Monthly Archives: August 2015

Ingraham: Post #1: “Pattern Recognition”

Mitch Ingraham

30 August 2015

ENGL 5529

Dr. Emerson

Blog Post #1

“Pattern Recognition”[1]: Digital Humanities and The Technogenetic Turn in Literary Studies

At the risk of sacrificing depth for breadth, I want to (albeit briefly) address all four of this week’s readings insofar as they each engage with issues concerning the interaction between science, technology, history, and literature.

Cynthia Selfe’s sibylline observations, questions, and caveats regarding technopower are particularly germane (despite the original publication date nearly thirty years ago) to the perpetual debate concerning the role of technology in the humanities. Selfe raises the ethical implications of computers’ role in English departments; namely, that the decisions concerning access to and the use/purpose of technological resources will largely shape the future of the humanities and, therefore, should reflect departmental values and goals. The increasing proliferation of technology in the humanities establishes technological literacy as a cultural commodity. As Selfe observes, “Power involves control of information as well as access to that information” (65). This, ultimately, led me to wonder: does technology introduce the threat of the corporatization of the humanities?

For me, the most compelling aspect of Moretti’s argument is that it introduces more questions about quantitative literary/historical analysis than it offers solutions. In other words Moretti, whether deliberately or unwittingly, draws attention to the highly-contingent (if not outright ambiguous) factors that quantitative data is predicated upon (i.e. parameters of data sets, terms, criteria for analysis, etc.). Moretti does note the significant distinction between raw data collection versus the act of interpretation: “Quantitative research provides a type of data which is ideally independent of interpretations [. . .] and that is of course also its limit: it provides data, not interpretation” (72). This, in turn, invites us to consider how quantitative research methods impact the hermeneutic aspect of literary studies. Q: Is DH (or at least Moretti’s approach to DH), to some extent, a return to Russian Formalism (i.e. Propp, Shlovsky, Jakobson) and/or structuralist linguistics (i.e. Saussure) aided by technological advancements in computational analysis?

John Unsworth, in part, provides a counterpoint to Moretti’s quantitative approach to literary history insofar as he resituates the argument within an ontological and epistemological framework. According to Unsworth, “doing” digital humanities is “a practice of knowledge representation” predicated upon certain premises (or, “ontological commitments”). As Unsworth points out, we are confronted with the task of “distinguishing between computing in the service of a research agenda framed by the traditional parameters of the humanities, or [. . .] the humanities research agenda itself is framed and formed by what we can do with computers.” The former limits technology to a procrustean, prescriptive function; while, in the latter case, technology has the potential to play an integral role in shaping how we engage with literature and, moreover, allows for novel approaches to literary analysis.

Many of Snow’s claims are indicative of the academic and social climate of the time/place (i.e. Oxford circa 1959) however, they also prompted me to ask: How much has really changed? Although his rhetoric is rife with jingoistic/anglocentric assumptions (i.e. obligation to dominate/nationalistic imperative) reminds us of the audience (“us” and “we”) to which Snow was delivering the lecture.

Despite the persistence of stigmatization amongst the ‘soft’ and ‘hard’ sciences, perhaps collaborative fields such as DH offer an opportunity to reconsider how these two seemingly disparate worlds can work in tandem to produce/generate knowledge; obfuscating the clearly demarcated divide that separates–and thus inhibits– meaningful and constructive innovation and development: both in theory and practice (cf. Dimock’s “Theory of Resonance”). In terms of “doing digital humanities,” this entails considering both how and why we integrate technology with literary studies.

Works Cited

Moretti, Franco. “Graphs, Maps, Trees: Abstract Models for Literary History.” New Left Review

24: Nov/Dec 2003 (67-93). www.newleftreview.org. 28 Aug 2015. Web.

Selfe, Cynthia. “Computers in English Departments: The Rhetoric of Technopower.” ADE

            Bulletin 90 (Fall 1988). MLA. 28 Aug 2015. Web.

Snow, C.P. The Two Cultures and the Scientific Revolution. New York: Cambridge UP, 1961.

Print.

Unsworth, John. “What is Humanities Computing and What is Not?” Charlottesville, VA: U of Virginia P, 2008. http://computerphilologie.uni-muenchen.de/jg02/unsworth.html. 28 Aug 2015. Web.

[1] William Gibson. Pattern Recognition. New York: Penguin, 2003.

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Carlson Post 1: A Millennial’s Reading of Cynthia Selfe

The assigned article by Cynthia Selfe immediately piqued my interest this week due my previous experience working in a college IT department where a large part of my role involved preparing and supplying computers for faculty, administrators, and students. I thought this experience might provide me with some personal insight into the topic of the article — until I realized that the article was published before I was born. This realization made Selfe’s first statement seem a bit ridiculous: “People who say that the last battles of the computer revolution in English departments have been fought and won don’t know what they’re talking about” (63). Of course these people don’t know what they’re talking about; this article was published before the “world wide web” was invented! Hindsight is 20/20, but it’s clear today that the “computer revolution” certainly wasn’t over in 1988.

Once I realized that I would have no personal insight into the happenings in technology and academia in 1988, I found it interesting to be reading this article from the position of a postinternet millennial. For example, by the time I went to college as a student, personal computers were provided to all administrators and faculty, and while most students purchased their own computers, numerous labs were available to all students as well. I’m so enmeshed in contemporary digital media culture that I find it difficult to imagine how an English department would operate in a time before computers or even during this liminal period that Selfe describes where computers are only accessible to some individuals.

Despite the fact that computers are much more available now than in the context of this article, Selfe still offers several relevant points. She identifies the importance of being deliberate with an English department’s use of computers. With all department employees now having access to a computer, it’s still necessary to put careful consideration into how the computers are used within the department, i.e. who has access to what information, which applications/software are supplied by the department, what type of hardware is purchased, etc. The issue of privacy is much more of a hot topic now than it was in 1988, but Selfe seems to have anticipated this issue, stating: “The concept of linking departmental members with an electronic network raises as many problems as it solves . . . preserving individuals’ rights to privacy must be a top priority” (66). Additionally, Selfe brings up the role of computers in power hierarchies, which is still relevant today. For instance, there is still a question of which software should be paid for by an English department. Consider for example a photoshop program (such as Adobe) versus a citation/bibliography processing program (such as EndNote). While Adobe Photoshop may be most useful for administrative employees in the department for marketing and communications, this type of program would be much less useful for faculty who may prefer a program like EndNote for managing their research. Since both applications require paid licenses, power hierarchies would likely come into play when deciding which software would be provided by the department.

Works Cited:

Selfe, Cynthia. “Computers in English Departments: The Rhetoric of Technopower.” ADE Bulletin. 90 (Fall 1988): 63-7. Web.

Is imitation the highest form of flattery? Tucker Blog #1

Until I encountered the Unsworth article, I hadn’t viewed humanities computing as a practice that could be seen as “representation, a form of modeling or…mimicry.” The way I pictured this concept was quite simple, like most of our cultural norms and educational systems we, as a society, have rapidly evolved to center ourselves in the world of digital media. Full courses at universities have lecture series online, you can download digital books, etc. The humanities become digitized and more intertwined with computing seemed like a seamless extension of where our current social media loving society was headed. Perhaps, because I never had a label for this field, I never thought of it as “othering” (for lack of a more precise term). Reading the Unsworth article allowed me to break down how the digital humanities/humanities computing can be viewed, providing a foundation that I desperately needed. Step one, use the computer as a tool for modeling data and our understanding of it. This step seems applicable enough to me–I’ve used corpora to analyze works of literature to help establish a data set for noun to verb usage, identify sentence structures, etc. Unsworth then moves to discussing how DH can be used to identify both masters within the field and charlatans, though this is where the field gets murky for me. I didn’t think (and perhaps still don’t) that there is a way to present a concept within the field of humanities that is absolute; there will always be a gray area, a new way to view a concept, or interpret an event. I also think the humanities are always shifting or building on new knowledge or a new interpretation, so the idea of charlatanism within the field is hard for me to grasp. I supposed there are people out there who do view the world of the humanities as one that is ruled hard and fast, but for the most part, I think what both the sciences and the humanities have in common, is there need to be in constant communication with others in the same field; the strive for human connection. The difference I’m struggling with, however, is that when a set of data is given to a scientist there is (generally) only one way to interpret those results where as when data is collected within the humanities, that’s less likely to occur. I think I’m still struggling, however, with the broad categorization of what is and is not digital humanities. It seems like after reading the Unsworth article, he’s still struggling to really define what fits into this category and what doesn’t and, furthermore, I’m not sure if what he claims fits and does fit are mutually exclusive.

Considering Unsworth’s Conflicting Definitions

Reading John Unsworth’s “What is Humanities Computing What is Not?,” I find myself conflicted by his argument. To claim that humanities computing is “a practice of representation, a form of modeling” as well as “a way of reasoning and a set of ontological commitments” and that it is “shaped by the need for efficient computation on the one hand, and for human communication on the other” seems to be a pretty solid definition—even if a little heavily theoretical. But I take issue with his idea that work “may be computer-based (for example, it may be published on the Web), and it may present very engaging content, but if it doesn’t have a way to be wrong, if one can’t say whether it does or doesn’t work, whether it is or isn’t internally consistent and logically coherent, then it’s something other than humanities computing.” I don’t believe this is the definition of what humanities computing is not, or that this type of work makes one a charlatan.

Given Unsworth’s definition of what HC is, can we really say any work that attempts to be HC/DH isn’t? For instance, I’m using D2L discussion boards as a platform for my students to write, think, and talk about our readings in a digital space. There’s nothing right or wrong about that; internal consistency and logical coherence don’t really apply. But I am modeling scholarly dialogues that participate in reasoning, etc. So, am I participating in DH or am I charlatan?

In my reading, Unsworth’s definitions of “is” and “is not” are not mutually exclusive. He broadly defines HC, but then restricts what qualifies based on what he considers important enough. I would argue instead that not all DH work is equally rigorous—perhaps not even equally important—but if it attempts to be DH, and I don’t really see how it can fail.

Work Cited:

Unsworth, John. 2002. What is Humanities Computing and What is Not? Accessed August 30, 2015. http://computerphilologie.uni-muenchen.de/jg02/unsworth.html.

Underground Technopower: Bridging “the Two Cultures” in Academia

Perhaps it is true that, “Literature changes more slowly than science,” (Snow, 8) [0] but I would argue that poetry is now in a state of evolution, wanting to engage with readers in a way it has typically been unknown for. Contemporary poets and poetry want to allow the universal access and human interaction digital humanities facilitate, “Knowledge representations are also the means by which we express things about the world, the medium of expression and communication in which we tell the machine (and perhaps one another) about the world. […] a medium of expression and communication for use by us,” (John Unsworth)[1].

Traditional notions of these two distinct disciplines imply that science moves towards a positive future, while literature seems to meditate on the past, and the anguish that dwells there. Marrying the two keeps us in the present, as well as the past, while helping us move into the future. Franco Moretti suggests in his article, “Graphs, Maps, and Trees,”[2] that we must step back and look at the big picture through collection and analysis of data to truly get an idea of what is happening in the field of literature. He makes a strong case for the field of Digital Humanities providing us with the ways in which the canon effectively erases literary history. Digital Humanities already appears a large part of the current climate in poetry, from online book reviews, to interactive poetry apps, to personal websites and public forums where important literary conversations are happening between key players and aspiring writers, to mass collections of literary documents and analysis, to the obsolescence of paper submissions to online literary journals , to online recordings of chapbooks whose existences are purely sonic[3]–a collective conversation is happening in the literary world through technological means.

It is clear that C.P. Snow’s The Two Cultures was written in the late 1950s, for I cannot agree that, “There seems then to be no place where the two cultures meet” (16). Snow calls for a “third culture,” one in which these vastly polar disciplines meet. It is my opinion that a large spectrum already exists between the sciences and humanities, by means previously stated. Many books of poetry making art of biology and other sciences are being published as well, demonstrating another facet of this extensive spectrum. Spring Gun Press[4], for example, recently published “Eric Suzanne’s Riding SideSaddle,*[5] a work on 250 interchangeable index cards, that explores the construction of narrative and the authority of the novel form,” breaking down elemental data known of existing narrative and allowing the reader to interactively place cards in particular, selective orders to create new formulas and, consequently, new art–the relationship between analytical data and art is key here. Ian Hatcher[6], a developer who has worked on many literary projects with Spring Gun and other such presses, creates interactive websites[7] and apps, using complicated algorithms and code, allowing users with any educational or non-educational background to create poetry and interact with existing texts off of the page. Pedagogically, we teach young poets a sort of algorithm when writing poems. These teaching methods come from applied use, research, and collected data, highlighting the existing relationship between scientific method and literature of which Moretti emphasizes. When we pull back and see the larger milieu of literature and science, they are hardly distant, and yet, they remain separate in academic culture.

In his article, Hacking the Humanities[8], Elias Muhanna writes, “As I read through pages of perfect mimicry and snarky pastiche, I felt relief. The “two cultures” of the sciences and humanities were not so far apart, after all, or at least could be bridged by the lingua franca of pop culture.” Using a natural-language processing toolkit, one student created a “robot encyclopedist [that] spoke in magnetic poetry phrases, which occasionally yielded uncanny reproductions of Plinian syntax but often fell flat.” Muhanna goes on to say, “There were two things, though, of which I was certain. First, a machine guided by an undergraduate had taught me something new about the expository style of an ancient Roman natural historian. Second, I had to hire Henry.” Muhanna’s reaction is incredible considering what little rules exist when a student turns in a project like this. In my own graduate program, a student was punished by a colleague for creating an algorithm, which generated poems from existing sonnets. The teacher saw this as a form of cheating, or a way to avoid creating original poetry, which perhaps is true. Certainly as teachers and as writers, artists, etc. we are uniformly taught that methods such as these are not viable ways of creating art. But what would our academic landscape look like if students were encouraged to do such things or to follow their natural talents? What if students with more technological, mathematical, and scientific experience were taught to apply these gifts in the humanities?

Many poets have already breached this gap outside of academia, but I cannot help but wonder who got them there or if, as Cynthia Selfe puts it, they came to this medium by their own experimentation and research. Perhaps it is time that academia provide the tools and examples for developing writers and humanists to participate in contemporary conversations via technology between literature and science, or whatever place a student may fall on the existing spectrum.

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Jones Post 1: Computational Research in the Humanities As a “Way Out” of Two Cultures?

After reading this week’s assignments, I wondered if academia could move away from the question of “are the humanities relevant” and Snow’s observations of the “two cultures”? The perception of the “two cultures” positions the humanities and the sciences in opposition, and establishes a one-sided lineage for digital studies. This limiting space constructs the view that the humanities are “the most backward discipline in the academy.”[1] If the two disengaged from perpetuating this theory, would this open up the possibility to validate and verify new information gleaned through digital humanities? Computing competency does not solely belong to the sciences, and understanding how to utilize the languages and tools of computing then acts to speak a language of “navigation and exchange”, which allows new processes for communication and research. [2]

To tackle some of these questions through the scope of the articles, I’d like to take issue with Snow’s term, “pure scientist”[3]. Snow’s lecture, The Two Cultures, outlines perceived cultural misunderstandings in an act of mediation. Yet assigning “purity” to the sciences conjures the image of a “one true heir” and disinherits  the application of computational research across academia. Would redefining “research” alleviate this privilege and show how scientific rigor may exist in digital humanities in comparable form? If scientific rigor includes collaboration, data collection, and analysis, then labs like the Stanford Literary Lab already engage in this work.

The Stanford Literary Lab, which Franco Moretti co-directs, utilizes computational research in order to understand systems of literature. Johns Unsworth’s article advocates using digital computation in order to communicate “not in spite of, but because of” the ways that human understanding has evolved[4]. The Stanford Literary Lab may offer an example of surmounting the “two cultures” struggle by practicing the distant reading of literature through big data. The Stanford Literary Lab “applies computational criticism, in all its forms, to the study of literature” and includes a page where students may highlight their research and findings.[5] These projects include students “reading” thousands of texts and exploring larger ideas about genre, form, and more through compiled data. This involves projects titled:

  • The Taxonomy of Titles in the 18th Century Literary Marketplace
  • Trans-Historical Poetry Project
  • Modeling Dramatic Networks
  • Canon, Archive, Literary History

These projects can be collaborative, and work with other universities to create informational models to test theories. These projects can also tackle other issues by looking at word-usage novels, poems, and even legal documents. What are the advantages to these computational studies? One advantage is the rupturing of the literary cannon, a similarly privileged and difficult-to-access system. In Franco Moretti’s “Conjectures on World Literature”, Moretti advocated for a “WeltLiteratur” by  proposing his theory of distant reading. Moretti planned to look across countries and genres for a more inclusive view of literature. [6] Moretti’s article “Graphs, Maps, and Trees” then reports on the applied technique, with the Stanford Literary Lab executing computation analysis for students as well. As a reader, this highlights how perhaps the “two cultures” argument may require a similar rupture that the literary canon is going under. Instead of focusing on misunderstandings, perhaps the new question for this century should rather be, “how do we make computing competency accessible” towards the ends of research and learning. The future of big data and the digital age has already arrived and it may be feasible (yet still difficult), to create a universal digital fluency for broader communication and understanding across disciplines.

Bibliography

Abrams, Dennis. 2013. “Stanford Literary Lab Applies “Big Data” to Reading.” Publishing Perspectives. Accessed August 30, 2015. http://publishingperspectives.com/2013/06/stanford-literary-lab-applies-big-data-to-reading/.

Moretti, Franco. 2000. “Conjectures on World Literature .” New Left Review 54-68.

Moretti, Franco. 2003. “Graphs, Maps and Trees: Abstract Models for Literary History.” New Left Review 67-93. Accessed August 28, 2015.

Moretti, Franco, and Mark Algee-Hewitt. n.d. Stanford Literary Lab. Accessed August 30, 2015. http://litlab.stanford.edu/.

Snow, C.P. 1998. The Two Cultures. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Unsworth, John. 2002. What is Humanities Computing and What is Not? Accessed August 30, 2015. http://computerphilologie.uni-muenchen.de/jg02/unsworth.html.

Notes:

[1] Abrams, Dennis. 2013. “Stanford Literary Lab Applies “Big Data” to Reading.” Publishing Perspectives. Accessed August 30, 2015. http://publishingperspectives.com/2013/06/stanford-literary-lab-applies-big-data-to-reading/.

[2] Unsworth, John. 2002. What is Humanities Computing and What is Not? Accessed August 30, 2015. http://computerphilologie.uni-muenchen.de/jg02/unsworth.html.

[3] Snow, C.P. 1998. The Two Cultures. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 38.

[4] Unsworth, John. 2002.

[5] Moretti, Franco, and Mark Algee-Hewitt. n.d. Stanford Literary Lab. Accessed August 30, 2015. http://litlab.stanford.edu/.

[6] Moretti, Franco. 2000. “Conjectures on World Literature .” New Left Review 54-68, 54-55.

Archibald Post 1: Social Influence and Cognitive Implications of Digital Media

In 1988, Cynthia Selfe demonstrated remarkable foresight as to burgeoning digital technologies’ momentous academic impact in her ADE Bulletin article “Computers in English Departments: The Rhetoric of Technopower.” Speaking in an age when personal computers could undertake basic data base and word processing functions, and with the Internet’s public release fast approaching, she acknowledges that

“As a profession, [academics] are just learning how to live with computers, just beginning to integrate these machines effectively into writing- and reading-intensive courses, just starting to consider the implications of the multilayered literacy associated with computers. In our departments, we are just beginning to see possibilities for using computers to encourage collaboration and communication among colleagues, to ease secretarial burdens, to support research and publication projects, to make scholarship accessible.” (63)

Whilst Selfe’s focus on issues of physical access to computers within academia has now become largely redundant,[1] her recognition that unequal access to digital information can create hierarchies of “technopower” is still pertinent; for example, specific administrators might be the only department individuals with access to information about faculty salaries, or student funding opportunities, both important sources of technopower in contemporary institutions where research and study opportunities are governed by university budgets. Selfe’s commentary is also particularly appealing due to her call to acknowledge the many facets of the computer revolution’s social impact. Since her article was published, the analysis of digital technologies’ role in academia and society at large has become just as important as its scholarly capabilities, but the social influence of digital technologies in the areas of research methods, publication avenues, pedagogical strategies, and further forms of academic communication could still benefit from increased scrutiny.

I’d like to pick up on an aspect of the digital and the humanities that we couldn’t expect Selfe to highlight in that earlier era of computing. The extraordinary technical advances that we have witnessed since the turn of the millennium demand that we pay attention to the cognitive implications of new media; we now think alongside and through digital technologies, and there is an incredible amount of research focused on this symbiotic relationship. I’m particularly interested in the cognitive effects of digital media usage with regard to student literacy levels. Having just learned what a digital humanities lab is, I’m wondering if such a lab would be an excellent space to explore this issue. Michigan State University’s Digital Humanities & Literary Cognition Lab (DHLC Lab, http://dhlc.cal.msu.edu/) is one such center that would seem the perfect fit. The Lab focuses on tracking the history of cognition and media, and interrogating contemporary knowledge production. It also uses neuroscience technologies such as fMRI and EEG to investigate the literary. Although projects haven’t yet compared student reading habits when engaging with print and digital texts, a future study directly falling into this category is titled “Distraction and Digital Reading: Cognitive Patterns of Attention in Fiction Reading for iPad, Kindle, and Traditional Book.” I’m looking forward to reading the results, which I’m sure will be of interest to a wide audience—literary scholars, high school teachers, tertiary lecturers, and those in the fields of education policy and cognitive sciences. It seems as though the DHLC Lab is rare in it’s fusion of the cognitive and literary fields,[2] and it would be interesting to learn more about its lab culture, specifically the synthesis (and discordances) between its humanities and science concerns – perhaps I’ll be able to conduct an interview with a DHLC Lab member for our later project!

[1] It is now the norm for all tertiary staff and faculty to have a computer in their office (although the latter may be required to provide their own), and all students, staff, and faculty can access campus computer labs.

[2] After a quick Google search, the University of Paris’ Laboratoire Paragraphe is the only other research laboratory that I could find with a similar interdisciplinary focus.

Works Cited:

Selfe, Cynthia. “Computers in English Departments: The Rhetoric of Technopower.” ADE Bulletin. 90 (Fall 1988): 63-7. Web.

Gilmer Post 1: “Applied” Humanities

While reading C.P. Snow’s “The Two Cultures” (1959), I found myself laughing along: as someone who eschews Kindles to paperbound books, I certainly qualify as one of Snow’s “natural Luddites” (23). I also winced when he identified the source of disgruntlement felt by humanities scholars: “young scientists know […] they’ll get a comfortable job, while their contemporaries and counterparts in English and History will be lucky to earn 60 per cent as much.” Ouch! Snow’s got me pinned. I thought back to a recent conversation I’d had with my friend, Davis, a medical engineering graduate student at CU. Davis laughs when I talk about maintaining a 4.0, claiming that he “scrapes by with a B average.” Imagine my feeling of insult when he graduated last winter, landing a high-paying job in his field within days.

At some point, I mentioned to a (non-grad) friend that this disparity was extremely unfair. Why should a B-average scientist earn more/have more job security than a humanities scholar with a near perfect record? The response was quick and defeating: “Well, Jill, Davis designs artificial heart valves. You read books.” Ahh, yes. I’d heard this before. The old debate, and one that Snow also identifies: applied versus pure science. What, after all, do the humanities produce? The sciences are members of the machine, active participants in capitalist production, but the humanities hold themselves staunchly apart: “We [literary scholars] prided ourselves that the science we were doing could not […] have any practical use. The more firmly one could make that claim, the more superior one felt” (34). Snow has, in my opinion, recognized the noose strangling literary scholarship. Our feeling of preserving Art for Art’s Sake, our determination to rage against the Machine, has prevented our field from progressing effectively into the modern world.

I’m sure we’re all familiar with articles like these, which warn incoming college students that English degrees are entirely useless: “As a major, this is the road more traveled by, with not nearly enough writing, teaching, publishing or journalism jobs for all the students who graduate with a yen for the written word. It doesn’t help that many media fields have been upended by the digital revolution.” There it is! Instead of embracing the digital revolution, we have been “upended,” thrown totally for a loop. We’re thought of as a “yen” field, and herein lies the crux of the problem: notions of artistic purity only suffocate an already struggling academic study. To keep this field alive and breathing, we must find a way to bridge the digital gulf and supercede assumptions about our outdated intellectualism.

Bibliography:

Newman, Rick. “The 10 Worst Majors for Finding a Good Job.” Yahoo Finance. Yahoo!, 18 June 2013. Web. 30 Aug. 2015.

Snow, C. P. The Two Cultures and the Scientific Revolution. Print.

Cousins Post 1: Do You Speak Digital?

Apologies for the length – I’m not quite to the “effective synthesis” stage of this subject yet – still sort of splashing around and making a bit of a mess! 

science-vs-humanities

C.P. Snow’s christening of the sciences and humanities as “two cultures” defines the gap between the two fields as one of communication and comprehension, a sort of language barrier that is both answered by and problematized by the development of the “digital humanities” concepts across the rest of the articles.

Snow comments on a “lack of understanding” between the two fields despite their proximity, “as though the scientists spoke nothing but Tibetan” (3). The mutual incomprehension is a sort of “tone-deafness”, an inability to bridge the gap predicated not just on disinterest, but also on lack of training (15).

The dual nature of the digital humanities field seems apt for cultivating that understanding ear. There is a “closing of the gap” in each of the articles—though the terms surrounding the field / practice change as we move from Selfe’s focus on computers (she says the word so much that it started to take on a sort of overly-magical quality; by repetition the importance of the object itself started to seem anachronistic) to Unsworth’s more technical “humanities computing” to Moretti’s “abstract models” (which I am seeing as one example of what digital humanities can do rather than an encompassing model of its technique). Still, each article repeats Snow’s emphasis on the social and his communication-oriented language. Selfe mentions the potential “social impact” of new technologies and looks toward English departments as “social collectives” and “intellectual discourse communities” while acknowledging the current “segmentation of information and communication” (63). Unsworth, too, emphasizes “the need for efficient computation on the one hand, and for human communication on the other” and considers “Knowledge representations…a medium of expression and communication”(1).

At the end of the readings, then, I had formed a picture in my mind of digital humanities as something like a new language or tool as opposed to a particular interest or form of content. The merging of computation and communication also defines the digital humanities as a language / tool that contains its own inherent problems of expression and that can be used for both cooperative and divisive purposes, depending on how one wields it.

In each article, the simultaneously quantitative-practical and interpretive-theoretical natures of ‘computers in English departments’, of humanities computing, and of ‘abstract models for literary history’ create internal questions about the results of digital humanities practices in the larger humanities milieu. For Selfe, it can bring out the best or worst of English scholarship, creating opportunity or reifying problematic hierarchies and power dynamics. For Moretti, “the asymmetry of a quantitative explanandum and a qualitative explanans leaves you often with a perfectly clear problem—and no idea of a solution” (86). Unsworth mentions the possibility that “any efficiency stands opposed in some way to the fullness of expression” (7). The differing natures of the science and humanities that cause cultural barriers in Snow’s article seem to be present in their amalgamation as well.

Discussions of efficiency, then, put a new emphasis on purpose. If digital humanities practices are tools, what are we using them for? Is it as simple as serving Humanities oriented purposes through scientific methods? Or do the purposes change with the adoption of the methods – it seems like the goals themselves are becoming larger in scale, more collaborative, less inwardly oriented (towards both the text and the scholar). Is this symptomatic of using new tools, or is it only that we are only now able to tackle these types of projects because of new resources? Does it matter?

For now, Kirschenbaum’s definition of the digital humanities as “more akin to a common methodological outlook than an investment in any one specific set of texts or even technologies” resonates with me the most—and each of the articles seems to emphasize his further statement that “digital humanities is also a social undertaking.” Because of this, in addition to speaking the language of Digital Humanities, it seems we are tasked with learning to speak about the language itself, write its rules and its uses as if binding it up in a grammar textbook. Is this possible? Useful? Is it only through full immersive practice that we can first become fluent, and then learn to re-articulate what we’ve created?

Schultheis Post 1: Techpower Disparity

During the Q&A following Claire Bond Potter’s keynote address at the 2015 conference Women’s History in the Digital World[1], Potter suggested that resistance to DH may stem from an “intellectually conservative” population. Describing this conservative as an academic who prefers independent research, eschews collaboration, and champions for the continuation of the monograph as the ultimate standard of professional success, she went on underscored one of her address’s key arguments: every academic is responsible for knowing DH. My eye twitched. While the Q&A’s truncated structure allowed for only a cursory glance at such a complex conversation, there it loomed: the binary, requiring that I pledge allegiance to the dreaded conservatives or to radical DH-ers working to disrupt academic hierarchies.

My eye has since stopped twitching, but it wasn’t until reading Cynthia Selfe’s article “Computers in English Departments: The Rhetoric of Technopower” (1988) this week that I felt capable of tackling my initial aversion to the conversation I’ve described. Selfe’s article, despite being written nearly three decades ago, resonates today as she addresses the power dynamics associated with technology. While today these dynamics seem less likely to play out because of limited access to devices, the “darker side” of tech—financial and social costs—are still manifest in academia, and their presence disrupts the conservative-DH binary and makes clear that sometimes those who do not do or know DH are not fuddy-duddy scholars but rather are academics who lack techpower due to limited resources—particularly time (64).   Depending on the institution or moment in an academic’s career, a scholar may not have the disposable time to devote to DH, and as a result, the scholar may not be able to access or understand what Selfe calls the “multilayered literacy associated with computers” (63). In other words, to “speak” tech is to speak powerfully, but this discourse when known by a privileged few tips academia in their favor.

Admittedly, I’m in a DH course and working on DH projects because I recognize the power that comes with being able to connect the stories I tell to people, and since humanities programs should, in part, exist to explore the humanness of our fields and reach outside our academic community, we have to embrace DH or risk not only talking to ourselves but also contributing to the perceived obscurity of humanities programs. Of course, academics should make every effort to embrace DH; after all, it’s likely that we will eventually drop the “D” entirely, and rather than set these methods apart from our research, we’ll simply say, “this is how we do the humanities.” Yet, as Selfe warns, we must also recognize our own privilege and power over the conversations being had and ask ourselves how to mitigate techpower disparity within our communities.

Bibliography

Potter, Claire Bond. “Putting the Humanities in Action: Why We Are All Digital Humanists, and Why That Needs to Be a Feminist Project.” Women’s History in the Digital World. Bryn Mawr College: n.p., 2015.

Selfe, Cynthia. “Computers in English Departments: The Rhetoric of Technopower.” ADE Bulletin. 90 (Fall 1988): 63-7. Web. 29 Aug. 2015.

[1] http://repository.brynmawr.edu/greenfield_conference/2015/Thursday/14/: I’d also note that the context of this address is particularly important. Addressing a room of feminists, Potter rightfully drew attention to DH’s disrupt potential and how feminists should harness that potential to invite more people into our conversations and research.

tips for conducting interviews

I emailed you all some examples of good and bad interviews. Now, thanks to some suggestions by my colleague Darren Wershler, here are two articles for you to read about how best to conduct interviews:

I also wanted to remind you that these interviews should be focused on the individual’s hands-on work in a lab (ideally an arts/humanities lab or one focus on making/creativity) or DH center; the goal is to use the material we read and discuss in class to extend the conversation to people in the field.

DH talk series at CU

Happily, the kind folks in History, IBS, and the Libraries have put together a fantastic line up of Digital Humanities talks this semester. I strongly encourage you to attend as many as you can manage! Even if the topic doesn’t sound interesting to you, it’ll be worth it to hear how each speaker frames their work and thinks about their work in relation to the field in general.

Thu Sept 17, 5 pm, Norlin N410:  “Claiming DH for Undergraduates: Learning, Knowledge Production, & Digital Identity,” Jeffrey McClurken, Department of History, University of Mary Washington

Fri Sept 18, 2-3:30 pm, Norlin E113: Digital pedagogy workshop with Jeffrey McClurken,RSVP to vilja.hulden@colorado.edu by Sept 14

Thu Oct 8, 5 pm, CBIS (Norlin): Simon DeDeo, School of Informatics and Computing, Indiana University Bloomington (no talk title yet)

Mon Oct 19, 5 pm, CBIS (Norlin): “A Computational Morphology of Plot,” Matthew L. Jockers, Department of English,  University of Nebraska Lincoln

Mon Nov 9, 5 pm, Scott Weingart, digital humanities specialist, Carnegie Mellon University (no talk title yet)

Mon Nov 9, 12 noon – 1:30 pm, social networks workshop with Scott Weingart (RSVP to vilja.hulden@colorado.edu) byNov 3.