About Katie Kaczmarek

1st year English Ph.D. student at the University of Maryland. I'm interested in investigating how print authors are changing the way they write to appeal to the generation who reads differently because they have grown up with technology.

Questions on Electronic Literature

As Susie noted in her first post, reading electronic literature presents a completely different experience to reading “regular” literature.  Here’s some things we might think about and discuss:

Questions to consider:

What is it like to read this?

What is it like to read this in comparison to “The Garden of Forking Paths”?  How does the description of the labyrinth-novel match up with your experience of hypertext and interactive fiction?

How much control do you feel you have as a reader?  How do you feel about the amount of control you have?

How does hypertext/interactive fiction complicate our ideas of reading and writing?  How are our usual methods of analysis inadequate for dealing with hypertext/interactive fiction? What new methods can we imagine?

Are authors more likely to adopt this format now that there are standards for buying/selling eBooks?


Questions specific to stories:


How did you feel about the characterization “forced” upon you by the use of 2nd person?

Did anyone get to the “ending”?


First Draft of the Revolution

How did you feel about being “forced” to sympathize with the aristocratic magic users?

Kim’s Story: Hypertext as Phenomenal Cosmic Power with an Itty Bitty Utilization

Kim’s story is a fairly straightforward, linear memoir about Kim Moss’s childhood experience camping as a Boy Scout.  Yes, even though she is a girl.  It begins very simply, offering intriguing possibilities for followup:

When I was a young girl, I was a member of the Boy Scouts.

The Boy Scouts was my first experience with gamification.

Here’s a rope.

[hyperlink] Show me what knots you know. [/hyperlink]

Not only does she never really develop what she means by gamification, other than a reference to accumulating badges and leveling up, but she never really explains why she was a Boy Scout rather than a Girl Scout.  She says:

Of course, girls aren’t supposed to be Boy Scouts at all. I’ll forgive them for making me be one, though. They didn’t know.  They just wanted what was best for me.

What didn’t her family know?  That she didn’t want to be a Boy Scout?  That there was such a thing as Girl Scouts that offers both camping and the equivalent of an Eagle Scout? As a reader, I just felt that I was missing some kind of fundamental background information about her family–and about her, to know why she put up with the activity when she clearly didn’t enjoy it.

Even though this panel offers the first true hyperlink choice in paths by asking the question, “Would you rather be forced into the Boy Scouts or disappoint your family?”, there’s no difference in the following screen–it just starts with “It doesn’t matter which you choose”, in a rather frustrating meta-experience.  Other choices elicited slightly different opening line/lines in the next page, but in the end, the narrative all narrowed back to the same result.  Structurally, the layout of this story must have looked more like a stick than a tree.

I think I was so annoyed by this approach because it feels like the hypertext medium offers so many possibilities in terms of not only how you can tell a story, but what kind of story you can tell.  The choices the author made here to limit the direction of her narrative did reinforce her general theme of inevitability or fate, but it did seem like a waste–even if she wanted to stay truthful to the actual events of her biographical story, she could have delved into the thoughts behind her decisions (or lack of action as the case may be).   She could have speculated on how her life would have been different had she made a different choice (in the style of the varied Clue endings, perhaps: “This is how it could have happened…but here’s what really happened”).  As it was, with some links simply labeled “Next”, I wondered why she simply didn’t tell this story in a book/standard text form instead.

[Spoiler alert--last choice of story] 

And then, after accounts of how her stepfather left her to struggle on a winter hike alone, how she couldn’t dig an effective snow cave for winter sleeping, how weak she was and continues to be, the reader comes to Kim’s final, devastating question:

Do you think I’m pathetic?

Yes                        No

My immediate reaction was that this was the most awful thing to ask of a reader (or any human being!), but even as I clicked on “No”, I thought my answer might really, instinctively, on a completely irrational gut level, be “Yes”.  And I wondered, given the anonymity of the internet, how many people might click on “Yes”, even if this were published on a social media site like Facebook, even if they actually knew this person, because there’s nothing to stop them from being either cruel or honest-but-hurtful.

I won’t spoil the endings for each choice, except to say that they are self-deprecatingly depressing to the point that if this were one of my high school students, I’d be having a conversation with her guidance counselor right now for being a possible suicide risk and in need of a depression screening.

Was the effectiveness of this form for the ending payoff enough for its lack of utilization before?  I don’t know.  All I can say is that Matienzo need not fear a lack of emotion in hypertext.


Blast Furnace Phoenix: The Death and Life of Bethlehem Steel

Blast furnace at Bethlehem Steel--Library of Congress, compiled 1968 by the Historic American Engineering Record

Blast furnace at Bethlehem Steel–Library of Congress, compiled 1968 by the Historic American Engineering Record

Since its beginnings in 1861, Bethlehem Steel was an industry giant.  If you’ve ever driven over a bridge, you’ve driven over Bethlehem steel–the company supplied material for the Golden Gate Bridge, the George Washington bridge, and countless other transportation projects.  Bethlehem steel was used in the Chrysler Building and Rockefeller Center in New York City.  It was used in cannons and naval guns for World War II.  It was the bulwark of employment for the Lehigh Valley.

I never knew it as such.

For me, Bethlehem Steel was the depressing figure represented in Billy Joel’s song “Allentown” (which was actually about Bethlehem, but Allentown is easier to rhyme).  It meant job layoffs and run-down buildings that reinforced my perception of the South Side as the “bad” part of town.  Reading the paper, the only stories about Bethlehem Steel were stories of woe: looming bankruptcy and broken promises in regards to pensions.  In 1995, when I was in 8th grade, the company ceased operations in Bethlehem.

Broken out windows on old steel site

Broken out windows on old steel site

This left the buildings sitting around rusting like an urban graveyard.  It was clear that any revitalization of the South Side needed to address the land and buildings left from the company, striking a balance between recognizing their historical importance and giving the city the new jobs it needed as it remodeled itself on a tourist-driven economy.  There were rumors that the Smithsonian was going to come and create a Museum of Industrial History, but the process was so slow-moving I didn’t believe they were actually true (Googling, it turns out the site is still under construction).  The Johnson Machine shop, which I remembered as warehouses with broken windows, was transformed into condominiums, a fitness center, and a restaurant in 2006.  In 2007, the main site was controversially sold to the Sands corporation to build a casino, hotel, and shopping center; plans for the hotel and shopping center were delayed due to the recession, but the casino construction went ahead using an industrial theme.

Sands Casino

Sands Casino

The blast furnaces themselves were such a unique architectural feature that the city decided to preserve them–especially when they attracted Michael Bay’s notice, who used the site as the set for a fictional Chinese city in the movie Transformers 2.

Steel set for Transformers 2

Steel set for Transformers 2–from Transformers Live Action Movie Blog

The furnaces then became tied to the city’s other great passion: the arts.  Since 1984, ArtsQuest has promoted the arts in Bethlehem primarily through Musikfest, a free (except for the “big name” groups) concert festival, and then through the Banana Factory, a community arts and education center a short distance away on the South Side.  When the steel site became available, they seized the opportunity to take their mission even further, creating an arts and cultural center dubbed the “SteelStacks”.  With artistic lighting, the blast furnaces create a stunning backdrop to the indoor and outdoor concert spaces that SteelStacks offers along with its cinema and farmer’s market.  The organization is very careful about offering a balance of ticketed events to ensure that they support themselves with free events to allow all citizens access to the arts.  I’ve been very excited to see the ways they’ve partnered with the schools to allow students to have “real” performances and exhibitions (especially since the neighboring Allentown School District is threatening to eliminate the arts from their schools due to budget cuts).  All in all, I’m proud to see my hometown honor its past while looking to the future.

Levitt Pavilion opening--from http://www.culturalweekly.com/liz-levitt-music-americ.html

Levitt Pavilion opening–from http://www.culturalweekly.com/liz-levitt-music-americ.html

Blast furnace, meet QR code

Blast furnace, meet QR code

Crowdsourcing Transcriptions

I was rather amused at the crowdsourced transcription assignment for class, since there was a Crowdsourcing session at THATCamp Lehigh Valley (which I attended this weekend).  If you like this sort of thing, but can’t stand Bentham’s handwriting, that link gives you many other sites to try your hand on.

I chose to transcribe JB/002/153/001, which is part of Bentham’s economic writings entitled Annuity Notes, mostly because the handwriting looked pretty clear compared to some of the other pages I had seen.  I noticed that the process did get markedly easier I as I went through the document; I had more questionable “translations” in the first paragraph than the rest of the document.  Also, it was easier to decipher words that appeared multiple times.  Despite those advantages, there were still several words I was unsure of (one of which I am pretty sure is a name, so I don’t feel bad about being unable to decipher that one).  Like Cliffie, I asked my boyfriend to take a look, and he agreed on several of my translations and suggested others that made more sense.

I think transcription work like this naturally becomes a collaborative process, especially when issues of handwriting become involved.  When I was teaching, we used to get together with the other grade level teachers to calibrate norms and grade the written “constructed response” standardized test practice questions, and the process went much quicker when you had a colleague right next to you to help interpret handwriting, or to confirm or change your assessment.  I wonder if those of us with a background in English have a natural tendency to get a second pair of eyes to look over our work with our training in peer editing and/or workshopping?

Update: Turns out what I thought was a name (something Billy) was actually “Exchequer Bills”.   Not feeling bad about missing that!

Loved by the King?

I’ve seen Wordles used before in school projects, but usually for display purposes rather than used as an analytical tool.  Therefore, I was excited to see the application given a new purpose that teachers could easily use in school for a variety of texts.

Word Clouds!

When I imported Project Gutenberg’s text of the first volume of Le Morte D’Arthur into Wordle and Word it Out, these were my results (Sadly, I discovered that the “Loved by the King” font in Wordle was not very, well, kingly, so I switched it to a more appropriate font):




Word It Out

Word It Out

It’s not surprising that the most prominent word in both is “Sir”, as most of the characters go by that epithet, nor that “king” and “knight” are also frequently used, emphasizing the courtly genre of the text.  ”CHAPTER” probably is featured since the table of contents was included in my copy and paste, in addition to all the times it is usually used.  I was surprised that Tristram beats out Arthur (in a book titled after him!)  I also found it interesting that words such as “smote”, “battle”, and “slain” are much more prominent than “God” and “worship”, hinting that the divine justification for most of the fighting was not as much of an excuse as it purported to be.

Paraphrasing with Up-Goer Five

Screen Shot 2013-02-13 at 3.35.29 AM

Like many of my classmates, I found when I put the top 100 words into Up-Goer Five, that about half the words were not permitted, primarily in the proper name, antiquated term, and knightly terminology categories.  I would doubt the ability of someone to use the Up-Goer Five to summarize books like this with difficult language if I hadn’t seen their application to Hamlet’s “To Be or Not To Be” speech.  (I actually recommended this application to my former co-workers, many of whom require their students to paraphrase the famous soliloquies in Shakespeare’s plays on their tests.)

And I thought I was free from dealing with parts of speech…

CLAWSI was impressed by the CLAWS Part of Speech Tagger’s ability to correctly identify even the antiquated pronouns such as “ye” and “thee”, but other than that, I found it difficult to see how these kinds of results could be useful in an analysis of the text.  Maybe if there were further calculations applied (frequencies of parts of speech?) I could have seen those patterns to turn into narratives–or at least questions–that Ramsay suggests.

Making some conclusions with TAPoR

When I first plugged the text of Le Morte D’Arthur into TAPoR, the frequency count and “Cirrus” were both dominated by articles and other “unimportant” words, but when I asked the program to remove them, it generated a list almost identical to that of Wordle and Word It Out!  The Word Trends graphs, though, got interesting when I decided to click on those prominent names.

Frequency of Arthur, Tristram, and Launcelot's appearances in the book

Frequency of Arthur, Tristram, and Launcelot’s appearances in the book


Leaving the “Segments” setting at 10 to roughly mimic the 9 books in Vol. 1, I discovered that Arthur most frequently appears at the beginning of the book (which makes sense, given that it is devoted to the story of how he came to power), and then is practically forgotten about.  Likewise, Tristram dominates the last part of the book, even more so than Arthur.  This makes sense because book 8 is all about Tristram’s adventures.  Similarly, Launcelot spikes in the middle of the graph, as book 6 is all about his deeds.  The juxtaposed graph shows clearly how Malory attempted to integrate all the various legends about the knights which had come from different sources, choosing to do it in an episodic fashion focusing on the character rather than jump back and forth between multiple storylines as is more typical of contemporary literature.

So what is it like to read this?

I think that these activities did have a sense of what Ramsay refers to as  ”ostranenie–the estrangement and defamiliarization of textuality” (3).  However, I’m skeptical as to how far we can take algorithmic analysis when the potential for grasping at straws exists.  As Ramsay mentions later on,

If something is known from a word-frequency list or a data visualization, it is undoubtedly a function of our desire to make sense of what has been presented. We fill in gaps, make connections backward and forward, explain inconsistencies, resolve contradictions, and, above all, generate additional narratives in the form of declarative realizations (62).

How much of this meaning is because we want to see meaning there?  And how much is built on prior assumptions?  For example, am I reading too much into the Word Trend charts of Malory because I know that his project was one of compilation, rather than invention?  I think this gets even trickier when you analyze results of an algorithm that you have designed–your own biases and/or assumptions are built into the project from the start.  Hopefully we’ll talk more in class about when these types of practices are productive and when they produce results that just mirror what we already think.


(And if you’re interested in seeing the outcome of Unicorns vs. Zombies according to Google N-Gram, check out my blog post!)

La Mort D’Impression? : How Google (and others) Digitize Le Morte D’Arthur

(Apologies if the French translation is off–I don’t speak it and am relying on a machine translation (and I’m sure Julia can tell us why that’s a bad idea!))

Since my interests lie more heavily in the still-copyrighted 20th century, I turned to my other love of Arthurian legends for this task.  Specifically, I looked at the seminal collection of French (and one Middle English) tales written into English as Le Morte D’Arthur by Sir Thomas Malory, which was available in all 4 digital libraries.  I chose to focus on Volume 1 to narrow down the information and compare the resources.

Project Gutenberg offered the second-greatest number of formats (HTML, EPUB, Kindle, Plucker, QiOO Mobile, and Plain Text UTF-8), but for only one edition of the book which is not clearly identified.  It says the editor is William Caxton, who produced an edition in 1485 that has become the basis for most of the editions of the book (the other being the Winchester Manuscript), and contains his Preface, but it also contains a Bibliographic note by A. W. Pollard without identifying him as the editor.  Nor does it contain a publisher or print date beyond the release date of November 2009.  It also lacks any information as to which specific source was the basic for their digitization.  In terms of page layout, the EPUB and Kindle editions specify that there are no images, but whether that has an impact is unclear with out a specified edition.  A big frustration when reading online is the lack of page numbers to correspond with the chapter listings in the table of contents, if not hypertext links from the table of contents to those chapters, making it hard to move through the book unless you know the specific page to jump to.  Although there is no specific place on the book page to report errors, the top of the screen does have an “ad” reading: “Did you know that you can help us produce ebooks by proof-reading just one page a day? Go to: Distributed Proofreaders“.  This suggests that they are crowdsourcing their quality assurance process.  The online reader seems to be restricted to viewing only; however, you can download copies of the books to give you the affordances of the other formats (such as Kindle).

Google Books hosts several editions of Le Morte D’Arthur.  One is the Everyman Library edition, also based on the Caxton text, edited by Ernest Rhys and published by J.M. Dent in 1906.  It was sourced from the University of Michigan and is available as an EPUB and a PDF in addition to online viewing.  This edition includes the rather beautifully illustrated title pages; however, one has to scroll past multiple scans of the University of Michigan title plate, blank pages, and this interesting failure in scanning to find it:

Screen Shot 2013-02-05 at 6.15.10 PM

It also preserves Caxton’s original preface.  Google Books also hosts another version of Caxton’s text published by bompacrazy.com, which appears to be a scan of a PDF and is just plain text. There’s also an edition by digireads.com ebook for purchase.  Other than reviews, there does not seem to be a system for reporting errors (otherwise, I’d assume someone would have already have cut out the excess pages).  Google Books allows you to download, search within, and save a copy to “My Library”; however, it does not allow you to annotate the book.

HATHITrust also has the Rhys editions, but scanned by Google from the University of Cornell and University of Virginia in addition to the University of Michigan.  In addition, it has two other 19th century editions: an 1891 Macmillan publication with the Caxton text edited and introduced by Edward Strachey from the Universities of Michigan and Toronto, digitized by Google; and an 1889 Nutt publication in which Caxton’s text is “‘reprinted page for page, line for line’, but in modern type”, edited by Oskar Sommer and introduced by Andrew Lang, from the University of California, digitized by Google.  Each of the editions is only available in PDF format, and for some reason, both Rhys editions are for volume 2, rather than one of each.  Although HATHITrust offers the most viewing options (Classic View, Scroll, Flip, Thumbnails, and Plain Text), the Flip presentation of a book spine and cover are clearly a graphical representation instead of a realistic one.  (I will say that it’s fun to run your cursor over the “pages” and watch the “jump to page __” numbers flip rapidly.  For some reason this strikes me as similar to riffling the pages of a real book.)  Page layouts are preserved, including italics, spacing, and footnotes.  HATHITrust offers a Feedback form if there are any problems with the text, as well as the ability to search, download single pages or the whole document, add the book to a collection (if one has University access to sign in!), or share it with others.  HATHITrust offers a few full text versions, but many were only limited to viewing or to “snippets” of the full text.

The Internet Archive offers the greatest number of formats, with each edition available for download in PDF, EPUB, Kindle, Daisy, Full Text, and DjVu.  It contains the Rhys edition from the University of Michigan as digitized by Google, but also from the University of Toronto and the New York Public Library; the Strachey edition from Stanford Library and the University of California; and the Sommer edition from the Universities of Toronto, Michigan, and Cornell University.  The Internet Archive presents the book as if one were looking at a paper version, with page turns instead of scrolling, in a slightly more realistic way than HATHITrust (and offers the same satisfaction in riffling the pages).  Also, for the Strachey version, it looked as if many of the actual page images were presented instead of just the scanned text; I could clearly see that the bibliographic page in the Stanford book was torn and repaired with tape.  Some pages are badly scanned, with the margins of text cut off or wavy.  However, the marginalia from users has been preserved.

Yet more fingers.

Yet more fingers.

The Internet Archive offers an editable web page on Open Library that seems like the method for users to make changes (such as adding new editions), but I’m not sure if it also acts as an official reporting system for errors.  It allows users to search, bookmark, write reviews, share the book, and have a computer read the text aloud.  Interestingly, when I asked the computer to read aloud, it was forced to spell out “Rhys” rather than pronounce it, but had no trouble pronouncing the words “Igraine” or “pyonce”.  There do not seem to be any restrictions on use, and the site offers “selected metadata” that might be useful for creating databases for further study.

I tested the search features in each library by searching the book for the word “swoon” (since the amount of swooning, primarily among the supposedly noble and heroic knights of the Round Table, surprised me the most when I read the book).  Google Books shows 14 results in the book with hyperlinks to the individual pages and excerpts from the text to show the context of the word.  HATHITrust showed the word on 13 pages for a total of 15 results, also with hypertext linking and excerpts to show context, although the excerpts were shorter than those in Google Books.  Surprisingly, the Internet Archive produced no results; it did manage to find character names when asked, and provided a popup window of context with links to the individual word searched.  The Kindle download from Project Gutenberg found 25 results, displayed in a sidebar which shows the context and the location, which can be clicked on; however, the search term is not highlighted on the page when it is brought up, and so can still take a bit long to find.

One of the biggest challenges in examining Le Morte D’Arthur was that the different editions were labelled inconsistently in the catalogs.  For example, some editions claimed to have Janet Cowen as the editor, and when opened, turned out to be the Strachey edition.  Still others were not clearly labeled as to which volume it was.  Most concerning is the lack of any particular identifying information about the Project Gutenberg text.  Clearly, digital libraries need to establish the same criteria as print libraries for making sure their catalog databases are precise and accurate.

Caught Between Expansiveness and the Desire to Draw Boundaries

Hi, all!  I’m Katie Kaczmarek, and I “fell into” digital humanities when I was searching for a category to define my interests when applying to doctoral programs.  During my five years as a high school English teacher, I had to take classes on using technology in the classroom, where I came across this article by Marc Prensky which describes that the current generation of students growing up with technology literally have a different process of reading than those of us who grew up before it was omnipresent.  So I’m interested in investigating what features of online/hypertext literature or interactive media Young Adult print authors are using to appeal to those types of readers.  The more I learn about Digital Humanities, the more excited I am to become a part of it, because like Charity, I want my work to have some practical use to the colleagues I left behind.

After looking at all the readings, the digital humanities field seems to be suffering from the tension between wanting to be expansive and inclusive (Building doesn’t mean just coding!  Collaboration is key!) and from wanting to have clear and specific boundaries (You’re not a digital humanist just because you have a blog!  How is this different from what you could have done in print?).  Golumbia points out that even the Digital_Humanities book uses both the narrow definition of digital humanities as “tool-and-archives” and the “big tent” definition without distinction, though it leans towards the narrower definition.  I’m wondering how much of this need to draw boundaries and create a specific definition is born from a desire to legitimate the field within academia.  Universities already struggling to figure out how to assess digital humanities project-work no doubt appreciate the guidelines suggested in the “Short Guide to Digital Humanities”.  But the ability for people with so many diverse interests to participate in the field is part of what gives it vitality, and as Bianco notes, when you start reducing heterogeneity to create standards, you start to limit diversity, and lose potential ideas and results.

One of the other unique features of digital humanities that I find exciting and refreshing for the academic world is the fact that in the project-based world of DH, 1) failure is to be expected and 2) projects are encouraged not only to build off of previous work, but to be continued.  The fact that failure is an acceptable step in the process makes DH a much less intimidating field to step into, especially for a recovering perfectionist like me.  I also like the encouragement to collaborate with others and take their work farther, and the fact that your work can have even more of a lasting impact.