Hello world!

Good morning DH-verse!

This morning I am writing from my History office on the beautiful UIUC campus in Urbana-Champaign. You will recall that on last-years DH bicycle parade, I was writing from beautiful British Columbia. I am down here, atm, to work with Dianne Harris (IPRH), John Unsworth (I3), and Antoinette Burton (History) to bring digital tools to young Historians and to work on the WEME project — both of which are near and dear.

Since arriving here, I have also launched the scholarly journal,  Preternature: Critical and Historical Studies on the Preternatural. Preternature addresses many of the same issues I am working on in WEME and hope to expand to in (eepp!) the next phase of the WEME project. We have been working on the design for Preternature with Shannon Lucky and Joyce Yu from HUCO at the University of Alberta. Although we are still waiting on their design (what you see online is a temporary shingle), we have seen some amazing first drafts and can not wait to see what they come up with.

I have been working with the Aaron McCollough from the Text Creation Project and Loretta Auvil from the Seasr Project using Seasr’s Zotero pluggin for Firefox to create an all singing, all dancing, all cyber class. In this class, the students have access to their syllabus through a collection of TCP texts, which they can analyze using the various Seasr flows. The idea behind the class was to take advantage of both the availability of digitized texts and the flexibility they afford towards facilitating analysis and visualizations. We usually try to do a “tool a day” in the first 5 mins of class as a way of presenting students with some options for digital research — not always new tools — last class I showed them how they can use the library to find books :) but we’ve covered those I could find, and those I am acquainted with through conferences and whatnot. This is an easy practice and one which makes new approaches less intimidating, so if you have a tool and I don’t know it, I am happy to learn more. I like to have these things at my finger tips — it comes up more often than you think once you are the recognized DHer in a department.



Experience is the teacher of all things

I have mentioned once or twice that I have learned more about Digital Humanities in the last calender year than I have up to it. Here is my first attempt rough to quantify what DH is  (don’t fret; this is a first pass, I will keep working on it)

What is Digital Humanities?

Digital Humanities is set of approaches (theoretical, practical, and pedagogical) which is substantially aided by, but not necessarily defined by, the use of computer aided visualization tool, archival or organizational methods, and research practices. In practice, this amount to new uses of maps (geographic, symbolic, linguistic) to represent a great deal of meaning in a small visual area. New uses of archives and organization tools to contain, re-present, and make (virtually) accessible material artifacts though digitization, and to allow individual scholars and larger groups or scholars to organize their own digital material in logical ways. New uses of ways to explore digital materials for both research and teaching — extending the keyword and author search into more complex search method to answer increasingly complex issues over large data sets.

What is a Digital Project?

Although digital projects have principal leads, a digital project is more akin to a book series or a journal than a monograph. It is built using a team of invested and diverse parties interested in fulfilling a research question which has not been sufficiently addressed using traditional methods.

How does one tell if Digital Humanities as  a field is succeeding?

A digital humanities will be successful if the technology it developed and the theoretical argument it engages in continue to evolve. The success of DH can be counted on indexes like those used to track academic conferences, articles, and monographs, not only in terms of bibliographic material alone. DH’s success can be seen in watching for the changing ways in which people approach texts as digitized, accessible, and flexible.

What else does DH need?

DH needs better metaphors. It needs to better articulate the why — and demystify the how.


the walled garden

I am home now — and spent a little time cleaning the garden — not my garden, my garden is at home in Edmonton, but the garden here in Champaign.

I spoke about gardens a bit today (I was talking DH and gardens just the other day with my friend) — we were talking the Roman de la Rose, the Querelle des Femmes, and Rachel Speght/ Joseph Swetnam dispute today in class. The idea that gardens were walled was of some interest to my students, the garden seems like it should be an open space, but indeed it is not. I sent Speght and Swetman over over to Seasr flows and the text cloud came out a little walled garden. Look –>

Now these texts are surely some of the most misogynist out there — Swetnan summed up his argument by saying:

Eagles do not eat men till they are dead, but women devour them alive, for a woman will pick thy pocket and empty thy purse, laugh in thy face and cut thy throat.

 Joesph Swetnam — The Arrignment of Lewde, Idle, Forward, and Unconstant Women (1615)

We as a class agreed that there was no particular argument which Speght could give to refute this vitriol. She deftly side steps it by simply noting that god would disagree: “The work of creation being finished,” she says,  “this approbation was given by God himself, that ‘All was very good.’ If all, then women – who except man -is the most excellent creature under the canopy of heaven

.” Rachel Speght — A Muzzle for Melastomous. We talked some about gender in class, about what it meant to be “womanly” in early modern England, as a way of pinpointing (if that is possible) where Swetnam was coming from. It is a hateful little text, really, and doesn’t need much analysis to find that, but what is interesting is where we came to in terms of gender. We talked about the courtly ideal of love seen in de Lorris’ section of the Roman and Swetnam’s construction of women as harpies, and talked about the dangers of them both.

Issues of gender and representation did not end with Speght, or Wollstonecraft, or the suffragettes, or the civil rights movements. How attuned are we to these issues in DH? Are we attuned to them at all? DH is growing, it is generative, but is it a walled garden? Who gets in? Who stays out? How does the garden grow?


DH (as Humoral Theory): Inward Sense, Wit, Understanding, Imagination, Memory

Dear DHers,

Just in case you don’t know — I think you are great.

I like this field a lot. I look at it critically. I query it. I ask it to think about gender; theory; diversity. I really want it to think about issues of embodiment. To think about issues of thinking. To think about the politics of production. I want people to familiarize themselves with one another’s projects. I want them to take time out to learn what other people are doing. To feel for/with the fearful humanist newbie. I know you are busy DH –  like that you are busy — sometimes I think we define ourselves by who is busiest — but that doesn’t mean that I don’t think you are the cat’s pajamas.

I like this field. I tell people that in DH, one can breathe. Its hard to define what that means, really. I think it means that because this field is developing, because it is blurry around the edges, that it is also more elastic. I hate to think, as I work to define the work that the work will become defined. To quote Evita, in a completely different context, when it is good, Digital Humanities is:

“the Art of the possible”

This means something else, of course, when used in the musical/film, but here I think it means that DH is the field of “what is it you want to do’?

When its good, people get excited together, they want to puzzle something out together, build something together, grow something together. When it is bad — it’s vaporware — the stuff of Barnum and Baily. But when it is good, it is better.

I like it better when it is good. I like it best when a group of us go for a drink, or a walk, after a conference diner, and imagine together.  In Philip Moore’s The hope of health (London, 1564), he argues that there are three principle faculties, the third is the animal: that of the senses, movement, and the “inwarde sense, and wit, or vnderstanding.” The inward senses are the collaboration of “imagination or common sense, reason or fantasie: And memorie.” I think when DH is good, it maps on to the Moore’s understanding of these faculties. When it is good, it senses what is needed, it acts, critically and energetically to respond, with common sense, imagination, and memory of what has come before.

Humoral theories like Moore’s may not seem like good science, but they do speak to the good science of today which regards affect and understanding as in concert with the world a body moves and thinks and feels in. Bodies move, and think, and feel in digital worlds too; the movement is different, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t register. Digital embodiment matters. Research contexts matter. We have an affective response which works alongside logic. It would be unwise to ignore the affect, dear DHers. But for now allow me to assure you, from where I am feeling, you are great.