Archives for February 2012

Omeka vs. Pinterest

I know everyone has made (or at least explored) an Omeka site, and I’ve sent everyone invitations for Pinterest — so I thought it’d be worthwhile to post about the similarities/differences between the two collaborative-ish sites.

In Omeka’s tag-line, “Your online exhibit is one click away,” the word “exhibit” is exactly the pull — Omeka lets you put on display your “collections, research, exhibits and digital projects” (to quote the website again).

Similarly, Pinterest offers digital “boards” that display your collections:  “Pinterest is a virtual pinboard. Pinterest allows you to organize and share all the beautiful things you find on the web. You can browse pinboards created by other people to discover new things and get inspiration from people who share your interests.”

Pinterest is VERY easy to use (assuming you have an invitation, which Omeka does not require) — all you do is put the “Pin It” button on your Bookmark toolbar; when you come across a site/image/idea/anything that you like, click the “Pin It” button, grab an image, and ta-da!  It’s on one of your boards.

Omeka is a bit more complicated than this, as it asks for metadata. This article summarizes the three biggest problems with Pinterest that aren’t an issue with Omeka: 1. All metadata is stripped; 2. Website owners must “opt-in” to copyright protection; 3. Pinterest can sell pinned work.

Omeka’s more complex entry is desirable (albeit a bit frustrating at times) in that it promotes sustainability, whereas Pinterest “pin its” may be here today, gone tomorrow.

Although I’m sure Pinterest has benefits for researchers, it goes without saying that Pinterest is more for the casual websurfer, whereas Omeka is a tool worthy of digital humanists.


Final Project Brainstorming

As I begin brainstorming for my final project, I’m thinking about the three hands-on tools we’ve practiced so far:  ArcGIS, TEI, and Omeka.

One of the conditions of our final project is to use at least two tools, and the first thing that comes to mind for me is to create several maps on ArcGIS and to then display on an Omeka site.  However, I’d like to use TEI…but how??  If I were to type up a program/code of some sort, what do I then do with it?  I don’t know what to do after TextEdit.

How can I incorporate my beginner TEI coding skills in a project?  Does knowledge of TEI coding allow me to tweak an Omeka site?  Or if I were to use TEI with ArcGIS — maybe I could create a map of key locations — and within the coding label these locations as “terms” (or is it <term>?) of some sort.

As we read in one of the TEI articles, I could use XML encoding to focus on the descriptive markup (as opposed to the database-style procedural markup) for excerpts of the Mandeville text… (my source)

I don’t understand if our project is more of just a practice/training exercise for our own benefit, or if we’re really building something to be used by the academic community.  Should my focus be more on building a strong, organized base from which I can build/add content (so focusing in depth on one chapter or a few paragraphs); or should I focus more on the content and leave the more detailed encoding for later on (so trying to include the entire work, as more of a gloss)?

TEI and the Learning Process

I found my reading on TEI very interesting. As I’ve said on this blog before, my prior knowledge of web-based sources did not include anything pertaining to their creative machinery. Therefore, it was fascinating, and also very comforting, to see that one of the fundamental goals when creating the guidelines for TEI was that of exploiting the text for the intellectual benefit of the user (reader) and of the creator (Digital Humanist/ author). It is, once again, “good to know” that the presentation of a text does not solely have to do with aesthetics, but lends itself to thorough textual analysis, manipulating structure in order to bring the most essential aspects of a text to the fore.

Even More on Inclusivity

While learning about TEI and Omeka this week, I have been thinking, still, about how to make DH inclusive to others. This week my reading was full of technical terms that had me repeating”Huh?” rather often. How can we make technical discussions, like the one we will have about TEI, accessible to others who doubt DH’s usefulness? I do not have an answer to this question yet, but here are my thoughts so far. My first thought is simply that these technical discussions don’t always have to be so technical. For example, when discussing TEI with those who are less technically inclined, we can focus on its goals and purpose rather than the way it achieves these goals. The goals of sustainability and preservation are ones that most humanists should be able to relate to and support. The main problem I see with this idea is that avoiding the technical terms might be akin to stripping the digital out of digital humanities. At the same time, I think that this technique could be useful in the beginning of discussions about DH, although the technical application would certainly have to be brought back in at some point. I imagine it as a first introduction to a new friend, you don’t reveal all the gritty details about your life in that first meeting. Instead, you give an “overview” of yourself and save the technicalities of your life story for later. In all honesty, I don’t know if I agree with this approach, but I hope it is food for thought and discussion. What do you think? How do we make DH accessible to the non-technical humanists?

Preserving Personal Projects

In thinking about Dr. Earhart’s talk last week, I have been pondering the issue of preservation. I put some thoughts up on my blog at HASTAC and thought it might be good to cross-post here (especially since I haven’t said much lately).

As I embark on a personal project, I am wondering what is the best way to preserve my work. My plan is to use GIS technology to map references made to different locations in the 1991 novel Mala onda by the Chilean author Alberto Fuguet. The work provides a rich source of geo-locations, but rarely explains the socio-historic significance of these places. I want to create a map that would both visually represent the connections between text and geography and provide more information about the specific places.

(A very early iteration of what the project will look like using the online version of ARCGIS can be seen here.)

I have two questions I am wondering about as I begin this project:

  1. What is the best way to save information from web sites in case they no longer exist in the future?
  2. What are the realities of a long-term preservation of this project?

Currently, I am using Zotero to capture web pages with information I find important and that I worry could be lost in the future (like this site listing personal and government accounts of what happened to victims during the 1973 military coupe in Chile). Is there are better way to preserve this information?

Also, this project is driven by my own personal and professional interests. I am solely responsible for the creation and maintenance of the page. As we build projects like this, what is the feasibility that they’ll continue to exist long-term? Without being attached to any established, funded research group, is my work, or others like it, irredeemably doomed to be lost?

Digital Humanities: what about making things simple?!

Second post in 6 weeks. This is far from what could be called a “proper” Digital Humanist… And yet, blogging is not the only thing that can define a Digital Humanist (cf. my post on Diigo). I have had much thinking about my presence online but also about what it takes to do D.H. Our discussion in class about inclusion has actually been  enlightening  on that matter since I realized that I am not as excited as other Graduate students on D.H but yet that it does not mean that I refuse to use/work with D.H.

On the contrary, I completely agree with the discussion we have had about the language that we use when talking about D.H. and consequently here is a first simple reflection for our group: a way to make  D.H more attractive to more people is simply to be more intelligible  in our wording about it. Who could give a very simple definition of D.H? What is a Digital Humanist? Are we Digital Humanists because we use technology? Are we going to be Digital Humanists at the end of this course? If yes, to what extend?


More on Inclusive Discourse in DH

While reading Rosenzweig and Fitzpatrick’s chapters this week, I was still pondering last week’s question: how can we make our discourse about DH more inclusive? Reading with this topic in mind, I thought of various possibilities to make DH more inclusive, two of which I will discuss here.

1. Fitzpatrick discussed briefly that digital or online scholarly texts have the possibility to be more than just text. For some reason, this example struck me. Despite reading Planned Obsolescence which is a text full of comments from others, I hadn’t envisioned an academic text online that would be much more than text, at least not one I would create. Suddenly I envisioned a text that could be full of interactive maps and images, like those we have discussed the past couple of weeks. Considering this epiphany (of sorts) in concert with inclusive discourse, I thought that these texts would not necessarily be “bigger, better, or faster” (to borrow from Annette) than traditional texts, but they would be new, original, and engaging. While the word new may not seem inclusive to some, at one time every theory was new and people did embrace them. Rather than running from the idea that DH is new, or trying to hide that it may be new I think we should consider the positive aspects of its newness and originality. We all know that “original work” is very important to scholars in the humanities (especially those like me who deal with “old” texts that have been studied before). Why not discuss the additional opportunities that DH provides for scholars to create original work? We can show how DH can be an extension of the already valuable work scholars are doing.

2. The second aspect of both Rosenzweig and Fitzpatrick’s chapters that made me reconsider inclusive discourse was their insistence on the important social aspects of DH. Namely, that DH relies on social networks for sustainability. As scholars, we are already part of social networks based around similar interests, an aspect of our professions that many scholars enjoy. In fact, in many ways this social network is vital to the traditional way we perform scholarship. The traditional method of reviewing the literature on your topic, citing your sources, and performing peer review of an article are all ways in which we perform in this social network on a routine basis. Since scholars are already familiar and comfortable with such functions of the social network, it is not such a stretch to explain how DH can be part of this already existing network.

Replacement or supplement?

Did anyone else get the vibe that Rosenzweig is pushing the Internet as a replacement for more “traditional” methods of accessing and collecting research (at least in the domain of History)?  That archives and non-digital sources are only really valuable once they’ve been digitized?

I’ve pulled out the following citations with our DH as replacement or supplement argument in mind:

“Like journalism, Wikipedia offers a first draft of history, but unlike journalism’s draft, that history is subject to continuous revision.  Wikipedia’s ease of revision not only makes it more up-to-date than a traditional encyclopedia, it also gives it (like the Web itself) a self-healing quality since defects that are criticized can by quickly remedied and alternative perspectives can be instantly added” (Rosenzweig 70).

“In contrast to paper media, the Internet seems ideally suited for this kind of vibrant, daily exchange [like e-mails, blogs, instant messaging, etc.]” (Rosenzweig 124).

“Using the Internet will likely supplement or complement older, more time-consuming and costly methods such as this [those methods involved in collecting oral history, like interviews and transcriptions]” (Rosenzweig 127-8).

And the final sentence of Chapter 8:

“Using the Internet to collect history shares this vision:  it is undoubtedly a more democratic form of history than found in selective physical archives or nicely smoothed historical narratives, and it shares democracy’s messiness, contradictions, and disorganization — as well as its inclusiveness, myriad viewpoints, and vibrant popular spirit” (Rosenzweig 150-1).

What I’m wondering:  For those historians who aren’t currently relying on the Internet as a research tool, does Rosenzweig’s approach encourage these historians to “get with the times” — or does it build resistance?

Good to know: Preserving data

One of my recurring concerns ( I try to ignore it, but it keeps coming back!) has to do with the difference in knowledge base between creators and users of digital “stuff”. By that I mean, the people who create the devices/contexts/interfaces we use, make up only a very small, select few. The users, however, are the “masses,” whose knowledge base, as it pertains to digital “stuff ,” is significantly smaller than that of the creators. It’s ironic, too, seeing that we (as young scholars) work to become the select few in our specific fields of work. However, having read chapter 4 of “Planned Obsolescence” I feel as if I’m a little more “in the know” in terms of the history of the World Wide Web (why have I never heard about Tim Berners-Lee?!), and the process of presenting, storing, accessing, and preserving data there.
This knowledge, though it has little bearing on our understanding of how things work, helps us to separate ourselves from the “masses” just a little bit. As scholars who intend to use the World Wide Web to present, preserve, and access our work, it’s good to know about the various tools/initiatives/limitations/possibilities that will affect the choices we make on how we use the web.


I have been feeling this way ever since this course started — but now especially, after reading Fitzpatrick’s chapter on Preservation — I know absolutely nothing about how the internet works.

A month ago, I happily typed in www-dot, or http-colon, etc., without even thinking, noticing or appreciating that the combination of characters I was typing would in fact lead me not only to a website but to the website I sought.   Of course, I’ve run into websites that are no longer active, or that have had a “change of address” — but I’ve never reflected upon what that means exactly — both what it means for the consumer (moi) and what it means for the provider.  Link rot??  Now that I know the term, I’ll be sure to use it appropriately (but hopefully not too often).

And if an online journal encounters what Fitzpatrick calls a “trigger event”, and I no longer have access to needed information?  Fortunately, from what I could tell by poking around the Vanderbilt library website, it seems as if Vandy supports both LOCKSS and Portico — so at least I can rely on my university library to allow me continued access to the digital information (hopefully?).

As for e-books, and all the questions Clifford Lynch poses — I own a Kindle, but I have never purchased an e-book to read on it because I like to mark up and later share my books.  I use my Kindle for reading PDFs and other articles, as well as for public domain works.  My behavior (of not wanting to invest money in e-books), I now can explain, is motivated by my own confusion of ownership and durability; and I don’t know what needs to happen or what proof must exist in order for me to convert from paper books to e-books.

Making DH inclusive: A case study

In this post I will try to make a case for why and how the discourse surrounding digital humanities can become more inclusive. As I said in class, the specific language of “bigger, better, faster” may seem like a viable and even true “justification” for the inclusion of digital humanities into the academy, where justification is necessary for funding among other practical concerns. However, it serves to alienate those who hear in it an implicit (and sometimes explicit) suggestion that their work without DH is currently deficient in some way. While this may not be the intention of DHers, we must all be sensitive as humanists to this possible interpretation.

My concern then is two-pronged. Alienation is one part. The second part considers the ramifications of this kind of discourse on DH itself and on the limited possibilities it will allow for institutional inclusion in academia. Basically by positing DH as “the new gold rush,” “the tech revolution” and crafting a language of “get with this to be up to date or else be left out,” DHers  may justify (that word again) departments’ acceptance and inclusion of DH but to a very limited point. The parallel I can think of here is with “francophone studies” and the strong case that was made in the not too distant past to “update” the limited focus of French departments because francophone studies was the future (in terms of demands for teaching positions, research and also of course for political reasons). While all this may be true and important, the result has been first of all that the position of francophone studies in French departments has usually been additive and not constitutive. A quick example would be our own department’s MA reading list with the small “Francophone” section tacked on at the end. This immediately creates an artificial boundary between French and Francophone and coupled with the periodization of the rest of the list suggests that no “francophone” literature was produced before the 20th century. While I am sure that the position of francophone studies in our department does not necessarily mirror the impression created by the reading list, I use that example to show the possibility that a small, comfortable, demarcated space will be created in a corner of academia for DH to satisfy the “we’re now up to date” requirement and that there will be no real way for non-DH scholars to grasp and even propose ways in which this field could merge seamlessly with the work that people in the humanities do. That would be a loss.

In short, I think that positing technological tools as the better alternative to old methods (eg. geo-referencing vs. paper maps) could lead some departments to pay lip service to DH (eg hire one DHer) for image reasons and continue on their merry way because that conversation about how there could be a real, meaningful, symbiotic relationship between the digital and the humanities halves that make up this complex and compound field…that conversation could not happen with the language of exclusivity and the implicit notion of “we are here to replace you.”

So here is a quick example of one way in which that positive, inclusive conversation has happened. The Golden Notebook is a 1962 (note the date!) novel by 2007 Nobel Prize laureate Doris Lessing. In 2008 Lessing began The Golden Notebook project, ” an experiment in close-reading in which seven women are reading the book and conducting a conversation in the margins.” I like this example because it does not present itself with language that indicates value judgement. Nor is it simply a digitized version of the book that is implicitly better because everyone can comment on it and therefore it shows the limitations of paper books. Rather, it takes a text that is about a female protagonist’s intimate, sacred, inner space (her journals) and puts it out on the web. Then it invites 7 outstanding (imo) readers including British writer of Nigerian descent Helen Oyeyemi (and personally my favourite writer of all time…sorry Cesaire) and Haitian-American poet Lenelle Moise, to read the text and make comments in the margins. Then there is a blog where the readers can write more extensively about their reading experience and finally a forum where everyone (else) can have a conversation. I think this project incorporates the essential elements that Cory pointed out in class of interactivity and collaboration, and is particularly successful to my mind because it weaves together seamlessly an intricate conversation about technology and literature where the two are mutually dependent and not necessarily where one can only be made better by shoring it up with the other. The notions of close reading and textual analysis are not secondary, nor are the important implications of representation and polyphony that characterise this symbiotic relationship between literature and the internet.

If this project relates at all to our future discussion of open access or really anything else I would love to do a small show and tell (shameless plug). This project has fascinated me for a while!

Pondering the Possibilities…

After reading an article on the “Crisis Mappers” in academia who literally map world crisis to be used for research I began to ponder just how many ways GIS can impact our work. While I may not study contemporary crises, there are so many crises that do impact my work, such as The Seven Years War and The French and Haitian Revolutions to name a few. I can visualize how mapping communication between France and its colonies during these crises could shed light on my own work. I am imagining a cross between the crisis mappers’s work and the Mapping the Republic of Letters project. Beyond mapping crises, or mapping travels from a literary text, I think the idea of mapping communication in general is pertinent for many humanists. We can take the idea of communication past personal letters and consider other mediums of communication as well, for example newspapers. I can envision mapping the frequency in which the haitian revolution was mentioned in French newspapers over time. What are other ways that mapping communication can add to our work?

Perry-Castañeda Library Map Collection

In order to build some background knowledge before introducing an extract from Camara Laye’s L’Enfant noir, I’m going to use the two maps April showed in her presentation at the last seminar.   (Loved this one – )

I wish we already had it fixed up so that I could show them one map, with the “new” country borders overlapping the African empires — so until we have that (April’s project?), I’m just gonna show the 2 maps side-by-side, in order to make the students aware of the effects of colonization.

Thank you, April, for sharing a great way to incorporate authentic (digital) text in the classroom!

Excited about GIS!

Although I agree with some of the previous posts that Yuan’s article wasn’t as enlightening as I hoped it would be, I am still excited about GIS! I am enthusiastic because of what I think it can do for my research. Since I study the communication between France and the New World I can envisage many ways in which a geographical mapping of a text could be useful to me. While many of the 18th century French authors who wrote about he New World had never travelled there, they read and studied travel accounts of voyages to the New World. Mapping out some of these travel accounts could give me a visual idea of how 18th century authors saw the rest of the world and the way in which they conceptualized their works. GIS could also be useful to determine the frequency with which certain places in the New World are mentioned in the texts I study. What were the New World hot spots in fiction?

I also think that GIS could be extremely useful in teaching to help to draw students into the texts, particularly those they may find inaccessible. For example, if I were to teach Émile Zola’s La Curée whose themes include property speculation, it would be very interesting for students, who may find the idea of property speculation boring, to map the location of the properties Aristide was buying. It would also be interesting to compare the quartiers where Aristides properties were found then and today. Something along these lines could give students a great perspective on how Paris has changed over the years, and in particular how much it transformed during the Haussmann era.

I just can’t wait to put some of these ideas into practice!

GIS for me

Yuan’s article was inaccessible to me. I still have no idea what georeferencing or geoparsing mean. The only example I could vaguely understand was the one used to explain geo-inference, which the author called “a simplistic example.” I suppose I was not their target audience.

Consequently, I cannot say with certainty what place GIS can have in my research or my teaching. I could perhaps envision the role of maps and mapping textual information in my work (and if that is the definition of GIS then Yuan should just say so).

Teaching- I used David Eltis’ database in the class I taught today on slavery and colonization in the French empire and it was very useful for students who knew nothing of France but croissants and coco chanel to visualize the historical and geographic coordinates of the Cesaire text we were discussing. Being able to input one’s own variables to pull up the voyages of specific slave ships and to represent spatial relationships (the way Yuan shows in Fig 7.4 with arrows of different widths) made this interactive project more interesting than a still map pulled up on google images.

Research- I think viewing text as a data source could be a useful approach to my own research. Mapping could actually be very instrumental in filling in the silences and gaps of place names and locations that so characterise the fragmented narratives of the African diaspora.