Archives for March 2012

Ruminations from a DH Conference

I am very proud of our little group of budding Digital Humanists. I am not too sure if you all realize how far you have gone and what you know, at this point.

I am presently at a DH “That Camp” in a large community of highly qualified scholars and techies. I have to tell you that you all clearly are well beyond a good percentage of these folk. I am not saying that this crowd is not “up to snuff,” what I am saying is that you all are now ahead of the game, by leaps and bounds. I want to make this clear. If you want further proof, and you think that your favorite cheerleader is trying to “make you feel good,” here is a quiz. The following are questions that I have heard from scholars and techies who consider themselves versed in DH.

-What’s a “Word Press?”
-Can you tell me what ” metadata” is?
-Why are there opening and closing tags in an HTML/XML/TEI document?
-Where can I get an Omeka?

Perhaps, before this course, you might have had these same questions. This knowledge is not innate. But, I have been thinking about you all during these sessions and realizing how far you’ve gone. Congratulations!


Departmental written guidelines

I had a lot of questions after reading the following sentence from the MLA website, “Guidelines for Evaluating Work with Digital Media in the Modern Languages”:

“Institutions and, when appropriate, departments should develop their own written guidelines so that faculty members engaged in research and teaching with digital media can be adequately and fairly evaluated and rewarded.”

 We have both the Department Chair and the Director of Graduate Studies as co-professors in this course — so I’m curious — does OUR department of French and Italian have written guidelines outlining the treatment/interpretation/rewarding of work with digital media, as used by its professors?  Does ANY department at Vanderbilt have this?  What would those guidelines look like in our own department? 

When we graduate students are on the job market, would it be appropriate to ask how “research and teaching with digital media [are] adequately and fairly evaluated and rewarded” (MLA website) bythe prospective department/institution?

Evaluating Digital Work

While most of the suggestions in our readings for this week on how to evaluate digital work are eminently practical, there are a couple suggestions that I did question, particularly in the current economic situation. I am not questioning their usefulness, as I feel that they are in general all good ideas, but whether departments will actually implement these ideas. The first, and most questionable to me for the level of practicality, was the suggestion of cluster hiring. Even before I read the paragraph about cluster hiring, the header made me think: what French department could afford that or be willing to budget for that in this economy? To be fair, the authors of the article clearly show that this may not be possible, and offer alternative advice including inviting visiting lecturers, etc. As I continued to read the article I pondered the financial practicality of suggestions like supplying potentially expensive equipment.While here at Vanderbilt we may have access to GIS technology and experts, what about at smaller schools? Admittedly, I have no experience with department finances and therefore perhaps these concerns are not as problematic as I think they could be. On the other hand, as a third year graduate student contemplating the job market in the coming years, all I hear is how the economy is affecting hiring, etc. This made me reflect on the the larger question of how will DH establish itself in this precarious economy. Will the innovation of DH be enough to propel it even in this economy? Will DH solutions be more cost effective and therefore preferable (we have suggested that they could be more cost effective than print)? Also, I think this relates to my previous post on the remediation in the digital age- maybe education about the new opportunities of digital media will help departments to make the investment in both people and resources to establish DH in their departments. I do not have the answers to any of these questions, but I do think that they make good food for thought.

Reflections on Martin Foys’ Visit

After reading Martin Foys’ Virtually Anglo-Saxon and then listening to his lecture, I have done a lot of reflecting on our discussions on remediation.  In particular, Foy’s discussion of digital media as a new form of media, similar to the advent of printed texts in the middle ages has really gotten me thinking. In my own simplified terms, Foys suggested that new media does not have its own logic from inception, so it must imitate the old media form before it can develop its own logic and then eventually reject the old media. Thinking of digital media in this fashion has kind of opened my eyes to more of the possibilities with DH. I think that we have been in the stage where digital media was “imitating” print media, and now we are at the point where we are trying to move past that stage. I realized that for me personally, despite my willingness to embrace DH, I have still been thinking of DH as I would print in many ways. This sort of thinking can be limiting on the imagination and can limit the usefulness of digital media for humanists because we are not exploring its full potential. I have found this revelation extremely useful simply in that it has freed me to be more creative and conceptualize totally new ways that I could explore my research.

I also think that part of the issue with those colleagues who may not embrace the digital humanities could be linked to this idea as well. If we view digital media as we do print then we may ask the question: Why do we need the digital humanities when we have print? One answer could be, because digital media can represent things that print simply cannot represent as well. For example, Foys suggested that depth can be shown in digital media in a way that print can never represent it.

Thanks again to Martin Foys for such an interesting and stimulating discussion!

Mediating historical texts through print

I found Foy’s discussion of the mediating and remediating effect of print. Two quotes in prticular struck me. First: “The brief historical and critical survey of the effect of print on Anglo-Saxon writing presented above extends Mitchell’s question and ponders how well the medium of print as a whole suits the early medieval form, function and cultural meaning of Anglo-Sacon discourse.” pg 20. This resonates with me after hearing a talk on the use of “traditional” (dare i say western) historical methods to include the Haitia Revolution into discourse on other 18th century revolutions. I was frustrated in that talk that we were not asking the right questions, and Foy’s text shows in a really engaging way that being aware of the mediating effects of print allows us to ask new and important questions of the medieval texts we study.


The second qute is quite lengthy, the first full paragraph on that same page. I found it very interesting to consider in concrete terms the ways in which print mediates (re)production, reading and interpretation of medieval texts…concrete ways like omissions, deletions, font style and even reconstructing endings eg the tapestry.

Map Accuracy

While reading over the excerpts from Foys’s book, especially Ch 4, I kept thinking of our attempts to map the medieval map onto a modern map while using ArcGIS.

I know that we all spent much time connecting green x to blue x in order to align the edges of the maps (April takes the cake with her 100+ alignments).  Regardless of the time spent, though, we could never make the maps fit exactly — “To modern eyes, these medieval worlds never seem quite right” (Foys 111).

We were trying to use a modern political map and precise GPS points from google maps to locate positions on a medieval map… which was NOT the purpose of that map.  Foys writes, “As maps become more and more accurate in their schematized signification, then, they become further and further divorced from ‘real’ perception of the space they reproduce” (117); we should read medieval maps therefore NOT as “an accurate indicator of physical space” (120) but as “datascapes” (120).

In adapting the medieval map to modern standards, as we did in our use of ArcGIS, we really just emphasized the ‘accuracy’ flaws without profiting from the rich information that’s within.

I look forward to hearing Foys’s opinion of ArcGIS and its applicability to medieval maps!