Syllabus: Approaching Digital Humanities, Spring 2019

online graduate course, spring 2019 @ northwestern university.

More Info & To Register

For more information and to register, visit the Masters of Liberal Studies (MALS) page at Northwestern University’s School of Professional Studies.

Overview

Course Description 

If you are curious about adding a digital dimension to your scholarship; if you want to acquire digital skills and competencies to be more competitive on the job market for culture work, broadly conceived; or if you already have sophisticated programming expertise but wish to link it to humanities inquiry, this is a good course for you. It introduces the range of activities in the emerging field of digital humanities, with a particular emphasis on its public humanities dimensions. 

We will investigate: 

  • The history of digital approaches to the humanities.
  • How digital tools, platforms, and approaches serve specialized research in the humanities (through database construction, text markup, informatics, statistical analysis, “big data” interpretation, artistic glitching, and remixing tactics).
  • What new models of publishing and scholarly communication the digital makes available (searchable digital archives and repositories, interactive multimedia presentations, audio and video podcasts, visualization strategies, use of social media, etc.).
  • How we are to grapple with the ethics and politics of the digital world (surveillance, equal access, open source and copyright, sustainability, power).

Students will read extensively, investigate case studies, and complete a set of guided analytic and interpretive digital assignments. They will also develop a final project focused on a topic of interest to the student, with guidance from the instructor. 

No extensive technical skills are required for the course, just a basic knowledge of both computers and the humanities and an eagerness to learn more about how they relate to each other.

Course Learning Objectives

After taking this course, students will be able to:

  • Critically examine the relationship between digital technologies and the humanities, broadly conceived as an interdisciplinary field of study.
  • Use basic digital technologies useful for humanities research, teaching, publishing, and communication.
  • Frame new questions about topics of interest via digital analysis, publishing, and communication.
  • Develop evidence-based arguments and interpretations about and using digital technologies.

Instructor

Dr. Michael Kramer, Acting Director of the Digital Liberal Arts, Middlebury College

Developed with the assistance of Kristina Wilson, Jeanne Kerl, and Aaron Bannasch, Northwestern University

Moving Through the Course

Each week features a “Module.” It includes:

  • Introduction
  • Objectives
  • Longer Reflections (from me on the topic of the module, so you can get your bearings).
  • Readings and Media (to explore the topic of the module).
  • Case Study Discussion (we look at an example of scholarship on the topic).
  • Assignment (hands-on experiments with the module’s topic or with development of final project).
  • Research Question Evolution (weekly iteration and development of your final project research question).
  • There are a few other assignments occasionally, such as the Sketching DH experiment in Week 01, but this is the general outline of each module.

Schedule

Quick View

  • Week 1—Module 1: Debates in the Digital Humanities, Starting with “What is It, Exactly?”
  • Week 2—Module 2: Looking Through the Microscope—Close Reading Up Close, Using Digital Tools
  • Week 3—Module 3: Looking Through the Telescope—Distant Reading for Pattern Perception Using Digital Tools
  • Week 4—Module 4: Prospectus Draft Development
  • Week 5—Module 5: Time and Space—Timelines and Maps for Humanities Inquiry and Presentation
  • Week 6—Module 6: Data and Archives
  • Week 7—Module 7: Glitching for Interpretation—Deformance and Ductility of Data
  • Week 8—Module 8: Networks
  • Week 9—Module 9: Platforms For Digital Projects and Social Media
  • Week 10—Module 10: Final Project

Week 01

Module 1: Debates in the Digital Humanities, Starting with “What is It, Exactly?”

Introduction 

In many respects, the emerging field of the digital humanities is contested. In an odd way, these very contestations constitute the field. This week asks you to dive in to debates about and in the digital humanities. What is it, or, what are they? Notice that we cannot even decide on the verb tense for digital humanities. Should it be singular or plural? It or they? How do we define these activities and ideas as a scholarly practice? As a more public development? In research? In the classroom? How does adding the digital as an adjective alter the nature of the humanities, or does it? And what does it mean to bring the humanities (whatever those are!) to bear on the thing we call “the digital”?

Objectives

  • Explore contested definitions of the digital humanities.
  • Explore debates about the digital humanities within the emerging field.
  • Begin to consider why the digital humanities matter beyond the academic field itself.
  • Through hands-on experimentation, try out one type of digital humanities analysis, “distant reading,” in relation to the older tradition of close reading.

Longer Reflections

One of the most fascinating aspects of digital humanities is that defining it sometimes seems to make scholars either starry-eyed utopian revolutionaries or cranky Luddites. Is it a discipline? A field of study? A set of techniques? An impulse? What did it mean in the 2000s to shift from the concept of “humanities computing” to “digital humanities”? What was involved in that name change? A cynical rebranding campaign as if English Departments were nothing more than marketing departments for the humanities? Or a sign of deeper transformations in the study of the humanities?

What is the digital in all of this? Is it about the use of computational power? Algorithms? Programming? Automation? Machine learning? Big data? Or is the digital really more about questions of media and mediation—the new multimedia formats and forms of communication that networks, screens, mobile devices, haptic technologies enable? What are the material qualities of the digital, which seems to dematerialize things into code? What are the strategies of encoding and decoding found in digital interactions as data transit between machines and humans, humans and other humans, and increasingly just between machines of different sorts?

And here’s an even bigger question: what are the humanities, anyway!? For one thing, they are not a set of formulaic, programmatic skills you learn—or if they are, the central skill is to learn how to ask foundational questions–not merely in a sophistic effort to argue that anything goes, but to probe the deepest logics that guide our sense of what makes the most sense, what is the best reasoned, what has the best evidence, and how to consider multiple ways of interpreting empirical data without simply embracing a relativistic notion of reality or the truth. Phew, that’s intense! That’s right. We are joining a broad, long-running tradition—back to Plato and Aristotle, Confucius and Lao-Tzu, the Bhagavad Gita and the Constitution of the Iroquois Nation, all the folkways and customs and curiosities and practices and ideas that humans have developed. That’s the human in the humanities, which precedes the far more recent practices of the scientific method—in fact, it is out of the humanities that the scientific method itself emerged. And it pushes more expansively toward all dimensions of thought, from reproducible results in a laboratory to the messier and more complex intersections of ideas, bodies, institutions, and power in the world beyond the walls of the lab.

So when we talk about the digital humanities, we are dealing with some big, important stuff. Welcome. You don’t have to think that grandiosely to join this conversation. After all, you’re a human—so the humanities belong to you too, wherever and whenever you choose to dive in and begin.

How Did I Get Here? Introductions

Welcome to Introduction to Digital Studies: Approaching Digital Humanities! How did you arrive here? Where are you coming from? What are you interested in about digital humanities? What questions do you have? What are you most curious about? Write a paragraph to introduce yourself or make a video or audio recording and post it.

Sketching the Digital Humanities

Make a sketch of the digital humanities. What is it? How do you picture it? You can use paper and scan it to upload here or use a digital program such as a simple sketching program such as Paintbrush, or an application such as Photoshop to create a sketch. Your sketch can have pictures, words, or whatever you wish to use. Upload here.

If any accessibility issues make it difficult to complete these assignment, please speak with the instructor. There are plenty of modes to get creative with expressing your sense of the digital humanities coming into taking the course (a written story, audio, video, etc.).

Readings and Media

Required Readings

Choose Your Own (One or More)

Digital Humanities As a Field

Digital History

Case Study Discussion—What is Digital Humanities?

Overview

Jason Heppler created a simple interface to view comments from participants defining the digital humanities during the annual “Day of DH” between 2009 and 2014.

Jason Heppler, What Is Digital Humanities?

Directions

1. Try refreshing Heppler’s page between 5-15 times. What do you notice about the various definitions of digital humanities? Write a short paragraph reflection that describes your observations of the definitions you read and what you think matters about them to larger questions of defining the digital and/or the humanities, the question of what a discipline or an interdisciplinary approach is, the relationship between machines and humans, the history of the digital, or another relevant issue.

2. After exploring the definitions of others and this week’s readings, how would you define the digital humanities in a brief one or two sentence statement? Respond on the discussion page.

Evaluation

  1. One paragraph reflection on “What Is Digital Humanities?” responses on Heppler’s project.
  2. One-two sentence definition.
  3. At least two responses to other student comments of constructive criticism. What did you appreciate about what other students wrote? What questions did their responses raise for you?
  4. Completion of all directions and comments on writing. See rubric on the Assignment Overview.

Assignment—Article Analysis Through Close vs. Distant Reading

Overview

This assignment asks you to compare close and distant reading techniques. It asks you to explore close reading through using an Article Analyzer Worksheet, then turn your responses into a compelling, short essay. This is the classic approach to humanities interpretation: how does one characterize an argument? Notice evidence? Raise questions or expand upon ideas in readings or other kinds of materials? The devil, as it were, in close reading, is in the details. 

But what happens if, using computers, we back up a bit to do our reading? What does it mean to read through a telescope instead of a microscope? Distant reading is a more recent tactic that has emerged within digital humanities. It is most useful as a means of “reading” through computational processing, more texts than any one human, or even a team of humans, could ever fully digest; but one can also distant read smaller numbers of texts to defamiliarize them, to “read” them differently, in forms that emphasize word frequency, relations, and other patterns across them. 

Voyant as a simple web-based tool that allows for this kind of digital analysis of patterns in text documents. It allows for what has become known as “distant reading,” or the use of a computer to back away from closeup analysis to look at texts through the lens of a computer “reading” them for patterns such as word frequency, relationships between words, and other textual details. It’s not, one should emphasize, that “distant reading” or a tool like Voyant produces some more objective truth about a text, but rather it lets us consider aspects of it from a different perspective: what are the patterns in a thousand or ten thousand or ten million texts that one could never read as an individual? And even with one or just a few texts, did the computer’s program or algorithm and modes of graphical display reveal some aspect of the text that the human eye, reading along, did not?

Directions

PART 1. CLOSE READING

  1. Downloadand complete two online article analyzer worksheets, one for one of the “everyone reads” articles and one for one of the “pick one” articles.
  2. Now, using your article analyzer worksheet entries, write a 750-1000 (approx.) word essay in which you compare and contrast one of the required readings with one of the selected readings. Do these articles have different positions on defining the digital humanities. If so what are they? How do they compare? Cite specific evidence and explain how it supports your description of the argument in each article. Then develop your own position on the similarities and differences between the two articles: what do you make of their contentions about the digital humanities? Why do they matter?

PART 2. DISTANT READING

  1. Use Voyantto analyze this week’s readings. Cut and paste your article’s text from their websites into the Voyant text window What does this “distant” or “computational” reading make you notice? Anything that surprised you? Write one paragraph about what Voyant made you notice in the readings.
  2. Now write an additional 500 words (approx.) on whether the Voyant analysis confirmed your initial analysis or offered different or new perspectives? If so, what were they? Toward what interpretative revisions do these confirmations or new insights lead you?

Evaluation

  1. Two completed online article analyzer worksheets, posted to the discussion board with the close reading essay (about 750-1000 words) and distant reading essay (about 500 words).
  2. Completion of all directions and comments on writing. See rubric on the Assignment Overview.

Research Question Evolution

Context

This course asks you to develop a final project based on student interest: it can apply digital tactics of analysis or publication or experimentation to existing research or professional interests (for instance, if you are working on an MALS or MLIT capstone project and wish to add a digital component); or, alternatively, it can focus on a new project of original research or focus; or, if you get most interested in methodological questions about digital humanities as an emerging field, the final project can select a methodological question about some aspect of digital humanities to explore through research inquiry. The project can take myriad forms, from a written essay to a multimedia narrative to a digital experiment to an artistic project with artists’ statement to a database with statement about the interpretations embedded in the database structure to an audio or video format. What it must contain is a clear, focused research question and an effective, well-reasoned exposition of conclusions grounded in analysis of evidence, sources, or materials. 

A project begins with a question, but it does not end with one. Rather, in humanities research, a dialectic develops between question and materials both primary and secondary. To that end, this weekly assignment asks you to put your research question into words and then revise, experiment with, sharpen, and crystallize your question as you pursue your final project.

Directions

  1. In one-two sentences, frame a project question. Think about what you want to ask, why it matters, and how you might go about addressing the question. Your question does not have to lead to a “right or wrong” answer, necessarily; rather, it can be a tool of inquiry, a kind of flashlight in the dark guiding your way, bringing you back to your path, letting you go off-road or off-track here or there while continuing to find your way forward.
  2. You will be asked to revisit this assignment each week. Each week, reply to your post the week prior, to create a chain or timeline showing the evolution of your research question.

Evaluation

The instructor will offer qualitative feedback on your specific question as it develops, changes, shifts, and sharpens.

Week 02

Module 2: Looking Through the Microscope—Close Reading Up Close, Using Digital Tools

Introduction

Today’s Silicon Valley sells its products and services by arguing that they speed things up: the idea is that computers help us do everything more quickly, more conveniently, more efficiently, and they help us do so at large scales with massive amounts of information and data at our fingertips. As humanities scholars, however, what if we go in the opposite direction, and use digital technology to slow things down and zoom in more closely? What would a slow digital humanities look like? What would be its benefits? This week we turn to how digital tools can enhance the practice of “close reading,” the classic humanities approach of paying careful attention to a document or artifact in order to glean interpretive meaning from its details. We will zoom in and look through the microscope, digitally slowing down our processes of analysis to see where that gets us as digital humanities practitioners.

Objectives

  • Explore how digital tools might inspire better close reading and interpretation of texts, artifacts, and humanistic materials.
  • Try out digital tools of annotation as a mechanism for close reading.
  • Experiment with table building and the database as a mode of developing argumentation, or the convincing move from detailed evidence to an interpretation of the significance of that evidence.

Longer Reflections

The pre-digital method of “close reading” involves looking for the telling details in texts and artifacts and extrapolating significance from them. One might even imagine it as the activity at the heart of the humanities. In the West, hermeneutics—the practice of interpretation—has its origins in biblical study, in the power humans assign to “the Word” (and in more secular circles, just the word) and the act of interpreting it carefully and with precision. 

Much attention in digital humanities has been given to how a number of literary scholars such as Franco Moretti, Matthew Jockers, Ted Underwood, Richard Jean So, and others seek to uncover empirical truths about literary production through abandoning close reading for large-scale analysis of texts as data statistically or algorithmically analyzed. In history, a number of digital humanists such as Jo Guldi argue for using computers to return to tracking longer developments in the past, what the French Annales School of the 1970s referred to as thelongue durée. These approaches have captured the spotlight in digital humanities to the point that sometimes the field is imagined entirely as consisting of these activities. However, close reading lives on, and using a microscope as well as a telescope, zooming in as well as zooming out, tracking observations and why they matter to the human eye as well as the digital algorithm, still has value too. 

The question becomes: how can we apply digital and multimedia tools and frameworks to this hermeneutic practice? Annotation and table building become the tactics and forms for this pursuit.

Readings and Media

Required Readings

Required Viewings

  • The Machine That Changed the World documentary film, dir. Nancy Linde (1992), Part 1, “Giant Brains,” Library Media

Choose Your Own (One or More)

Case Study Discussion—Writing on the Past Literally (Actually Virtually)

Overview

This week’s case study is drawn from my seminar Digitizing Folk Music History, in which undergraduates at Northwestern developed annotations and description/significance tables from materials about the US folk music revival. 

Directions

  1. Read Kramer’s blog post, “Writing on the Past Literally (Actually Virtually).”
  2. Offer a one-paragraph response to the case study. What did the examples and the position of the larger post make you think about digital approaches such as annotation and table building. You can be critical, but try to pay attention to what you are noticing as interesting or even puzzling to you. What makes sense and what made you confused or wonder about the tactics of “writing on the past literally (actually virtually)”?
  3. Make two responses of constructive criticism to other student posts. What did you appreciate about what other students wrote? What questions did their responses raise for you?

Evaluation

  1. One paragraph reflection on “Writing on the Past Literally (Actually Virtually).”
  2. Two responses of constructive criticism to other student posts.
  3. Completion of all directions and comments on writing. See rubric on the Assignment Overview.

Assignment—Slowing Down with Annotation and Table-Building

Overview

The goal of this assignment is to use annotation and table building techniques to develop closer, more detailed, and compelling interpretations of specific documents and artifacts.

In short, can we use computers to enhance our analytic capacities not only because they speed up rote processes (something digital computation is quite good at), but also because we can use them to slow down our interpretive processes? Usually celebrations of the digital glorify its accelerations; we want to go faster! What if we also cultivate the computer’s ways of slowing things down? Can we harness computers not merely to think faster (and in an odd way to think less!), but also to think better and more perceptively? Can this slowdown improve our abilities to make compelling arguments about our evidence, our texts, our artifacts?

Since documents, when digitized, can be directly written “on” without damaging them, there is an opportunity to “read” them more directly and hence more carefully. Moreover, since these annotations can then be lifted “off” the digital document in the form of a list, you can transfer them.

One might transfer descriptions of details from a digital artifact to a table, for instance, since the table—the spreadsheet, the database—is in many ways the basic building block of digital publishing. Within a table, you can then begin to assemble your “data” (your descriptive annotations) into various orders, remixing them to consider different patterns that they might reveal and different suggestions of meaning. Once in table/spreadsheet/database form, you can also add metadata to entries that can then be ordered and reordered to explore missed connections or links as well as contrasts and comparisons. For example, you can add a new column of significance of the detail you have annotated. Now you are really analyzing (breaking down into its component parts) the process of analysis itself: the detail, a description of it, and then the significance that arises out of that description.

These discrete elements then become useful building blocks themselves for writing an essay. You’ll need to smooth them out into graceful, flowing prose, perhaps, but you should now be in position to pursue better argumentation in your analytic writing, which is to say you can more vividly and compellingly show your reader how an argument or interpretation about significance grows out of description of a detail of empirical evidence.

All this annotating and database development potentially “sets the table,” as it were, for more convincing and effective narrative interpretation. It is more closely grounded in the specific details of the documentary evidence and it traces out the linkages from those details to their significance by taking time to describe as well as interpret the specific elements. Using the digital to slow down, then, really gets you into the craft of humanities interpretation and exposition.

Directions

Annotation

  1. Download one of our primary source readings thus far in class.
  2. Download Adobe Acrobat Reader DCif you do not already have it on your computer. You may use Adobe Acrobat Pro if you have a copy, or Apple Preview if you wish. But the instructions here are for Adobe Acrobat Reader DC.
  3. Open up the document in Adobe Acrobat Reader DC. 
  4. Select the Comments feature from the View menu in Adobe Acrobat Pro or Reader, or select the Comments tool on the right-hand sidebar.
  5. A bar should appear at the top of Adobe Acrobat that offers you various ways of creating comments: a comments box, highlighting text, drawing or writing on the document, creating text on the document, inserting an arrow, etc.
  6. Make your annotations and markups. Begin by making observations and writing descriptions. Answer this deceptively simple question: what do you see? You might make between 5-10 annotations. You should use comment boxes primarily for your annotations. You might also experiment with drawing on the document, adding a text box, highlighting, attaching a file, making a sound clip if you are feeling adventurous. Feel free to explore what annotation can do for your close reading of an artifact. What kind of annotation method works for you?
  7. Save your ANNOTATED PDF file with your last name and a title, something like “Kramer_Article_Annotation.”

Spreadsheet

DETAILDESCRIPTIONSIGNIFICANCEADDITIONAL NOTES
  1. Cut and paste the above table into your assignment.
  2. List your 5-10 details in the details column.
  3. Cut and paste your annotations into the description column.
  4. Now add significance commentary to the significance column. Consider why you noticed this detail. Why does it matter? On what terms? In relation to what else?
  5. Add any additional comments of relevance.

Essay

  1. Once you have completed your annotations and table, use them to structure a short essay (500-1000 words) about the significance of the document you have investigated. Develop an argument, a thesis, and think about incorporating your annotations from the table directly into your essay (you need not use them word for word, but you might do so, or at least draw upon them for your essay).
  2. Add a catchy title.

Evaluation

  1. Document with annotations.
  2. Table with transferred annotations.
  3. Essay (500-1000 words).
  4. Completion of all directions and comments on writing. See rubric on the Assignment Overview.

Research Question Evolution

Week 03

Module 3: Looking Through the Telescope—Distant Reading for Pattern Perception Using Digital Tools

Introduction

Last week we zoomed in. This week we move back out. What would it mean to “read” texts at larger scales using computational tactics? How have scholars been designing algorithms to do so? How are they imagining new ways of perceiving the “readings” that computers generate in terms of visualizations or other kinds of representations such as charts, graphs, trees? Overall, does “distant reading” allow us to ask new questions, perceive new patterns, and generate new ideas? Do you have any concerns about distant reading?

Objectives

  • Explain the concepts behind “distant reading” and the results produced by it.
  • Use the web-based Voyant tool to conduct a distant reading of your own and make meaning from the computational analysis Voyant produces from a set of texts.

Longer Reflections

To wrap our minds around the developing field of distant reading, algorithmic analysis at scale, and what is sometimes called text mining, let’s start with an overview of this week’s readings. They give you two disciplinary views on the tactic of using computation to read texts in new ways at large scales. One is from literary studies, the other from history.

In pre-digital modes of literary studies, much work focuses on establishing canons and then emphasizing close-up scrutiny of classic texts within those canons—or sometimes at the margins or outside of them. But literary scholars noticed a problem. They were making large claims about scholarly production without the data to back it up. What really were the characteristics of something such as “the Victorian novel”? How might one think about literary production—the kinds of books that were printed as novels during the Victorian era, their characteristics and qualities—at scale rather than through a few supposed examples? Scholars such as Franco Moretti began to wonder if literary analysis might benefit from the use of computers to analyze and statistically model broader literary trends and patterns. He and other literary scholars began to wonder: what if they could actually characterize 10,000 Victorian novels through computational analysis? In other words, how might they treat literary texts as big data? Could counting literary elements quantitatively help to understand them better qualitatively?

Meanwhile, over in the discipline of history, scholars returned to some of the ideas of the Annales school of the 1970s, which had been led by French historian Fernand Braudel. Braudel and his colleagues had popularized the methodological approach of what became known as social history. Rather than try to tell the stories of the so-called great men of past, what if historians characterized forces and structures over the long sweep of time? The Annales school turned to the information in agricultural records, shipping logs, census statistics, and other seemingly banal record-keeping artifacts. A number of historians in the 1970s even turned to what they called cliometrics, history done by the numbers, to attempt to uncover patterns in the past that were impossible to see if one zoomed in on a particular person, era, or location. The efforts to study the past at scale, through statistical approaches, remains controversial. For instance, check out the debates between the authors of the The History Manifesto and their critics.

You can relish these meaty debates and disagreements about distant reading, cliometrics, and the macroscopic computational approach. Then turn to trying your own hand at it through some experimentation.

Sync Session #1

Our three sync discussions are not required, but past students have found convening together in real time to be a useful and favorite part of the course. If you cannot attend the sync session, that is fine, but you are required to complete the assignment below by the time of the sync session.

Make a short video or audio recording (you can use Blue Jeans or another recording software with which you are comfortable) or write a a 1-3 paragraph essay that tells us:

  • What interests you in this course? What brought you to it? What do you want to get from the course?
  • Check-ins and reflections: What reading has interested you the most thus far? What reading has confused you the most? What is the most important question you can think of about the course thus far? What are you concerned about and what are you excited about so far?
  • Tell us a bit about what you are imagining for your final project at this point. At this stage of the class, you can be vague or precise, wildly ambitious or extremely practical.

Plan for Sync Session

  • Introductions.
  • Sketching the digital humanities. Take the sketch that you uploaded to What Is Digital Humanities?: Before Sketches and add it to the discussion board here.
  • Debrief of:
    • Module 1 Case Study Discussion: What is Digital Humanities
    • Module 1 Assignment: Article Analysis with Voyant.
    • Module 2: Case Study Discussion—Writing on the Past Literally (Actually Virtually)
    • Module 2: Assignment—Slowing Down with Annotation and Table-Building
    • Initial explorations of final project ideas.

Required Readings

Computational Literary Studies

Digital History At Scale

Required Viewings

  • The Machine That Changed the World documentary film, dir. Nancy Linde (1992), Part 2, “Inventing the Future,” Library Media

Choose Your Own (One or More)

Case Study Discussion—Big Data for Dead People

Overview

Tim Hitchcock’s “Big Data for Dead People” locates the life of Sarah Durrant, a woman in 1870s London who was pulled into the legal system of that time. As Hitchcock writes, “She is not important. Her experience does not change anything, but she does provide a slightly different starting point from all the rich dead white men. And for me, she represents a different way of thinking through how to ask questions of computers, without simply asking questions we know computers can answer.” He goes on to explain how he toggles between Sarah’s microhistory and the macroanalysis of data from the court records of that time.

Directions

  1. Read Tim Hitchcock, “Big Data for Dead People: Digital Readings and the Conundrums of Positivism,”Historyonics, 9 December 2013
  2. Offer a one-paragraph response to the case study. What did the examples and the position of the larger post make you think about digital approaches such as distant reading. You can be critical, but try to pay attention to what you are noticing as interesting or even puzzling to you. What makes sense and what made you confused or wonder about the tactics of analyzing specific lives within large swaths of data? What did you learn about 19th century British history? What did you learn about Hitchcock’s approach to this type of “distant reading”?
  3. Make two responses of constructive criticism to other student posts. What did you appreciate about what other students wrote? What questions did their responses raise for you?

Assignment—Distant Reading with Voyant

Overview

Voyant offers a quick way into issues of “distant reading.” It provides a number of ways of viewing the patterns in a text or collection of texts through different lens. You might notice how it does this at the level of analytic choices: word frequency, closeness of terms appearing near each other, and other qualities that the digital computer can detect by treating text as data. Voyant also offers examples at the level of representation and the model: how does one re-represent patterns in written language in new ways? How do these choices intensify certain aspects of these patterns? Do the choices also hide or conceal certain aspects of the texts, from the experience of reading them with the human eye to other aspects of the relations among words in the texts?

Directions

  1. Use Voyant to analyze this week’s readings. Cut and paste your article’s text from their websites into the Voyant text window What does this “distant” or “computational” reading make you notice? Anything that surprised you? Write one paragraph about what Voyant made you notice in the readings.
  2. Now write an additional 500 words (approx.) on whether the Voyant analysis confirmed your initial analysis or offered different or new perspectives? If so, what were they? Toward what interpretative revisions do these confirmations or new insights lead you?

Research Question Evolution

Week 04

Module 4: Prospectus Draft Development

Introduction

This week is an opportunity to develop a proposal for your independent digital humanities research. What do you wish to focus on? How do you develop a prospectus and work plan achievable in the time we have this quarter? 

Objectives

  • Develop a preliminary research proposal.

Longer Reflections

Developing a research proposal is hard work. It is frustrating. You will doubt yourself. You will wonder what you have gotten yourself into. The process is especially difficult at the start. The point this week is to just get going. Don’t worry if your idea is still amorphous, vague, too big, too small, uncertain, unclear. That’s the point! We start with something we do not quite know yet and work toward discovering what we are investigating. Your proposal will change. You will need to revise it. The research process is not linear, it is dialectic. Frame a question; pose a hypothesis; map out a research agenda of what materials you wish to read, study, and explore; offer a set of digital tactics you might adopt to understand your topic more profoundly, to perceive new patterns in your sources, to generate new interpretations and conclusions that are grounded in careful consideration of the evidence; identify a list of potential problems or concerns to address; make a calendar of your research agenda.

Sync Session #1 Followup

Make a constructive response to a fellow classmate’s sync session entry on the sync session discussion board. Your response can be in the form of a video, annotation, or written comment. You can be critical and ask tough questions, but be civil and constructive too. We’re all in this together.

Assignment—Final Project Prototype Draft Proposal

Overview

Developing a research proposal is hard work. It is frustrating. You will doubt yourself. You will wonder what you have gotten yourself into. The process is especially difficult at the start. The point this week is to just get going. Don’t worry if your idea is still amorphous, vague, too big, too small, uncertain, unclear. That’s the point! We start with something we do not quite know yet and work toward discovering what we are investigating. Your proposal will change. You will need to revise it. The research process is not linear, it is dialectic. Frame a question; pose a hypothesis; map out a research agenda of what materials you wish to read, study, and explore; offer a set of digital tactics you might adopt to understand your topic more profoundly, to perceive new patterns in your sources, to generate new interpretations and conclusions that are grounded in careful consideration of the evidence; identify a list of potential problems or concerns to address; make a calendar of your research agenda.

Directions

Your preliminary research proposal should be numbered in the following format.

  1. A preliminary title.
  2. Your name.
  3. Use your Research Question Evolution work these last weeks to frame the current version of your project’s central question.
  4. Are there any additional questions that will drive your research?
  5. Pose a hypothesis: what would you currently argue in response to this question? Using what evidence as justification? Using what methods? Try develop a “you would think this, but actually it’s that” formulation of your argument. Or try to frame a hypothesis using a sentence that begins “While….., in fact.” Or try a chronological argument: how did some kind of change occur? How did some kind of continuity remain? Experiment. You are allowed to develop multiple hypotheses.
  6. Map out a research agenda of what materials you wish to read, study, and explore. You can make this an annotated bibliography with a sentence or two about why you wish to investigate each particular item. 
  7. Offer a set of digital tactics you are curious about adopting to understand your topic more profoundly, to perceive new patterns in your sources, to generate new interpretations and conclusions that are grounded in careful consideration of the evidence
  8. Identify a list of potential problems or concerns to address
  9. Make a calendar by week of your research agenda for the rest of the quarter.

Research Question Evolution

Week 05

Module 5: Time and Space—Timelines and Maps for Humanities Inquiry and Presentation

Introduction

Time and space: they are pretty essential, aren’t they? We move through time, we move through space. Digital tools can help us to consider these forces in which we exist more critically. Digital platforms also potentially help us present ideas, narratives, and patterns of evidence and analysis more compellingly in terms of time and space. This week we investigate the timeline and the storymap as two digital tools for analyzing evidence and data as well as presenting them. 

Objectives

  • Develop critical thinking about how to use digital timelines for humanistic inquiry, analysis, and presentation.
  • Develop critical thinking about how to use storymaps for humanistic inquiry, analysis, and presentation.
  • Experiment with creating a digital timeline using Timeline.JS
  • Experiment with creating a map using Storymap.JS

Longer Reflections

For the scientist (perhaps until twentieth-century physicists such as Einstein, Heisenberg, and Born), time and space seem like fixed things, out there in the world, objectively the same everywhere. This is not entirely wrong, but philosophers and others from Plato to Lao Tzu to more recent humanities scholars have noticed how our perceptions and structurings of time and space can create quite different experiences of these fundamental phenomena of the world. To experience time after the advent of the Roman calendar, for example, or the mechanical clock was radically different from time before then. To experience space in the age of air travel is quite different from the age of the steam engine. Time and space—these physical entities—require careful humanistic scrutiny, and digital tools can help us to do that scrutinize in particular contexts to generate and present new understandings of historical causality (or lack thereof), of literary significance, of geographic, sociological, anthropological, or philosophical import.

Readings and Media

Required Readings

Required Viewings

  • The Machine That Changed the World documentary film, dir. Nancy Linde (1992), Part 4, “The Thinking Machine,” Library Media

Case Study Discussion—The Knotted Line and Other Timelines and Maps

Overview

Digital timeline and map projects might be best classified as visualization projects. Data visualization, which is to say transforming data into visual outputs such as a timeline or a map (or a tag cloud or a graph, map, or tree to use Franco Moretti’s terms, or an interactive animation of some sort) has been all the rage in digital humanities. Take a look at the following examples. Consider what one timeline and one map does effectively in your experience and why? What does it not do effectively, and why? What does it intend to do and what happens in actuality (well, virtually, in digital space, but actually when you use it)when you explore the project?

Directions

TIMELINES

  1. Pick one timeline from the two below. 
  2. Consider what it does effectively in your experience and why? What does it not do effectively, and why? What does it intend to do and what happens in actuality (well, virtually, in digital space, but actually when you use it) when you explore the project?
  3. Write a 500 words (approx.) on the timeline you explored in response to these prompts or in relation to some other aspect of it you wish to analyze.

MAPS

  1. Pick one map from the list below. 
  2. Consider: What it does effectively in your experience and why? What does it not do effectively, and why? What does it intend to do and what happens in actuality (well, virtually, in digital space, but actually when you use it) when you explore the project?
  3. Write an additional 500 words (approx.) on the map you explored in response to these prompts or in relation to some other aspect of it you wish to analyze.

TIMELINES AND MAPS

  1. Now write an additional 500 words (approx.) in which you bring together your timeline and map analysis. What do you observe about bringing time and space together? What does the timeline do or not do in relation to the map in digital forms?

Assignment—Timeline and Mapping Experiment

Overview

The goal of this assignment is to explore how humanities scholars create overarching narratives driven by chronology. Then, how do they arrange stories spatially, on a map. We use two tools developed at Northwestern’s Knight Lab, Timeline.js and Storymap.js. These involve assembling data in a Google Docs spreadsheet and then plugging the data into the Timeline.js template (notice how the tool works in the classic digital mode of separating form and content, template and data). The instructions can be a bit complicated, and you might hit some snags and difficulties. Fear not! The goal is to dive in and learn experientially. All the while, think about how any difficulties raise questions for you about what it means to apply digital technologies to humanities questions of time and space.

As you work through these experiments, you might consider a few questions:

  • What does it mean to arrange items chronologically? Does it suggest a narrative? What gets included or forgotten, emphasized or erased when sequencing occurs in a linear manner?
  • What does it mean to pin down a person, event, object, artifact, or experience to a specific date? When does this seem logical and when does it raise questions about the arrangement of sequential narrative?
  • Does the digital timeline offer ways of considering multiple chronologies? Does its ease of modularity and adjustment by severing form from content, template from data, enable a richer sense of chronology, of competing timelines and narratives unfolding sequentially? Can you even create dialogues among different versions of the same timeline?
  • What is the relationship between the timeline, text, and multimedia material that one can plug in to the Timeline.js template? Do these elements work together? Do they sometimes not work well together? If so, how? Why?
  • What happens when you shift your data from time to space, from chronology to geography, from linear sequence on a line to sequencing across a map?
  • Once again, does the digital medium offer ways to arrange, consider, analyze, and present your data in fresh modes? Does the ease of modularity and adjustment by severing form from content, template from data, enable a richer sense of spatial relationships, of space itself as a human-created entity? Can you even create dialogues among different versions of the same storymap?
  • What is gained, what is lost in arranging data into a timeline or on a map or in some other type of visualization as compared to explaining it in expository prose?

Directions

We will use the tools Timeline JS and Storymap JS tools, both created at the Knight Lab right here at Northwestern. Your experiment should feature the following:

  1. An embedded Timeline JS timeline.
  2. A link to your Google Docs spreadsheet of data.
  3. An embedded Storymap JS that geocodes your Timeline events.
  4. A short essay (prompts below)

Using Timeline JS

  • Go to the Timeline JS, read the “About” section (particularly the “tips and tricks”) and browse and play around with some of the example timelines.
  • At the top of the Timeline JS page, click on the green “Make a Timeline” button and follow the instructions to use a Google Docs template to add your data.
  • In Google Docs, use this template to create your timeline data. First, retitle the document as “Last Name_ADH Timeline.” In the document, follow the template format but update the data provided to include information on 5-15 events you wish to portray in your timeline. You can use your research project if applicable for the data or select a topic of interest for the experiment.
  • When your spreadsheet is complete, follow instruction number 2 back on the Timeline JS website (not on Google) to select “Publish to the Web” as well as instruction items 3 and 4. This allows your database to port into the timeline template and render into your Canvas discussion post as an embedded file.
  • Embed code from Timeline JS to your Canvas discussion post.

Using Storymap JS

  • Go to Storymap JS and review the website.
  • Click the green “Make a Storymap now” button. Follow the instructions to create points on the map from your Timeline elements.
  • When your map is complete (or even before it is finished), click on the Share button and scroll down.
  • Cut the Embed code from the window and past it into your Canvas discussion post. Your Storymap should now render in your Canvas discussion post below your timeline and link to your Google Docs spreadsheet. 

Additional Optional Exploration

  • You can play around with ordering and presentation of items in both Timeline JS and Storymap JS if you wish. Do they make you think about the chronology and spatial dimensions of the revival in new ways if you reorganize your data and re-represent it through these digital tools?

Essay Reflection

  • Finally, develop a short essay (500-1000 words) that reflects on the experience of developing a timeline and storymap. Refer the the questions above as prompts or develop your own observations about the experiment.

Research Question Evolution

Week 06

Module 6: Data and Archives

Introduction

This week we ask fundamental questions about two key terms in the digital humanities: data and the archive. What are (is) data? We cannot even decide if we want to stick to the original plural term or collapse it to the more common singular version of today. What are the implications of data in digital form? What are archives as clusterings of data, as structurings of digital file directories, as organizing entities, as a term borrowed from pre-digital models of information systems?

Objectives

  • Consider the properties of data in digital form.
  • Consider the nature of the digital archive.

Longer Reflections

Data… what are they? What is it? In one sense, everything digital is either data or coded steps for how execute uses of that data. Yet we cannot even decide on whether we want to keep data plural as a term or collapse it into the more common singular form. Meanwhile, digital data get romanticized as something “big” in multiple senses: the sheer quantity of data heralds, for many, something significant in the works. See, for instance, Chris Anderson’s infamous Wired magazine essay claiming that big data were going to replace the modeling of scientific theory with positivist objective truths directly lifted from empirical reality itself. “Big data,” “data analytics,” “data scientists,” “informatics”—these terms have attained mystique and prestige, a kind of magic, in the modern world. Why? How? Accurately? Wrongly? How do we think about data when they go (or it goes?) digital? How do we wield data? What kind of analytic methods and strategies make sense to use? Is there a “hermeneutics” of data, as a number of our readings suggest? If so, how do we describe that approach? If not, what else emerges from data and the database as new fundamental forms of the digital world, including the digital humanities? 

Similarly, the archive: what is it? How does it house data? How are digital archives similar to or different from analog ones? How should we preserve data? How might we activate archives of data in digital forms for study?

Sync Session #2

Our three sync discussions are not required, but past students have found convening together in real time to be a useful and favorite part of the course. If you cannot attend the sync session, that is fine, but you are required to complete the assignment below by the time of the sync session.

Make a short video or audio recording (you can use Blue Jeans or another recording software with which you are comfortable) or write a a 1-3 paragraph essay that tells us:

  1. What has changed (or stayed the same) about your perspective on digital humanities half way through our course?
  2. What reading since our last sync session has interested you the most thus far? What reading has confused you the most? 
  3. What is the most important question you can think of about the course thus far? What are you concerned about? What are you excited about with the course?
  4. Final project progress report.

Discussion

  • Discussion of readings from Modules 1-5.
  • Discussion of case studies from Modules 1-5.
  • Discussion of experiments from Modules 1-5.
  • Discussion of final projects.
  • More specific details as we get closer to the date.

See you online. Email Professor Kramer with any questions.

Readings and Media

Required Readings

Required Viewings

  • The Machine That Changed the World documentary film, dir. Nancy Linde (1992), Part 5, “The World at Your Fingertips,” Library Media

Choose Your Own (One or More)

Case Study Discussion—The Real Face of White Australia

Overview

Kate Bagnall and Tim Sherratt wanted to study the racist history of Australian’s “Whites Only” immigration policy, which began with the Immigration Restriction Act of 1901 and was only slowly dismantled between 1949 and 1973. The policy many barred non-white immigrants; those who did gain entry were monitored systematically by the state. The documents of this state-sponsored system of white supremacy were placed in the National Archives of Australia. Bagnall and Sherratt extracted the images of non-white faces from a range of government documents using a face detection script. When you click on the faces, which are continuously generated when one scrolls down, you can access the rest of the data governments used on each individual document.

Here is a case of digital historians using data in creative ways to rethink the power of an archive. This archive was used in its time to enforce the Whites Only policy. Each little morsel of data helped to classify and categorize by race to keep the policy in place. Data and archives were used to dehumanize. Can Bagnall and Sherratt use digital tactics to reinvigorate the humans caught up in this sordid tale? Does their project help us think about presentations of the archive and its history as they relate to contemporary debates about race, immigration, and other topics? What does it mean to see a face first? To see a long sequence of faces, randomly sequenced? Does it contain its own odd kind of objectification? Or is it indeed humanizing?

Directions

  1. Spend some time exploring “The Real Face of White Australia”; click on a few faces; read the “About” section.
  2. Write a 500-1000 word (approx.) reflection on the website, its use of data, its tactics of presentation of an archive, and its implications for how we experience and analyze data and archives in digital form.

Research Question Evolution

Week 07

Module 7: Glitching for Interpretation—Deformance and Ductility of Data

Introduction

This week, it’s time to mess with stuff. What does it mean to use the dematerialization and reproducibility of digital artifacts to re-compose them, to reconstitute them? How can we use the ductility of data to develop new insights, interpretations, and understandings of topics. We’ll focus on images to push through what is called “screen essentialism” and into the code itself as the new material level (yet also a symbolic language) of the digital world.

Objectives

  • Explore tactics of glitching and deformance for interpretation.
  • Create an image glitch for interpretation and develop a short essay from it.

Longer Reflections

Computational tactics, approached artistically, to produce new forms, which make possible new perceptions, which can generate new interpretations: that’s the idea of using glitching for hermeneutic and interpretive ends. An artist might simply glitch to create new forms; a humanities scholar can take one step further to ask: what do these new iterations of an artifact such as photograph reveal about what is being represented in the image itself? When an image gets glitched, how do these “chance operations,” as John Cage called his strategies for developing new musical compositions, illuminate new aspects of what the images themselves represent?

So, using Trevor Owens’s exercise for seeing past “screen essentialism,” try your hand at glitching an image. Don’t worry if you have technical difficulties, just try your best. See what you are noticing, both about the subject of your image as well as about the tactics of glitching or deformance themselves.

Readings and Media

Required Readings

  • Jerome McGann and Lisa Samuels, “Deformance and Interpretation,” New Literary History30, 1 (1999), 25-56, course reserves
  • Joanna Drucker, “From Digital Humanities to Speculative Computing,” in SpecLab: Digital Aesthetics and Projects in Speculative Computing (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2009), 3-18, course reserves
  • Mark Sample, “Notes towards a Deformed Humanities,” Sample Reality, 2 May 2012

Choose Your Own (One or More)

Sync Session #2 Followup

Make a constructive response to a fellow classmate’s sync session entry on the sync session discussion board. Your response can be in the form of a video, annotation, or written comment. You can be critical and ask tough questions, but be civil and constructive too. We’re all in this together.

Case Study Discussion—Distorting History to Make It More Accurate

Overview

Here are two examples of glitching or “deforming” visual media to perceive it in new ways, leading, potentially, to new interpretations. Notice how glitching and deformance (as Mark Sample explains, a portmanteauof deforming and performance) takes a kind of artist’s approach to computational tactics in service of generating new forms that lead potentially to fresh perceptions which in turn can generate new interpretations. They are strange. Sometimes you don’t even realize quite how strange. They focus on re-representation, sometimes through accidents, sometimes in purposeful ways, but in either case they seek to offer a new picture of the same thing by harnessing the ductility of data, which can by played with in elastic ways to produce mutable forms of objects and artifacts.

Directions

  1. Explore the image glitches in Michael J. Kramer, “Distorting History (To Make It More Accurate),” Issues in Digital History, 3 April 2016.
  2. Explore the video deformances prepared for Jason Mittell, “Videographic Criticism as a Digital Humanities Method,” forthcoming in Debates in Digital Humanities 2018, eds. Matthew Gold and Lauren Klein (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2018).
  3. Write a 500-1000 word (approx.) reflection on one of the case studies above. What do you make of the particular case studies of glitching and deformance in relation to concepts about the tactics explored in this module’s readings?

Assignment—Image Glitch Experiment

Overview

Computational tactics, approached artistically, to produce new forms, which make possible new perceptions, which can generate new interpretations—that’s the idea of using glitching for hermeneutic and interpretive ends. An artist might simply glitch to create new forms; a humanities scholar takes one more step to ask: what do these new iterations of an artifact such as photograph reveal about what is being represented in the image itself? When a image gets glitched, how do these “chance operations,” as John Cage called his strategies for developing new musical compositions illuminate new aspects of what the images themselves represent?

Using Trevor Owens’s exercise for seeing past “screen essentialism,” try your hand at glitching an image. Don’t worry if you have technical difficulties, just try your best. See what you are noticing, both about the subject of your image as well as about the tactics of glitching or deformance themselves.

Directions

  • Read Trevor Owens, “Glitching Files for Understanding: Avoiding Screen Essentialism in Three Easy Steps,” The Signal: Digital Preservation Assignment, Library of Congress, 5 November 2012
  • Select an image you wish to glitch. It might relate to your final project research, but it does not have to do so.
  • How to change a file extension (on a Mac):
    • Go back and follow the steps he took in the “Edit an Image with a Text editor” section using the image you downloaded from the digital archive. Make sure to save each version of the file as you follow the instructions. When you are done you should have (1) the original .jpg file, (2) the post-cut up .jpg file, and (3) the .jpg file after you pasted new information in.
    • Do: Feel free to try this on your own computer, but each operating system will react differently to this process. If you have any issues, try using one of the Mac computers at Northwestern.
    • Don’t: Do not delete or edit any of the first lines of code in the .txt file (nothing bad will happen, but the experiment won’t work). Scroll down a bit and try deleting, adding, and editing some of the code deeper in the file.
    • Save your original image and your glitched files to upload to your discussion post.
  • How to change a file extension (on a Windows or if you get stuck):
  • On the web, go paper.js, select one of the examples, play around, and then select “source in the upper right hand of the screen.” Try and read the code, look for numbers in blue, and experiment by inserting new numbers. Click “run” in the upper right hand corner of the screen and see what’s changed. Feel free to repeat and explore the iterations.
  • Write a four-paragraph reflection, roughly 1000 words (approx.) overall.
    1. First paragraph—Analyze your glitched images closely as artifacts…what details did the glitching reveal? How might you interpret these details historically? How might you contextualize them?
    2. Second paragraph—Analyze your image in terms of how we might understand digital artifacts? What does code allow you to do with objects? Did this make you think about the archival material in a new way? What are the new opportunities for analyzing these artifacts? What new problems emerge in the transfer to the digital medium or when images are born digital?  
    3. Third paragraph—What was your experience of playing with javascript in paper.js?
    4. Fourth paragraph—Any other observations or conclusions from these experiments about your particular images or the tactics of glitching for humanities interpretation? Explain here.

Research Question Evolution

Week 08

Module 8: Networks

Introduction

Data and archives are two key aspects of digital technology. So too are networks. The Internet itself, as its name suggests, is a certain kind of network. But what are these things? What do they look like, what do they do, how do we imagine, picture, or enact network relationships digitally? Are they timeless entities or historically located ones? What kinds of new humanities knowledge do they propose? Is the digital a network or is the network something that changes when it goes digital? This week we spend some time working the network as humanities scholars, inquiring into what the network is and what it does, conceals, and should, ideally, do as an analytic tool. 

Objectives

  • Examine networks through readings, case study, experiments, and discussion.

Longer Reflections

As Mushon Zer-Aviv argues, “There’s something very attractive about seeing everything as connected; it serves a basic need to rationalise everything in terms of cause and effect.” But, as he goes on to show in his essay, “while these layouts may help communicate the network’s structure, they do little to expose the flow and more importantly, the protocol that governs it.” So as Zer-Aviv suggests, networks are thus powerful models for imagining connection, but we need to develop a critical awareness of what they conceal as well as what they reveal, how they hide power relations as well as distribute power across relationships among people, things, and nodes. We can use network theory to frame particular topics and to become more aware of the digital infrastructure in which we conduct digital humanities (and increasingly live large chunks of our lives). We can also become more aware of the problems and possibilities of the network as a structuring model of understanding, analysis, and interpretation.

Readings and Media

Required Readings

Case Study Discussion—Linked Jazz, Mapping the Republic of Letters, and Nebula

Overview

The network…we are communicating on one right now, but their structuring of our lives often remains buried, semi-visible, or even just implied. How do we, as humanities inquirers, see them better for what they are, what they do, and what they might do to deepen our knowledge. Here are two projects that pursue network analyses of various sorts in two very different topics: jazz performance and the Enlightenment Republic of Letters in the Western, transatlantic world. What have the scholars designing these two network analyses discovered, or what have they claimed to discover? Are you convinced? Why or why not? What strikes you as different about these two projects and their topics and approaches? Are there also similarities? How do they present models of networked relationships? What do they conceal or hide, perhaps necessarily so? Do their designs correlate effectively to their subject matter? How do they compare to each other (apples and oranges? Intersections? Surprises? Aspects you do not understand?)

Directions


  1. Explore the following two network websites:
  2. Write a 500-1000 word (approx.) reflection one of the websites and how it uses network analysis to reveal interpretation of its topic. You may focus in depth on one of the websites or develop a comparison of similarities and differences between the two.


Assignment—Revised Final Project Prospectus

Overview

Time to return to your project prototype proposal and update it again. Remember, developing a research proposal is hard work and requires plenty of revision to crystallize what you are investigating and how to conduct that investigation. The research process is not linear, it is dialectic. So time to get dialectic then!

Directions

Your research proposal revision should be numbered in the following format.

  1. Revise your preliminary title.
  2. Keep your name the same (unless it has changed).
  3. Use your Research Question Evolution work these last weeks to reframe the current version of your project’s central question.
  4. Are there any additional new questions that will drive your research?
  5. Revise your hypothesis: what would you currently argue in response to this question? Using what evidence as justification? Using what methods? Try develop a “you would think this, but actually it’s that” formulation of your argument. Or try to frame a hypothesis using a sentence that begins “While….., in fact.” Or try a chronological argument: how did some kind of change occur? How did some kind of continuity remain? Experiment. You are allowed to develop multiple hypotheses.
  6. Map out your updated research agenda of what materials you wish to read, study, and explore. You can make this an annotated bibliography with a sentence or two about why you wish to investigate each particular item. 
  7. Update your sense of what digital tactics you are curious about adopting to understand your topic more profoundly, to perceive new patterns in your sources, to generate new interpretations and conclusions that are grounded in careful consideration of the evidence.
  8. Update your list of potential problems or concerns to address.
  9. Update your calendar by week of your research agenda for the rest of the quarter.

Research Question Evolution

Week 09

Module 9: Platforms For Digital Projects and Social Media

Introduction

A key aspect of digital humanities are the kind of platform used for projects and communication online. In one sense, the entire edifice of the digital itself might be understood as a platform. But how do we consider the benefits and issues with particular modes of publication and communication online: from scholarly platforms such as Omeka for sharing and curating archival collections, to Scalar for multimedia narrative, to blogging software such as WordPress, to social media networks such as Facebook and Twitter, to a proprietary course management system such as Canvas itself? Are these platforms or applications, and what is the relationship between a platform and an application, if there is one? How do we understand the ethical, political, economic, and cultural stakes of platforms, from scholarly ones to social media company ones? How do we better understand the forms of these platforms and the social dimensions of this social media (and the mediated qualities of it too)?

Objectives

  • Explore the concept of digital platforms. What are they? How do we understand what they enable as well as what they constrain or limit when it comes to pursuing digital humanities scholarship?
  • Peek under the hood of Canvas itself: how does this particular proprietary platform for education technology function?
  • Explore uses of social media such as Twitter for scholarship (rather than for trolling).

Longer Reflections

This week we seek to demystify the digital platform, whether it be our own proprietary environment of Canvas or the social media platforms of Facebook or Twitter. These platforms are immensely powerful, providing easy, quick access to digital analysis and publication by creating an interface between human use and machine-readable code. They can seem magical, but really they are best understood as a mediating layer, a tool for harnessing the power of digital code by transforming it (maybe even glitching it we could say!) into structures that are more intuitive. There’s the irony: platforms bring digital tools to more hands, but they do so by pushing the actuall digital code and its execution of commands further away from those hands. Platforms oddly empower by disempowering, render digital capacities accessible by burying their actual workings one more layer away from the user. We need them, they make things easier; but they also mystify. We need them to do things efficiently in the digital domain, but we can also take a moment to realize we don’t need them. We chose them. So this week, we peek a bit under the hood of the digital humanities, pulling up its platforms to glimpse the foundations below.

Readings and Media

Required Readings

Choose Your Own (One or More)

Case Study Discussion—Twitter Bots and Canvas Behind the Scenes

Overview

In this case study, we turn our gaze to Twitter and to our own platform, Canvas. 

First, take a look at some Twitter bots. They are funny, they are terrifying, they seem human, but of course they are automated, computational, and algorithmic. They hover between the human and the mechanical: cyborgian? Artifically intelligent? The computer as holy fool? What do you make of them?

Then we turn to Canvas. How does Canvas use source code? What is it like to work at the level of code instead of through the functionalities of the Canvas interface? How does the HTML language function within the Canvas environment? Dive in and see what lurks below the WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get, or “Wizeewig”) text box and simple click.

Directions

  1. Take a look at the Twitter bots: Roy KurzwheelKill Fascists; or another one you discover.
  2. What do you make of these modes of automated commentary? Write a brief 250-500 word reflection in a discussion post.
  3. Now time to get meta! Or maybe to do some digital navel gazing! Let’s turn to Canvas. Like many digital platforms, Canvas works by housing a database of content within a template or an architecture of design. Content and form are separated from each other, and then Canvas uses code (executable commands) to instruct your computer to put the content in the correct place within the template or architecture. So here is a chance to notice that in studying digital humanities in this course, we are using digital humanities infrastructures, tools, platforms, and elements.
  4. To start, take a look at the Peeled Back page in Canvas.
  5. Krissy Wilson, amazing Learning Designer for the first iteration of the course, has created a comparison between WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) views of HTML code items and the underlying code. Notice how logical HTML is: and notice how one of its key tasks is to both tell your computer’s browser how to display elements (make this bold, make that italicized) as well as to instruct the computer when to pull in files to your displayed webpage (hey computer, you know that file of the glitched “Welcome” jpg file image, put that here on the page, at this pixel size!).
  6. Krissy has also made visible some aspects of the file structure and organization of our course Canvas page. Take a look at how she put together the Module, Assignment, Pages, and Discussion tools into a kind of interweaved mix.
  7. You can also view those independently. Canvas’s corporate overlords, oops I mean owners and designers, have used code to endow each of those elements with certain capacities (as in, you can do different things with the discussion tool that you cannot with the assignment tool and vice-versa).  
  8. You can also view the Files page to see where most of the media files live on Canvas’s servers to be pulled into the templates or architecture of the website: remember that glitched Welcome image? That’s where it actually resides. Then it gets pulled in through HTML code to the page where you see it on the website.
  9. Now click to the Edit Me page.
  10. In the upper-right corner, notice the blue link on the text that reads “HTML Editor.” This allows you to view the text box in HTML Code. When you click on it, that area changes to the blue link text for “Rich Content Editor.” If you click on that, it takes you back to a WYSIWYG view of the text box.
  11. Dive in, computer programmers! Try writing some text, adding images, playing with text format, adding hyperlinks to the text box. Remember that when you are in the WYSIWYG view of the “Rich Content Editor” it will read “HTML Editor” in the upper right so that you can click on it to view the underlying HTML Code, and vice-versa.
  12. Now click on the HTML Editor tab above the text box on the right.
  13. Compare the code in the “<” and “>” symbols to the WYSIWYG view by clicking back and forth between the Rich Content Editor and HTML Editor functions.
  14. Try removing code or adding code when in HTML Editor mode (the upper right text will read “Rich Content Editor” so you can click back to that if you wish).
  15. What happens?
  16. In a new discussion post, write a 500-1000 word (approx.) reflection on what you notice as different between the two views of the pages. What is the actual code like to your view? How does it work? Does it remain mysterious or has your sense of how HTML code and platforms such as Canvas work changed?

Assignment—Create a Twitter Narrative

Overview

How can digital humanities scholars wield social media platforms for scholarship? Using Twitter, for instance, seems to make substantive, complex deliberation and conversation impossible. Yet, its compacting of language and its ability to support quick-moving conversation, references to other webpages, and its immediacy in everyday life also offer intriguing possibilities for scholarship in the digital age. To experiment with this, your assignment is to create a Twitter account (it can be a temporary account just for this assignment) to create a narrative of tweets. Think back to our timeline and storymap assignment: how does Twitter also arrange chunks of data (in this case tweets) into a narrative? What are the characteristics of this kind of Twitter narrative? What interpretations emerge from that narrative? What are the possibilities and limitations of Twitter for scholarship?

Directions

  1. Create a Twitter account.
  2. Explore Twitter using the search mechanism to “favorite” a set of tweets on a particular topic, or create your own thread on a topic using a hashtag (adding a # before a term as in #digitalhumanities. You might describe your final research project’s progress thus far in a series of tweets. You might tell some other kind of story about the digital humanities in tweets. Create a hashtag as you go.
  3. Write a 500-1000 word (approx.) reflection on using Twitter for digital humanities scholarship. What does it do? What does it not do? If you could add functionalities to Twitter to enhance its use for scholarship, what would they be?

Research Question Evolution

Week 10

Module 10: Final Projects

Introduction

We are in the home stretch! All this quarter you have been working on different aspects of the digital humanities. We have been approaching the field, getting a sense of what scholars have been up to, reading and viewing, investigating case studies, and diving into the digital with our own digits in order to experiment and explore. You might take a moment, leading up to the end of our quarter, to consider just how much you have done so far.

This week, we shift more fully toward your final projects with an assignment in wireframing. Wireframing comes from the design world and offers a way to imagine, experiment with, iterate, revise, and develop structures of connection. A wireframe can help you to conceptualize narrative structures or relationships among components of something such as your final project. 

Additionally, you have an opportunity to try out one of the tutorials on the Programming Historian website.

Objectives

  • Try a tutorial on the Programming Historian website.
  • Reflect on what you have done so far in the course.
  • Use wireframing to explore the structure of your project, its argumentation and flow, its connections and possible organization.

Sketching the Digital Humanities, Again

Remember at the start of class when you sketched the digital humanities? Now that we are approaching the end of the course, make a sketch again. What is similar from your initial sketch? What is different? Post your sketch here.

If any accessibility issues make it difficult to complete these assignment, please speak with the instructor. There are plenty of modes to get creative with expressing your sense of the digital humanities coming into taking the course (a written story, audio, video, etc.).

Case Study—The Programming Historian

Overview

What is it like to do more intensive coding for digital humanities scholarship? This week we try our hands at coding using the tutorials on the Programming Historian website. Dive in and give it a go! See if there is a tutorial that fits with your independent project. Don’t worry if you get stuck, just experiment and see what happens.

Directions

  1. Go to The Programming Historian.
  2. Pick one tutorial from the Lesson Index; you might explore the index for a tutorial that seems relevant to your final project, or just a topic or tool about which you are curious.
  3. Take the tutorial. Don’t worry if you get stuck or confused, just experiment with it and see what you learn.
  4. Write a brief reflection (500-750 words approx.) on the experience of using the tutorial. What did you learn? What was confusing or frustrating? 

Assignment—Wireframing, Final Project Draft, and Course Reflection

Overview

Home stretch! 

Wireframing comes from the design world and offers a way to imagine, experiment with, iterate, revise, and develop structures of connection in a project such as a website’s architecture (the relationship of webpage to webpage within the website). It can help you to conceptualize narrative structures or relationships among components of something such as your final project.

Your final project should be taking shape now. Try to post a draft of it, as far as you have gotten, on our discussion page. You can do so in an additional post in addition to your wireframing experiment.

As a final exercise, write a brief reflection on what you feel you have accomplished in the course thus far. You can list what you learned, what you still want to learn more about, what fascinated you, what frustrated you. Just a chance to formalize your sense of how far you have come and perhaps also where you wish to go from here.

Directions

  1. Go to wireframe.cc.
  2. Create at least one wireframe for your final project. It need not be what you are actually doing unless that logically works; you can simply experiment.
  3. Write a 500-1000 word (approx.) reflection on your experience of creating a wireframe for your final project. What was it like? Did this experiment reveal anything new about your final project’s design or not? Why or why not? 
  4. In a separate discussion post, share a draft of your final project. 
  5. Finally, in one more discussion post, write a brief reflection on what you feel you have accomplished in the course thus far. You can list what you learned, what you still want to learn more about, what fascinated you, what frustrated you. Just a chance to formalize your sense of how far you have come and perhaps also where you wish to go from here.

Sync Session #3

Our three sync discussions are not required, but past students have found convening together in real time to be a useful and favorite part of the course. If you cannot attend the sync session, that is fine, but you are required to complete the assignment below by the time of the sync session.

Make a short video or audio recording (you can use Blue Jeans or another recording software with which you are comfortable) or write a a 1-3 paragraph essay that tells us:

  • What has changed (or stayed the same) about your perspective on digital humanities?
  • What reading since our last sync session has interested you the most thus far? What reading has confused you the most?
  • What is the most important question you can think of about the course thus far? What are you concerned about? What are you excited about with the course?
  • Final project progress report: how is your final project developing?

Discussion:

  • Discussion of Module readings 6-10 (specifics as we get closer and build on what you have been most interested in from our readings).
  • Reflections on the course.
  • Final Project Prototype presentations.
  • Revisit: Sketching the digital humanities activity.
  • Adjustments as we get closer to the meeting

Sync Session #3 Followup

Make a constructive response to a fellow classmate’s sync session entry on the sync session discussion board. Your response can be in the form of a video, annotation, or written comment. You can be critical and ask tough questions, but be civil and constructive too. We’re all in this together.

Final

Overview

This course asks you to develop a final project based on student interest: it can apply digital tactics of analysis or publication or experimentation to existing research or professional interests (for instance, if you are working on an MALS or MLIT capstone project and wish to add a digital component); or, alternatively, it can focus on a new project of original research or focus; or, if you get most interested in methodological questions about digital humanities as an emerging field, the final project can select a methodological question about some aspect of digital humanities to explore through research inquiry. The project can take myriad forms, from a written essay to a multimedia narrative to a digital experiment to an artistic project with artists’ statement to a database with statement about the interpretations embedded in the database structure to an audio or video format. What it must contain is a clear, focused research question and an effective, well-reasoned exposition of conclusions grounded in analysis of evidence, sources, or materials.

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