THAT camp UCF: A taste of what Digital Humanists talk about

UCFemerging media

Greetings from Orlando. As rain steadily drenched the city, librarians, English faculty, History faculty, and grad students sat snugly and warmed themselves with informal, welcoming, and open-minded discussion. Below I bring a sampling of the various sessions.

Barry Mauer of UCF presented his “Citizen Curator” project.
He wants to encourage non-academics to curate “public history.” Though there is lots of content, there’s not a lot of participation. Though creating an exhibit involves both archiving (collecting and processing material) and curating (exhibiting the material), Mauer’s expertise lay with curating.He asks, If curating is a type of writing, how do we use digital media with digital objects to generate this writing? He posits that this writing is similar to academic writing, but it’s also an Inventive process. And it involves partnerships.

Mauer would love to see curation capabilities move from PhDs to undergads to communities outside UCF. At present, he is working on guidebook for citizen curators.

In no way does Mauer decree a single ideal curation standard. You can curate materials multiple times, as there are many perspectives as to what materials are culturally important. There are conventional & unconventional approaches. An unconventional approach would be the way artists have curated. They do a kind of “disrespect the integrity of the object.” Sometimes that approach will trigger critical thinking. As an example, Mauer uses Lyotard’s exhibit in the 1980s, where he juxtaposes a visual path with and audio path, not making their relationships explicit. People have to infer the connections.

Mauer delineates 3 types of exhibits: Educational, Rhetorical (which Mauer favors for public history because it requires making a case with the project), and Experimental (or artistic).

What Mauer’s team have been working on is the Carol Mundy Digital Archive. He argues for the need of mediating in an exhibit. His archive has racist material which you cannot present with contextualization because it’s too inflammatory. Other curating problems include multiple overlooked perspectives, archival illiteracy, adapting to new technology, inaccessible documents, and emergent crises.

Mauer is not just curating objects, but curating relationships (people to people, and/or people to objects).

The Charles Brockden Brown Archive – Mark L. Kamrath (UCF) and a grad student who was code-savvy
The Charles Brockden Brown Archive is a big local and global team originating out of UCF. They are using approximately 900 Charles Brockden-Brown (CBB) texts. They used an XTF platform (coding that’s suitable for displaying digital objects).

Their archive has recently been peer reviewed by NINES (a “hub” for c19 digital projects), and they’ve been asked to revise. One of the main reasons was because of a copyright matter. At first they wanted to be the “one-stop-shop” for all CBB needs. But they could not publish full-texts of secondary sources because of copyright regulation. Nevertheless, they had access to many pdfs of the scholars’ articles.
XSLT is what they use to globally search for texts as XML documents. Transcription standards, in conjunction with TEI markup protocol, were created and applied. Different transcriptions were made and then compared to find the most precise one. They chose to do both an XML version and an “as-is” version side by side. When dealing with handwritten items, they coded for gaps, strike-throughs, and underlines.

All this description of the project is to show that making an editing protocol is a dialectical process. They create and revise. They mentioned that their markup works with structures and are not interpretive, but they have added to the DTD of TEI.
They used the TEI-P5 for the mark up rules.
They use a cloud drive for public sharing and storing. They use the Library of Congress Subject List to which they suggested (and added) their own subjects. The subject list operates like a bibliographical index, and also as a way to find themes in the materials.
Their search engine is PHP script to look for an XML file. For images, they used TIF images that they turned into JPEGs.
A question they had was how the site would be maintained, for example, ten years from now when the original creative team moves on to other things.

Kacy Tillman (University of Tampa) – How to use Genius in the classroom
Kacy Tillman’s web site has Genius resources. Genius is an annotation site that evolved from Rap Genius. Originally Genius was designed for K-12 students, but now you can see transcripts of texts from all disciplines. You can even annotate the text of Genius. You need to know some basic html coding to create clean annotations.
But Tillman argues that this program fosters for critical thinking about interpreting fiction or poetry, for example, and it invites conversation about ethical research practices. You can have 3-tiered conversations – students can annotate another student’s annotation.
You can also make pages in Genius; it’s in a blog-like format. You do need experience points to acquire permission to do it. You can also communicate to the builders of Genius (They respond).
Tillman uses Genius to get her students to make digital anthologies. Other developments include Multimodal Timelines. Genius can be embedded into an LMS (Learning Management System).

As of today, image annotation is possible as well.
Genius is open to everyone, so it’s Wikipedia style in the sense of crowdsourced editing, but there is an administrator. Daily, the administrator consolidates annotations with similar ideas, and weeds out annotations made by trolls.

Soon, Genius will have access to select JSTOR articles for linking purposes.

“Inclusion and Digital Media” – Haven Hawley (formerly worked at the Immigration and History Research Center of the University of Minnesota)

Understanding the complexity of cultural identity is important when you’re trying become an ally of a cultural group.
There are privacy issues when you’re archiving cultural history, especially online. An example is the Sheeko project, developed by undergraduates.

What does inclusion in digital media mean? You can look at it as the gulf that separates the digitally savvy from the nots; or you can look at access to technology, or local knowledge vs power uses, sustaining relationships between the project and the community, problems of exploitation (“rip-n-strip”), universal design (designing the project from the beginning to be as accessible as possible), the including of as many renditions as possible, the including of the physically disabled, and the issue of authenticity and ownership.

For a university to develop a trust with communities, you should put staff into place who are sensitive and knowledgeable about the community. You can try to get trustworthy institutions to support your archiving – church, local historical societies, local artists, people who listen, public libraries. Hawley cautions that the academy cannot always assume it is the center of or the authority on archiving.

“The Hard Problems of Digital Humanities” – Bruce Janz (UCF)

Janz used this session to examine unanswered and complicated DH questions.
In 2017 HASTAC (Humanities, Arts, Science, and Technology Alliance and Collaboratory) wants to have a conference in FL. DH has made much progress in establishing itself as a field. For example, DH has done much to facilitate stronger (and more visible) interaction between the artist and the critic/historian. However, there are still questions unanswered that prevent it from becoming perceived as a discipline. Pressing is how does DH figure philosophically.

It is feasible to do a DH project without having an understanding of its own ontology. A method laid out in the meeting is represented below:
1. Pre-Research (prepping the data for studying by way of tagging)
2. Research (asking the focused question and sifting the data for answers)
3. Creative Work
4. Post Research
One prevailing collective issue amongst the DH community is that they do not take into account that, according to Janz, humans live digital as well as analog lives. Ushahidi, a program that tracks global crises, responses, and locations of resources, is an example of the output of people living digitally. In Africa, there are “born African” digital programs that were created by Africans to counter African problems. A non-digital example of Africans using digital practice is isicathamiya. This is a practice of a capella singing amongst men that actually is used to communicate and to respond to other communities.

Another prevailing problematic concept is that, roughly speaking, DH should not be analogous to “missionary work,” such that one power center spreads its ideology over places that “need it.” Instead, DH projects should be seen more egalitarian, as a give and take of ideas and tools.

A third problem is that there is a scarcity of DHers who are actually making DH or born-digital objects a focus of study.

A fourth problem is finding a way to make a scholarly (peer-reviewed) process publicly available without jeopardizing the credibility of peer-reviewed scholarship.

The final problem has to do with opposition to DH stemming from how strong “confirmation bias” is. Digital Humanities projects are risky in that the project team is often inventing the mode of research as they are researching. The unfulfilled promise is an outcome not considered productive to those who distribute funding for such projects. Also, peer-review is tricky to accomplish on not-overtly-bibliographical inventions, and (still) doesn’t carry as much clout as a monograph.
How does one promote an institution(?) that appears as if you have to overhaul your cultural values and belief systems to engage it? Janz asks “How do you sell ugly?”

Spaces for Critically Questioning and Analyzing Digital History

Megan Keaton, a student enrolled in this semester’s ENG 5998 reading group, uses this week’s suggested readings to discuss the ways in which the tools we use affect what we can see and the knowledge we can make. 

In preparation for Professor Hanley’s visit, Dr. Graban introduces us to “The (un)Certainty of Digital History and Social Network,” writing that “while databases often serve as tools for gathering and curating data, they can also serve as spaces for critically questioning and analyzing the motives that guide our conceptions of what it means to do digital history with any certainty.” We can see this theme running throughout the suggested readings; each scholar pushes us to recognize that the tools we use (a) shape what we can(not) discover and (b) can help us acknowledge and make explicit our assumptions.

Ansley T. Erickson points directly to uncertainty in “Historical Research and the Problem of Categories: Reflections on 10,000 Digital Note Cards”: “much of our work happens while our research questions are still in formation. Uncertainty is, therefore, a core attribute of our research process.” This uncertainty is beneficial when we allow ourselves to search for, identify, and entertain connections we had not originally intended to find. This potential for unintended connections is at least partially dependent on “the challenge of information management…[because] where, when, and how…we organize and interact with information from our sources can affect what we discover in them.” Because print databases – such as Erickson’s note cards – are not easily searchable, reorganizing them to newly identified categories may seem too cumbersome, stopping researchers from exploring possibilities that they are not sure will be fruitful. Digital databases, on the other hand, allow us to search by term, which enables the researcher to quickly re-categorize information under newly found connections. Erickson recommends that we utilize digital databases as they

offer a kind of flexibility that can allow us to create and re-create categories as we work with notes, to adjust as we know more about our sources, about how they relate to one another and how they relate to the silences we are finding. That flexibility means that we can evaluate particular ways of categorizing what we know and then adapt if we realize that these categories are not satisfactory. In doing so, we are made more aware of the work of categorization and are reminded to take stock of how our ways of organizing help and what they leave out.

In addition to helping us see outside the categories with which we begin our research, Erickson argues, thinking about the mechanics of our databases and our categorization systems can help us reflect on our “implicit categories or habits of thought that might shape our analysis,” our assumptions about which historical stories should be prioritized.

Similarly, in “Social Networks and Archival Context Project: A Case Study of Emerging Cyberinfrastructure,” Tom J. Lynch shows how print finding aids and Encoded Archival Content – Corporate bodies, Persons, and Families (EAC-CPF) affect the kinds of connections we can make among parts, persons, and places in archives. He defines a finding aid as “a printed document of all the records left in an archive with a common creator or source. A finding aid contains a description of the creator, functions performed by the creator, and the records generated by the creator through the performance of those functions.” Lynch explains, “Reading finding aids and collecting names found therein is a method for building up a list of leads to new sources.” However, the print finding aid is “inflexible and inefficient when dealing with complex, interrelated records” because “[a]rchival records are often of mixed provenance or the records of the same provenance can be dispersed over numerous archives”; this issue is being solved by the EAC-CPF, which

enabl[es] the separation of creator description from record description. Maintaining a unique, centralized creator record not only reduced redundancy and duplication of effort, but also provides an efficient means of linking creators to the functions and activities carried out by them to the dispersed records they created or to which they are related, and to other related creators.

The different archival and categorization tools, then, allow different links – different connections, different sources – in ways similar to Erickson’s note cards and database. As new digital tools enable less redundancy in collecting and sorting data and save researchers time, we can entertain more connections more easily.

Lynch “defin[es] a set of variables to consider when approaching the design of a new tool”: (1) collaborations between humanists and non-humanists, including “librarians, archivists, programmers, and computer scientists;” (2) a balanced scope of audience and goals; and (3) a balance between traditional and new infrastructures/methodologies so that “new technologies…push the boundaries of scholarly activities, yet remain accessible and meet real needs.” We can utilize these variables as a heuristic – analyzing (a) our relationships with other scholars, (b) our intended audiences, (c) which goals we deem beneficial, (d) which methodologies and infrastructures we find value, and (e) the ways in which (a)-(d) affect the knowledge we can and do produce – to gain a better understanding of the tools we create and the assumptions that guide our research of and with these tools. The variables within the heuristic are also interconnected, as one variable can shine light on another. For instance, Lynch writes that “collaboration itself is a challenge that requires careful resolution of methodological differences and regular communication about each collaborators’ perspective.” In other words, our collaboration with other fields and other scholars can push us to consider the effectiveness of our methodologies.

Finally, Claire Lemercier, in “Formal Network Methods in History: Why and How?,” speaks to connections (or ties, as she puts it) we can identify among nodes in a network. “The interest of formal network methods in history is…not limited to inter-individual ties. Networks of firms, towns or regions can also be considers.” Lemercier points to ties between places, individuals, and organizations. As we look to different ties within different circumferences (from individual to organizations) of networks, we can see different “patterns.” Because each circumference shows us different things, toggling between different circumferences, we can determine whether patterns are due to a particular cause, to multiple causes, or to “pure chance.” Without this toggle, we are able to see less, perhaps assuming causes that are not there.

She also points us to the metaphors we use in relations to our tools. She suggests that historians tend to use the metaphor of a map when analyzing networks. Fleckenstein et. al acknowledge that “the metaphors by which researchers orient themselves to the object of study affect the research methods they choose and the nature of the knowledge they create” (389). The map metaphor, Lemercier suggests, implies that we can map all of the relationships within a particular network. However, she writes,

Social network analysis does not allow [us] to “draw a map” of an individual’s network or of all the relationships inside a community, to describe the network of this person or the social structure of this group…It is in fact possible to “draw maps” of networks, but only if we remember that the map is not the territory: it concentrates on some precisely defined phenomenon, momentarily forgetting everything else.

She encourages us, then, to use our metaphors as well as the methodology of social network analysis to reflect on our “boundary specification” choices – “whom do we observe? which ties? when?” – and how these choices “constrain” the questions we can ask and answer. These metaphors link to our implicit theories and, Lemercier argues, “[w]ell-conducted qualitative research often helps to make them more explicit, as the researcher has to define which factors she takes into account, how she defines them, which are the dependent and independent variables, etc.”

A final note: During our last meeting, Dr. Fife stated that digital replication/reproduce is an addition to, rather than a replacement of, non-digital spaces. Erickson emphasizes the same about the tools we use. “Digital note taking may add to but does not of necessity replace varied encounters between researcher and sources” (emphasis mine). This suggests that we need to be critical of the tools we use, considering which tools we can use as additions rather than replacements and what we may gain or lose by looking at tools as additions.

Works Cited

Erickson, Ansley T. “Historical Research and the Problem of Categories: Reflections on 10,000 Digital Note Cards.” Writing History in the Digital Age. Eds Kirsten Nawrotzki and Jack Dougherty. University of Michigan, 2013.

­Fleckenstein, Kristie, et al. “The Importance of Harmony: An Ecological Metaphor for Writing Research.” College Composition and Communication 60 (2008): 388-419.

Lemercier, Claire. “Formal Network Methods in History: Why and How?.” iSocial Networks, Political Institutions, and Rural Societies. Ed. Georg Fertig. Turnhout: Brepols, 2011.

Lynch,Tom J. “Social Networks and Archival Context Project: A Case Study of Emerging Cybrainfrastructure.” Digital Humanities Quarterly 8.3 (2014).

Digital History and Social Networking

Wednesday, March 4, 2:00-3:30 pm
Williams Building 454

The (un)Certainty of Digital History and Social Networking

For microhistorians investigating how people conduct their lives within particular groups or units of culture, local and transnational methodologies can operate in a complementary way, simultaneously reducing and broadening historians’ scales of observation, allowing them to notice both outliers and patterns. Databases of historical individuals are one kind of methodology (or tool) that emerges from this work, and while databases often serve as tools for gathering and curating data, they can also serve as spaces for critically questioning and analyzing the motives that guide our conceptions of what it means to do digital history with any certainty. For the third meeting of this semester’s Digital Scholars reading and discussion group, Professor Will Hanley from FSU’s Department of History will lead us in a discussion of these concerns.

Drawing on his experiences with Prosop, a graph database of persons appearing in eastern Mediterranean archives, Professor Hanley will explore the particular challenges of recording, sharing, and serializing historical person-data of uncertain form and meaning. He will consider this category problem in the context of SNAC and other historical social network databases, most of which do not face similar problems of uncertainty. Veterans of Digital Scholars may remember Professor Hanley’s 2011 presentation on Prosop, and we look forward to engaging him again, and learning about how the project has grown from its original conceptions as an ontology into a crowd-sourced tool for sharing and aggregating historical data.

Participants are invited to read the following:

 

We hope you can join us,

-TSG

3D Thinking

Jie Liu, a student enrolled in this semester’s ENG 5998 reading group, offers a starting point for conversation about ways in which to locate sites for collaboration via “3D thinking.” 

The project Victoria’s Lost Pavilion is truly a great example to show the promise of Henry Jenkins’s convergence culture. While Jenkins has a particular focus on fan culture in his book, this project aiming to digitally reconstruct an intriguing historical building (Queen Victoria’s Buckingham Palace garden pavilion (1842-1928)) is probably what some scholars are excited to see and illustrates how far we can go. Such a project does not only depend on collective intelligence, but also touches on a critical question about digital humanities, namely, how scholars can participate. It seems that to turn digital 3D representation into interpretation and knowledge production requires more than a fundamental understanding of technology; it also asks for a different mindset, which I venture to call “3D thinking” from an English major’s perspective. While close reading and individual projects remain important, an additional dimension demands more attention in this digital age. Scholarship now needs a different type of collaboration and interaction.

First, Victoria’s Lost Pavilions progress shows that in terms of digital reconstructions of the past, a nexus connecting different discourses effectively serves for scholars to participate. In “Beyond the Big Tent,” Patrick Svensson views the digital humanities as “a meeting place, innovation hub, and trading zone,” which is based on “interdisciplinary work and deep collaboration.” Such a model, he believes, can “attract individuals both inside and outside the tent.” His endeavor to revise the theoretical frame is undoubtedly significant. However, Alan Liu also sees the challenges digital scholars face and shares his experience of “working… at the seams between exsiting literary fields, periods, personnel levels, management structures, and so on” in “Digital Humanities and Academic Change” (24).

The digital humanities may not exist as an ideal space where scholars meet and trade ideas; instead Liu finds seeds in various projects faculty and students can work on together. In other words, to be practical, digital scholars may need to locate particular sites where they are able to collaborate. It can be a small project at first and gradually grows into a meeting place inviting more individuals to come. Then we can see the Pavilion project interestingly demonstrates how to work at a seam and develop it into a trading zone that attracts scholars from different areas.

Because of the pavilion’s own complexity, its digital reconstruction becomes an important intersection of disciplines (e.g. literature, architecture, archaeology, art, and computer science), and this convergence supports multiplicity and shared interests, laying a solid foundation for interdisciplinary collaboration. As Professor Fyfe mentions, “the conversation came to include several more participants in the department and across campus, each of whom saw opportunities to engage different field conversations and disciplinary problems.” (“Is this a DH project?”) Hence, finding a nexus and turning it into a trading zone is a critical step digital scholars need to consider, which requires thinking from the perspectives of other disciplines.

Moreover, the Pavilion project urges us to rethink the process of collaboration. “For me, this has valuably complicated my naive thinking about projects beyond the spectrum of proposal -> process -> product.” (Fyfe “Elegant Scaffolding”) Here collaboration itself involves active interrogation, competing interpretations, contested assumptions, and further exploration. Conversations between scholars from different disciplines can raise more questions and open new possibilities. In a certain sense, the dynamic of collaboration reveals a way of knowledge production. Diane Favro also tends to see digital reconstruction as a process, not simply a final product: “the real value of historical simulations lies not in the representations themselves, but in the process of their creation and in the subsequent experiments now possible to be conducted within the simulated environments” (276). (Hence archiving also plays a key role and requires a new model.)

As the process itself becomes more important in a digital context, collaboration can be productive even before a digital reconstruction is finished. Therefore, apart from a new model for a digital reconstruction, digital scholars also need to create a different model for their collaboration, which foregrounds knowledge production in the process and effectively communicates the new knowledge to the academia. (Considering that some projects may not last long because of limited time and funding, such a model appears to be more important.) Recognizing this new challenge, Professor Fyfe comes with an interesting scaffolding theory. “Projects can equally possess a ‘elegant scaffolding’ to deliver useful structures throughout their life cycle” (“Elegant Scaffolding”). Even “a half-built virtual model of a historical building” (“Elegant Scaffolding”) may give us valuable lessons; this is another thing we need to think about differently.

But designing a new model for a digital reconstruction is not that simple either, because of the emphasis on interaction. It seems that from the beginning the purpose is twofold. Digital collaborators do not only need to investigate the veracity of a digital representation and agree on a particular edition of a historical simulation, but also have to take into account of its users’ participation, playing “the role of choreographer” (Favro 274). Projects like Victoria’s Lost Pavilion and Virtual Paul Cross Project aim to create “a more immersive experience of gallery space” (Fyfe “What Victoria Saw”), which do not rely primarily on sight but become more polysensory. This hopefully will inspire visitors to examine historical environments in different ways and lead to new, insightful discoveries. However, it seems that a user’s experience is not the only form of interaction digital collaborators need to worry about. If we see the model for a digital reconstruction as a research platform, other possibilities also emerge. While a digital reconstruction as a nexus is complicated enough itself, its extensibility remains an important aspect. Can it be easily repurposed for other digital projects? For instance, “a well-made 3-D model can be ported to an acoustical program for a study of the relationship between the architectural design and music performances” (Favro 275). Is there a platform to help digital scholars trade and transform such models? Though different software programs and copyright issues already muddy the water, when building a particular model, digital collaborators may still need to think about the circulation of their digital reconstruction and its future possible uses.

On the other hand, a digital reconstruction as a platform may also lead to more research methods, especially for English majors. For example, while Franco Moretti’s maps and diagrams look interesting, his distant reading can be time-consuming and impractical to those who are not familiar with geography and relevant technologies. However, suppose we have a digital reconstruction of Old London (or just a part of it), visitors do not only obtain a deeper understanding of the historical buildings and the structure of the city, but also find an easier way to observe a novel’s characters’ interaction and movement in such a space and possibly produce more maps (or more than maps). In this sense, digital representations also set the stage for 3D reading and new, exciting ways to analyze literary texts. The possibilities are definitely there.

References

Favro, Diane. “Se non èvero, èben trovato (If Not True, It Is Well Conceived): Digital Immersive Reconstructions of Historical Environments.” Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians 71.3 (Sep. 2012): 273-77.

Fyfe, Paul. “Is this a DH project?,” “Elegant Scaffolding,” and “What Victoria Saw.” The Pavilion project blog.

Liu, Alan. “Digital Humanities and Academic Change.” ELN 47.1 (Spring 2009): 17-35.

Svensson, Patrick. “Beyond the Big Tent.” Matthew Gold, ed. Debates in the Digital Humanities, 2013 open-access edition.

Neo Antiquarianism: The Walter Scott Phenomenon in Virtual Building Building

To English Department scholars skeptical of virtualizing in three-dimensions historical structures and wondering whether there is literary merit here: there is. In digital humanities projects like Victoria’s Lost Pavilion, What Jane Saw, and Virtual Paul’s Cross Project emerges the enthusiasm, research methods, and collaboration not unlike the project of the Walter Scott novels. We can look in particular to Waverly, a kickstarter event.

Place consumed Scott. He wanted to inhabit as much of it as possible in one instance, especially when he was confined for illness as child, which motivated his appetite for “desultory” reading, and building in his mind. Besides fiction, he read: “histories, memoirs, voyages and travels,” and the truth that he derived from them were as “wonderful” as the fiction. From the memories of his readings, and the memory of how (disorderly) he studied in his young adulthood in the Edinburgh library, he researched for Waverly. Part of the fiction, Scott also claims, comes from an excavation of his past writing. But much of it was collaboration. He wandered the Highlands. Veterans told him war stories. He immersed himself in a culturally preserved society. What came out was a bumbling protagonist whose wanderings “permitted [him] to introduce some descriptions of scenery and manners, to which the reality gave an interest which the powers of the Author might have otherwise failed to attain for them.”

In the 21st century the bumbling protagonists are ourselves as we navigate the virtual terrains of the internet. But they are also, for example, Fyfe and his collaborators. For the Pavilion Project, a conference paper, primary architectural data, the actual remains of the structures on the earth, some art historians, some research assistants, some English Literature scholars, some money, and some management skills, a dynamic project, an object very Scott-like emerges. The Waverly novel becomes the Waverly series, and the Waverly series grows into a fictional oeuvre.

Victoria’s Lost Pavilion and similar projects are operating together to form a flexible, living, rhizomatic genre, very much like what was happening in Britain in the early nineteenth century. Though Scott embraced the romance qualities of Waverly, romance meaning the idealized, the legendary, the incredible, the emotionally charged, Scott takes the pains in his general preface and the voluminous meticulous description to justify the credibility of the history in this work. And after about 185 years and countless prefatory appeals like Scott’s, we now we retroactively (perhaps also conveniently) call Waverly and other like objects a “novel.”

Perhaps the credibility of virtual structure building projects and other such geospatial outgrowths as an emerging genre comes in the embracing of the romance of it. In the same way the novel, on its way to being established as “literature,” utilized the tactics of the romance.

On Victoria’s Lost Pavilion Project

“adicel20″, a student enrolled in this semester’s ENG 5998 reading group, reflects on some of the readings provided by Professor Fyfe for our upcoming discussion on 3D Virtual Construction of Historical Architecture:

Victoria’s Lost Pavilion: Reconstructing the Arts in Digital Space” is a project initiated by faculty, researchers, students, and staff from different departments at North Carolina State University, with the purpose of building a virtual reconstruction of Queen Victoria’s Buckingham Palace garden pavilion. Built in 1842, and subsequently demolished in 1928, Queen Victoria’s Pavilion had a distinct architectural and artistic presence, due to its interesting mix of fresco paintings, elaborate ceiling and floor designs, and bas-relief figures.

According to the project’s blog (http://pavilion.wordpress.ncsu.edu/blog/), the team endeavors to accurately recreate the historical building of the Pavilion in a virtual space, and also to expose the “curious set of contradictions it embodies, the possibilities of overlapping and competing interpretations about what and how it represents” (February 2014 Archive). The focus on the creative and research potential of the digital model is what makes this project a true digital humanities endeavor. As Diane Favro observes in her article on Digital Immersive Reconstructions of Historical Environments, the “real value of historical simulations lies not in the representations themselves, but in the process of their creation and in the subsequent experiments now possible to be conducted within the simulated environments (Favro, 276)”.

Conversely, the team of the Victoria’s Lost Pavilion professes an interest in using “the digital not to idealize the past in high fidelity, but to expose the interconnected layers of significance and model competing stories about what it means” (February 2014 Archive). The very process of making the digital model constitutes in itself a means of creating and accumulating knowledge, by underlining “a mix of historical and methodological and technical problems” (February 2014 Archive).

Like with any grand-scale humanities computing project, periodical short-term outcomes have to be delivered in advance of a final, completed product. For Victoria’s Pavilion, this moment came in the summer of 2014, when the team had to create a poster for a Digital Humanities Summer Institute presentation; they ended up using a half-built virtual model of the Pavilion building, an “elegant scaffolding”, that represented the preliminary stages of the digital reconstruction.

The Victoria’s Lost Pavilion project is an important endeavor not only for the specific outcomes it sets to accomplish (the reconstruction of a lost historical monument), but also for the questions it dares to ask, the challenges it wants to surmount and the lessons its team is willing to learn in the process.

Bibliography

3D Virtual Construction of Historical Architecture

Friday, February 13, 1:00-2:30 pm
Williams Building 415

Victoria’s Lost Pavilion

Please join us for the second meeting of the Digital Scholars reading and discussion group for Spring 2015, featuring Paul Fyfe, Assistant Professor of English and Digital Humanities at North Carolina State University, who will talk with us via videoconference about a DH funded project, “Victoria’s Lost Pavilion: Reconstructing the Arts in Digital Space.

Understanding the embodied conditions of historic monuments and memorialized events is a huge undertaking — it is a historicization of its own. The Pavilion project literally draws on multiple caches of historical materials to achieve a virtual re/construction that illuminates both the question-raising and the problem-solving dimensions of interdisciplinary work. In introducing us to the project, Dr. Fyfe may invite us to consider the critical and artistic demands of comprehensive historical digital reconstruction, as well as how working in immersive virtual environments causes us to distinguish between recapturing the essence of a physical site and becoming conscious of its historical accretions. We may discuss the project model, consider its requirements and various phases in its construction, and question our own expectations of oldness vs. newness, and of hyperreality vs. virtuality.

Participants are invited to read the following:

Dr. Fyfe can be reached via e-mail or twitter.

-TSG

Creating an Interstructure in the University Using Student-Led, Faculty-Supported Projects

Megan Keaton, a student enrolled in this semester’s ENG 5998 reading group, offers a starting point for conversation about ways in which to create an interstructure between vertical and horizontal power structures in the university. 

In the Digital Humanities Manifesto 2.0, we see a call for collaboration and participation in the: “Digital Humanities implies the multi-purposing and multiple channeling of humanistic knowledge…Its economy is abundance based, not one based upon scarcity…[I]t promotes collaborations and creation across domains of expertise…Digital Humanities = Co-creation” (UCLA, emphasis in original). This kind of collaboration and participation is similar to Jenkins’ particaptory culture and collective intelligence. Yet, as articulated in Jie’s post, “While viral sites encourage users jump from one post to another to get the information they want, such participation does not lead to many meaningful activities. And considering personalization, this model of participation will inevitably weaken, not strengthen, audience agency…This may make us ask what is real participation, or to what extent participation is promising, but another question is to what extent people participate.”

During her talk, Dr. Yancey also approached this problem by discussing power; media content is not power-neutral and, even in spaces in which content is user-generated, the content that is seen and/or valued has very much to do with access. Access goes beyond simply having an Internet connection and a Facebook account; access here means having a valued voice, the ability and position to influence readers and media owners, and the permission to disturbed, circulate and/or modify already created content. Dr. Yancey also pointed us to the differing power structures between the supposed horizontal structure of social media and the vertical structure of institutions like the government. Then, as summarized by refactorymuse, “Moving to the issue of changing media infrastructure and knowledge distribution in the academy, Dr Yancey used the analogy of the ‘interlanguage’ to suggest a viable connection between the social media platforms and protocols of the populace and the platforms and protocols of the humanists in academia.” In the rest of this post, I would like to combine and address two questions posed by refactorymuse:

  1. Can we continue to expose the urgency of the need for an interlanguage in more logistical ways, and specifically pertaining to the FSU Humanities network?
  2. Are there ways to foster more faculty-student digital projects in the English Department wherein the student can gather digital experience/skills on site, even if they have little preexisting digital experience?

I would like to suggest that this interlanguage can begin by “fostering more faculty-student digital projects in the English Department.” This, then, brings to the fore the desire for co-creation and a sharing of expertise described in the Digital Humanities Manifesto 2.0. (I recognize that the ideas below are idealistic; however, I am presenting suggestions with the hope of developing a conversation.)

To begin, we might follow Dr. Yancey’s lead in the ways in which she inspires students to take up their own projects. In her graduate level courses (I cannot speak for her undergraduate courses), students design their own final projects; these projects can be “a conference text (could be prezi; print; etc); a syllabus; or other work allowing you to explore in depth a dimension of the course” (Yancey, Everyday Writing Fall 2014 Syllabus). Though not every student will continue their project after the course has ended, these projects allow students to apply course concepts in meaningful ways and give them an opportunity to begin composing/designing a product on which they can build. Furthermore, students do not need to seek out a faculty member who can help them with the project. As the instructor is an authority on the subject of the product and is already associated with it, students have a faculty member who can oversee, facilitate and/or offer advice for the project. More, if students receive feedback on their final projects, they already a reader’s (and expert’s) reactions to and suggestions for the project. All of this means that beginning and continuing a project is much easier than if a student was to begin a project outside of a course on his/her own.

In her post, Jie made the connection between Jenkins and Svensson, who encourages his readers to think of Digital Humanities as a meeting place or a trading zone. These metaphors might also be used for student-led, faculty-supported projects. Svensson writes, “The digital humanities can be seen as a fractioned (not homogenous) collaborative (not coerced) trading zone and a meeting place that supports deeply collaborative work, individual expression, unexpected connections, and synergetic power. The ‘digital,’ in a broad sense and in various manifestations, functions as a shared boundary object” (“Big Tent”). The “shared boundary” for faculty and students may be the content of the course (as discussed above) or a particular area of interest.

These student-led, faculty-supported projects can encourage conversations about the “interlanguage” between vertical and horizontal power structures within the university. For instance, the online Museum of Everyday Writing (MoEW) – which is being created by three Rhetoric and Composition graduate students, including myself – was born out of Dr. Yancey’s Everyday Writing course. While there is a horizontal structure among the three graduates students and a vertical structure between the graduate students and Dr. Yancey as faculty member, there is an interplay between these structures when decisions about the MoEW are made. Because they see Dr. Yancey as an expert, the graduate students have turned to Dr. Yancey for advice about categorization systems, copyright and ownership laws, and language for submission forms; yet, the decisions about and directions of the MoEW are ultimately up to the graduate students.

In this, we see a push-pull of power and knowledge creation (as Dr. Yancey discussed during her talk). On one hand, Dr. Yancey’s advice is valuable and, if the graduate students choose to leave the MoEW at FSU when they leave, Dr. Yancey will be the faculty member attached to the MoEW; these means that she needs to be in support of most of the graduate students’ decisions. On the other hand, the MoEW is a project the graduate students started and will continue to associate with their names. Due to this push-pull, and particularly when Dr. Yancey’s advice conflicts with what we have imagined for the MoEW, my colleagues and I have had conversations about the balance between following Dr. Yancey’s (the expert) advice and staying true to our vision for the MoEW. To come even closer to the “interlanguage” suggested by Dr. Yancey, my colleagues and I could involve Dr. Yancey – and possibly other faculty members – in this dialogue.

Moving outward to the English department as a whole or to the university as a whole, we might turn to Clay Shirky’s Ted Talk, “Institutions vs. Collaboration.” In this talk, Shirky argues that most user-generated content follows the power-law distribution:

“The math behind the power-law distribution is that whatever’s in the nth position is doing about one-nth of whatever’s being measured, relative to the person in the first position. So, we’d expect the tenth most prolific photographer to  have contributed about a tenth of the photos, and the hundredth most prolific photographer to have contributed only about a hundred as many photos as the most prolific photographer did. So, the head of the curve can be sharper or flatter. But that basic math accounts both for the steep slope and for the long, flat tail” (Shirky).

He argues that an institution would see that they can get 75% of the content for 10% of the labor and hire those 10% of photographer. Shirky asks, though, why lose the other 25%? Why not get the full 100% with a collaborative framework. Of course, some of this answer is about control; institutions cannot control the kind of content that is generated if everyone can contribute as much or as little as one wants. However, with the collaborative framework, we can get more – and potentially more meaningful – content. As we move from an instructional framework to a collaboration framework, Shirky explains, our questions change from “Was this person a good hire?” (institutional) to “Was the person’s contribution a good idea?” (collaborative).

This allows for the possibility that a person may contribute fewer ideas in quantity but much more useful ideas in quality. Dr. Yancey, in her talk, suggested, “If you want people to change what they do, you need to change the reward.” She gave the example of publishing: publishing a book through a UP is more valued than “publishing” the book for free, even if the content and/or audience of the book would align more closely with distributing the book for free. So, then, what do we reward? Here, we could utilize Shirky’s collaboration framework. We might move from “How many books has this person published?” or “Where did this person publish?” to “What kind of contribution (and to whom) did this person’s work make?”

I acknowledge that this is still problematic. There is a value judgement that needs to be made and we would need to decide not only what kinds of contributions get valued but also how highly those contributions are valued. But, shifting to a collaborative framework might encourage more student-led, faculty-supported projects if faculty is rewarded for supporting students in these ways (and, and that matter, directing student theses and dissertations) and if students were rewarded for contributing to the knowledge base in more ways than only through publication and conference presentations. For instance, then, students could be rewarded for designing spaces like the MoEW and the FSU Post Card Archive. This also might led to an interstructure as more faculty and students collaborate on projects and are both rewarded for that collaboration.

Works Cited

Clay Shirky. “Institutions vs. Collaboration.” Ted Talks, 2005.

Henry Jenkins. Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide. NYUP, 2006.

Patrick Svensson. “Beyond the Big Tent.” Matthew Gold, ed. Debates in the Digital Humanities, 2013 open-access edition.

UCLA. The Digital Humanities Manifesto 2.0. UCLA Humanities, Division, and the Digital Humanities, 2009.

Questions inspired by Henry Jenkins and Dr Kathleen Yancey

“Corporate convergence coexists with grassroots convergence…The promises of this new media environment raise expectations of a freer flow of ideas and content. Inspired by those ideals, consumers are fighting for the right to participate more fully in their culture. Sometimes, corporate and grassroots convergence reinforce each other, creating closer, more rewarding relations between media producers and consumers. Sometimes, these two forces are at war and those struggles will redefine the face pf American popular culture” (17).

In his introductory article to Convergence Culture, Henry Jenkins posits that the 21st century is in the midst of a cultural change that has to do with changes in the way media content is distributed across platforms, and how that changes the power dynamics from a top-down flow to top-down and down-up oscillation. This process of media distribution and power Jenkins calls convergence.

Dr Yancey’s responses to Jenkins led me to offer some questions, which appear below.

In response to Jenkins, Yancey argued that the up/down-down/up new media influences not as fluid as Jenkins would have us imagine. In fact, audience participation fails to be powerful in sustained ways. She offered Barack Obama’s presidential campaign as an example. Once he was elected, his administration allegedly showed less vigorous social media interest, suggesting less interest in hearing and attending to the political voices of the people. Furthermore, institutions with cultural power make flaccid gestures toward engaging with a jaded public, or, in the case of the MLA, fielding people’s concerns only if they enroll in the organization.

Dr Yancey challenged us to find an example of when media held a power “hostage,” like in the case of Princess Diana’s death by the alleged hounding of the paparazzi.

Would Arab Spring count as an event in which social media in real time had a major contribution to political consequences?
***
Moving to the issue of changing media infrastructure and knowledge distribution in the academy, Dr Yancey used the analogy of the “interlanguage” to suggest a viable connection between the social media platforms and protocols of the populace and the platforms and protocols of the humanists in academia.

Can we continue to expose the urgency of the need for an interlanguage in more logistical ways, and specifically pertaining to the FSU Humanities network?

***

Finally, when discussing the promotion of digital expertise in students, Yancey invited people to consider the “fake it till you make it” analogy, wherein actual practice with new media technology would foster a deeper understanding of new media’s roles in the Humanities.

Are there ways to foster more faculty-student digital projects in the English Department wherein the student can gather digital experience/skills on site, even if they have little preexisting digital experience?

On Evaluating Convergence Culture

Jie Liu, a student enrolled in this semester’s ENG 5998 reading group, reflects on some of the readings provided by Professor Yancey for our upcoming discussion on Evaluating Convergence Culture:

When talking about convergence culture, Henry Jenkins interestingly redefines the key term “convergence” and reveals its complexity. Deviating from its dominant connotation, what he celebrates is plurality and practice. Not unaware of the possible problems of this convergence, he remains optimistic and believes that it will go beyond popular culture and play a more important role in different areas if we look at the future. And all these ideas are based on his understanding of convergence as a process.

“Ironically,” in his review Aram Sinnreich states that Jenkins’s book on convergence, though engaging and illuminating, “offers a maddeningly divergent range of ideas, arguments and anecdotes” but lacks “the connective tissue” (44). Here “strangely” convergence no longer refers to “the utopian dream that today’s chaotic and often redundant array of communication technologies will someday coalesce into an elegant and all-encompassing singularity, a monolithic medium for every kind of message” (44), which Jenkins views as the black box fallacy. Jenkins’s definition may not seem satisfying to some readers, but he turns this term into an effective lens that can help us examine what is happening.

This is not unlike what Patrick Svensson does in “Beyond the Big Tent,” defining the digital humanities as “a Trading Zone and Meeting Place.” He feels that even the “big tent,” the term used by the Digital Humanities 2011 conference, should be “larger.” Both Jenkins and Svensson respond to current challenges and historical contexts. More than once, Jenkins talks about transition (e.g. “we are in an age of media transition” (11)). At a stage of uncertainties, as the title of his book shows (“Where old media and new media collide”), when we still need to figure out where new media is going, a fluid term embracing different ideas and viewpoints can help us explore more possibilities and achieve real convergence at last. “Keep this in mind,” Jenkins tells us, “convergence refers to a process, not an endpoint” (16). He understands that new media is still evolving, and while things are not static, his “convergence” may better serve our purposes. Like “a Trading Zone and Meeting Place,” this “convergence” brings various media platforms, media industries, producers, and consumers together and does not exclude scholars from different disciplines.

So it is understandable that Jenkins’s convergence supports plurality: “By convergence, I mean the flow of content across multiple media platforms, the cooperation between multiple media industries, and the migratory behavior of media audiences who will go almost anywhere in search of the kinds of entertainment experiences they want.” (Jenkins 2) Though he pays close attention to consumers who become active participants, his case studies analyze convergence from different perspectives. Singularity does not work because there are “different models of convergence” (7), and no wonder Jenkins sees convergence as “a top-down corporate-driven process and a bottom-up consumer-driven process” (18). Considering the current stage, Jenkins points out that “convergence will be a kind of kludge…rather than a fully integrated system” (17).

On the other hand, it is cultural practices (or protocols), not technologies, that Jenkens’s convergence centers on. Viewing media as “cultural systems” (14), he focuses on the interaction and tension between industries and audiences as well as how we produce and consume media. Hence how to use technologies becomes the central question. This emphasis is echoed by more recent applications of technologies. During the 2010 Haiti earthquake, digital volunteers stepped forward and saved lives by using simple digital tools. Patrick Meier, who told their stories in Digital Humanitarians, also stresses “the importance of developing innovative policies and not just innovative technologies.” In a disaster like this, coordination and management (protocols) seem more important than the flood of information (Big Data).

Meier’s stories about those digital humanitarians also support Jenkins’s faith in the power of convergence culture. Jenkins believes that convergence as cultural practices changes our relationships with media and will have a profound impact on the society while popular culture is only the first stop. He values the skills people learn through play and finally moves to politics (the 2004 American presidential campaign). Meier’s Digital Humanitarians shows that we can go further. Consumers’ participation has started with entertainment and extended to crisis, which implies more possibilities. With all the uncertainties of this information age, our understanding and vision of how to use technologies become critical.

However, seeing convergence as a process, Jenkins is not unaware of its problems, and it seems that six years after his book was published, new questions have also emerged. Jenkins realizes the difficulties for media industries to work together because of their different production modes and time spans (9). And considering copyright laws and media ownership, how far can transmedia practices go? How much freedom do consumers as active participants have? His case study on children who had to fight for writing stories about Harry Potter implies limitations. But things become more complex when there are not only consumers and producers, but also “aggregators.” How should we see companies in the virality industry like Spartz, Inc, which does not focus on generating content but the innovative ways “it is promoted and packaged” (Marantz)? Emerson Spartz has little interest in original content but is passionate about identifying patterns that make the content impactful. Here copyright remains an issue because the viral sites “don’t pay for licensing” (Marantz).

Another thing noteworthy is it is all about catching people’s attention and business. Aram actually points out Jenkins’s “apprehension about the consequences of commodification” (46) as a result of audience agency. While viral sites encourage users jump from one post to another to get the information they want, such participation does not lead to many meaningful activities. And considering personalization, this model of participation will inevitably weaken, not strengthen, audience agency. As Spartz mentions, in the future “you shouldn’t have to choose what you want, because we will be able to get enough data to know what you want better than you do” (Marantz).

This may make us ask what is real participation, or to what extent participation is promising, but another question is to what extent people participate. An expert in fan culture, Jenkins primarily discusses fans of popular movies and TV shows, groups of enthusiasts who undoubtedly are willing to participate. But during the same period Charles Arthur also found the 1% rule: “if you get a group of 100 people online then one will create content, 10 will ‘interact’ with it (commenting or offering improvements) and the other 89 will just view it.” YouTube’s “creator to consumer” ratio is 0.5% (Mayfield qtd. in Arthur) while “50% of all Wikipedia article edits are done by 0.7% of users” (the Church of the Customer qtd. in Arthur). There is probably an increasing number of participants, but the statistics may help us better understand convergence as a process. Considering the media transition, it is likely that old media still has an impact on users’ cultural practices. In certain ways many users may tend to consume new media according to old protocols. Then it is not surprising to see the popularity of Snapchat, which, unlike other digital platforms, only allows its users to see the images they receive for no more than 10 seconds, reflecting a nostalgia for old fashion.

 

References
Henry Jenkins. Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide. NYUP, 2006.
Adam Sinnreich. Review of Jenkins’ book. International Journal of Communication, 2007.
Patrick Svensson. “Beyond the Big Tent.” Matthew Gold, ed. Debates in the Digital Humanities, 2013 open-access edition.
Patrick Meier. Digital Humanitarians. Francis & Taylor, 2015.
Andrew Marantz. “The Virologist.” The New Yorker, Jan. 5, 2015.
Charles Arthur. “What is the 1% rule?” The Guardian, July 19, 2006.