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Thursday, May 11, 2017

Semester Round-Up

Well my friends, it seems the semester has come to a close. It's gone by so quickly and although I'm ready for a few months off, I have learned so much this semester after my journey through the Digital Humanities.

Last week, Hailey and I presented our work for the semester to a class of our peers in Kean University's English and Writing Studies M.A. program. We summarized an introduction to the field, and had the class play around with Voyant-- which we decided was the most user-friendly DH program to introduce to beginners. The class seemed to respond well to the presentation, and it was a great way to sum up a semester of work.

I'm grateful for the experience of taking this independent study. Going into the semester, I didn't know where I'd end up in my journey. I used the first two weeks to compile my reading list, which can be found here, and used that as a jumping-off point for the remainder of the semester. Navigating my reading list proved to be helpful throughout the semester, and I edited it quite a few times over the months as my needs changed. I learned a lot about the background behind the digital humanities, as well as the coding and technical work behind the programs.

The biggest turning point in the semester happened in March, when I found out about THATcampDC. Toward the end of February, I had hit a wall in my work. I knew a good deal about the field, but was unable to find ways to practically apply the information I was learning. I knew about all of the DH programs, but didn't know how to use them. As I've come to understand, the DH is such a new and technological field that the programs can have a pretty steep learning curve. However, when I attended THATcampDC, I received the help I desperately needed. I sat in three sessions in which I met individuals in the field who were able to guide me. It took a good bit of courage for me to venture out into this new field of academia, but I'm thankful that I had the opportunity to meet some of the key people in the field.

As for what's next between me and the DH, next semester I start my thesis. Although I still have some thinking to do, I think I am in the perfect position to use my work this semester toward my thesis, by walking people through the DH and explaining how it can be used by students. The field can be daunting to people who don't understand it, but students are the perfect group of people to introduce it to. Young adults have grown up in the Digital Age, and I think they'll be able to utilize technology in ways that will amaze the world. I am particularly passionate about young adult dystopian literature, it is one of my favorite genres, and I think it would be interesting to study a handful of works using DH methodologies and incorporate this into my study as examples of how the methodologies can be used to analyze literature, as well as discussing things that can be revealed using computers. This way, I'll get to use DH methodologies, as well as talk about why the field is important.

The biggest thing I've learned this semester is how amazing the digital humanities are, and how vast the field is. Going into the semester, I knew it was interesting but I didn't know specifically how I would apply it to my work. As the months progressed, I realized that I needed to start small. You wouldn't jump into the deep end of a pool without learning how to swim, and I won't be attempting complex coding before first knowing how to use the basic programs.

All in all, I feel more secure in my understanding of the field, and I feel that I have a good cornerstone for further learning, and that was the goal I hoped to achieve this semester. Going out I can say, it's been an excellent experience.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Voyant


After navigating Gephi last week, this week's Digital Humanities Tool of the Week (DGTW?) is Voyant! Whereas Gephi is a more complicated, more intensive program, Voyant is readily accessible, and the perfect tool for those who want an easier introduction into the world of DH tools. Voyant is new to me as well, so I'm going to play around with it a bit, and share my results. 

You might know Voyant from seeing word clouds around the internet. These can be made with the Voyant program, by inputting data and adjusting settings to see the words Voyant spits back. For example, in a work where the word "cat" is input a total of 200 times, and the word "silly" is input 150 times, "cat" will be the biggest word in the cloud. This sounds silly, but isn't simplification the best?

As I've covered in readings throughout the semester, DH is complicated. There's a lot of coding and numbers, and data involved, and this kind of work isn't suited to everyone's skill set. Sometimes, it's helpful to have a preexisting program in which to input information, and use the results. Voyant fits this need. 

Here are a few examples of word clouds, from this list I found on Buzzfeed.com:




Isn't interesting to see what the frequency of words in a text can reveal about the text?

For this exercise, in keeping with my dystopian flare, I've chosen to put Brave New World by Aldous Huxley through Voyant, to see the kind of word cloud that emerges. Here is the link to the full text document of the book-- gotta love public domain!


This first image is a screengrab of everything that shows up on the screen when the corpus loads. Each individual box shows a different way of graphing the data in the story:


So, there's a lot to unpack here. First and foremost, the word cloud:


You can do a lot to edit the word cloud, such as expanding it to include more words, reformatting it to take a different shape, and edit the font and colors of the words.

There are a lot of other visualizations that can be applied to the data set, another option that jumped out at me was "Bubbles":

"Bubbles" took a while to sort through the 8000 words of Brave New World that were input into the program, so it took a while to work, but it was interesting to see the results. Here's a screengrab of the program running:


Here's another example of something you can do with Voyant. This tool is simply called "Link," and for this example I used a pre-existing corpus within the Voyant program-- a selection of eight Jane Austen novels. I thought that this corpus would be the perfect way to show how the "Link" tool works with a wider selection of works. Because screengrabbing capabilities are limited, let me explain, when you place your cursor on one of the words, the pathways "link" to other words that are connected. For example, the word "Mr." links to "said," "Mrs," "Knightly," "Weston," "Darcy," "Elton," and "Crawford," within the parameters of this data set.


For a fairly user-friendly program, there is so much that can be done with Voyant. If, like me, you're just getting into DH, I highly recommend playing around with this program. It's a user-friendly program and it shows you some of the cool things that can be done with a DH tool, without the complicated addition of coding. Whether this is the extent of your travels in DH, or just a stepping stone to learn more, it's worth of perusing.





Sunday, April 23, 2017

DiRT Directory & Gephi

I believe I mentioned this in my introductory comments at the beginning of the semester, but I am obsessed with interested in dystopian literature, and plan on writing my making it the topic of my thesis.

My interest in this field of literature is two-fold. First of all, dystopian worlds are particularly fascinating because they are the manifestation of people's fears of the unknown future-- usually this unknown future is filled with government control and thought-policing. These fears become all the more frightening when people start to recognize the doom of Orwell's 1984 encroaching on our own society. The second reason I am drawn to dystopian literature is because I have a great love of children's literature, and the dystopian genre has taken off in young adult and children's literature. It is interesting to me that children have always been a part of dystopian stories (for example, in 1984, children turn in their parents for wrong-think), but now they are becoming the main characters.

This is where DH comes in. I'm interested in finding programs that will help me pinpoint references to children and the theme of childhood in dystopian novels. To do this, I will need a program that takes the text I put into it, and spits out visualizations. This is where DiRT Directory comes in.

DiRT Directory is something I learned about at THATcampDC, and it has changed the course of my research. DiRT means "Digital Research Tools," and this website serves as a collection of resources that are organized by category. Each entry on the site has an about page where a synopsis of the tool is given, as well as the link to download the tool. Here's an example.

First, on the home page, you must decide the kind of tool you need for your work:


For my purposes, I looked up Visualization. This next image shows the further options that appear when a category is selected. For "Platform," I chose "Windows." For "Cost," I chose "Free."


Here are some of the programs that are listed in the results for "Visualization+Windows+Free." There are many more than are pictured, this is just a sampling.


Gephi and Weave stuck out to me as potentially helpful to my work, and so I clicked them both. Here's what the description pages look like:



DiRT Directory is an excellent resource because it offers links a multitude of programs that can be used in a multitude of ways. I decided to download Gephi because it seemed like it would be helpful, and I had heard the name tossed around at THATcampDC. With the help of DiRT Directory, I was able to pinpoint a resource which, prior to this point, had been a challenge.

Although Gephi looks daunting, I was able to harness the power of the internet to find 
tutorials and examples of how to best harness the program's power. Gephi's website is pretty straight forward in explaining the goals and usages of the program, and served as a helpful jumping-off point.

Here is a fantastic step-by-step tutorial that I found, which imports the text of Les Miserables in order to analyze connections between characters. This link was particularly helpful to me because, although Gephi can be used to visualize all kinds of data, this is the kind of data I will be working with.

Here is a slightly more complex tutorial which includes information about the coding behind the program.

This next link is also a tutorial, but I am including it to show the kinds of visualizations that can be achieved by Gephi.

"Visualizing Historical Networks" is a group of projects hosted by the Center for History and Economics at Harvard University, which utilized Gephi to "map the way people in the past interacted with each other and their surroundings." I encourage you to peruse the site, the work is fascinating!

Gephi appears to be an incredibly helpful tool, and I'm excited to play around with it in my own research!






Monday, April 17, 2017

"That" Point in the Semester: Regrouping

Friends, it has reached that point in the semester where struggle is setting in hard. There are 24 days until the end of the semester (not that I'm wearily counting), and I've started to struggle at this point in my independent study. Excuses aside, here's the long and short-- I missed my blog post last week and it's time to regroup.

During the first half of the semester, I extensively studied the reasons behind the question "Why DH?" and I think I answered them pretty conclusively. As the second half of the semester rolled around, particularly after the amazing THATcampDC, I started seeking out methodologies that I could employ in my own work. Thankfully, I have a list of helpful tools and resources that should be helpful in the next step-- and it's time to take that next step.

I missed my blog last week because I was desperately trying to reformat these last few weeks of the semester, so to get the most out of them in terms of DH practice. I'm going to be using some of the programs I've learned about in my thesis work next year, and I think it will be cool to play around with some of them at the end of this semester. 

Websites such as DiRT Directory and The Programming Historian have proven to house invaluable resources for learning the kinds of tools that would be good for my interests. I was also recommended to look at tools such as Voyant, Open Refine, and Gephi. Now that I have a new focus, I'm excited to finish off this semester strong!

In conclusion, this is the first of two blog post this week. It's time to put the theory where the work is (Is that a saying? I guess it is now.) and put some practice into this Intro to DH course. Additionally, Hailey Carone (another graduate student here at Kean) and I will be presenting our studies and practice in the digital humanities to some of our peers in the Writing Studies M.A. program on May 1st, which will be a fun culmination of the semester.

See you guys in a few days! 

Monday, April 3, 2017

Virtual Stacks?

Source
Isn't that a cool picture? I love the digital, technological representation of the library in this picture, books made of tiny pixels, sharp and glowing as the rows lead down the hallway and into the light. In a way, this is quite an apt concept of the library throughout time. As the student wanders through the rows, their knowledge increases and they step into the light of learning. Isn't this all the more accurate with the added bonus of the virtual library?

This week's chapter of A Companion to Digital Literary Studies is Chapter 29, "The Virtual Library" by G. Sayeed Choudbury and David Seaman. Choudbury and Seaman highlight the vast amount of resources that we now have at our disposal, thanks the the internet, so that anyone interested in learning is welcome to learn. Libraries now have access to the digital copies of books that they might have only dreamed of having access to in the past. We have scans of magazines at periodicals at our fingertips that date back long before the internet was a far-off dream. A student in a tiny school in Western, P.A. can have access to a multitude of works that might totally shape their field of interest, or bring them into a new world. Stepping away from academia, children around the world need only find a computer and they can learn anything-- we are no longer bound by the physical.

This also ties in nicely to my readings on digital humanities because the people who make these books available are digital humanists. The books available online were once painstakingly typed, letter by letter, by a person who wanted to catalog them online for future learners. That is an incredibly selfless, and incredibly tedious, task to take on.

So, why do it? Why bother?  

We bother because books are important and the internet is where the future is going. If we want history recorded and accessible, if we want to make the use of the tools we have, it's our responsibility to keep the virtual library in existence as a living, breathing organism.

This chapter was written 9 years ago, and it's interesting to see how much things have changed in 9 years. Choudbury and Seaman speak about the prevalence of online journals, and they have grown even more prevalent as the years have gone on. Now, if a scholar wants a relevant article written, they publish articles, and they certainly make their books available online. Much as we all love (and should preserve) traditional libraries, the traditional building simply cannot hold the vast amount of knowledge that is being produced every day by scholars with the world at their fingertips. 

Freely available collections are another novel idea to the virtual library. Although copyright laws complicate matters, many works have become legally available online. Within a few clicks, anyone, anywhere in the world, can have any information that they need. Even if the book is within copyright and cannot be obtained online, we now have applications like Google Books which allows one to search, locate, and obtain the book in a matter of minutes. 
The library tends to keep up with such developments and is a natural and willing partner with the humanities departments as they explore the possibilities such tools have for data mining and the display of results. Add to these software packages the blogs, wikis, and virtual communities that are being adopted, the digital tools for collaborative scholarship, for innovative ways of interrogating text, and for new teaching possibilities, and it is not difficult to see increasing potential for transformative change in the way that literary scholars research, publish, and teach.
Although I am fully in support of the idea of "the library as laboratory," I have learned that there a specific way in which this should be achieved. In sitting in a session during THATcampDC with a group of librarians, I came to understand that just as the digital world is changing, the perception of the librarians role must change as well. Librarians must be equipped with the skill set and help that they need in order to move the library along with the times. Enough librarians must be hired to help in all aspects of the virtual library, and this requires a restructuring of skills and strength. 

It is no longer acceptable for the humanities to be considered "data poor," but it's up to the humanists to change this perception. As Choudbury and Seaman note, "the humanities are rich with content that is difficult to extract into digital form." This becomes all the more notable if you consider that the humanist's "data" has been uncharted for all of history. We have generations of data to work with and the sooner we start, the better.
As for literary studies, the "traditional" form of publishing — the monograph — influenced the way in which research has been conducted and conveyed. With new avenues for publishing, it is possible, even probable, that humanists will begin to explore new forms of research and dissemination.
The natural flow of life is going digital. Shouldn't we follow in it's path? 

Monday, March 27, 2017

Multiplying Knowledge

Now that THATcamp has passed, it's time to get back to my articles!
If you click this link to my syllabus, you'll see that I'm reaching the end of the track I laid out at the beginning of the semester. As I thought might happen, this independent study has taken me far beyond where I expected, and introduced me to people and resources I didn't know about at the start of the semester. At THATcampDC I learned about several resources that I may spend the end of the semester exploring. I think it would be very interesting to end this semester by exploring some of the tools and methodologies I've learned about. If you're reading this and have any ideas for readings that would be beneficial for me to check out, please drop me a line in the comments!

This week, my reading selection is "'Knowledge Will Be Multiplied': Digital Literary Studies and Early Modern Literature" by Matthew Steggle.

In his chapter, Steggle defends the interpretation of data gathered though the use of DH methodologies. As I've summarized in previous posts, many scholars are wary of using digital tools in the English classroom, and this should not be the case. At one point, it may have been argued that the task of obtaining electronic copies of literature was hard and inaccessible, but at this given point in time, websites such as Project Gutenberg exist and allow scholars to access a huge amount of texts online. With some of the challenge gone, isn't it worth looking into the knowledge that could be mined through a new methodology?

DH could also bring a new kind of student into the English department. He cites a quote from Risa Bear, "I became interested in producing texts for internet distribution as an alternative to writing term papers." If we can keep students interested in literature and allow them to venture into new disciplines within the field, the study of English literature will only grow in strength.

It's also worth nothing that DH is a community effort. In the case of electronic literature, scholars depend on one another to type up and format entire books, so that they can input the typed file into a program for their own purposes. Steggle notes the Bear's transcription of The Faerie Queen, completed in 1995, as being one of many huge additions to the transcribed canon. Much of the academic world appears to be "every man for himself," and perhaps things don't have to be reduced to that. Perhaps, DH can unify people and help us to work together to meet our goals. I think it's worth a shot.

The Internet Shakespeare Experiment (ISE) is a prime example of the good intentions that can lead to books being made available online. Leader Michael Best defined the goal of the creation as follows:
to create a website with the aim of making scholarly, fully annotated texts of Shake-speare's plays freely available in a form native to the medium of the internet. A further mission was to make educational materials on Shakespeare available to teachers and students: using the global reach of the internet, I wanted to make every attempt to make my passion for Shakespeare contagious.
Another example of the good that can arise from this movement is the Interactive Shakespeare Experiment, which contains hotlinked annotations which appear in another screen. The reader has the choice to click on these links as they appear, in order to read notes of criticism on the text.

The people who work on DH projects, especially transcribing texts and composing lists, work a selfless and labor-intensive job which deserves to be recognized and hailed for the treasure that it is. In ensuing that documents are available online to the average scholar, they have opened up the academic world.

Toward the end of his article, Steggle speculates that blogs may be the next jump in the academic community. Perhaps this is a bit meta of me, but I think he may be onto something. Looking at the unexpected trajectory that academia has fallen into, perhaps it's true that blogs may one day be used as tools, or mined to tell the future about the past. After the developments we've seen in academia since the dawn of DH, I wouldn't be surprised. All in all, the title of this chapter is perfect- "Knowledge Will Be Multiplied." It certainly appears that this is the case!

THATcampDC


This past weekend, I had the privilege of attending THATcampDC at George Washington University in Washington, D.C. The weather was beautiful, the cherry blossoms were blooming, the conversations were stimulating, and I am so grateful I had the ability to meet so many interesting people who also were passionate about DH!

After meeting up in the morning and deciding on a schedule of sessions for the day, based on what people were interested in discussing, the ~75 attendees went off to pursue our respective fields of interest. Excluding an hour set aside for "Dork Shorts," in which attendees were given 2.5 minutes to talk about their current passion projects, the day was broken into 4 hour-long sessions. Based on my interests, I attended sessions on using Wordpress.com in academic settings, DH training and support for librarians, as well as a much-needed session on DH tool sharing.

What impressed me more than anything about this day was how people were open to discussion and willing to share their knowledge. As a total newcomer to DH, I walked in knowing the bare minimum but wanting, desperately, to learn. In the morning idea generation session, I expressed the desire to learn about distance reading in particular and, although a session wasn't formed, two kind individuals offered to help me out and I was able to make valuable connections.

I left GWU with a list of tools to check out, as well as the email addresses of a few people who seem absolutely wonderful. It was a fantastic experience, and I would be excited to attend another THATcamp in the future!