Theorizing Models in the Digital Age

The articles that prepare us for Dr. Richard Urban’s talk on Friday, November 6, ask questions about what a model is and/or can do. While we may think of our models as transparent reflections of what is being modeled, Julia Flanders and Fotis Jannidis observe that it is not enough to have the database or model be a theory in itself—a practice that fully justifies and explains itself through its use. While this pragmatic approach can be sufficient up to a certain point, theories of modeling help us reflect on our praxis. As Flanders and Jannidis write, “Theory is usually the theory of something, trying to spell out the basic concepts relevant in the praxis of doing something . . . a theory of digital humanities cannot simply coincide with its praxis” (2-3).

To this end, I found Willard McCarty’s essay, “Modeling: A Study in Words and Meanings,” particularly helpful in thinking about the different sides to an understanding of models. The core, I think, of McCarty’s essay lies here, as he’s introducing the different synonyms to “model” that he’s going to consider (analogy, representation, experiment, etc.): “But perhaps the most important lesson we learn from seeing the word in the context of its synonym set is not the range and variety of its meanings; rather, again, its strongly dynamic potential.” Theorizing modeling as a dynamic tool in digital humanities helps us avoid some of the blind spots that might occur otherwise.

Arianna Ciulu and Øyvind Eide point towards this dynamic quality as well, stating, “In digital humanities we do not only create models as fixed structures of knowledge, but also as a way to investigate a series of temporary states in a process of coming to know. The point of this kind of a modeling exercise lies in the process, not in the model as a product” (37). For me, this emphasizes two points in regards to TEI coding.

First, the modeling of a text is an ongoing process that requires interpretation, judgement, and observation/perspective—all partially subjective elements of textual coding. For example: if there are typos in a manuscript, a coder can make a judgment and indicate a spelling/typing error, even if the author of the manuscript gave no indication (did not cross out the word or correct it in any way). The XML tags the coder uses let the reader know that they are perceiving a spelling error so that it is not mistaken as a correction made by the manuscript author. We can easily imagine a case of mistaken judgment, however, if the coder perceives an error that was fully intentional. Perhaps the author meant to spell the word this way for whatever reason.

Another example would be if the coder overlooked something that someone else deems important to code. In the Beckett Digital Manuscript Project, you can search the coded manuscript for both gaps in the text and the doodles that Beckett often drew on his pages. These are textual elements that we may at first be inclined to ignore because they are not part of the “text” as we traditionally conceive it. But of course these are part of the manuscript and have been shown to have significance in relation to the other parts of the page.

I give these examples to show why coding, as a form of modeling, cannot be seen as a fully cut-and-dry process that ends as a product as soon as the text is coded by a competent coder. How well a model represents its object is often up for dispute and revision. Ideally, a digital archive would allow for feedback and suggestions to improve or revise the model, open to new ways of representing the original manuscript. This openness to revision keeps both the original and its model incomplete in terms of knowledge. The “temporary states in a process of coming to know” generate “structures of knowledge,” but these structures are not fixed. They are tentative wholes that help us understand the heterogeneous parts of a given text.

This brings me to my promised second point, which is in regards to the modeling tool itself, i.e. TEI. Similar to what I said above, TEI as a standard is also not fixed; while it may not change as frequently as some would like, the guidelines have not stayed the same since its inception decades ago. It’s true that, as Ciulu and Eide say, “Even by abstracting away the text itself, the stripped out XML tree constitutes basically a model of one way of seeing the text structure: the place name is part of a sentence which is part of a paragraph which is part of a chapter and so on” (40). Thus, our model intrinsically comes with a set of assumptions about the originals we’re trying to represent.

Nevertheless—and I say this with the small knowledge I currently have on XML coding—there seems to be a good amount of flexibility in XML coding to adapt it to particularities. In other words, there will never be a “universal grammar” of modeling, in which the particular cases are always subordinate and fully represented by the current modeling tools. As we continue to experiment and think about new and better ways to represent data, likely based on a case-by-case basis, our tools will continue to change and adapt.

“What is a model, and what can it do?”

In preparation for Dr. Richard Urban’s discussion and lecture on Nov. 6,  Julia Flanders asks a question most pertinent in setting the tone for this week: “What is a model and what can it do?”  Reflections on two of the articles presented will speak to this question.

Ariaan Ciula and Oyvind Eide, in “Reflection on Cultural Heritage and Digital Humanities,” compare two modelling traditions.  This comparison focuses on pragmatic concerns and presents the comparison at an abstract level. The two selected are CIDOC-CRM and TEI.  The former is used in cultural heritage programs and the latter in modelling in the digital humanities.  The authors present strong emphasis on the dominant differences in the two modelling standards.  TEI, used to represent textual features, is created in research conducted in 1987.  This standard then evolved into the Consortium Structure established in 2001.  CIDOC-CRM provides a semantic framework.  Cultural heritage information is mapped by museums, universities, private companies and research centers.

Ciula and Eide state that strong epistemic values of the models reside in the fact that, while being dependent upon theory, the models themselves transcend theory.  Modelling characterizes the dynamic and heuristic.  Discussion is presented on the implementation of the CIDOC-CRM model in the Norwegian Documentation Project in the 1990s.  The purpose of the two modelling systems is reiterated by the authors: TEI encoding appears as textual context and CIDOC-CRM is based upon a specified model of the world.  Though two quite differed modelling standards are presented, the authors provide in-depth comparison, model structures and uses.  Purpose and utility promoted within the article is summed up succinctly by the authors:

While this exercise is interesting in itself as an investigation into modelling strategies, it also has a pragmatic aim of raising our own awareness about the choices made in certain modelling practices.  Rather than being seen as a divider between communities and traditions, such awareness enables a certain freedom. The different approaches combined can help envisaging imaginary constructs which can be used to model cultural artefacts and their interpretations in new ways.  (p. 40)

Offering another framework, J. Iivari’s “A Paradigmatic Analysis of Contemporary Schools of IS Development” outlines seven major schools: software engineering, decision support systems, infological approaches, database management, implementation of research, management information systems and sociotechnical approach.  These Schools also present seven similar assumptions:

  1. view of data/information is a descriptive fact
  2. information systems are a technical artifact with social implications
  3. technology is viewed as a matter of human choice
  4. a predominately structural view
  5. values of IS research reflect organic and economic qualities
  6. minds-end-oriented view of IS science
  7. a positivistic epistemology

Three diagrams included in the article compliment the text and deal with these subjects:  the major contributions of contemporary schools of IS development, presenting in framework of paradigmatic analysis, and the epistemological assumption and research methods.  Findings and results promoted in this article proved support for the assumption of the existence of an identifiable ‘orthodoxy.’  This is expressed with the exception given that there are certain variations between all the schools discussed. The authors’ study provides positive support for the work of Hirscheim and Klein (1999).

Data Modeling Mindsets and the Digital Humanities

Friday, November 6, 12:00-1:30 pm
Strozier Library 107K [map]

Data Modeling Mindsets and the Digital Humanities

Cultural heritage projects since the 1990s have provided sites for digital scholars to discover — or rediscover — what Ciula and Eide (2014) call various “modeling paradigms” through the implementation of digital methodologies such as database building and text encoding. Yet cultural historians and digital humanists do not always (or necessarily) agree on what constitutes a viable modeling paradigm, or share core assumptions about what modeling can achieve ontologically, epistemologically, and ethically. This tension is significant for most projects employing digital methods — from empirical studies of technological users to the construction of virtual archives — as it raises questions about what modeling achieves, how humanists (should) understand it, what logics or infrastructures may drive it, and whether it is best understood as a set of linked theories, or as one mega-theory of involvements among people, data structures, and symbolic languages.

Please join us for a discussion led by Dr. Richard Urban, Assistant Professor in the School of Information, whose own work scales disciplinary perspectives that sometimes act diametrically opposed. Using the Linked Women Pedagogues (LWP) project development as a set of practical problems to observe, Dr. Urban will lead us in an examination and discussion of the various ways that “data modeling” comes to mean for the humanities. As a continuation of other critical questions the group has raised about “networks,” “databases,” “ontologies,” and even “digital objects,” Dr. Urban will help us to explore how evolving data modeling mindsets can shape the objectives of digital humanities projects, as well as our assumptions of what constitutes DH work.

Participants are invited to read the following in advance:

and to browse the following resources:

We hope you can join us,


How Burroughs and Digitization Expand Our Understanding of Texts and Archives

Dr. Gontarski’s talk on Tuesday, October 20, concerned the current project of digitizing the William S. Burroughs archive held at Florida State University, which included the history of how FSU eventually obtained manuscripts that were largely unknown to scholars and the larger public. Because I have been involved with the archive since January, much of the information Dr. Gontarski gave was familiar to me; however, I was very interested in many of the ideas and questions that came up during his talk and in the discussion afterwards.

One of the issues raised was, “what is an archive?” We often think of digitization as a process of copying, of creating an image—a stand-in—for something that exists in the “real world” of materiality. People have online avatars that are meant to pictorially stand in for or represent them in some capacity; we scan and upload pictures and make digital copies of documents, often so that we can throw away the physical original that has now become obsolete; and we tend to view online life as an escape or a distraction from reality. Never mind that avatars can be part of a creation of an original online persona (one which is often characterized by an anonymity that people don’t otherwise have) that does not need to reflect who they are in their non-digital lives, or that digital data still takes up real space and is therefore not an immaterial copy. We have hard drives with limited space, after all, and digital texts can be affected in ways similar to traditional texts: they can be lost, corrupted, erased, tampered with, etc. Yet, it is true we still have a reverence towards physical texts. For example, to intentionally delete a thousand copies of a holy book from a hard drive (or to physically damage that hard drive) is not going to have the same effect (likely none at all) as intentionally burning even just one copy. Digitization is perhaps fitting then for an author who was so interested in subverting the conventions and traditional sentiments that are often attached to a physical text.

A digital archive, of course, is not just a copy of a physical archive of material texts—a convenient supplement for someone who does not have the option of dealing with the “real” thing. While it may certainly be the case that the material qualities of a book or a cut-up could be necessary to someone’s research and interests, a digital text has its own unique qualities and capabilities that extend beyond a traditional text, creating new functions and points of accessibility. As one can see from exploring, digitization creates a manuscript text that is searchable, transcribed, and collated with other versions of the text (various drafts as well as the first edition). As the archive grows, so do the possibilities. As indicated by Dr. Gontarski, intertextuality is fundamental to Burroughs’ production of writing, and the digital platform will allow visitors to see each text as more than a singular book. Ideally, a visitor would able to view the tremendous amount of fragmented phrases, paragraphs, and images that traverse Burroughs’ entire corpus, able to observe that so many of these elements are not fixed points but movable parts.

For example, a part of the Crawdaddy piece that I have been working on (published in November 1975) can be found in multiple publications, including Electronic Revolution (1970), the short story “From Here to Eternity” printed in Exterminator! (1973), and even another Crawdaddy piece (April 1976). But these interplays of text are not necessarily restricted to one body of work, i.e. Burroughs’, but may very well, as Oliver Harris suggests in his introductions, refer to other types of texts produced by others. For example, the phrase used the most in the above works is, “It’s the old army game. From here to eternity,” which echoes verbatim two old movie titles. I plan on watching both of these movies to see what kind of connection there may be, if any. It may very well be the case that Burroughs is just referring to the titles of these movies (or perhaps just one of them, likely From Here to Eternity) and the connection stops there, or perhaps even that connection is strained and is merely coincidental. Even if the latter is true, that Burroughs was not intentionally referring to these movies, the echo nonetheless reflects the inevitable repetitions and fragmented relationships that Burroughs’ method points to in the worlds of language and texts. Fragments—words, sentences, etc.—vibrate and resonate with other fragments, creating generative conjunctions and disjunctions of meaning which are often beyond the writer’s control. Burroughs incorporates this aspect of textuality directly into his artistic method, but the implications of his aesthetic principles extend beyond his own work. The digital archive and Burroughs’ ideas point towards the textual instability that is implicit in all works, including those of traditional/canonical authors.

Burroughs’ Lasting Legacy: Digital Cut-Up and Transmedia Storytelling

In preparation for our meeting on Tuesday and Dr. Gontarski’s presentation on the Burroughs Archive, I feel as though I’ve had a miniscule exposure to the “Cut-Up Trilogy” in the form of Oliver Harris’ “Introduction to the ‘Cut-Up Trilogy’” trilogy. Looking across the three introductions, we see some commonalities in terms of chronicling the changes across editions and Harris’ repeated assertion that to call these three books a “trilogy” is a misnomer. I wonder if Harris envisioned himself amassing his own sort of word hoard when drafting each of these introductions, repurposing sections from one to fit into the introduction for another volume. What I find most interesting is Harris’ assertion that the trilogy isn’t a trilogy, considering the many revisions each work underwent—ultimately giving us a total of 6 volumes, with no clear beginning, middle, or end of the “series.” Whether it was Burroughs’ intention or not, the fact that we can take the sum total of the series and create six different permutations (by Harris’ count) of the volumes seems to be a beautiful illustration of the cut-up technique on a grander scale. Each subsequent revision and re-ordering of the three volumes can create new trilogies and new meanings, depending on how they volumes resonate with one another in that particular configuration. Just as Burroughs pushed the limits of meaning and processes of composing with his cut-up and fold-in techniques, perhaps he intended to subvert the form of novel or the idea of a book series by constantly shifting and mutating his works. Whether that was his intention or not, we may never know; but this line of thinking wouldn’t have been possible without Burroughs’ innovations, innovations that have resonated for decades after his work and continue to resonate today.

As Lakey points out in her piece, Burroughs has directly inspired any number of artistic, literary, and philosophical endeavors, from David Bowie and Iggy Pop, to Deleuze and William Gibson, and even being the progenitor of such an expansive field known as “heavy metal.” But even beyond this direct inspiration, Burroughs’ influence remains implicit in composition theory and artistic endeavors. Just as Burroughs’ inspired Deleuze, much of assemblage theory—the idea that all of composition is at some point or another assembling pre-existing materials—draws on Deleuze, and Burroughs intended the cut-up technique to make assembly explicit in the medium of print. And as our literacy technologies have progressed the cut-up process is becoming more and more prominent within entertainment, whether through remixed videos on YouTube or the famed mash-up artist, Girl Talk. The way in which Girl Talk makes use of pre-existing musical materials is an advanced and computerized version of Burroughs’ audiotape experiments and is a direct descendent of Burroughs’ techniques. An even more explicit example of the cut-up technique thriving in the twenty-first century is a theater production entitled Terminator The Second. Nashville, Tennessee’s Husky Jackal Theater adapted the plot of James Cameron’s Sci-Fi/Action Opus for the stage, but rather than re-write the film’s script in Elizabethan verse, the screenwrtiers assembled the play’s script from nothing but pre-existing lines from the folios of Shakespeare. Check out the trailer below:

The script for Terminator the Second is a testament to the longevity of the cut-up technique, and it also illustrates one of the underlying tenets of the method: meaning is dependent on semantic units’ juxtaposition with semantic units. It is only through those resonances that meaning can be made.

Burroughs’ legacy lasts in many other areas. I was particularly drawn to Harris’ description of the audio tape and film experiments, as these multimedia endeavors are often overlooked in favor of the novels themselves. Harris reminds us that these novels are erroneously separated from the other related multimedia works including photo collages, film, audio tapes and scrapbooks that all contribute to the overarching mythos that Burroughs was creating in this period of his career. Once again, Burroughs’ is prophetic, for his attempt to saturate his story across many different media anticipates what Henry Jenkins calls transmedia storytelling. A prominent modern day example is the universe of The Matrix, which was spread out across three films, and animated film, a video game, graphic novels, and potentially one or two other media. However, Jenkins considers the attempts of the Wachowski Brothers to be a failure, as the primary medium, the films, relied too heavily on the satellite texts, and many audience members could not follow the films without having seen all others in the universe. Similarly, I wonder what we are missing by only focusing on the written content of Burroughs’ cut-up project; how might the audio and video elements elucidate the unanswered questions we have about the written volumes from this period? Burroughs cut-up work tested our assumptions of the composing processes, but he also caused us to question the forms on which we rely to impart information and understand the world around us; thus he pushed the boundaries not only on the written pages but pushed us beyond the bindings of a book, a legacy that lasts to this day.

Cutting Things Up:  Mapping the Political Interface of William S. Burroughs

William S. Burroughs is remembered and renowned as much for his unique character – the deviant, queer, drug-addicted radical of the Beat Generation – as he was for his controversial writing. Dr. Stanley Gontarski’s work with the William S. Burroughs Archive at Florida State University demonstrates the importance of historicizing and visualizing the “life” of William S. Burroughs as it exists inside the editing, writing, and the cut-up processes of Burroughs’ experimental writing projects.

Famous for his highly experimental writing style and the elaboration of Brion Gysin’s “cut-up method” in novel form, Burroughs’ writing practice cannot be separated from his personae.  Form and content merge as Burroughs “cuts-up” the capitalist power structure of history and travels into the future through “viral signifiers” (Harris, Nova xiii).  His overtly queer writings are intertwined with his radical anti-capitalist politics as well as his scientific and creative study of communicative and linguistic systems of control.

Burroughs is an example of process writ large which is why the Burroughs archival work is perfect for Dr. Gontarski’s process laden philosophy. Through XML coding of original manuscripts via the Text-Encoding Initiative (TEI), scholars (ranging from seasoned Professors, such as Dr. Gontarski himself, to undergraduates under Dr. Gonstarski’s supervision at Florida State University) are creating digital versions of Burroughs’ manuscripts in an effort to demonstrate the equal importance of process to that of substance.  Digital visualizations of Burroughs’ marked up manuscripts demonstrate the importance of Burroughs’ reliance on chance as well as his own agency in the development of his creative and radical writing methods.  These digital visualizations aide in scholarly efforts to understand and analyze the importance of Burroughs’ cut-up method to his more formal understanding of language systems under capital control during his lifetime.  The link between Burroughs’ process in creative fiction and non-fiction is intimately intertwined with his theory of the subjectivization of humans under global capital influence and his overarching critique of language and representation.

In order to ground the importance of Dr. Gontarski’s project and its concern with creating open-access digital visualizations of Burroughs’ manuscripts through TEI, the rest of this short essay is concerned primarily with demonstrating the importance of critical engagement with Burroughs’ writing process.  I find this uniquely important because of the ongoing and existing legacy attached to Burroughs’ writing and life as it plays out in the analysis and resistance to global capitalist hegemony as it emerges inside of communicative and linguistic systems of control.

Most of us who know Burroughs even on a cursory level are familiar with his broad range of global engagement in the arts.   Burroughs influence spans from pop culture artists (from Iggy Pop and David Bowie to R.E.M. and U2), to writers (from Angela Carter to William Gibson), to influential philosophers such as Gilles Deleuze.  Many artists adopted his phrases and used his “cut-up” prose inside poems, songs and science fiction novels.  Some even used Burroughs phrases as titles for bands and genre movements (for example, the term “heavy metal” is derived from a phrase in his cut-up novel Nova Express).  The process involved with “cutting-up” history, texts, and power in his cut-up method is embedded in his influence across the arts and philosophy.  His influence across the arts and philosophy is combined with his distinctly queer and homosexual lifestyle; a lifestyle defined famously by Burroughs’ addiction to heroine.

The reality of the queer, fragmented processes involved in living a life that “cut-up” a stagnant “straight-line” version of social history was intimately tied to the cut-up process of Burroughs’ three cut-up novels The Soft Machine, The Ticket that Exploded, and Nova Express. Burroughs’ was amongst the first to highlight the embodied action of writing and subsequently the cutting-up of the objective forms of the written word.  By linking the process of “cutting-up” as an act with the process of “cutting-up” through identity markers as active protest to dominant categories and control under global capitalism, Burroughs’ process is one that politicizes all action by making the personal the political and vice-versa by making the political the personal.  The very embodiment of the political in subject form is linked to the writing process and therefore the only proper engagement with undoing dominant forms of political power, according to Burroughs, is to live and write the “cut-up” method as political protest in everyday life.

In his “Introduction” to the restored text of Burroughs’ The Soft Machine, Oliver Harris summarizes Burroughs 1960 version of the essay “The Cut-Up Method of Brion Gysin”.  Harris outlines Burroughs own map of his work by stating that the “cut-up” method can be broken into four ontological levels of influence:

  • The cut-up method context as “art historical” (see Tristan Tzara at a Surrealist Rally in the 1920s).
  • The cut-up method as it is affiliated with and intersects with “contemporary science” (see Burroughs naming of the mathematician John von Neumann on game theory).
  • The cut-up method as open-ended in its application.
  • The cut-up method as opposed to Freud, and as it broke away from the Freudian Surrealist movement (Harris, Soft xxiv-xxv).

These four basic ontological fields highlight Burroughs’ process as a process of becoming that Mark Hansen and Douglas Kahn refer to as Burroughs’ “shifting virology”.

In the cut-up novel Nova Express, Burroughs’ “shifting virology” develops a critique of “communications technologies” as “reproducing external replicants” – a viral theory of information that understands information and communication as simultaneously “alive” and capable of infecting an entire population (Hansen).  It is against the “infecting virus” of capitalist mass media that Burroughs argues the cut-up method should be deployed.  This “deployment” is an integral part of Burroughs’ political engagement and cannot be separated from his essay and novel writing.  Doubling with the deployment of the cut-up method was Burroughs recognition of the “unique importance of little magazines and the underground press” (Harris, Soft xxix).  It was inside these small press engagements that Burroughs reprinted and rearranged what he referred to as “the word hoard” (the collection of straight-line narrative engagements that are written by Burroughs and other textual figures of literary history such as Shakespeare and T.S. Elliot).

Rearranging this “word hoard” in an effort to push back against the viral self-replication of capitalist hegemony inside art as well as inside the individual subject, Burroughs understood the role of global dominance by corporations decades before “real subsumption” of capitalism took place.  In his cut-up novel The Soft Machine, Burroughs writes of a “new global colonialism” in the planet’s occupation by the dominant corporation known as Trak Utilities.

But Burroughs was ahead of his time in other ways as well, and often deployed more than just the “cut-up” method as a critique against the hegemony of communication and linguistic systems in alliance with capitalist control.  In all three novels, Burroughs employs variants that disrupt what he calls the “straight line” narrative of the status quo novel form.  By repeatedly using the dash, the ellipsis and capitalizing words, Burroughs formed a precursor to the hashtag and Twitter that continues to make his work memorable through individual phrases rather than scenes or long monologues.

Philosophically, Burroughs’ writing style has formal historical links to the aphoristic system found in the writing of Friedrich Nietzsche (such as the aphorisms of Thus Spoke Zarathustra) and the philosophical fragments of “The Weeping Philosopher” Heraclitus.  Both Nietzsche and Heraclitus, like Burroughs, emphasized the constant questioning of objective “truth” by embracing existence as a process of becoming rather than a process of essentialist being.

In his “Introduction” to Burroughs’ The Ticket that Exploded, Oliver Harris argues that Burroughs trains his reader how to read his work, and through that training Burroughs simultaneously trains “us to read the culture around us, or rather the culture inside us” (Harris, Ticket xx).  Through that training we come to recognize what Burroughs called “creative capitalism”.  Creative capitalism has links, in Burroughs and in earlier Marxist theorists, to what Guy Debord and the Situationists understood as the all pervasive sign systems of control developed inside the systems of news media and consumer capitalism which Debord named “The Society of Spectacle”.  The cut-up novel Nova Express is written explicitly against these systems of control and criticizes the subjects and elites who stand behind the mechanisms of creative capitalism. In fact, Harris argues that Nova Express can be, as a whole, configured as a manifesto “against the 1 percent who run our planet like an alien colony” as well as a “call-to-arms against those who brought us Hiroshima and Nagasaki” (Harris, Nova xi).

Finally, it is in the development of Burroughs’ three cut-up novels (that are not a trilogy) that he highlights his concerns, not only with the one percent, but with the way information systems of global capitalism create control over human subjects, human collectives, and the human body.  Burroughs was concerned with the development of human subjects through linguistic systems and communicative systems; a system he conceived of as viral.  The link between the human subject and “the word-virus” is connected to the way communication and linguistic systems travel and replicate vis-à-vis tape recorders, print mediums, and computers for Burroughs.  Like Debord, and other Marxists (Adorno, Benjamin, Horkheimer, and Deleuze) Burroughs primary concern was with the creation of inhuman becomings, human beings that are “soft machines” whose docile behaviors simply serve the interests of capitalism and social control (Land 451).  By configuring the link between technology, language, systems of control and the human body, Burroughs predates organizational theorists such as Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri.

Burroughs’ cut-up method was a practice of radical resistance to social control through information and communicative systems.  Dr. Gontarski’s work with the Burroughs’ archive aides this radical politics by creating open-access systems to further develop and encourage the study of Burroughs process and method.  It is my firm belief that this project will elevate our understanding of Burroughs’ theory of language and his critical engagement and intervention in a radical anti-capitalist politics that works to return the human to a place beyond the hegemony of capital control and representation.

Works Cited

Hansen, Mark. “Internal Resonance, or three steps to a non-viral becoming.” Culture Machine 3 (2001). Web. 12 Oct. 2015.

Harris, Oliver. “Introduction” to Nova Express (by William S. Burroughs). Grove, 2014.

—–. “Introduction” to The Soft Machine (by William S. Burroughs). Grove, 2014.

—–. “Introduction” to The Ticket that Exploded (by William S. Burroughs). Grove, 2014.

Kahn, Douglas. Noise, Water, Meat: A History of Sound in the Arts. Cambridge: MIT, 1999.

Land, Christopher. “Apomorphine Silence: Cutting-up Burroughs Theory of Language and Control.” Ephemera 5:3 (2005): 450-71. Web. 18 Oct. 2015.

Metadata and Mapping

The last discussion group, led by Dr. Graban, introduced the topic of metadata and mapping. Envisioning the world, both as reality and in its multi-viewed and multi-varied cyberspace, is a concept opening new academic opportunities for the reviewer. Intriguing is that the concepts of probabilities can be transformed to the visual inter-connectedness of networks, nodes, and edges. There are spaces of inconvenience of interpretation, which the articles for the week have suggested. Will the complexities of mapping projects remedy these inconveniences, or are they glitches of technological happenstance? The visual effect of mapping, with its chaos of the disciplined academic search and intriguing webs of illustrative coincidence of established formalities and constructs, can be beguiling in its imaged authorities. But, are these authorities always real?

Discussion of the Metadata Mapping Project provides a new avenue for visualizing the necessities of searching every demonstrable characteristic of publishing to find more systems in the unforgotten topic and overlooked source of information. While there are many archives and libraries to research for publication clues to include in a defined search, encountered by the reviewer is the problem of relating the present to the past in searches of women’s sense of self in their domestic and public spheres.

This particular problems also arises in the research area of late colonial India. Much as in the discussion of the MDMP, the net of the inquisitive academic must be cast in a wide arch. The smaller the net openings of increased characteristics for searching, the more is gleaned from the subject’s search. Dr. Graban’s insights, which included incorporating the ‘unlikely’ in a mapping search, have presented new avenues of research investigation. The academic language of India is English. Mapping criteria must take into account the spoken word as the interpreted. Scholars and researchers in India are often obsessed with the propriety of language. Some smaller archival locations are extremely helpful, but a general question may obtain a late 19th century response, depending on the librarian’s location of education. Mapping holds the same requirements: distinctions broadly understood and also precise enough to glean the minute example.

In discussion, the group’s participants presented research projects where metadata mapping is being used. A question for consideration, during the discussion on projects was the amount of time established, or estimated, in the projects’ conclusions. Are they open ended or created with envisioned time restraints? As provided by the participants’ discussion, the disciplinary diversity of a cooperative mapping project could yield inquisitive approaches of varied frames of reference and the hybridity of intellectual worldviews.

Illuminating Gaps in Network Theory

In her talk on networks and network theory, “Commodities of Privilege: Citation Networks and Disciplinary Histories” Dr. Tarez Graban posited the notion that network theory allows us to see gaps in scholarship. I use this notion as a jumping off point for this blog post. What is that we don’t see? What are we trying to see? And how does network theory help us to see or to get closer to seeing the unknown? Is it a greater awareness of positionality?

Part of what might be obscuring visibility within the network is complications caused by human interactions and social hierarchies. While networks are fueled by human interactions, the nature of those interactions isn’t systematic and can be difficult to identify in terms of patterns.

In “The Small World Problem” written in 1967, Stanley Milgram offers us a glimpse of how human interactions obscure the fluidity of networks when he hints at social groupings influencing the results of his “small world” experiment that popularized the notion of “six degrees of separation” in popular discourse. In his study, Milgram tracked the ability of a letter to navigate persons through shared acquaintances. He writes “I would guess further that within certain ethnic groups in the United States, a higher proportion of familial lines would be found in the data.” (65-66). Milgram hints at the idea that social groups affect movement through a network, but glosses over it quickly. This glossing over of social factors is something that Judith Kleinfeld uses to fuel her 2002 critique of Milgram’s small world theory. Kleinfeld tries to mimic Milgram’s methods by setting up an email experiment to test the validity of Milgram’s study and notes that both class and race constrained the delivery of email messages through the participants. Kleinfeld states, “The results suggest again that, far from living in a small, inter-connected world, we live in a world with racial barriers” (6). Milgram’s and Kleinfeld’s texts point to the idea that human interactions constrain our understanding of how networks function.

Again the difficulty of navigating networks due to complex human interactions was underscored by Collin Brooke in his piece “Discipline and Publish.” Young scholars entering a field must map or visualize a network of publication in order to enter into a field and in order to create writing that contributes to that field. What it means to participate in that network is greatly obscured and what is to some degree apparent in the network are the publications connected through a citation network. How circulation happens within that network requires careful consideration of discourse practices, rhetorical gestures and peripheral academic texts. Brooke also brings us a helpful framework for describing connections within a framework when he cites a text written by Kathleen Carley and David Kaufer titled, “Semantic Connectivity: An Approach for Analyzing Symbols in Semantic Networks.” Carley and Kaufer introduce three terms to describe connectivity within a network “density, consensus, and connectivity” (100)—density being the number of citations within a node, consensus describing the lasting power, and connectivity describing the intensity of activity in a shorter time frame.

I think that Brooke’s terms point to the idea that a node in the network can feel central because of activity or seeming fixity of a node, but those nodes exists within a larger network so the idea of centrality is challenged. One of the guests in our group brought up a key question related to the problematic nature of centrality, when she asked how do we decide what gets held up or what gets focused on within the network? This might mean that the feeling of centrality may be more a matter of what is being focused on in a dynamic moment.

Screen shot 2015-10-16 at 4.53.18 PMIf we take a look at a website like TextTexture for example, the idea of a shifting center can be visualized. On the TextTexture website, keywords from texts or famous texts are arranged into a colorful and visual web that shows how the terms interact with other texts. When you hover over a specific term, you are shown how that term recurs in a chosen text. Any word could be the center. If you choose the Bible for example, you can follow a path through certain terms, but what the relationship between the terms means is obscured while the dynamism between the terms is held up, it is left up for interpretation. Maybe in this way, what we are not able to see is what our work as digital scholars is all about. What do the spaces mean? What do the relationships mean? Our studies can help us to illuminate those gaps.

Works Cited

Brooke, Collin Gifford. “Discipline and Publish: Reading and Writing the Scholarly Network.” Ecology, Writing Theory, and New Media. Ed. Sidney I. Dobrin. New York: Routledge, 2012. 92-105.

Kleinfeld, Judith. “Could it be a big world after all? The six degrees of separation myth.” Society, April 12 (2002): 5-2.

Milgram, Stanley. “The small world problem.” Psychology today 2.1 (1967): 60-67.

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The Archive as Text

Tuesday, October 20, 1:00-2:30 pm
Strozier Library 107K [map]

Building Genetic Editions: The Archive as Text

The William S. Burroughs Archive reflects a joint venture between FSU’s Burroughs Laboratory and the Centre for Manuscript Genetics in Antwerp, Belgium — historically, a center that promotes a change of outlook on scholarly editing through the development of “genetic criticism” via text-encoding initiatives (TEI). TEI enables textual critics and historians to, through XML (eXtensible Markup Language), perform visualizations within and construct interpretations of complex texts. Where TEI promotes a kind of “creative undoing” of any text, the Burroughs Archive represents both an interpretation and complication of that process in three ways: (1) its project team began the archive’s construction in 2012 with a text already occurring in multiple forms: typescript for William Burroughs’ Blade Runner (a movie); (2) the project is multidisciplinary in its reach; and (3) the project provides insight into Burroughs’ actual and perceived processes of composition, and of digital archivists’ possibilities for re/composition.

The Digital Scholars Reading and Discussion Group welcomes Dr. Stanley Gontarski, Robert O. Lawton Professor of English at Florida State University, to discuss the origins of the project, as well as its significance for  genetic criticism, data culture, scaled reading (e.g., text markup), crowd-sourced archiving, and seminar design, among other things. Participants from all fields may be interested in learning more about how the project evolved from questions and materials to something as complex as archive.

Participants are invited to read the following in advance (all available in our Bb org. site):

  • Burroughs ms. and ts. manifest, in holding at Strozier
  • Gitelman, Lisa. “New Media Bodies.” Ch. 3 in Always Already New: Media, History, and the Data of Culture. Cambridge, MA: MIT P, 2008.
  • Harris, Oliver. “Introduction” to Nova Express (by William S. Burroughs). Grove, 2014.
  • —. “Introduction” to The Soft Machine (by William S. Burroughs). Grove, 2014.
  • —. “Introduction” to The Ticket that Exploded (by William S. Burroughs). Grove, 2014.

and to browse the follow resources:

We hope you can join us,




Citation Networks and Disciplinary Histories

Friday, October 9, 12:00-1:30 pm
Williams Building 415

Commodities of Privilege: Citation Networks and Disciplinary Histories

Actor-network theorists from Bruno Latour to A.N. Leont’ev have argued for human networks as self-reflexive and emergent (following Marx), dialectical (following Engels), and bound by cultural artifacts (following Engeström) — all variations on what is commonly described as a relationship of vertices to actors to agents to points.

The conceptual availability of something as abstract as a network invites digital humanists to consider its usefulness, not only as a science of interconnections, but also as a historical attitude. The citation network, in particular, invites attention and critique: it demonstrates that objects are not always the nodes through which a network is defined; it illuminates the relational challenges that occur along a network’s edges; and it raises the question of how network theorists do, can, or should measure the disciplinary influences of actors when their influence moves out of a network’s visible range. In short, the citation — as a commodity of privilege — invites us to consider how a discipline’s texts, objects, and activities define who has participated and how their participation gets measured and remembered.

For our third meeting of the semester, the Digital Scholars group will consider the utility of the “acquaintance chain” and the “long tail” for writing institutional and disciplinary histories, questioning citationality as the dominant approach to measuring relational impact in electronic or online environments. When transient actors or underrepresented activities fall outside the purview of bibliometrics, what other kinds of relationships can we expect them to help us draw? When human-text relations become more difficult to stabilize because of increasingly complex patterns of circulation, how else can we relate the people, places, and ideas that historically constitute our disciplines?

Participants are invited to read the following in advance:

  • Chris Anderson, “The Long Tail,Wired 12.10 (Oct. 2004)
  • Stanley Milgram, “The Small World ProblemPsychology Today 1.1 (May 1967): 61-67.
  • Judith Kleinfeld, “Could it Be a Big World After All?” [pre-press version of article published as “The Small World Problem,” Society 39.2 (Jan/Feb 2002): 61-66]
  • Collin Gifford Brooke, “Discipline and Publish: Reading and Writing the Scholarly Network.” Ecology, Writing Theory, and New Media. Ed. Sidney I. Dobrin. New York: Routledge, 2012. 92-105. [in Bb]
  • Clay Spinuzzi, “How Are Networks Theorized?” Chapter 3 in Network: Theorizing Knowledge in Telecommunications. New York: Cambridge, 2008. [in Bb]

and to browse the following resources:

For additional reading into digital networks, the following links may be helpful:

We hope you can join us,