Tag Archives: Digital Humanities

Smithsonian Internship Update, April 2018

Kilkenny Castle

My Smithsonian internship is still going well as I research cultural and heritage sites in Ireland. I have completed 60% of the coding for these sites and will soon be turning my attention to mapping.

Researching the significance of Kilkenny Castle was both challenging and enjoying. Kilkenny Castle has a complex history that involves architecture, politics, history, archaeology, culture, and various military functions. At present, it also serves as an important site for public audiences across multiple disciplines on local, national, and international levels.

This site was part of my research for the Conflict Cultures project, which connected me to the Smithsonian and the University of Pennsylvania as a digital historian and digital humanist. For example, only a handful of entries involve both a prior military function and a current relationship to the state. For these categories I coded them both as “1” that designates it as a site that could be potentially endangered if Ireland ever experiences either a national or man-made disaster (civil war, terrorist attack, hostile occupation). In other words, coding and mapping this site will help future generations protect, preserve, and learn about the important role of Kilkenny Castle in Ireland’s history.  While I have never used Google Fusion Tables as platform for GIS mapping, this entry (along with 318 others) taps into the mapping skills gained through my digital public humanities coursework through George Mason University.

File:Kilkenny Castle 26-09-2015.JPGNormek82, Kilkenny Castle, 2015 (Wikimedia Commons, CC 4.0).

It primarily features medieval and baroque architecture. In addition to serving as a residence, the castle also served as a fortress. The buildings have been in the care of the Office of Public Works since 1969. Visits to the Kilkenny Castle feature several types of collections: decorative arts, art, textiles, print materials, military artifacts, and archaeological artifacts. The mission of the Kilkenny Castle and the Office of Public Works includes archaeological excavation, conservation, preservation, and restoration of the buildings as well as the collections.

Sources and Further Reading:

Bence-Jones, Mark. A Guide to Irish Country Houses (London: Constable Press, 1998).

Bron, Daniel. Kilkenny Castle and Fountain, 2013 (Wikimedia Commons, CC 3.0).

Department of the Environment. An Introduction to the Architectural Heritage of County Kilkenny (Government of Ireland, 2006).

Murtagh. Ben. “The Kilkenny Castle Archaeological Project 1990 to 1993,” Old Kilkenny Review (Kilkenny Archaeological Society, 1993).

Normek82, Kilkenny Castle, 2015 (Wikimedia Commons, CC 4.0).

Office of Public Works, “An Introduction to Kilkenny Castle,” Kilkenny Castle (Government of Ireland, 2017).

Williams, Jeremy. A Companion Guide to Architecture in Ireland 1837– 1921 (Dublin: Irish Academic Press, 1994).

Smithsonian Internship Update, March 2018

My internship with the Conflict Culture project has been very interesting thus far. I was assigned Ireland as my country to research with the goal of providing information to be used in the ultimate database. I was faced with some initial challenges as some of the information had already been entered by a previous intern. Checking geographical coordinate proved tedious, and learning to locate precise latitude and longitude was a task with which I had little experience. However, I found that I gained efficiency and speed as I moved through the 319 sites.

I am now finished checking preexisting data and have moved to research and descriptions of my own. I have particularly enjoyed getting to learn about historical and cultural sites in Ireland. Other than some of the well-known sites, such as Dublin Casle, I had/have very little familiarity with Ireland as I have never been there. While I am only 20 percent through the site descriptions and other coding categories, I have already begun a list of sites that I would like to visit when I do travel to Ireland. In fact, I may be making a trip sooner than I thought — inspired in part by this project and assignment.

While my work constitutes a long distance relationship (of sorts) with the Smithsonian, the weekly conference calls have been helpful. In addition, they add a personal component to this virtual internship as our supervisor guides us and answers questions and as we, the interns, talk about our work. The communication with the Smithsonian and the University of Pennsylvania has also been great.

This project utilizes several skills and methodologies connected to the GMU DH certificate program. Specifically, our early lessons on the importance of copyright and metadata have come in very handy. I also have greater confidence in my research skills, understanding of coding categories, and use of controlled vocabulary. George Mason is on spring break next week and so we have a week off as well. I am looking forward to a bit of a break before getting back to work. I am determined to finish the data for Ireland as my contribution to Conflict Cultures.

HIST689 Introduction

I am looking forward to taking HIST 689 with Dr. Kelly as the final online course for the post-graduate certificate in Digital Humanities through George Mason University.

In the first two courses I gained a real sense of the trends, direction, and scope of Digital Humanities. In addition to technical expertise, the courses also provided meaningful readings and activities. I hope that this class will further add to this new base of knowledge and skill.

Professionally, I juggle several different roles. I am a secondary school educator at the Harpeth Hall School where I also serve as the archivist. I also teach as an adjunct at Belmont University in the Honors program as well as the Global Leadership studies department. Most recently I taught an interdisciplinary class entitled “Making the Modern City.” In the last several years, I have also added author to my list of professional achievements. This fall will bear the fruit of two and a half years of research and work with the release of two books. Athens of the New South: College Life and Making Modern Nashville will be published by University of Tennessee Press and A Heartfelt Mission: A History of the West End Home Foundation published by Orange Frazer Press. Adding my GMU coursework on top of my day job and writing this past year was a challenge but well worth the time and effort. Next year I will add Digital Humanities Coordinator to my list of duties at Harpeth Hall, and I will be continuing the development of my project from Dr. Leon’s class in partnership with the Metropolitan Historical Commission. The project, Nashville Sites, will be modeled on the History of the National Mall project and will initially launch this fall with continued development (and funding, fingers crossed) in 2018.

I look forward to this course, and I hope to find a way to incorporate and tailor my work in HIST694 to further Nashville Sites as well as my work with teachers (as Digital Humanities Coordinator) at Harpeth Hall.

Final Project and Feedback

My project webpage can be accessed from this page (tab top right labeled “Nashville”) or directly via: http://drpethel.com/nashville/

My project goal encompasses a practical and educational aim using digital tools. I am creating a course portfolio with a thematic focus of “Making Modern Nashville.” I have taught a special topics upper-level course for Belmont University for the past two years entitled: Making the Modern City. In the course we trace urban history and development and place it within the larger economic and cultural context of American history. The last part of the semester students examined Nashville as an urban case study and produced a culminating work based on original research, primary, and secondary sources. My project seeks to build a Omeka collection and exhibit based on their research. I chose this focus because I wanted to apply tools and methods associated with digital humanities with courses I currently teach. Further, I wanted to create something that could be beneficial to multiple audiences while also showcasing student research that deserves digital and more public platform.

I chose to use Omeka because it fits the purpose of my digital and educational goals because I can create collections, exhibits, and special features that will allow me to add, layer, and reorganize from one semester to the next. In other words, there is no finished product but rather an ongoing project that can continue to grow to showcase digital-born student research and work that is valuable to scholars, the university, and the local community.

Before this course I had Omeka account and had established a site, but it was really for experimental purposes. I have since migrated any information and data from the original site to my drpethel.com domain. Some of the formatting changed a bit with the migration, so it took some time to clean up, delete duplicates, upload new sources, and create metadata. I also had to determine the best possible way to set up collections and exhibits that were easy to navigate and engaging for the user. I discovered that aside from the overarching theme, “Making Modern Nashville” there were more connective sub-themes among the different projects than I had originally realized. This made my work both easier and harder as I wanted to feature all projects connected to my “Past, Present, and Future: Downtown Nashville” exhibit, but I didn’t want to create an exhibit that completely overshadowed other items and other collections. I also had to do quite a bit of editing to make sure I used common language via Dublin Core and also with tagging.

The feedback I received was helpful–particularly to read that both reviewers thought the idea and sources interesting and potentially useful as a student showcase but also a source of scholarly work that could help someone researching a similar topic in another city or Nashville itself.  Elaine mentioned the potential of this project to go beyond the university to involve crowdsourcing. While I think this is a very noble goal, I would need additional support or funding to be able to commit that kind of time to promote, build, and manage such a project. Even beyond this class I plan to continue to hone this site–adding more features, sources, and descriptive information in order to show its value as an academic and cultural home for special topics related to the metro Nashville area.

Social Media Strategy

nielsen615

Social media is not just persuasive, it is pervasive in today’s world of constant online information, updates, and announcements. Moreover, growing numbers (particularly in the 18-34 demographic) get their news and information solely from mobile devices and many via social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Social media is also useful because it is free, unlike television or print advertising.

The nature of my digital history final project is one that specifically targets a college-age demographic but also should (I hope) appeal to a larger audience interested in Nashville history, life, and culture. Thus my audience is three-fold: college students, scholars who specialize in southern history or urban studies, and residents of Davidson County.

My strategy aims to reach each of these groups through overlapping information using two social media platforms: Twitter and Facebook. Twitter will be used to generate interest, pose questions, and highlight parts of the digitized collection to drive internet traffic to my Omeka exhibit and related issues to Nashville’s in the news. Over 35% of all college students use Twitter, and in fact, I have already used it in classes that I teach. Facebook will be used to convey the same information but in greater detail.  In addition to a greater range of features, Facebook’s audience also spans a wider spectrum as evidenced by the chart below (source: Pew Center, 2015).

2015-08-19_social-media-update_07

There are specific and broad messages that will be conveyed to my three audiences via Twitter and Facebook. New additions to the collection, new exhibits, and student work can be announced and introduced via Twitter and Facebook. Any events connected to the collection such as a Semester Showcase of student projects connected to the the study of Nashville can also be promoted. It is my hope that as this project develops and work is uploaded (born digital), social media can be used enhance the historical value of the work and attract “followers” who might also have contributions to make. At this time, there are no specific actions that I want potential audiences to take other than to observe and learn from the unique studies presented by my students as they investigate Nashville’s public transportation system, present original research, and explore the city’s downtown landmarks. I suppose that the digital project could inspire audiences (outside of class) to follow the designed walking tour of downtown for themselves.

My strategy of using Twitter and Facebook can be measured by the using the SMART strategy rubric:

smart-goal-rubric-template

  1. Specific (Who?):
    Participants (students) and audiences (college students, faculty, and those interested in Nashville history)
  2. Measurable (What?)
    To monitor project site visits through stat tracker and base social media posts via interest shown
  3. Attainable (How?)
    To post to Facebook twice per month, and Twitter weekly
  4. Realistic (How, Why important?)
    Posting once per month via FB and Twitter weekly is realistic and will keep the digital project relevant. Student in current courses can also help to promote the site by tagging or liking my posts.
  5. Time-bound (When?)
    Over the next academic year (at a minimum)

Crowdsourcing Reflection

When one thinks of the term crowdsourcing, practices related to business, marketing, and/or consumerism first come to mind. In academia, the idea of crowdsourcing seems most relevant to science disciplines or statistics. However, over the past few years the idea of crowdsourcing has been co-opted by the digital humanities.  In the digital humanities, the practice of crowdsourcing involves primary sources and an open call to the general public with an invitation to participate.

There are pros and cons to crowdsourcing DH-related projects. Certainly having the benefit of many people working on a common project that serves a greater good is a pro. In turn, the project gains more attention because of the traffic generated by people who feel invested and share the site with others. On the other hand, with many people participating there is more room for error and inconsistency. Another con is the supervision and site maintenance needed to answer contributor queries, correct errors, and manage a project that is constantly changing with new transcriptions and uploads.

The four projects analyzed for this module reflect a range of likely contributors, interfaces, and community building. For example, Trove, which crowdsources annotations and corrections to scanned newspaper text in the collections of the National Library of Australia, has around 75,000 users who have produced nearly 100 million lines of corrected text since 2008 (Source: Digital Humanities Network, University of Cambridge). Trove’s interface is user-friendly but the organization and number of sources are overwhelming.

contributing

A second project, the Papers of the War Department (PWD), uses MediaWiki and Scripto (open-source transcription tool), which work well and present a very finished and organized interface. PWD has over 45,000 documents and promotes the project as “a unique opportunity to capitalize on the energy and enthusiasm of users to improve the archive for everyone.” The PWD also calls its volunteers “Transcription Associates” which gives weight and credibility for their hard work.

Building Inspector is like a citywide scavenger hunt/game, and its interface is clean, clearly explains, engaging, and barrier to contribute are very minimal. In fact, it is designed for use on mobile devices and tablets. As stated on the project site: “[Once] information is organized and searchable [with the public’s help], we can ask new kinds of questions about history. It will allow our interfaces to drop pins accurately on digital maps when you search for a forgotten place. It will allow you to explore a city’s past on foot with your mobile device, ‘checking in’ to ghostly establishments. And it will allow us to link other historical documents to those places: archival records, old newspapers, business directories, photographs, restaurant menus, theater playbills etc., opening up new ways to research, learn, and discover the past.” Building Inspector has approximately 20 professionals on its staff connected either directly to the project or NYPL Labs.

Finally, Transcribe Bentham uses MediaWiki. It is sponsored by the University of London and funded by the European Commission Horizon 2020 Programme for Research and Innovation. It was previously funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and the Arts and Humanities Research Council. They also ask volunteers to encode their transcripts in Text Encoding Initiative (TEI)-compliant XML; TEI is a de-facto standard for encoding electronic texts. It requires a bit more tech savvy, and its audience is likely smaller—fans, students, or enthusiasts of Jeremy Bentham and his writings.  As a contributor, I worried about “getting it wrong,” especially with such important primary texts. Due to the sources’ handwriting, alternative spellings, unfamiliar vocabulary, and an older, more formal version of English made this a daunting task for me. An additional benefit of this project is the ability of contributors to create tags. In sum, Transcribe Bentham has 35,366 articles and 72,017 pages in total. There have been 193,098 edits so far, and the site is 45% complete. There are 37,183 registered users including 8 administrators.

As noted by digital humanists on HIST680 video summaries, the bulk of the work is actually done by a small group of highly committed volunteers who see their designated project as a job. Another group that regularly contributes is composed of undergraduate and graduate students working within a project like Transcribe Bentham as a part of their coursework. A final group of volunteers are those who are willing to share their specialized knowledge with these research, museum, literary, or cultural heritage projects.

Crowdsourcing is an amazing tool that can be used to create a sense of community as well as to create a large body of digitized, accessible text. I think one major factor to remember when considering successful crowdsourcing DH projects is the sheer scope of the work from several standpoints: informational, tech infrastructure, institutional, managerial, public value, and funding. Successful crowdsourcing methods applied to DH-related digitization and transcription projects requires a dedicated, knowledgeable, well-funded, interdisciplinary team based within an established institution, whether that be an educational institution or government agency. In other words, it is an enormous (and enormously admirable and useful) undertaking. But for now, I will simply have to admire academic crowdsourcing as an advocate and user.

How to Read Wikipedia

fullsizerender

Wikipedia is no longer simply a open sourced encyclopedic reference. It is no longer just a website or a “thing,” it has also become a verb. If a person has a question or wants to know something, they are likely to “wikipedia it.”  When Wikipedia first emerged on the world (-wide-web) stage, educators and academics alike condemned it as non-academic and unreliable. However, today even these groups have, in part, reconciled with the notion of Wikipedia as a source of knowledge, reference, and a valuable tool for basic research.

At the same time it is more important than ever for teachers and students alike to understand the edit and content process and development of Wikipedia from behind the curtain. If users rely on Wikipedia as the first stop for information then essential questions should follow for responsible users: Who is creating the entry? Who is editing? What changes are being made, and why?

To answer these questions, users should go to the “History” tab to see a timeline of edits made and check the user profiles of those doing major edits. In addition links to page view statistics and revision history statistics (see media at top of blog post) can give a broader visual breakdown of edits and editors. This information can help the user to view editor profiles, assess their bias and credentials, the frequency of edits, and the general historiographical development of the entry. (I struggled with how best to use the “talk” tab.)

For example, with the Wikipedia entry for “Digital Humanities” reveals several interesting and important factors about its creation and development. The page began in 2006 as a definition with separate sections to explain DH objectives, lens, themes, and references. In 2007 and 2008 editors clearly believed DH to be focused on the computing aspect of DH project, with an entirely new section on Humanities Computing Projects (with three addition subsections). By 2012 the section headings seemed more settled, though expanded:

1 Objectives
2 Environments and tools
3 History
4 Organizations and Institutions
5 Criticism
6 See also
7 References
8 Bibliography
9 External links

The definition of DH also continued to shift, expand, contract–with many slight word changes that seemed to focus on the digital process and learning rather than the machine itself and programming. From 2014-2016 the open source, web-based nature of DH is clear and the discussion about DH as interdisciplinary and a transformative pedagogical development seems to be settled. The definition, application, and scope of DH continues to evolve. The basic organization of the page has remained although sections have been renamed, eliminated, split, and images have also been added.

Contributors and editors come from a wide range of persons connected to the Digital Humanities: librarians, professors, but also persons with no profile or title, like John Unsworth and Matilda Marie. There also appear to be institutional oversight and monitoring. In particular, there are several professors associated with the University of London such as Simon Mahoney and Gabriel Bodard, both of whom have profile and biographies attached.

Nearly 15% of all major edits are being made by digital humanists who have content specialization in the classics. There were also people more focused on computer science early on rather than academics focused on the humanities. The definition of “Digital Humanities” and particular phrases certainly generated the most controversy. That and the fact that the word “controversy” was actually added to one of the subheadings. It shows that DH and those who use it still struggle with defining its uses as well as the study of DH. What should a digital humanist be able to do, know, and to what end? These questions seem to drive issues that stir controversy.

This Wikipedia page reflects DH developments as a new area of intellectual inquiry, expression, and dissemination. But as a part of the larger theoretical exercise, analyzing this Wikipedia entry from the back end proved to be immensely eye opening. Not simply from the standpoint of understanding the “what” (its process and content evolution) but also deciphering the “who” behind Wikipedia. As author and software engineer David Auerbach states, “Wikipedia is a paradox and a miracle. . . . But beneath its reasonably serene surface, the website can be as ugly and bitter as 4chan and as mind-numbingly bureaucratic as a Kafka story. And it can be particularly unwelcoming to women.” As of 2013, women made up less than 10% of Wikipedia editors. As Ben Wright noted, “This disparity requires comment.” I would add that as digital humanists and educators, our awareness of this issue (and others such as the dominant Western-centric lens of Wikipedia) can be the first step in addressing these problems. We can also commit our efforts to being part of the solution.

Database Review

american-poetry

At first glance, American Poetry might not catch your eye or seem overly impressive. However, scratch beneath the surface of its simplistic homepage and users will find over 40,000 poems by more than 200 American poets from the colonial period to the early twentieth century. It is also connected to African American, Canadian, and British poetry and literature. The database is hosted and published by ProQuest by way of its humanities published imprint of Chadwyck-Healey. A digital publishing specialist, Chadwyck-Healey is “synonymous with innovation in electronic publishing since the release of the English Poetry Full-Text Database in 1992” (“About Chadwyck-Healey”).

The database American Poetry first debuted in 1996 and offers multiple search options, which include keyword, first line/title, and poet/author. For any of these options there is a metadata search index generated by the database that offers a list of searchable terms found within the collection. If one is researching a specific poet then there are additional search fields where results can be mined by gender, ethnicity, literary period, and years lived. Ethnicity and literary period also have indexes available to help users find and select appropriate terms recognized by the database. There are also collections linked on another page that are cross-searchable via the Literature Online interface. Some samples of these collections include African Writers Series, Twentieth-Century Drama, and an upgraded edition of the King James Bible online. The governance of this literature and poetry collection falls under a special selected editorial board. Board members advise on the selection of text and editions with the goals of comprehensiveness and inclusiveness.

After performing a search, using their easily navigable search options, and selecting an individual work, there is a great deal of information provided by American Poetry in regard to the literary period and author. For each poem or work of literature, there is a link with information about the author: gender, birth/death dates, ethnicity, nationality, and literary period. For the poem itself, there is full-text but it is transcribed right onto the webpage and the original is not viewable. While those seeking the text alone (and its legibility) will be satisfied, it leaves a bit to be desired for the historian or digital humanist who wonders what was lost through digitization. There is no exportable image, and searching full-text within the text can only be done using Contol+F as you can on any webpage. There are options for “Print View,” “Download Citation” and “Text Only.”

Surprisingly, the “Download Citation” option is clunky compared to the database’s overall streamlined organization and presentation format. The necessary information is there, but the export and formatting options required additional steps. Rather than go through this process, users would be better off typing up the citation the old-fashioned way—formatted and entered manually in a document. There is also a “Durable URL” option but it simply provides a link that can be saved or emailed. Emailing the link to someone who does not have access to the database will not be able to view your sent data without signing in with a user name and password. However, this feature can help to generate a quick link list for the researcher.

Chadwyck-Healey first began publishing in 1973, and has spent over £50 million over the last decade. Their bibliographic basis is the Bibliography of American Literature (Yale University Press, 1955-1991) and supplemented with additional poets recommended by the Editorial Board to “provide a thorough representation.” Text conversion was processed through four stages: selection of texts, encoding and indexing, re-keying and scanning, and preservation. The selection of text involved a consortium of scholars, research libraries, national libraries, and a publishing team. The encoding method was Standard Generalised Mark-Up Language (SGML). As stated, “SGML encoding of original texts allows works to be divided into content elements . . . and recognized accordingly that provides a route through vast amounts of data” (“Text Conversion”). The re-keying and scanning process took SGML and compared it to text generated by Optical Character Recognition (OCR). Re-keying primarily rectifies spelling and punctuation discrepancies. During the digitization process, the entire text of each poem was included as well as any accompanying text “written by the poet and forming an integral part of the poem,” (“About American Poetry”). This allows for preservation of materials.

Access to the collection follows a strict subscription-only policy; however, it can be accessed remotely. While most databases are primarily operated remotely, this designation shows the age of the database a bit—harkening back to the days of library-only or on-campus databases. There are also some other options that show the age of the database including notes on how to navigate JavaScript, which internet browser to use (Internet Explorer listed), 18 different step-by-step sample searches, changing system color (for user preference), shortcut key to navigate the site “without using a mouse.” In today’s touchpad, cloud-based world many of these features are antiquated as students and faculty alike are more sophisticated and search-savvy.

American Poetry remains an early model of early digitized databases—designed with students and educators (and paid subscriptions) in mind. The publisher, Chadwyck-Healey, boasts that is it used by “specialist researchers to undergraduates alike” and that its full-text primary source materials “create fresh avenues for critical debate, scholarly dialogue, and serendipitous discovery.” While this claim may be a bit far-fetched, this digital collection does contribute and make available a vast amount of poetry and literature related to “America” and mother “Britain,” to the digital world. For this reason, American Poetry is still very much worth the price of an institutional subscription.