store information in this format:  a zero or a one.  Why?  Shucks, I don’t know.  What’s a zero and what’s a one, in terms of data storage?  Shucks, I don’t know.  The second part of the term is humanities, for which Wikipedia gives a great definition.  “The humanities are academic disciplines that study the human condition, using methods that are primarily analytical, critical, or speculative, as distinguished from the mainly empirical approaches of the natural sciences.”

So, put the two together, and we have:  academic disciplines studying the human condition, using digital methods that are analytical, critical or speculative.

But, hey, we all know that it’s more than that.

My second inquiry, relates to how digital humanities differs from regular humanities.  Kirschenbaum’s article, which we discussed last week, outlines this.  He gives three characteristics of digital humanities:

It’s social.  DH involves networks of people.

It involves a common methodological outlook.

It is one sector of the humanities that is seeing growth, not only in terms of human participation, but also in garnering financial support from institutions.

And of course, we all know that there is a lot more to it, than “that.”


We have collaboration!

I recently posted about our class on HASTAC, and we already have some interested collaborators working on similar projects that could be of benefit to us. Steven Berg is a history professor at a community college. His challenge is to interest his students in projects similar to ours although they may have a somewhat limited knowledge of academic research. His blog explores some of the ways that we, as educators, can help engage undergraduates in meaningful research projects.

AnaMaria Seglie is a fellow graduate student who has been working on the Our America’s Archive Partnership. OAAP is, her words, “is a multi-institutional digital humanities project partnered by Rice University’s Americas Archive, University of Maryland’s Early Americas Digital Archive, and the library at Instituto Mora.” AnaMaria has also posted about OAAP along with an interesting discussion about how to work with a digital archive here.


I wanted to quickly give some information about HASTAC that I mentioned in class. For those of us just entering the world of Digital Humanities, I think HASTAC provides a good jumping off point. Initially, I felt somewhat overwhelmed with HASTAC. But after attending the 2011 conference this past December, I’ve become aware that it is composed of a lot of people similar to those of us taking the class. People at different levels of technological abilities are seeking out new tools to help them organize and present their work while gaining the benefit of increased collaboration. I would urge everyone to check out the site at, especially the scholar blogs (here) produced by graduate students around the country. I’ll also be posting/cross-posting comments about our class on the HASTAC site. (And as a side note, I personally feel that HASTAC could benefit from more input from the foreign languages).

Who owns this site?

It’s a good question. Someone else had a concept, roped me in and the site grows and changes with the input of many, many individuals. So my sense would be at first that no one “owns” the site. On the other hand, I do pay for the hosting, the WordPress theme, etc. Yet much of the data that goes on the site has either been made by others or contributed to by others or edited and presented by others. It’s truly a group effort.

This led me to think of a good way to license the site, though I do wonder if any sort of license is necessary. I used the Creative Commons (the goal of the Downfall video we saw!) license, selecting the option that allows full use of the site as long as it is attributed. See for options and info.