Syllabus: Approaching Digital Humanities, Winter Quarter 2018

Introduction to Digital Studies: Approaching Digital Humanities

IPLS 420-0-50 – Hybrid Online/Seminar

Winter Quarter 2018

Instructor

Dr. Michael Kramer, Associate Director of the Digital Liberal Arts, Middlebury College, Visiting Assistant Professor, History & American Studies, Co-Founder, NU DH Lab (NUDHL)

Developed with the assistance of Kristina Wilson, Learning Designer, Northwestern University

Course description

This course introduces students to the emerging field of critical digital studies, which looks at the intersection of digital technologies and the humanities. Through a blending of intensive weekly online engagements and three, Saturday afternoon seminars, students gain expertise in digital skills, methods, and understanding as well as deepen their humanities knowledge. Students conduct readings and viewings, explore case studies, and complete online experiments. We pursue vigorous online discussion in addition to our three seminar meetings. Students pursue a final digital project in consultation with the instructor and in relation to individual interests and pursuits (doctoral thesis, capstone project, coursework, public humanities, professional interests, digital humanities methodologies, informatics, library sciences, museum studies, etc.). Weekly topics include: digital annotation and database construction for close reading; “distant reading” tactics; digital mapping and timeline building; data and archives; network analysis; glitching and deformance for hermeneutic interpretation; and platforms and social media for humanities inquiry. This course is required of MALS and COAGS students specializing in Digital Studies or seeking the Digital Studies Certificate. Any interested graduate student enrolled at Northwestern may take the course as an elective.

Objectives

Through a blending of online interaction and three extended Saturday afternoon face-to-face meetings, 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)
  • 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.

By the end of this course, students will be able to:

  • Think more critically about the relationship between digital technologies and the humanities, broadly conceived as an interdisciplinary field of study
  • Possess competency using basic digital technologies useful for humanities research, teaching, library sciences, archival work, 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

Schedule

Quick View:

  • Week 1—Module 1: Debates in the Digital Humanities, Starting with “What is It, Exactly?” (Seminar Saturday)
  • 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 (Seminar Saturday)
  • 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 Projects (Seminar Saturday)

Each week consists of:

  1. Readings/Viewings
  2. Case Study
  3. Assignment
  4. Research Question Evolution

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

Introduction

This week asks you to take a breath and dive in to debates about and in the digital humanities. What is the digital humanities? What are the digital humanities? We cannot even decide on the verb tense! Should it be singular or plural? 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?

Readings and Media

Required Readings:

Choose Your Own (One or More, and you might return to this list for readings as the course develops):

Digital Humanities As a Field

Digital History

Case Study Discussion—What is Digital Humanities?

Jason Heppler, What Is Digital Humanities?

Directions

  1. Try refreshing Heppler’s page between 5-20 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.

Assignment—Article Analysis Through Close vs. Distant Reading

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. Download and 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 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?

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 Course Policies and Details.

Research Question Evolution

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.

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

Introduction

Silicon Valley sells its products and services by arguing that they speed things up. We can do everything more quickly, more conveniently, more efficiently. We can master the universe like Gods manipulating things with our fingertips and their lightning bolts. But what if we go in the opposite direction, and use digital technology to slow things down and zoom in more closely? This week we zoom in on details and slow down our processes of analyzing them, noticing them, becoming more aware about them, and from this slowing down, attempting to interpret them more cogently, convincingly, appreciatively, and powerfully.

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)

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?

Assignment—Slowing Down with Annotation and Table-Building

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 DC if 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 righthand 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

  1. Cut and paste the following table into your assignment:
DETAIL DESCRIPTION SIGNIFICANCE ADDITIONAL NOTES
  1. List your 5-10 details in the details column.
  2. Cut and paste your annotations into the description column.
  3. 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?
  4. 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 Course Policies and Details.

Research Question Evolution

Week 3 – 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 computationally, at larger scales, through the mediation of transforming literary texts and artifacts into big data, algorithmic analysis, and new kinds of representations such as charts, graphs, trees. Do these new modes of “distant reading” allow us to ask new questions? Do they raise new problems?

Readings and Media

Required Readings:

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

  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

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 4 – 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?

Readings and Media

Required Viewings:

  • The Machine That Changed the World documentary film, dir. Nancy Linde (1992), Part 3, “The Paperback Computer,” Library Media

Choose Your Own (One or More):

Final Project Draft Proposal

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.

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.

Week 5 – 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 both analyzing evidence and data as well as presenting them.

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

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

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 6 – 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?

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

Kate Bagnall and Tim Sherratt wanted to study the racist history of Australian’s “White’s 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 White’s 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 7 – Module 7: Glitching for Interpretation—Deformance and Ductility of Data

Introduction

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

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):

Case Study Discussion—Distorting History to Make It More Accurate

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 portmanteau of 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

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 8 – 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? 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.

Readings and Media

Required Readings:

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

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 network projects:
  1. 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.

Revised Final Project Prospectus

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.

Week 9 – Module 9: Platforms For Digital Projects and Social Media

Introduction

A key aspect of digital humanities are the kinds of platforms 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? 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 companies? How do we better understand the forms of these platforms and the social dimensions of this social media (and the mediated qualities too!)?

Readings and Media

Required Readings:

Choose Your Own (One or More):

Case Study Discussion—Twitter Bots and Canvas Behind the Scenes

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 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

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
  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?

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, diving in to the digital with our own digits in order to experiment and explore. You might take a moment, leading up to our final in-person seminar, to consider just how much you have done. You can call yourself a digital humanist. Certificates (ok, not the Digital Studies Certificate—for that, a few more courses—but our own homemade certificates) will be handed out!

This week, we shift more fully toward your final projects alongside one last case study exploration. 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.

Readings and Media

Required Readings:

There are no required readings for this week of the course. Keep going on your final project! Or, return to a prior reading or viewing in the course that you wish to give more attention.

Case Study: The Programming Historian

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

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.

Final Project

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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