Category Archives: Uncategorized

Moon Bone (Pt. 1)

Moon-bone rattle,

Star-born feathers top

headdress descending;

Body married to all that is

terrestrial,

Mind sojourns to the heavens.

 

Windows to two mirrors turn,

mirrors turning toward each other,

Self situated between.

Reflections now swirling, made parabolic, then

Moebius.

Closed eyes find infinite repetition,

though something solid blocks the source-image.

 

Copyright 2015

Logan Mikal White-Mulcare

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Welcome. I’ve a blog (for) now.

My name is Logan Mikal White-Mulcare, or Logan Mikal for short. This blog houses the major course work of Dr. Pandora, Dr. Purcell, and teaching assistant James Burnes’ Introduction to Digital Humanities at the University of Oklahoma. I am a Junior at OU studying English writing. I’ve major interest in poetry writing and, thanks to this course, a serious drive to focus on digital humanities. Inspired by the class I’ll be working for the next few years on a project that you’ll find a detailed description of the posts below.

During this semester I’ve been given the opportunity to explore (and fall in love with) a world new to me. I’ve for some time been, and am in some regard still, tech-illiterate. However, this course has shone light on the honest to goodness benefits the many tools now available to scholars have to offer. Furthermore, in exploring the course material and working on projects and discussing the material in serious depth, I think we’ve all been driven to answer questions about knowledge formation, the shift in information availability and its role in spheres both casual and scholarly, and posed many a question of our own. We have learned to think about thinking in a way that might have rendered us puzzled or brain-dead before getting to know the digital world, and for that opportunity I’m forever grateful to the doctors P.

You’ll find below this post the reflection papers written for each unit of the course.

Prelinger Archive remix vid

Below I’ve placed a link to a video I made using archived ephemeral film footage found on https://archive.org/details/prelinger. If you’ve any interest in public domain remixing, ephemera, digitization of historical material, or are just bored, I highly suggest checking the site out.

Link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dq39j-_YOlQ

Intro to Digital Humanities Final: Reanimated Corpus

Final Project (Detailed Description)

Public domain remixing: Reanimated Corpus

A quick introduction:

This project is directly inspired by the work and research that took place in and out of the classroom of Dr. Pandora and Dr. Purcell’s Introduction to Digital Humanities course at the University of Oklahoma. In exploring the digital turn in the humanities I’ve begun asking questions I otherwise might not have, and for that I am forever grateful for the doctors P. Though this project is quite young (I mean, I’ve barely scratched the surface here) I have started building a small team and am working on nailing down the purpose of the work I hope to be engaged in for the next few years. All information present in this post/paper is subject to change, though I’m fairly confident in the direction it’s headed and will provide all pertinent information here.

The basics:

            The project will involve sourcing a “dead” corpus of public domain poetry, that is poetry that is free for all to use that is of little note, and will start with computational analysis of the text for the purposes of establishing theme and category. The theme/category structure of the material will, hopefully, make it easier for the team of writers, of which there are currently few but projected to be at least six, to pick through the work to begin the process of remixing/reinterpreting the content. This process of remixing will see writers collaborating to create a new, or “reanimated” corpus. Remixing will not be held to a strict standard, instead the writers will be encouraged to explore the corpus to find something that touches them, and it will ultimately be up to the individual how they approach the process. It is my hope that writers will feel inclined to take as many creative liberties as is conducive to creating a work that functions and is readable, beside that I’ve the intent to be as hands off as possible. Poets might wish to use single poem or several poems, and what they do with said poems is their business until it comes time to weed out the ill-fitting for the finalized collection.

This team of writers will, however be required to maintain a journal of sorts detailing aspects of the process they deem interesting or important to note, and these journals will be collected and reviewed for the purpose of establishing a collaborate field note pool at the projects end. The main purpose with this journal will be to keep track of what poems were used in the remixed poems for reasons that will become clear as I continue. Writers will also be required to sign up for a social media account such as Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, etc. Those involved will not be required to post often, or to advertise constantly, the accounts will instead be used for inter-project communication and networking with other digital humanists/artists.

Another team of artists will be formed, and it will be up to them if they wish to stay in contact with the writers or not. This team will comprise visual artists and musicians. After the team of writers completes the remixed corpus, it will then be handed along with the source corpus to the second team for further remixing. The same creative freedom offered to the team of writers will be offered to this team, no one will be censored, however, all involved will be allowed to question the intent and nature of the works created. Same goes for this team with regard to journaling and documenting what poems were used.

After each team has completed the remixing process we will begin working on creating a website that will act as a database for the source corpus, and a home for the visual and sonic art. It is assumed that we will enlist the help of yet another team, this time a team dedicated to building and maintaining the website. My current understanding of the function of the website is at once archive and gallery, wherein the source material will be tagged with a reference number, said reference numbers will be placed on the appropriate pages of the remixed corpus so that the source material  that inspired the remixed poems can be easily accessed by a reader. The works of visual and sonic art that were inspired by the source material and/or the remixed work will be displayed on the page of the “called” source work, providing yet another level of experience for the reader/visitor. Though there is no concrete aesthetic I have in mind, I would like to see the visual/sonic art displayed as thumbnails around the source work, and that the source work would be presented (if possible, depending on where it was sourced from) as a high resolution scan of the page and the bits of book around it that will fit.

The end result should be a physical copy of a remixed or “reanimated” corpus with each page displaying a reference number, a website acting as an archive for the source corpus and a home for the further remixing provided by the visual artists and musicians, and finally an experience different from the norm for both artist and reader.

Why it matters:

Conceptually this project was born from my want to incorporate the attitude of collaboration and non-expert/expert participatory work with a project that reaches back into a dead body of work and pulls out a new soul. Briefly mentioned above, the social media platforms would serve primarily as a tool for networking with scholars, writers, humanists, digital experts and the like to establish a body of thinkers that could contribute to the quality of the project via consultation or, perhaps, a bit of volunteering. Creating and maintaining a website that would hold a forgotten or dead body of poetry would also function as an exercise of digitizing ephemeral art, something of great import considering the rate at which many are switching to device rather that paper and ink. And, hopefully, this sort of project would catch the eye of other artists so that they might begin digging through the rich (albeit sometimes boring) bounty of public domain art we have to work with.

In part I’m inspired to do this so that we can highlight and bring life to the notion that there is no creation without influence. This argument seems a given, but with so many companies gunning for artists that remix, deform, and screw with art that isn’t in the public domain, it seems we all need to sit down and learn a bit about fair-use, copyright law, and what it means to create in a world so interconnected and wildly attached to notions of ownership and intellectual property. Of course, I mean not to claim that this project will change anything, but it’s an attempt and I posit that means something, no matter how insignificant a drop in a broad digital bucket it might be.

Another important intention of this project would be breaking up the linearity of the writing process as well as the linearity of the reading experience. Attention spans are, at least it seems, shrinking. If we could with this project provide a source of entertainment that allows one to explore not only a body of poetry but also that which inspired it, and upon reaching the source material offer the reader also a further remixing in the form of audio and visual media, then perhaps the breaking up of attention would create more interest in the work itself. Furthermore, it is my goal to facilitate exploration of and screwing around with the entirety of the project and readers would be encouraged to do with the works as they wish.

As a last argument for why this project matters I wish to direct a question to you, reader. Why does any art matter? Now, don’t flog me, please. I mean not to insist that all art is meaningful as a matter of course, only that the process of creation is an important aspect of human existence, and that through exploration and creation we build better questions and attempt to answer with more clarity. The sort of knowledge one attains (if, that is, one can “attain” knowledge) while observing or creating art is at its core cathartic. And so, at the very least, this project matters because it has the potential to matter if someone bothers to explore it and learn from it.

Obstacles:

One obstacle that has been on my mind from the beginning is the matter of commoditization of the project. Because the project will be packaged (ideally) as a published hard or paperback book, we run into the issue of finding a publisher that won’t mind us advertising it as a source material for anyone that wishes to remix our remix. Sure, we could luck out and find some bold group willing to do anything for “free-thinking artist folk”, but it seems that’s terribly unlikely. We could self publish, but that brings me to payment, another major issue. Finding writers willing to work in their spare time, or on days they are scheduled to work on the project (an issue I’ll mention later) might not be an issue, and even musicians and visual artists might be willing to offer their work without immediate or promised pay, but programmers and website designers are busy-bees not often willing to do any work involving an keyboard without remuneration. Some possible solutions to this issue include applying for grants, selling an organ, crowd sourcing some of the work, panhandling, or crowd funding the entire project. Most of those options are feasible, however another obstacle is, well, what I want. I want this to be published through a reputable source as I want to see that someone out there has faith (can see potential) in projects like this. Call me romantic, or dumb, but I want to be turned down and told my project won’t work, perhaps it could make the project stronger.

Also, time management. Yea, well. I’m not sure how this will work out for people not being paid, unless of course the whole crowd funding or grant thing works out. How do I encourage people to participate in something that will eat up their time and potentially offer them little if anything in return? I’m not sure. I can hardly get off of my own ass, let alone encourage another to do so. I’m willing to act as head of the project, as facilitator and show runner, however, the project is supposed to have a personal feel unlike a typical writing gig. This project will involve (I hope) hard working writers investing time and emotion into creating a soul for a dead corpus, and I’m not sure how to handle scheduling that sort of process. As far as solutions go, I suppose allowing all paces whether snail or bullet train and hoping for a three year ETA is all I’ve come up with so far. So, if you’re reading this, I’m all ears. Or eyes, if you email or text me.

And, finally, the most basic issue: finding the source material. Not mentioned above was the fact that I’ve no clue where to start looking for a source corpus, though I have a few folks I know thanks to the doctors P and their proclivity for arranging erudite and kind guest speakers. Another issue is, once this source corpus is sourced, how do we go about digitizing it? I know the technology exists, and it’s just outside my reach but within my sight here at OU. Though, I did have a wonderful conversation with a gentleman at the university who might be able to assist, and I have the desire to do the work necessary to see this project through. Hopefully all goes well.

 

 

Visualizing Data (I will fix the missing word clouds soon)

Visualization

Reading(s) and Class Visit/Discussion:

Data visualization is not new, but is now more widely used and accessible in and by popular culture. Because of its new-found popularity and wide-spread usage it is imperative that those of us driven to describe only via text or oration learn to incorporate visuals into our work, and to do so we need to understand data visualization as a tool. As the name implies, the process is at its simplest the visual representation of a data set (or, body of information-as-data). Now, I suppose the first question would be have to be “Why?”, or “To what ends?”. It has been suggested in class by visiting speakers and by our readings that the defense of visual representation of data is varied, but seems to find roots in the human’s natural visual processing power. We are quite sight-driven, and so it stands to reason that a visual should pique our interest and with great positive results. Well, though we certainly engage more quickly with the bright-and-shiny pictures that surround us we don’t necessarily engage deeply with these images, and even when we do it’s tough to posit that it’s always for the better. But then, what is “better”? I hate to repeat myself within these reflections, but I don’t have the answers to these questions. I do, however, have many questions to ask that I otherwise wouldn’t have had, and am better equipped to discuss the potential of data visualization as it applies to humanities research, or scholarly research in general. That being said, let’s move on to Dr. Weaver’s questions and Dr. Lauren Klein’s visit.

Though I was not present in class during Dr. Weaver’s talk, his questions mirror those that have been raised during every unit this semester. While studying geo-mapping, the Dr.’s P asked us to consider the intent of the maps, the power of the map creator, and the information being highlighted or obscured. In attempting to address these concerns we all began to question, if we hadn’t before, the effect of control inherent in map-making, the influence it has on history and the study of. Now, this way of thinking, especially for those of us inclined to pour over conspiracy theories late at night, devolves quickly into a delusional existential crisis. But, it prepares us to question not only the underpinnings of a visual, but also its efficacy and aesthetic structure. Dr. Weaver posits questions regarding the objectivity/subjectivity of the visual, its perceptual and conceptual interpretability, as well as its role in narrative. These questions do not deal solely with the visuals we as individuals observe, but (I think) more importantly those that we create. What do we aim to say with our visuals? How can we best represent the subject/topic covered? Are we relying too heavily on the visual? All valid questions to ask while researching and building an argument or defending hypotheses. Questions that Dr. Laruen Klein helped answer during her visit.

During Lauren Klein’s she spoke about the role visualization plays in research. She posits that visuals need not solely be the end goal of a project, but instead a tool used as any other would be during the process as a whole. For whatever reason, this notion hadn’t struck me before. Because much of my work deals with creating mental visual through creative writing, I have rarely attempted to present anything as a literal visual (unless, of course, you count poetry as a visual art form, as Dr. Houston and many of us do). She continued to speak about visual representation as a method of and not simply a supplement to study/research. Just as we had learned in the textual analysis unit, the various tools we use to explore our data/information can lead to otherwise missed conclusions, or at least point us in different and more rich directions. In presenting her work as an example to the class, Dr. Klein shared this sentiment: “Visually representing your data in multiple ways gets you to come back to your underlying documents in a new/different way.”  It can be, and in my experience often is, a time sync. However, by reviewing the material again through a different set of methods, by experiencing the content through a less-linear lens, I found my efforts more fruitful. This, on one hand, points to the evidentiary potential of visualizing data, and on the other points to the learning curve inherent in adapting to and incorporating new tools.

Now comes the question of just how important or useful visuals are to a project. If, as Dr. Weaver suggested we should think about, a visual is perceptual interpretable, meaning it functions as an information/education aid, and if it is conceptually sound, meaning that it functions as an explorative tool or a conclusive representation of analyzed data, is that visual then complete and useful on its own? This is the question of the visuals role in the narrative of a project, and for it to function positively within that project it needs to be balanced. One wouldn’t (ideally) provide a map without a legend, and if one did one would need to provide a description of the maps purpose and the mapmakers goals. The same apples for any visualization that is itself a part of a larger project, and even on its own it requires some description. What is added when one provides a visual? Information provided as visual is, as mentioned above, engaging, or at the very least eye-catching. Text typically is not, and if it were modified to be so it may distract from the content. What happens to a visual when it is surrounded by text? It sits as focal point, but with the addition of just the right amount of description and detail a balance is struck and the two function symbiotically (I chose to make the point here that visuals and text are separate bodies, two distinct lenses through which one might view a subject). That brings us to Dr. Weaver’s final question: “What would you change about the visualization and why?”

 

Working With Visuals

            In an attempt to understand better the process of researching and/or answering/asking questions using data visualization as a jump off I took every post in my group blog and threw it into Voyant to play with it. Cirrus, an app-like function of Voyant that automatically generates a word cloud after a corpus has been “revealed”, after some manipulation (omitting the stop-words) showed that five words stood out as significantly present. These five words, knowledge, information, reading, close, and distant, are not surprising considering the content of this course. Taking it a step further I decided to copy the other groups posts and try the same things. The results were, well, nearly identical. Here are the word clouds:

Group one:

Group two:

Group three:

 

 

            Now, I should state here that I’m not a fan of word clouds, in fact I find them almost completely useless, however to support my argument that visuals need always be in the presence of text that supports their purpose, that these word clouds presented alongside this paper make a point, and if you look further than the surface of the clouds themselves and delve into the idea of what they attempt to represent that you’re well on your way to analyzing with a sharper, broader, but adjustable lens. What I find interesting about these word clouds is what, as Dr. Weaver wanted us to take note of, they do not show. Well, what two of them do not, and what one does. The five most oft used words are, for the most part, what I stated above. However, in further reviewing the images I noticed that group one has “human” as a frequently used word, and neither group 2 nor 3 have that word present in the cloud at all. Sure, this isn’t a conclusion, but it is exploration.

Take Away/Conclusion

            Our unit on geomapping made a serious impact on me. How I look at maps, how I think about the seemingly un-mappable (nothing is un-mappable, partly because that isn’t a word), and how I think about my creative writing. This unit expands on that knowledge, influencing further my thought processes, and making for a better me with regard to my personal writing and course work. I suppose that that is the major take away, a change in thought-navigation and structure, a deeper and stronger sort of analysis. Humanities researchers, I think, should seriously consider adopting these tools and using them when appropriate, and also when seemingly inappropriate. Presenting data visually is art, just as maps are art, and our greatest tool for quick-engagement after dissemination. By taking a few pages from marketing’s playbook and applying it to artistic rendering of data sets we stand to make our points more apparent, more accessible, and downright more enjoyable. But, we must always remember to be varied in our presentations, and to not rely too heavily on visuals, a balance must be struck for real impact.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Computational Analysis of Text

Textual Analysis

An Introduction Inspired by Our Reading(s):

Of the many questions raised by the readings/projects in this unit, those that deal with the concept of meaning-formation as it relates to the accessibility, manipulation, and evaluation of bodies of textual information strike me as most intriguing. What does our ability to analyze corpora using computers change about the process and outcome of study? Where is the line drawn between benefit and potential detriment? More to the point, what is being benefited or put at risk? In attempt to defend the appropriate weight of those questions I offer the notion that we aren’t quite able to speak definitively about an experiment-of-study that is currently in the process of breathing its way to the forefront of scholarship. We can, however, discuss the ongoing metamorphosis of scholarship in the digital age, so long as we accept that to bemoan change is, at least in this case, to ignore great potential. This change, this growth in the public’s access to new or growing technologies is one that, according to Dr. Houston during her in-class visit, can be likened to the technological shift that took place in the 19th century. A heavy and appropriate statement, indeed. A statement that begs the question of “What do we do with what we can do now?” To begin building hypotheses about this question, we should first take into account what we’ve been doing for centuries: close reading.

Close reading, as far as I’m concerned, can be loosely defined as a process of deep concentration on one text or a small body of related (or seemingly related) texts. By considering content after deep and repeated readings we attempt to establish any number conclusions about the work(s) in question. This process is a natural one in that we, in all of our experiences, analyze and often do so with reverence. By attempting to understand the underpinnings of a moment, excerpt, or entire work, we are evaluating and interpreting in order to understand. At times we wish to conclude that this work or that work belongs, or does not belong, within a genre, canon, or area of study. We do this to understand the broad nature of thematic connection so that we can focus our attention on specific works that fall into specific categories. In order to analyze, or to analyze with the intent of forming authoritative meaning, we need to isolate to build worthwhile conclusions. Our conclusions are, however, often very personal. As scholars our intent is often to analyze with little bias, or at least as little personal bias as is possible, however this isolation-of-self from analysis is difficult. That is to say, despite our ability to understand the humanity within a body or bodies of work, we are so mired in our own experiences that we often can’t help but focus on what we find important, a natural bias that often leads to overlooking that which might be pertinent. This issue, as well as the issue of our inability to read as much as a computer, might well be why incorporating computational analysis into traditional humanities scholarship is so tantalizing and important to discuss.

Distant reading is described as a process of searching within/playing with/viewing a body of textual data that makes use of computational analysis. This form of reading, which isn’t quite reading, can when added to traditional close-reading research solve a few of the problems mentioned above. Or, maybe it can’t. Though distant reading allows one (or many) to cut as opposed to wade through large bodies of text, and in allowing offers potential discovery of otherwise overlooked thematic or canonical connections, it carries a few issues similar to those inherent in close reading. Because the analysis, the brunt of the real analysis, is still handled by a human being, the potential for bias finding its way into the evaluation is just as present. That being said, the benefits of digital methods of research like distant reading are far from overshadowed by their inherent issues. Consider Dr. Houston’s work involving Victorian era poetry. By digitizing this broad corpus one can raise questions previously unanswerable (a throwback to our readings of Weinberger). According to Houston in her article VisualPage, “As humanists, we tend to make broad arguments based on a limited number of specific examples.” Here she speaks to the issues of close-reading and interpretation as it relates to establishing authoritative evidence. She continues by expressing that, with the advent and implementation of digitization, we are now able to establish new kinds of evidence using newly (sometimes personally) developed methods. The potential of this shift in methodological approach not only affect our understanding of the information, but the final product of our research and, perhaps most important, the readers of our work.

And so, the above touches, albeit briefly, on the questions surrounding access, manipulation, and evaluation, as well as (hopefully) offering a bit of insight into the questions regarding potential benefit/detriment to the product of our research, but perhaps it doesn’t quite get to the core of the matter. That core being the question of what exactly it is that is being affected. I still don’t quite have an answer to any of the questions, certainly not the last one, but I have a few ideas, ideas that, had I not screwed around a bit with some of these distant reading tools, I would have never had. Hopefully in describing my experiences as a sort of conclusion I will speak to the spirit of screwing around. Perhaps in some way this will be my personal answer to the question “What do we do with what we can do now?”

Lab work, Benefits of Screwing Around, and Conclusion

            Prompted by both Dr. P’s each of us in the class chose either a database containing a collection of Darwin’s letters or a database of letters, diaries, and news articles collected from Augusta County, Virginia and Franklin County, Pennsylvania during the era of the Civil War provided by the University of Virginia. I chose the latter, in part because I knew what I wanted to look for. My goal was to use this database that allows one to navigate using keyword searches to dig up some information about the drought in Kansas during the mid 1800’s. What I thought I’d find was some information about service men traveling from north to the south or vice versa, information that I assumed I could find by simply typing “drought” or keywords involving heat and thirst. I found nothing, surprisingly. Or, I didn’t find what I was looking for. What I did find was a single poem, which led me to search for others within the database. I found very few in the section devoted to letters, however I found several instances present in news articles. Furthermore, I began to see patterns emerge in the poems, distinct patterns that pointed to a regional emphasis on specific topics as well as differences in dialect. Those poems that came from the south tended to be romantic both in form and content, those form the north tended to be more political. What began as a search for drought related letters became screwing around with words related to poetry. This quickly evolved into what looks a lot like humanities research. By making use of the database and my computers ability to navigate through it, and then using my close-reading skills developed through years of scholarship, I was able to draw a few tentative conclusions about the people writing the letters, their state of mind, and their regional location and its influence on their writings content.

To quickly conclude I’d like to say that the concept of computers aiding me in close reading never crossed my mind before this class. In fact, I’ve always been a bit intimidated by computers, never wanting to fully rely on them in my work as a scholar. Despite my initial hesitance I can say with some confidence that now I’m a sort of convert, from the dark-side of humanities research I’ve now placed one leg into the ostensibly darker side of computational analysis. And I posit that this is beneficial, not the stepping so much as the message behind it: the potential for collaboration and interdisciplinary approaches. Though there may be drawbacks associated with both close and distant reading, the combination, with a healthy sense of focus thrown in, strikes me as too powerful to not be the future of humanities scholarship. And, who knows, this could be the beginning of the lines blurring between fields of study, a potential outcome I can get behind.

A Second Conclusion

            Sorry, I will go over the word count here. As promised I’d like to describe the project I’ll be working on for the next couple of years, assuming it will take that long to complete. Prompted by my work with the Valley of the Shadow database and by Dr. Houston’s writings and visit, I began thinking about poems from the1800’s-1900’s that are now in the public domain. This corpus exist in a sort of limbo, much of the work is obscured by time and simply sits in the ether untouched, unread, and unremarkable. The fact that it is in limbo does not (necessarily) mean that it isn’t worth looking at, maybe even archiving, or perhaps screwing with. This project would attempt to do all that and then some.

The process would begin with collecting the works that fit within the abovementioned time period. A team of writers, including myself, would then use text-analysis software like Voyant to establish categorical connections between poems. The now curated work would be divided up between the writers depending on what they feel reading that day. During their close reading the writers will begin rewriting the works, shifting the vernacular into a more modern one, all the while reinterpreting the works content and combining works at their discretion. This process of rewriting and remixing will go on until we’ve a new body of work, a reanimated corpus of sorts. Each new work would be tagged with a number corresponding to the original works to keep track of the poems and for purposes of reference and review. The goal here is archiving the source work so that it can be contained on a website with a search function involving either keywords or the reference number we’ve placed on the remixed works. If published, the remixed poems would have that reference number somewhere on the page so that readers could navigate to the website and enjoy the source material, perhaps feeling encouraged to remix a bit themselves, or at the very least breaking up the linearity of their reading process.

After the work has been completed, and before attempting to get it published, I’d like to assemble yet another team to read both the source material and the remixed works for the purposes of visually representing the content using their personal creative lenses. This second remix would be placed on the website with the original works, and would pop up alongside the visitors search results depending on the reference number they’ve typed in. The intended effect is a less-linear reading experience, as well as an excuse to screw around with work for the purposes of understanding and applying what is understood. From text on page, to text on screen, to visualization and back again. I’m still figuring out some of the particulars, and the idea is subject to change, but I hope from what I’ve provided here that you see the influence of this wonderful class you’ve both put together for us. This is my example of DG at work, screwing around with the intent to create and inspire creation and study. And now I have to turn the paper in, something I’m somewhat saddened by.

 

 

 

 

 

 

           

 

 

Geo-Mapping and spatial thinking in the humanities

Below you will find a polished collection of “field notes” taken while researching Geo-mapping and spatial thinking in Dr. Purcell and Dr. Pandora’s Intro to Digital Humanities course at the University of Oklahoma. Consider the questions of the applicability of geographical thinking in humanities research and the potential benefits of visually presenting information. A later post will focus specifically on visualization, and will hopefully fill in a few of the gaps found in this paper.

Geo-mapping and the Spatial Turn in Humanistic Thinking

 

Our Reading(s)

Of the required/suggested reading for the unit, I’m most interested in Anne Knowles’ work with mapping Gettysburg from the point of view of General Lee and her work with mapping concentration camp formation during the Holocaust. In the New York Times article “Digital Maps Are Giving Scholars the Historical Lay of the Land”  Knowles states “Mapping spatial information reveals part of human history that otherwise we couldn’t possibly know,” When Knowles visited she posited that one cannot trust any kind of information to reveal itself entirely. These statements taken together speak to her position on the positive aspects of the digital shift in the humanities, but what about the cons?

During her visit Knowles touched briefly on some of the negative issues associated with mapping tragedy. When she mapped Gettysburg she humanized General Lee, or at the very least made his decisions better understood. When she mapped concentration camps, however, she needed to account for more than the perspective of an individual, she needed to collect data to visually represent the growth and shrinkage of the camps in their respective territories, and this required some reduction. And so we see an issue with the interaction of problem and solution. Though she provided an animated map of the concentration camps that nicely showed the growth and shrinkage of main camps and sub-camps (change over time) it also dehumanized the content. How do we remedy that? According to Knowles one way to better represent the complexity of historical events is to present your information in multiple ways. And she did just that, showing us various artists depictions of the same historical incident, some more geographic and some more artistic, this added a much needed human touch to the project. Furthermore, in Geographies of the Holocaust, edited by Knowles and her colleagues, it is stated that in their research they “…began with the broad spatial expansion of camps… first focusing on specific periods identified in Holocaust scholarship, and then on the relationship between the opening of new main camps and the Reich’s shifting political relationships.” Mentioned too are the spatial mapping of gender and the use of forced labor, each referred to as distinct geographies that raise more historical questions.  In this way she allowed room for a convergence of space (abstraction), place (specific), and time (duration).

More Reading and some Lab Work

Though we can view information, collect it, analyze it, and share it, for what reasons(s) do we endeavor to? This is a question of the generative and philosophical natures of the humanities. We question to answer, answers bring even more complex questions, we then adjust and change our methods to answer and question again. In this way we act in a sort of loop-of-growth. A quote that speaks to this point can be found in the selections we read from the book Digital_Humanities: “Digital Humanities is a production-based endeavor in which theoretical issues get tested in the design of implementations, and implementations are loci of theoretical reflection and elaboration.” (Burdick et al. 13) And so, it would seem, we’ve established a reasoning for generating methods to approach question and answer, but what about the intent? Professor Purcell spoke about politics as they relate to map making, asking us to consider what that means with regard to the relationship between map maker and end-user, as well as the effect of editorial control in the process as a whole. If ideology and control have influenced the record of history, and has with maps drawn up by victors or power holders effectively rewritten or irrevocably changed our understanding of history, then it stands to reason that the same may be, and probably is, happening with digital mapping in the humanities. Though I’m no expert, it strikes me that the power of the individual to access and collaborate might be changing the power of the influences mentioned above.

As I’ve learned to appreciate scale as it relates to maps and information throughout the course, I’ve also begun to appreciate the shift in the scales that tend to tip in favor of those with power. Now, many have a chance to speak out against or speak for things that went overlooked because of the isolation of influence in the past. When we took part in georefrencing during our lab I seem to remember Mr. Widener mention the gradual change of long-held names of geographical locations, specifically those with negative racial/social connotations. Though this might be a stretch, it seems likely to me that with the ease of access to tools like GIS that issues like these might more quickly become a thing of the past. (Of course, that would imply that people knew about the tools and cared enough to do the research, and then cared enough after the research to approach those in power to have the issues resolved, but either way the avenue is now open to those with a computer and a connection.) A quote that I think speaks to the power of this area of study in a positive light comes again from the book Digital_Humanities:“…we see this moment as marking a fundamental shift in the perception of the core creative activities of being human in which the values and knowledge of the humanities are seen as crucial for shaping every domain of culture and society.” (Burdick et al.13)

More on the Lab Work

Moving to rectification, I’d like to assess the utility of GIS as I understand it now, which is to say not very well. While in the computer lab, attempting to stretch one of Rumsey’s maps to fit over modern North America, I was enraged by my inability to do it, and almost euphoric when I got it done. Perhaps the sense of accomplishment made me pay more attention, perhaps not, but at any rate I was quite impressed by what I saw. The accuracy of the older map was astonishing considering the time from which it came. GIS as a tool for marking changes in visual representation of the spatial/geographical over time seems indispensable. Though I’m not sure what I could have done with the information gleaned from our lab work, I do see the potential for further exploration. Paul Veith and another classmate mentioned ancient Chinese maps and their emphasis on symbolism as opposed to accuracy. For further research into georectification I’d enjoy attempting to use one of these ancient maps to compare and contrast the representations of modern mapping and old. I don’t have a point here, I’m just interested and respect the tool.

Conclusion

            I’ve rewritten this paper once, and I’ve edited it about four times to try and make it more personal and to make sure it flows well. I’m not sure that I’ve accomplished either task. I even tried mapping the paper, starting with a simple model of a central point surrounded by concentric rings, each ring representing a major stopping or starting point, smaller rings within each of those rings meant to represent my personal additions to the body, and an outer ring, thicker than the others, representing this conclusion. I broke away from attempting to use that, but aspects of the effort are still intact. One reason for the rewrite involved my attempt to separate my analysis of the writing from the body, isolating it to the conclusion. It read dry and monotonous, and that’s not me (I hope). In this way the mapping helped, it helped me realize that the circles had gaps that I could fill with humor or substance at my discretion. It allowed me to take more seriously the points I was trying to make without sacrificing the reflection aspect. And that brings me to how I think I can apply what we’ve learned to what I want to do with my life, that being fiction writing.

When Anne Knowles showed us her students work, the emotional mapping of a man’s diary written during the holocaust, I was awed. Not in the silly I’m-writing-this-for-filler kind of way, the real kind, the left breathless kind. Before taking part in this class I never really thought about geography or spatial visualization. Sure, I had heard of thought maps, but I’d never once considered that I could use visual representation of both the physical and emotional to benefit my writing (I hate outlines, too). But the spatial turn got me thinking. So, prompted by our research, I began a story that I will map as I write, and then again when I’m completed. In the same way that we map to account for and track the growth of an urban area, or to account for and track the diminution or growth of a body of water, so too can we map to reflect the development of a character within a story. By visually mapping the growth of several characters, taking into consideration their geographical and conceptual locations within the story, we can note moments of overlap or recession, benefitting the story as a whole by maintaining the structure while writing and by omitting or editing where appropriate once completed. Geospatial thinking can really benefit in any area of study or personal thought by providing scope and allowing me to commit to theoretical reflection and elaboration of concepts I may well have overlooked, not understood fully, or simply not noticed.

 

 

 

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Works Cited

Knowles, Anne Kelly. Geographies of the Holocaust. N.p.: n.p., n.d. Print.

Burdick, Anne. Digital Humanities. Cambridge, MA: MIT, 2012. Print.

Cohen, Patricia. “Digital Maps Are Giving Scholars the Historical Lay of the Land.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 26 July 2011. Web. 16 Feb. 2015.

“DiRT Directory.” Ushahidi Platform. N.p., n.d. Web. 16 Feb. 2015

 

 

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