Remember, Remember, the 11th of December

So, the title of this post is more for story clarification than actual advice, because I actually don’t know why the Twine story I read bears the title December 11, 2012, beyond perhaps the publication date(?). [SPOILER ALERT] The traumatic event in the story takes place in mid-summer, though the usage of a date as a story title (especially with the subtitle ‘Teddy’) did indicate an in memoriam work. When first approaching this story I glancingly assumed the importance of the date was historical – perhaps something to do with Pearl Harbor (yes, I know, that was December 6th… or 7th…). If I had known it was a story about cats, I definitely wouldn’t have read it, since neither I nor my family has ever owned a cat, and I don’t really care for them that much (the scratching, the snubbing, the hissing). However, in spite of this, I am glad that I was mildly tricked into reading this story, because it was abruptly emotional in a way that made me relate instantly to the author’s affection for his/her cat. Even with the clear foreshadowing, the very snapped-off way the death of Teddy is delivered to readers renders a clear picture of the disbelief one feels when they realize that they have truly seen someone/something alive for the last time, in a moment unrecognized for its significance. For me, that emotional impact was delivered after the news of Teddy’s death, in the lines:

By the time you fly home, Teddy has been euthanized and cremated. His remains are in a box in a drawer…you keep saying you’re going to bury him. You haven’t yet.

I know this has all been personal response so far, so I’m going to take a look at some of the technical aspects of the medium that I think worked to achieve this emotional effect on the reader (aka me). My first thought (and notation) while reading “December 11, 2012: Teddy” was that I liked the use of hypertext as a meta component to the story. I use parentheses and insertion dashes constantly in my informal writing, especially emails, and have to resist their overuse in blog posts (notice how I used a sly comma bracket for “especially emails” to avoid parentheses? oh, dang it). This incorporation of a meta component served to draw the reader closer to the emotional side of the story in moments (the incorporation of Teddy’s picture at the moment it would have the most emotional impact), while in others, paradoxically, the running commentary almost dulled the senses, as the monotony of normalcy is prone to do.

The stacking of the meta story at the bottom was… controversial for me. I jotted down “has linear component, but feels messy – why can’t there just be an inset pop-up that appears and disappears when you click the link?” as well as “really like that is doesn’t redirect,” like the tangential incorporations of the The Choose Your Own Adventure genre. CYOA never appealed to me as a child. I was always convinced that there was a ‘right’ narrative to the book, and so I read anxiously, marking my decisions with fingers tucked into different figurative crossroads, ready to backtrack at a moment’s notice. A little over-controlling, maybe, but my ‘right narrative’ theory seemed pretty valid when I ‘died’ in the course of reading… oh, wait, no I didn’t – let’s skip back to page 37 and choose “Follow man down the gangplank.”

In retrospect, though, the stacking of the “December 11, 2012″‘s details reflects the memories of the author, the compilation of moments that comprise the relationship between pet and pet owner, so I think maybe this stacking worked for this story. I was surprised by how short the story proper was – three short paragraphs that fit onto a single screen – yet the meta commentary took up a space over 5x greater. I’m pretty sure this was an intended point by the author. In a technical sense, I found that I tended to skim right over the titles given to each meta section (a sort of meta for the meta?) – maybe a two-step removal from the story was too much for my preferred reading concentration. Perhaps titling the sections with the word/phrase linking to that section would help the title disappear, yet retain its orientating function (as I perceived it).

Overall, I liked how this story was a hybrid of a fictive narrative and a blog post, in the sense that I was drawn into it emotionally and yet the entire story is, ostensibly, a public tribute to the author’s deceased cat. The same information could be shared by a FB status, “Teddy just died. :( I’ll miss that cat a lot,” but without the emotional impact felt when unraveling the story via Twine. That being said, I don’t think my Twine story for next week is likely to focus on the death of my hamster, Nibbles, however I might try my hand at incorporating the meta component that enriched this story so much – there are a lot of different directions one can take this.


QR-oss Mansion

After my first idea for this exercise went bust, I began ruminating on alternative sites in my Delaware hometown to photograph. I trolled around the town’s website to see if anything popped up (these sorts of things recede into the background of everyday existence, don’t they?), and lo and behold, I had passed the perfect place on my way to photograph my failed first attempt! Presenting… The Historic Ross Mansion!

IMG_3938I passed by this property every day my senior year of high school – it lies on a back way into town, right across from a set of railroad tracks that are still used daily by trains bearing coal and grain to power plants and mills throughout Sussex County. On clear nights at my parents’ house I can hear the eerie sound of a midnight train whistle across the mile or so expanse – my high school best friend lives right next to the tracks, and I’ve always wondered how she sleeps through it each night.

IMG_3925As you can read on the historic marker above, the Ross Mansion (nobody includes “Governor”) dates back to the mid-nineteenth century, its architecture clearly revealing its Victorian origins. The sign, a historic artifact in itself, fails to include reference to the two newest additions to the property – a slave quarters discovered in the early nineties and a honeymoon cottage/gatehouse.

IMG_3944I dug around a little and found this University of Delaware article from 1992 about the discovery of the Ross Mansion slave quarters. I remember hearing the story from my parents (though I must have been only 5 or so), about how they found this building in the backwoods of the Ross Mansion property and discovered what it truly was. At the time it was the only known slave quarters in the entire state. Now it has been restored and relocated to a new location right behind the mansion.

IMG_3927A little while after the addition of the slave quarters to the grounds, this little structure appeared at the entrance of the property. My parents both told me that this was another woods find, a honeymoon cottage discovered in the foresty depths of the land; however, when I sought to verify their story, I uncovered two others! Multiple sites refer to the structure as a “gatehouse” – possibly referring to its current function (?), while others corroborate the honeymoon cottage designation, although origination stories differ here: some sources (like the county realtor’s association) say that the cottage was built for the Governor’s son, whereas the historical society, which manages the property, says on their site: “Explore a ‘Honeymoon Cottage’ bought from a catalog and located on the property.” Now, I have no idea what that even means, and it just sounds ridiculous, so despite their prestigious title, I’m choosing to ignore such claims. You can decide for yourselves – mail-order or vintage handmade?

Many non-historic buildings have begun to surround the Ross Mansion property in recent years – most prominently the newly relocated local library and a sports complex. What’s interesting, though, is the fact that the city council mandated that the architecture of both sites must reflect the grand old mistress of the adjoining property (i.e. the Mansion). See for yourself:

Southwest face of the mansion


Above center is the southwest side of the mansion, above left shows the arched windows of the library, while above right is a pressbox with exposed support beams. My dad pointed all of this out to me – I was totally unaware of how the “story” of the architecture of the Ross Mansion had spread to other surrounding facades. And still, the story of the Ross Mansion property is not limited to local lore (where did that cottage come from??) or architectural style – it’s still being unfolded, actually. In the annual Easter egg hunt, the Town and Country Fairs (complete with fireworks, craft stalls, and a full-blown reenactment with cannons – pardon the pun), and the occasional professional engagement photo shoot performed by a boy-now-man that I used to HATE sitting next to in fifth grade, the story of Ross Mansion is one that’s still being told in many voices.


Special thanks to my dad for driving & sharing his own stories. And Sadie, for moral support.


Collaborative Transcriptions

I chose to transcribe and encode JB/051/376/002 for the Transcribe Bentham assignment (you should feel free to tackle pages 1 or 3 of the same folio – they are up for grabs!). Since I completed my transcribing/encoding process at work yesterday, when I came upon a particularly baffling phrase, I pulled in others from my office to help. This only happened a few times (I am still feeling fairly proud of myself for the relative ease with which I deciphered Bentham’s script), but the following phrase/word stumped us all:

Screen Shot 2013-03-01 at 8.45.37 PM

To clarify, the ENTIRE rest of the manuscript is written in English, without a whiff of another language in it (some of his others are written in French, I noticed), so I tried word after word after word (along with Nigel and another officemate). However, after many minutes of simply staring at the characters, willing them into some sort of coherency, I was finally forced to utilize the “?” tag, indicating a ‘questionable reading,’ and entering the phrase “In places.” So, you can imagine my eagerness when I woke up this morning with a response from Transcribe Bentham that my manuscript had been reviewed – I immediately went to the page to see what the “right” answer was – and my transcription had been changed to “Non placel.” Non placel? I thought, That’s not English, no wonder I couldn’t figure it out. Since I had involved two others in my efforts, I decided to update them via Twitter, including the 668k hashtag. Aaaaaand, check out my Storify below to see the resulting convo (it’s better if you click View as Slideshow – also, my post continues on underneath):

  1. Fri, Mar 01 2013 11:27:29

  2. @caritasity @trueXstory @boswells731 Probably “non placet”, literally “it does not please” in Latin.

    Fri, Mar 01 2013 11:29:30

  3. @BonifaceVIII @caritasity @boswells731 Ah, Latin. It gets you every time. ‘non placet’ makes much more sense.

    Fri, Mar 01 2013 11:30:37

  4. @trueXstory @BonifaceVIII @boswells731 – not necessarily in this context, though…? besides @TranscriBentham made the call. :P

    Fri, Mar 01 2013 11:37:08

  5. @caritasity @trueXstory @BonifaceVIII @boswells731 starting to think that ‘non placet’ is right! Will revise (thanks for the correction!)

    Fri, Mar 01 2013 12:09:04

  6. Fri, Mar 01 2013 12:09:18

  7. @BonifaceVIII – nice catch on the latin! i just wish i hadn’t spent a half-hour staring at that phrase with my english-only eyes. :P

    Fri, Mar 01 2013 12:20:42

Although most participants probably transcribe/encode individually, I couldn’t help but make this a collaborative activity, which seems in completely in alignment with the spirit of Transcribe Bentham (and the field of DH in general). Beyond the implicit communal nature of the project and the built-in collaboration between transcriber/encoder and the TB Editor, I was able to collaborate in person during my transcription process and digitally afterwards. The speedy response on Twitter from the TB Editor (I’m guessing Dr. Causer?) was both unexpected and gratifying, rendering the Project itself even more transparent. While I was initially skeptical of such an activity (Encoding? Isn’t that why I opted for topic modeling in Technoromanticism instead – to avoid this?), I’ve now concluded that Transcribe Bentham is something I’m definitely going to share with others and hope to revisit when I have more time (post-May!). It’s scholarly work saturated with social interaction, which is honestly how I like my academia served.

Dinner before Folger

Hi Everyone!

Just wanted to extend a dinner invite to anyone who’s interested – a few of us are eating at Nando’s Peri-Peri in Chinatown before going to the Folger Library tomorrow evening (since we’ll have to switch Metro lines anyway). If you’d like to join us, we’re planning on getting there at 5:45pm or so. We can eat, then take the Red line to Union Station. If you’d like to coordinate closer, feel free to email me, and I can give you my cell #. See you all tomorrow night!

- Charity

Paper Machines???

Has anyone tried to run Paper Machines? I have downloaded all the pre-req’s and I know it’s installed (my Firefox just updated and prompted me to review my add-ons – both Zotero and Paper Machines appeared in the list), but I don’t know how to initiate it in Zotero. The directions on GitHub are very sparse:

To begin, right-click (control-click for Mac) on the collection you wish to analyze and select “Extract Texts for Paper Machines.” Once the extraction process is complete, this right-click menu will offer several different processes that may be run on a collection, each with an accompanying visualization. Once these processes have been run, selecting “Export Output of Paper Machines…” will allow you to choose which visualizations to export.

When I right-click on a collection, no such option appears. This is what I see, even with all options investigated:

Screen Shot 2013-02-19 at 5.15.30 PM

Anyone else have any success?

Decontextualizing ‘The House of Mirth’

Word Clouds – Word It Out (L) and Wordle (R)Mirth WordItOutMirth Wordle – Click to Enlarge




It’s not very surprising to see Lily’s name in big bold print in both clouds (though I definitely prefer Wordle’s aesthetics to Word It Out), as she is the novel’s protagonist – same goes for (Lawrence) Selden, our dashing bachelor/love interest. Also, since Mirth is a Wharton novel of manners, the presence of titles such as “Mrs.” and “Miss” is to be expected. I was, however, intrigued to see the singular pronoun “one” battling for preeminence with “Miss” – it’s been a few years (*cough* 4 or 5 *cough*) since I’ve read the novel, so no immediate reasons for this occurrence come to mind. Speculatively, however, there are a few theories I could spin. The novel centers on the misfortunes of Lily Bart, an aging beauty (and spinster at twenty-nine!) who repeatedly strives for independence throughout the novel. She is indeed a solitary figure (one alone) who continually casts herself apart from the rest of the crowd (one apart) and is continually pursued by Selden (for whom she is the only one). Spoiler alert, she also dies alone.

I also found it interesting that there is a bit of an imperative tone in some of the more prominent words in the word cloud – mostly temporal words like “now,” “moment,” “must,” and “time.” Words that refer to perception and the internal (“seemed,” “know,” “felt,” “sense,” “thought”) also dominate the more outwardly social terms (“voice,” “talk,” “tell,” and even “social”), a nod to the focus of the novel (i.e. Lily’s character), set against the backdrop of high society.

Word Lists – Up-Goer Five and CLAWS

I had a bit of trouble figuring this out, so I thought I’d be a bit more detailed in explaining (since I’m one of the earlier posts). In order to obtain a list of words from my word clouds, I had to scroll down to the box under my Word It Out cloud (I couldn’t find any option in Wordle) and click the “Word List” tab. Then for the “Case to display:” option I selected “Most Common” so that it listed the 100 words selected for the Word Cloud first (see pic below). Then I could select and copy my needed words for Up-Goer Five and CLAWS.

Screen Shot 2013-02-10 at 5.00.15 PM

I wasn’t sure what to expect when I pasted my words into the Up-Goer Five Text Editor, but I probably should have been tipped off by my need to select the option “Most Common” on Word It Up.

Mirth UpGoerFive

The only words that were kicked back were names! So… does Word It Up’s algorithm function in the way that Ramsay cautions against when discussing attempts to determine an author’s style, saying that it is more likely to “demonstrat[e] the general properties of word distribution in a natural language” (11)? I suppose I can cling to some degree of differentiation of Mirth from other novels in terms of which most-common words made the cut and how large they appear in relation to each other… But still, this little realization damages my perception of word clouds’ representational abilities.

Taking my now not-so-unique word list to CLAWS, I encountered a few off-putting glitches, such as the software’s inability to list my results vertically, which is the easiest way to interpret them (it stopped halfway through word number 58) and it’s blatant mislabeling of a few parts of speech (“Miss” was misinterpreted as a verb). Skimming through the list of tags, I concluded that the majority of the words were nouns and verbs (though there was some crossover potential in words like “sense” or “last” which were counted as verbs). There was one interjection, however, which was a pretty interesting find – the word, “Oh.” Such an interjection can express a broad range of emotions, though in the case of Mirth, there is surely an element of wistfulness underlying many of its appearances in the text.

And, with a statement like that, what better way to dive into TAPoR’s affordances and test my theory? According to TAPoR, the word “oh” appears 102 times in Mirth (much lower than our number one hit, “Lily,” at 677 occurrences). I was also able to map it’s distribution in the text:

Screen Shot 2013-02-10 at 7.02.16 PM

Of course, I rushed straight over to segment #13 (which required me to enlarge the actual reading pane, which I had shoved over in my eagerness to see the usage graph!) to see how “Oh” was actually being used in its most prominent passage. Aaaaaand, well, I was wrong. Segment #13 is a trivial conversation between Lily and another woman, filled with dismissive “Oh, Lily,” and “Oh, I don’t mean…” statements. Trying one last time, I checked out the trio of segments occurring near the novel’s (tragic) conclusion. In two of the three times “Oh” was again used dismissively BUT I was rewarded in discovering that both utterances were steeped in tragic irony – the first occurs during Lily’s last conversation with Selden, where she says, “There is some one I must say goodbye to. Oh, not you—we are sure to see each other again,” (SO MUCH POIGNANCY!) and the second dismissive “Oh” is again spoken by Lily in response to an acquaintance’s declaration for her little girl: “Wouldn’t it be too lovely for anything if she could grow up to be just like you?” The scene continues (Lily’s last conversation before her death):

Lily clasped the child close for a moment and laid her back in her mother’s arms. “Oh, she must not do that—I should be afraid to come and see her too often!” she said with a smile; and then, resisting Mrs. Struther’s anxious offer of companionship, and reiterating the promise that of course she would come back soon, and make George’s acquaintance, and see the baby in her bath, she passed out of the kitchen and went alone down the tenement stairs.

Final Thoughts:

Throughout my interaction with the programs discussed above, I found myself unable to resist finding meaning within the objective results churned out by algorithms – even when I recognized the blatant ‘fails’ of the software and its proclivity toward certain sets of words. Although words like “might” and “never” are likely to be highlighted by Wordle in other texts, their appearance in the word cloud for Mirth seemed irresistibly poignant. I even found myself making connections between the emphasis of “eyes” over other physical features, such as “hands,” “smile,” and “face” – for the eyes are the windows to the soul (and Selden resists objectifying Lily, unlike her mother, other men, and even Lily herself at times). Like Ramsay intimates in his examples of ELIZA and Mueller’s lists, I felt compelled to make sense of the results given, to “teeter between confirming [my] own theories and forming new ones” (71). According to Ramsay,

Algorithmic criticism seeks a new kind of audience for text analysis – one that is less concerned with fitness of method and the determination of interpretative boundaries, and one more concerned with evaluating the robustness of the discussion that a particular procedure annunciates. (17)

Is algorithmic criticism a ‘fit’ means of engaging meaningfully with a text? Well, considering the ‘robustness of the discussion’ I just had with myself in using such programs, I would have to say yes.

Saving Wordle Word Clouds

If anyone wants to know how I saved my word cloud from Wordle, here’s how I did it (you might find a better way): Choose the Print option and through that menu save it as a PDF, then open the PDF and save it as a JPEG. You can probably take a screenshot of the word cloud, too – I just wanted the best resolution possible so that it could be blown up onscreen for the activity.

This might be completely superfluous, but I just wanted to share in case anyone was initially flummoxed – please feel free to comment if you have a better way!

*UPDATE (in response to Paul’s comment):

Paul, I did use my work computer initially, which is a Microsoft one. However, when I went to just now, I was able to download the Java plug-in, restart Firefox, generate a wordcloud, and when I clicked “Print,” (a few times, because I had to keep “Allow”-ing the applet to connect with my printer [which isn't actually even hooked up to my laptop currently]), I was able to get a Print dialogue screen to appear:

Screen Shot 2013-02-08 at 12.25.24 PM

So I could manually choose “Save as PDF”, which then led to this screen, where I was able to save my word cloud into PDF format:

Screen Shot 2013-02-08 at 12.25.42 PM

I don’t know if it’s because I used Firefox or my OS is different (I’m running 10.7.5), but after downloading Java, I was able to obtain a PDF. However, now I need to double-check my print queue (for my non-existent printer), because this has happened before. Good luck! :/

How to Read a Million Books + (Kathryn & Charity)

Readings Wordle

Pictured above is a word cloud generated from this week’s readings using Wordle.

In-Class Exercise: With a partner, choose at least 2-3 terms from the word cloud above and discuss/define them in terms of our readings this week and/or experiences with the digital bibliography assignment. We will come back together after five minutes or so and share. Since each group will be sharing, you might consider mixing some lesser-mentioned terms (smaller-sized) with the buzzwords (larger-sized) to avoid repeats!

THE HOUSE OF M1KTH: Digital Wharton

I decided to base my digital bibliography exercise on Edith Wharton’s The House of Mirth. Of the three databases I chose for my exercise (Google Books, HATHITrust, and Project Gutenberg), I’m most familiar with Google Books, so I decided to go there first. I entered in my search terms and got two actual results (i.e. Wharton’s text, and not texts about Wharton’s text). The first one listed was the full text of Wharton’s The House of Mirth (with illustrations by A. B. Wenzell), published by Charles Scribner’s Sons in 1905. Google offered two versions of this edition of Mirth for download, EPUB and PDF. The second search result was a 2007 version that cost $2.99 to download. While the Google Books PDF was free and a fast download, I was pretty annoyed to discover that I couldn’t search the text – I tried on my work computer (which uses Windows) with Adobe Reader and my MacBook with both Preview and Adobe Reader.

Although the online Google version was searchable, since there were no ways to highlight or annotate, it didn’t seem very useful beyond yanking quotes out of the depths of the novel for use in other projects (which is actually how I tend to use Google Books). Indeed, Google even seems somewhat prepared for this – their primary source of textual manipulation (when viewing the book on my Mac – this feature disappeared on my work computer) is the ability to ‘clip’ a line into plain text format, a link to an image of the selected text, or a link to embed the text. While it might be neat to generate a digital image of the text, it actually limits the user to ‘clipping’ in rectangular forms only, meaning you can’t carry over onto the next line unless you want additional words from surrounding sentences caught in the rectangular clipping field. I’m not sure what the point of this clipping is – I really don’t think I’ve ever seen someone use it (or so rarely that I can’t recall). Google also allows you to generate a link for the specific page of text that you are currently reading, almost as a digital bookmark for later citations. There didn’t seem to be any ways to report errors for Google beyond writing a review for the text, but that leaves me questioning: what is a book review supposed to review? The actual content of the novel penned by Wharton? Or the scanning quality of the book? I’ve seen this happen on Amazon for Kindle versions a few times – people give a book low reviews based on the amount of grammatical and/or digital formatting errors, which confuses/frustrates those who are interested in the quality of the story.

Next up was HATHITrust, which I’ve encountered briefly before. I got a little lost the last time I was searching around for quick text downloads (actually, for Woodchipper, a data-mining tool we used in Technoromanticism), which turned me off to the site initially. However, when I searched for Wharton’s text on HATHI, I got four full-text hits for four different editions of Mirth: C. Schribner’s Sons (1905), C. Scribner’s Sons (1922), C. Scribner’s Sons (1933), and First Scribner/Macmillan Hudson River Edition (1989). When I clicked on the 1905 edition, I discovered that it was the same digital text that I encountered on Google Books (except for a badly digitized front cover scan). It even had the same pink thumbtip of a careless scanner in the bottom corner of a page! However, HATHITrust includes a watermark next to the “Digitized by Google” that reads “Original from UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA.” I re-checked the Google Books version, and there is no such notation made for the edition’s provenance, which is odd, since it appears to be the same exact book and scans. HATHI attributed all of the universities that held the physical copies of Mirth contained in their database (two from UC, one from University of Virginia, and one from University of Michigan). It also revealed that all four digital texts were “Digitized by Google.” So… why weren’t they all available on Google Books?

Also, since the one version I was most interested in obtaining in PDF form (the 1905 one) was also offered on Google Books, I found it a bit silly that I had to log-in via UMD partnership in order to download it. It was a long process of “Building” the PDF, then downloading it, all to obtain pretty much the same text as Google. I was able to search the HATHI PDF on my work computer using Adobe Reader in a hit-or-miss fashion (I was sent to the correct page with a box appearing roughly around the portion of text that contained my search term), but I was unable to search it at home using my MacBook with either Adobe Reader or Preview. In HATHI’s site version I thought it was interesting that I could toggle between views (Classic and Plain Text), which might have made searching easier (otherwise the site just directs you to the right page with no highlights or line indicators), but the very first time I tried toggling over to Plain Text, I caught a number of typos on the page I happened to have open, the most glaring being the running head, which read: THE HOUSE OF M1KTH. HATHI does have a Feedback link at the bottom of the page that allows for error reporting, though I’m not sure I would have the will to submit a new one for each Plain Text page.

Like Clifford, I found Project Gutenberg to offer the most variety in file formats, and like her, found the image-lacking disclaimer pointless, as the HTML and plain text versions did not contain images either. Project Gutenberg offered HTML, EPUB (no images), Kindle (no images), Plucker, QiOO Mobile, Plain Text UTF-8, and MP3 files of The House of Mirth; for my purposes I converted the HTML version to a PDF file, one which (finally!) is fully searchable. Unlike either Google Books or HATHI, there seems to be no printed referent for Project Gutenberg’s text. The only noted provenance is a release date of the digital text (June 1, 1995) and a few notes at the end of the text:

1. I have modernized this text by modernizing the contractions: do n’t becomes don’t, etc.
2. I have retained the British spelling of words like favour and colour.
3. I found and corrected one instance of the name “Gertie,” which I changed to “Gerty” to be consistent with rest of the book.
-Linda Ruoff

There is also a notice at the end of the text that “Updated editions will replace the previous one–the old editions will be renamed.” It almost seems as if Project Gutenberg is leaving little to no room for discussion on authoritative editions, variants, and the like (though you are free to email them with errors you may discover). There also appears to be no interest in preserving a digital transmission history of their edition of House of Mirth, as any discrepancies will be obliterated with no discernible trace (unless you leave a note, as Linda Ruoff did).

All in all, in order to accomplish the two things I want most in a digital text (searchability – a digital affordance, and writeability – a print affordance), I had to save a PDF file from an HTML version of The House of Mirth – one that had no perceivable basis in print. Project Gutenberg’s version is pure text, no book, which leaves me wondering: how would I cite these quotes that I am able to find at a moment’s notice? Would I have to turn around and utilize Google Books’ scans to pin specific quotes to page numbers? Makes one wonder, are Post-It Flags really so terrible?

Practicing, Building, Doing

Hi everyone. As my Twitter profile concisely states, I am a former HS English teacher (taught 10th and 11th graders for two years) and a current English MA student here at UMCP who’s planning to return to teaching once I graduate this May. As such, I had no real concentration when I entered the program, which is probably a good thing since our degree requirements are so broad. As Kathryn intimated below, I am not a heavily theoretical person, especially as my interests have always been in the realms of education first, then English. Yes, I was one of those teacher’s kids who rifled through classroom castaways for leftover stickers and unused nametags, bringing home dumpster-destined readers to use in my classroom of stuffed animals. More to the point, however, this translated to my undergraduate degree of Integrated Language Arts Education, with a minor in theatre, which meant I (gleefully) missed the more intense upper-level theory courses in the English program, courses upon which a lot of my graduate work probably would have built. Hindsight is 20/20, isn’t it?

At any rate, working with Kathryn in the two DH classes we have taken together here at Maryland has not only been really enjoyable but also helped me find an area of academia that I could tentatively occupy during my time here. In my undergraduate studies I took classes such as Technology in the Classroom and used a SmartBoard in one of my field experiences; in my own classroom I had a Promethean ActivBoard, which my school’s administration proudly pointed out to prospective parents and students. From my personal perspective, I see Digital Humanities as a realm of academia that will have a significant impact on secondary education in terms of pedagogy, assessment criteria, state standards, and possibly even content selection within curricula.

Although many of the readings this week have struck me as fairly theoretical (as the subject pretty much demands), I can see within the discussion of defining the boundaries of Digital Humanities an emphasis on practicality, or as Stephen Ramsey terms it, “building.” In his words,

As humanists, we are inclined to read maps (to pick one example) as texts… This is all very good. In fact, I would say it’s at the root of what it means to engage in humanistic inquiry… But making a map (with a gis system, say) is an entirely different experience. dh-ers insist — again and again — that this process of creation yields insights that are difficult to acquire otherwise.

Ramsey’s words put me in mind of my meeting with Kari Kraus a few weeks ago, when she put forth the idea of practice-based research for my thesis. Since I’m writing about The House of Her, an altered text Kathryn and I created last semester, my thesis falls within the category of practice-based research, which Linda Candy of Creativity and Cognition Studios defines as:

[A]n original investigation undertaken in order to gain new knowledge partly by means of practice and the outcomes of that practice. Claims of originality and contribution to knowledge may be demonstrated through creative outcomes which may include artefacts such as images, music, designs, models, digital media or other outcomes such as performances and exhibitions.

A type of research that usually occurs within the arts, I couldn’t help but notice the tendency of some dh-ers to lean more on the side of practice-based research in their attempts to define the discipline of Digital Humanities, or as Golumbia writes:

The new technology of the Internet has shifted the work of a rapidly growing number of scholars away from thinking big thoughts to forging new tools, methods, materials, techniques, and modes or work that will enable us to harness the still unwieldy, but obviously game-changing, information technologies now sitting on our desktops and in our pockets.

This emphasis on doing is one that rings true for the teacher side of me. Good teachers don’t just think up fun and challenging assignments, they work through them ahead of time for feasibility and clarity, producing models and detailed instructions for their students to follow. Even teaching itself is a craft – one learns by doing, and the longer one does, the better one is able to become. My résumé is full of words like “crafted,” “generated,” “coordinated,” and “facilitated,” to describe my teaching experiences. Acting on a hunch, I clicked on five random blog entries on the Day of DH site to see what sort of vocabulary they used to describe their DH pursuits. Here’s what I found:

Quinn Dombrowski – her posts are chock-full of active verbs such as sewing, making, sketching, and hammering (out details!).

Kathi Inman Berens – her blog included a post titled, “What I Build,” in which she describes the various projects that she has worked on; she says at one point, “it’s not the tool, it’s what users do with the tools you build.”

Alí Albarrán – he discusses the project his students are working on: “The participation of the students is important in this project, in the sense of creation of a wiki, the site and the entries have been formed and made it by the people who will use the site and then they (and the next generations) will use the glossary as a reference.”

William Allen – an art historian who describes how he prepares for his two courses, History of Photography and Survey of Art History II, in terms of image collecting – searching, locating, and pulling up appropriate images in a plethora of tabs for his classes. He describes completing these two class preps as “projects.”

Milena Radzikowska – she teaches a Visual Communication for Information Designers II class; she states that her students are “developing look-and-feel and visualization concepts for the Calgary Music Maps project: a web‐based participatory tool that enables our communities to describe and explore Calgary’s rich music ecosystem.”

I was pretty gratified to discover that all five self-identified dh-ers incorporated a creative/artistic/building element within their descriptions of their day-to-day scholarly pursuits. Despite how much flak Stephen Ramsay took for his initial comments, I still find myself agreeing with his belief that Digital Humanities is about building (and doing) things; after all, that’s what I find so compelling (and accessible) about the field.