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

UCFemerging media

Refractorymuse, a student in the ENG 5998 Reading/Discussion group, posts from THATCamp Florida, locally hosted at UCF.

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, as well as 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?”


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