Author Archives: Jaime Lee Kirtz

Blog Post 10 Kirtz: Just Say Yes


When trying to develop a topic for this week and articulate it properly, I had trouble finding a way to distill my thoughts but ultimately it all comes down to one word: yes. Yes, is the appropriate response for several reasons, and not just because I agree with the majority of the authors but because the implementation of new approaches to thinking through media is so vital to continuing (or rather re-starting) the critical thinking process in the academy. As Ernst states (when brilliantly interviewed by Dr. Emerson), any questions of “teaching of media can not be reduced to lectures and texts only. However complicated the definition of “media” might be, as technological media (the focus of the “Berlin school”) they really exist(ed) and need to be experienced in performative ways” (Archives, Materiality and the “Agency of the Machine”). Media is an object, an experience, a thing (das thing in the Heideggerian sense), that both exists and does not exist for us to interact with. So to this call of sensory interaction I answer: yes.

Further interaction and experience can be conducted in a variety of ways from building or making, to archiving and reading, to assembling and observing old media. Which way is the correct way? Yes. All of these approaches have their merits as witnessed through this week’s readings and throughout the terms. Ernst provides an example through the MAF of the latter experience whereby in laboratory “it required an assembly of past media objects which teachers and students are allowed to operate with and to touch upon – a limit for curators and visitors in most museums of technology” (Archives, Materiality and the “Agency of the Machine”). The value of this approach is in the concept of media archaeology, as “the bias of MAF based teaching is to train students to resist the nostalgic or even melancholic impulse which is normally associated with so-called “dead media”, and to discover the retro-futuristic element instead” (Archives, Materiality and the “Agency of the Machine”). Ersnt argues that this is witnessed through a non-linear relationship between “past and present media technologies” whereby one technology does not simply derive from another but rather there is developmental, recursive tension between them. This circular or networked structure is similar to one we’ve heard all semester, as illustrated through Pickering’s concept of the mangle of practice where the constant tensions of the machine and the human develop each other continually and through Latour and Woolgar’s argument that the social and science drive forward the progress of technology. This productive dichotomy which ultimately creates an altered future reality is perhaps at the essential of media archaeology, which examines the paths that technology could have taken and the future and potentials it holds. In order to understand the potentials, the user must first understand the machine and its implications thus learning about not only its technological design but also its social, political and economic effects. 

The slightly different philosophy of the MAF is that it does not claim to offer unique artefactual collections but rather wants to train and enforce media research (historical and theoretical) which is not reduced to texts but tested against the material evidence,” therefore offering a different approach than centers that focus solely on archival purposes. One center that offers a hybrid of these two approaches in the Digital Humanities Laboratory at the École Polytechnique Fédéralé de Lausanne which studies projects ranging from “from reconstruction ancient cities to studying how algorithms transforms the way we write” (Digital Humanities Laboratory DHLAB). They list the

The chic researchers at EPFL

following as areas of study/groups: Massive Digitization and Long Term Data Preservation, Automatic Transcription and Data Analysis, Knowledge Systems, Historical Geographical Information Systems, Text Mining and Linguistic Computing, Network Analytics, Geometrical Pattern Discovery, Reading and Writing Technologies, Interface and Data Design. Pickering discusses the multiplicity of scientific culture; Ersnt discusses the need for interactivity; Sayers reiterates the requirement of re-framing technology as central component of development rather than the tool. I think that the groups aforementioned exemplify this multiplicity as they not only exhibit the material agency and analysis but the reflection on the instrumentation, and the cultural and social phenomenon around which these projects developed in relation to other DH fields. Some of the groups such as Text Mining and Linguistic Computing offer a more traditional approach, but other groups such as interface and data design and writing technologies support projects that support technology as the object being studied. This is important as Matt Ratto illustrates the problems with materiality and understanding as “our lack of sensitivity to issues of digital rights may be due to our ignorance of our own legal rights and thus our ignorance of how these rights are being technically constrained. However true this might be, our sense is that this issue is related to a deeper disconnect between conceptual understandings of technological objects and our material experiences with them” (253). Again the answer here is yes.

One of the Digital Humanities Lab’s projects and recent publications examined the technology that Google uses to parse linguistic expressions. “This article argues that linguistic capitalism implies not an economy of attention but an economy of expression” (Reading and Writing Technologies). This type of scholarship that examines the technology critically is important, especially since the authors do so not only by observation but through experimentation. Other projects that this group is currently working on includes a “simulation-humaine” or human simulation algorithm that explores narrative building through predictive models (Reading and Writing Technologies). This type of analysis, not purely big data, not purely making, is a hybrid that embodies Ratto’s concepts he proposes with his flwr experiment whereby “instead, through the sharing of results and an ongoing critical analysis of materials, designs, constraints, and outcomes, participants in critical making exercises together perform a practice-based engagement with pragmatic and theoretical issues” (253). As Latour states (quoted by Ratto) “when things are taken has having been well or badly designed then they no longer appear as matters of fact. So as their appearance as matters of fact weakens, their place among the many matters of concern that are at issue is strengthened” (259); therefore ideas and facts around linguistic patterns, computer design, AI, writing technologies, human-computer interaction and linguistic prediction are addressed in this project.

However, what the lab does not have is making in the sense that Sayers imagine it. “Papert emphasizes the use of transitional objects—gears, computers, other physical objects—as a way of connecting the sensorimotor “body knowledge” of a learner to more abstract understandings. Here, he emphasizes that these objects do not just serve to “illustrate” concepts but act as means for projecting oneself into an abstraction” (Ratto 254). Sayers describes the Makers Lab at the University of Victoria in very physical, simplistic terms, wherein students create objects out of kits and circuits that integrate fabric and electronic for example. But is “making” that different from the work at École Polytechnique Fédéralé de Lausanne? “Making electronic music by hand frequently advocates working backwards (or reverse engineering), documenting what works and what doesn’t, and bending electronics toward new expressions. In materials, you also find many self-aware (and often humorous) tutorials, which suggest that technical education need not be bland or decontextualized in its didacticism. It can self-reflexively represent the culture from which it emerges, avoiding both technological instrumentalism and determinism in the process” (Sayers “Make, Not Brand”). Does the human simulation project not fulfill these perimeters? Perhaps it is in the conceptualization of the project and approach rather than the actual act of doing itself that determines whether this shift in understanding occurs. For Sayers and I would argue many of the theorists we’ve read this term, “the key, then, is framing a technology as something that’s central to making art and culture, rather than subordinating it tool-like to a means of mechanical or digital reproduction.” (“Make, Not Brand”)

Kirtz Post 9: CVCE & Posthuman Space


The Centre Virtuel de la Connaissance sur l’Europe is Digital Humanities Lab that is a public based center that partners with the University of Luxembourg as well as national government ministries and national archives and museums. It has multiple projects that examine “European integration,” which interrogates sites such as publications, research data, tools, services, public networks, skills and many other forms of institutionalized and academic knowledge infrastructure (“CVCE”). It also looks toward the sustainability of European fundamentals from economic to environmental models and its integration into global communities (“CVCE”). I decided to focus on this space after looking at ten to fifteen different lab spaces because I wanted to find something that was in conversation with Braidotti. Interestingly this lab osciallates (for me at least) between illustrating between what Braidotti describes and the complete opposite as some projects are very posthumanistic in their approach while others “use the following human-centred methods to assist development projects: interviews and questionnaires with our users, development of static and interactive wireframes, user stories and prototype testing, and short iterative development cycles to produce useful products” (“CVCE”). Therefore I think it is an interesting site of study to consider if we can ever have a posthuman space and what it truly means to be posthuman.


Braidotti states that as through the qualitative shift in humanity’s reasoning that “discourses and representations of the non-human, the inhuman, the antihuman, the inhumane and the posthuman proliferate and overlap in our globalized, technologically mediated societies” (2). Therefore this alters or calls for an alteration of infrastructure at the base level of society. This type of rhetoric is reiterated in the language of the Digital Humanities Lab at the Centre Virtuel de la Connaissance sur l’Europe, which unlike many other Digital Humanities centers is a public based center that partners with the University of Luxembourg as well as national government ministries and national archives and museums. Perhaps because of its unique position in that it is not responsible to university restrictions and protocols this type of digital humanities research illustrates some of the more posthuman aspects that Braidotti discusses. As Braidotti argues the shift to the posthuman displaces the anthrocentrism in Humanities witnessed in the heavy emphasis on the creation and interrogation of infrastructure by the CVCE. However, this is done in relation to the national effects of infrastructure and knowledge production and thus illustrates Braidotti’s optimistic view that this in turn actually “opens up new global, eco-sophical dimensions” (145). For example, the CVCE proposed a new project titled BLIZAAR, which obtains information on the organizations, source documents and researchers involved in academic institutions in Europe (“CVCE to Start BLIZAAR”). This project then uses the humans and their technology as a basis to develop new types of visualizations in order to understand the limitations and possibilities of visualization. There is a connection to Pickering’s mangle through the connection between the influences of the machines and humans, or Latour and Woolgar’s argument about the co-evolvement of the social and the sciences. However perhaps what is different is the level of detail through which this development is applicable. I struggle to see the “newness” of this argument that Braidotti is making and see its reiterative value.


Furthermore this argument of the multiple posthuman future of the multi-versity is potentially reflected in the CVCE. For Braidotti, “a university that looks like the world of today can only be a ‘multi-versity’, is an exploded and expanded institution that will affirm a constructive post-humanity” (184); the CVCE is connected to dozens of organizations, institutions and hundreds of researchers, and accessible online and much of the research is done virtually. I wonder if this is what Braidotti imagines when she talks about the potential of the future. In Braidotti’s argument she states that the university should not function to prepare people for the labour market but “also for its own sake” (185). But what does “for its own sake” mean? How can we achieve knowledge for its own sake if the university always has a corporate interest?

Derek Zoolander Asks Who Am I ZoolanderPerhaps it is through her statement that: “affirmation, not nostalgia, is the road to pursue: not the idealization of philosophical meta-discourse, but the more pragmatic task of self-transformation through humble experimentation” (150). Therefore experimentation could be the variable that defines the posthuman aspect that influences the development of the multi-versity. One of the problems that this experimentation breeds is questions of identity. This has been raised by Alan Liu in his essay in the PMLA in 2013 as well as through Matthew Kirschenbaum. By using experimentation, the humanities are still“epistemologically grounded and consequently they enable the contemporary Humanities to clarify their own methods and mechanisms of knowledge production. However, the very interdisciplinary nature of these new research areas does not facilitate the task of providing a new synthesis of the field. This wealth of approaches therefore re-opens the old question of the generic identity of the Humanities as a discipline” (Braidotti 156). How do questions of identity then explore the problems in the institutional structure? One of the ways in which this centers engages is through the idea of posthuman ethics as it “implies a new way of combining ethical values with the well-being of an enlarged sense of community, which includes one’s territorial or environmental interconnections” (190). Therefore is it through the ethical values and thus resulting communities that the Humanities finds its new identities?

I realize this blog post was very rambly, but this text very much raised more questions than provided more answers.


In preparation for today’s presentation please do the following:

  1. Download and install the Gnuplot program: It is free, open-source and don’t worry about instructions on how to actually use it. We will get to that in class, although if you’d like to play with it do try it!
  2. Please download the instructions PDF and have it for class: Instructions
  3. Make sure you have a basic text/numerical editing program that is NOT Word or Pages. Something like Notepad (for PC users) or Excel will work. OpenOffice Calc will also work.

Post 7 Kirtz: Pickering Presents Practice as a Way to the Posthuman

Pickering Summary

During an informal roundtable with students, Pickering states that the ‘social’ as we know it is not a stable, continuous thing, but changing and influencing other parts of our lives at every moment in a variety of ways. The social does not preempt the networkscientific, in fact “the social along with its many dimensions is continually transformed, and becomes something new in and through scientific and technological practice” (EUSPchannel). This is nowhere more evident than through Pickering’s book The Mangle of Practice: Time, Agency, and Science, which posits that symmetrical relationships through dialectics, such as resistance and accommodation, human and machine, and practice and representation, illustrate the continual tension that drives the world forward. There is no center to these relationships, and instead social interests “co-evolve with the fields of machines and instruments and bodies of knowledge and all of these things become something new in relation to one another all the time” (EUSPchannel). His argument is crystallized in the following:

“I argue that scientific practice is, in general, organized around the making (and breaking) of associations or alignments between multiple cultural elements, and that fact production, in particular, depends on making associations between the heterogeneous realms of machinic performance and representation, in a process that entails the emergent mangling and interactive stabilization of both. Articulated knowledge and machinic performances are reciprocally tuned to one another, I suggest, in a process that involves the artful framing of already captured material agency.” (Kindle Locations 545-549).

Therefore it is not enough to think about the social and scientific influencing each other but instead to insist upon the material agency as a key player as well as the human. The connections to actor-network theory are evident throughout, from the early mention of Latour in the acknowledgments to the semiotic approach that Pickering articulates. The dialectic rises again in this semiotic approach, so deeply embedded with the dualism between metonymy and metaphor, between signifier and signified and thus it is easy to understand how Pickering arrived at his conclusion for his methodology. However, I am already speculative about the possibilities or rather limitations that a semiotic approach confines the social-scientific relationship(s) to. What does defining things (objects), people (humans), and research (knowledge) into categories of abstraction and concrete representation do to the things or people or research that is already silenced or ignored? How does it truncate or perhaps obfuscate things that were hidden, such as gender misrepresentation in STEM or racial bias in DH?

Pickering’s Case Study

Throughout chapters two to four Pickering develops several case studies of scientists to illustrate his concept of the “mangle” of practice. What he describes is the “real-time” of practice (Pickering), which is the “being” there or the “in-it” of science that draws obvious parallels to making or doing of digital humanities. In the case study of Donald Glaser and his use of the Bubble Chamber, Pickering explains the frustrating process through which Glaser had numerous attempts of trying different gases and iterations of the chamber itself (the material) which in turn shaped the goals of Glaser. This ultimately illustrates the resistance and accommodation of the science and social as Glaser’s research was problematized not only by the material constraints but by how the knowledge was produced, circulated, categorized, funded and informed further material and cultural studies.

These connections are highlighted by the discussion on big science and little science that describe the bureaucratic and structural difficulties within institutions. This has been a theme throughout our course and is brought up by many of the other blog posts. It also highlights the connection to both Latour and Woolgar’s Laboratory Life and Brand’s Media Lab, which address the hierarchical structure associated with research. Implicit in these is the anthropocentric focus, as the hierarchical structure places emphasis on certain types of knowledge and credibility, which stem from certain researchers. I’ve been thinking about the posthuman in relation to Pickering’s concept as he develops it. Pickering posits that the posthuman is developed through this “mangle” as a symmetry is evolved through a negotiable relationship between the scientific and the social (human agency and material agency) when through an actor-network type structure. For example, Pickering argues that although Glaser formulates his goals in terms of typical human agency (i.e. wanting to understand knowledge for his own purposes and in human terms), he executes this through material agency (i.e. the tuning of the machine and its feedback); thus “there is, then, a temporal and posthumanist interplay here between the emergence of material agency and the construction of human goals.” How then can the posthuman be articulated? Is this a way to escape the institutionalized hierarchical structures that associate knowledge with specific individuals? How can this be applied to some of the topics we have been thinking about like gender and race or minorities? What about the connection to Hayles’s concept of the posthuman (I’ll address this in my presentation)?



Works Cited

EUSPchannel. “The mangle of practice and the mangle in practice. New studies on the established topic.” Online Video Clip. YouTube. YouTube, 28 Dec 2011. Web. 18 Oct 2015.

Pickering, Andrew.

Post 6 Kirtz: Bills, Bills, Bills The MIT Money Lab

Minimum wage in 1987 in Massachusetts was $3.65 (“State Minimum Wages, 1983-2014”); the M.I.T. Media lab paid students $5.50 (Brand 59), almost exactly 150% more than the minimum wage at the time. However, in comparison to the work students were doing, specifically with the significant amount of corporate funding being donated, this too tells an all too familiar tale of universities using undergraduate researchers for higher level work while simultaneously underpaying them. How many hours a week were these students typically paid for? This question is not answered in Brand’s book. While professors may value the intelligence and initiative of these students as Brand indicates, the actual financial representation of this is not made explicitly clear.

The major themes of the Media Lab involve “communication, empowers the individual, employs computers, and makes a flashy demonstration” (4). The themes of empowerment and flashy demonstration are key as they denote the factors in which secure the funding for the Media Lab as well as its press and outreach programs. These themes are key to Negroponte’s ideology, which has followed him beyond the M.I.T. Media Lab and influenced (I would argue) interdisciplinary and STEM education. Brand lauds Negroponte for wanting to humanize mass media and enabling “everyone” to become a critic or editor (7); however, hasn’t this already happened via virtue of the Internet and its applications and tools (part of mass new media)? Secondly, I find that Negroponte often conflates access with ability, as while these technologies theoretically could be accessible to everyone, not everyone will have the ability to use them due to education, socio-economic status and corporate intervention. This is the main reason that Negroponte’s One Laptop for Every Child failed miserably. Without the proper infrastructure to support technology (teachers to educate, education for the teachers, etc) AND the dialogue to consistently question its use and application via those interacting with it initiatives such as those Negroponte point too often only work in the M.I.T. Media Lab. I wonder how this problem might be addressed through new types of labs? One suggestion might be through the introduction of problems from grassroot campaigns rather than corporations.

Within the first four pages of the book specific numbers for sponsorship is already mentioned ($200,000 and above is preferred) (4). “Professors are not only permitted but encouraged to devote up to 20 percent of their time— “a day a week,” as they say— to outside consulting and other profitable business interests such as starting companies” (6). As Brand illustrates, the M.I.T. Lab is as much of a place of innovation as it is a hub of neoliberal incubation that spawns technological based companies, thus perpetuating and supporting capitalist ideologies. Brand describes a presentation that Minsky gives to Apple corporation vice presidents about a program, the Vivarium, for young students to learn cognitive thinking skills (101). In this presentation Minsky makes a troubling comment: “You’d hate to be away from your Vivarium because you might miss something,” describing an essential element of modern marketing (Brand 101). Brand hints at this through mentioning the language which the Vivarium will be built will run on constraints rather than opportunities, thus illuminating the intrusion of corporate interventions (101). This is also present in the very day-to-day functions of the lab as “I could always tell when a sponsor visit was scheduled. Implicated researchers were in ties and slacks instead of the customary native garb of running shoes and jeans” (57).

The relationship between corporations and the M.I.T. Media Lab is explained in the following quote: “The corporate sponsors have to figure out how to capitalize on its inventions. For their money they get a five-year key to the lab. None of the work is proprietary. Sponsors can wander around and ask questions about the different projects” (Brand 156). While most of the questions Brand asks focus on competition and exclusivity, there is one issue briefly addressed that has roots in a large debate today, namely open source/access to software and technology. For example, regarding the hologram work, “all the work done is public, but GM gets the license to use the technology developed under the grant” (Brand 158). If Negroponte is truly advocating for advance and accessibility then shouldn’t software be made open access? What happens to technological innovation through accessibility i.e. open source if it is already tied to corporate accounts? What about the projects without corporate sponsors, do they get equal amounts of attention?

Small aside on Otherness:

Was anyone else bothered by the portrayal of Otherness in this book? Particularly the sections when Japanese investors were mentioned? Brand uses a very stereotypical portrayal of Japanese culture and businessmen to configure the dichotomy between research interests and funding sources as “in Japan, expectably, the topic is of intense popular interest, sometimes reported under headlines with a thrilling futuristic word in compressed English: “ newmedia. ” Japanese prosperity thrives on it, and it brings Japanese sponsors to the Media Lab by the dozen” (19). The exoticization or need to illustrate how Japanese configure the word for this type of research within our own Anglophone, Western hegemonic view seems purposeful to me, as if to illustrate the superiority of M.I.T.’s innovation and reinforce traditional, colonial, Western dominance.

Small aside on pictures:

g1_u35435_Nicholas_negroponteDid anyone else notice there were very little pictures of the lab and always pictures of people? Perhaps this was to emphasis individuality over mass but I think this also illustrates the (white) male hegemonic dominance, which to a major extent is still an issue in this area. First, I wonder why the author made this choice to only take these very stoic pictures of these professors? Secondly, where are these undergraduates that are supposedly the ones changing technology? Why aren’t their pictures taken? Lastly, why is there no pictures of the actual lab space until the middle of the book (page 162 in my edition)?

Works Cited

Brand, Stewart. “Media Lab: Inventing the Future at M.I.T.” New York: Penguin Books, 1987. Print.

“State Minimum Wages, 1983-2014.” Tax Policy Center. Urban Institute and Brooklyn Institute. 2014. Web. 11 Oct 2015.

DH Tools

I thought I’d share some tools for DH building since it seems like so many of us seem interested.

This website is pretty much the best:

This is also an open source graphing program:

Here is project blacklight:

This is Hathitrust’s algorithm generator site:

Post 5 Kirtz: The Power Structures in Labs and their Narratives

Woolgar and Latour briefly discuss the incident regarding Dame Jocelyn Bell and her then-supervisor Dr. Hewish. In 1967, as the authors note, Bell detected the “scruff” which ultimately was the detection of the first radio waves or pulse from a neutron star, i.e. the pulsar (33). However one of the largest controversies associated with this discovery (widely known in Physics) is not addressed, namely that Bell was not given the Nobel prize for her discovery while her supervisor Dr. Hewish was awarded one in 1974 for contributions to Radio Astronomy on Pulsar detection (“Jocelyn Bell Burnell”). Many physicists were outraged that her supervisor essentially took credit for the work Bell had completed over the two to three years she worked with the Cambridge group, including tasks such as building the radio telescope, monitoring data, interpreting data, detecting the first pulsar and correctly identifying it (“Jocelyn Bell Burnell”). Why this story is important to Latour’s and Woolgar’s thesis is because it illustrates how the social informs the process of scientific knowledge formation and circulation. As they state, “our discussion concerns the social construction of scientific facts” (32) and part of the social construction results from the structures the constitute the way evidence or data is collected, interpreted and presented to audiences.

What is inherent throughout this story is the social and political hierarchies within the institution. Bell could not receive credit for the discovery as she was only a graduate student; Dr. Hewish had more cultural value or capital and thus greater agency. This is reflected in the laboratory and its politics described throughout the book seen through the observation that although the technicians visit the doctors in the lab, the doctors do not spend their time with the technicians (45). As the map the authors provide illustrates there are differences between areas A and B which reinforce these divisions and hierarchies. The papers which occupy space in the chemical lab portion (A) serve to support the hypothesis or ideas drawn by the doctors in the B space (47). The material manifestation of this emphases that redundancy breeds certainty and that certain jobs like “thinking” are valued over others like “doing.” This therefore produces certain types of knowledge that creates the category of scientific and in turn these categories structure further relations between individuals. This is witnessed in the interaction between two fellow researchers when one has to ask the other for peptides, but cannot do so without using rhetoric to illustrate dominance and the importance of his work in order to establish the worthiness of his request, without specifically stating a request (157). Thus, “epistemological or evaluative formulations of scientific activity are being made to do the work of social negotiation,” illustrating that the social and the scientific are not two things but originating from the same space (157). In thinking about practical applications of this how does this change in a space like a hackerspace? Is it possible for these hierarchies to evolve through modern lab spaces in humanities?

Furthermore, I believe this type of analysis illustrates the fallacies in thinking this way about knowledge production which lead to situations such as the one involving Bell. For example, Latour and Woolgar discuss that many scientists  construct or rely on a “discovery” narrative that describes a moment or thought that sparked their discovery, thus making their research a phenomenon rather than the ordinary drudgery described through most of the book (169). This narrative is evident throughout most fields of science and has inculcated culture from phrases like “Eureka!” to the story of Alexander Graham Bell’s first telephone call. These narratives also serve to reflect the biases and hierarchies in scientific research which develop through the concept of autonomous research, individual intelligence (rather than collective), and ephemeral discovery (rather than over long periods of time). Even the story involving Dr. Hewish and Bell is implicated in this type of narrative, whereby Dr. Hewish noticed Bell’s observations that there were aberrant results. How do we desensationalize science? Why are narratives so important to science?

Works Cited

“Jocelyn Bell Burnett.” Contributions of 20th Century Women to Physics. UCLA, 30 Apr 1997. Web. 5 Oct 2015.

Latour, Bruno and Steve Woolgar. Laboratory Life: The Construction of Scientific Facts. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1986. Print

DH + Dissertations

Following our conversation I thought this was interesting. I just received this email for the upcoming MLA conference about DH and taking action. It’s an interesting read, especially since it is about dissertations and creating/doing/making as well as theorizing.

We are very pleased to announce our second DHSI@MLA offering, “Digital Humanities (DH) and / in the Dissertation,” at MLA 2016 in Austin, Texas. This session is geared toward those working on dissertations currently or in the future, those who supervise or review dissertations, and those interested in the intersections between the digital humanities and graduate studies more broadly. We welcome (and are ourselves) participants from all career stages, including students, librarians, staff, researchers, faculty members, and others. Please join us for what is sure to be an exciting session!

Digital Humanities (DH) and/in the Dissertation

MLA 2016, Session 1
Thursday January 7th, 8.30am-11.30amPlease note that all registrations are handled through the MLA conference site.

Sponsored by the Digital Humanities Summer Institute, the Public Knowledge Project, the Maker Lab in the Humanities, the Electronic Textual Cultures Lab, and the Implementing New Knowledge Environments project, this workshop offers participants both theoretical and hands-on considerations of a number of innovative ways in which the Digital Humanities (DH) can affect, reflect, or otherwise shape the PhD dissertation. The session is structured around an opening talk, two sessions of breakout groups (some seminar, some hands on), and group discussion as follows: Alyssa Arbuckle (U Victoria) and Liz Grumbach (TAMU), “Ctrl+Alt+Diss,” Melissa Dalgleish (York U) and Daniel Powell (King’s College London, U Victoria), “Beyond the Protomonograph: Digital Models for the Dissertation,” Laura Estill (TAMU), “DH After the Dissertation: Digital Humanities Postdoctoral Fellowships,” Brian Owen (Simon Fraser U Library, Public Knowledge Project), “On-Campus Spaces and Services for Digital Dissertation Work,” Jentery Sayers (U Victoria), “Versioning Your Dissertation with Git,” Lynne Siemens (U Victoria), ““Project Management for Graduate Students and Early Career Scholars.”

We are exceptionally pleased to be working with the MLA Office of Scholarly Communication on this workshop.


  1. 8.30-9.10: Welcome, Brief Opening Talks
  2. 9.15-10.00: Breakout Session 1
  3. 10.15-11.00: Breakout Session 2 (a repeat, so attendees can engage two topics)
  4. 11.10-11.30: Wrap-up and Full Group Discussion

Breakout sessions:

  1. Ctrl+Alt+Diss (Alyssa Arbuckle & Liz Grumbach): How are scholarly communication practices changing? What implications does the current trend toward social knowledge creation have for more traditional academic pursuits, like the dissertation? How is scholarly output transforming in the digital world, and what does that mean for current and future dissertators? We will explore these topics within the broader digital humanities realm, as well as consider alternatives to traditional academic practices and trajectories. This workshop is geared toward undergraduate and graduate students, alt-ac practitioners and those curious about the alt-ac track, as well as individuals interested in digital scholarly communication and social knowledge creation in general.
  2. Beyond the Protomonograph: Digital Models for the Dissertation (Melissa Dalgliesh & Daniel Powell): This session is designed to provide an overview of current activity in the field of digital dissertations in humanities contexts. We will provide numerous examples of such projects, with the aim of illustrating how advanced graduate students are creating PhD capstone projects that effectively integrate digital technologies generally, and the digital humanities more specifically. The first part of this workshop will highlight between three and five projects currently in progress or recently completed, including: a dissertation project published as a constantly evolving blog; a multimedia dissertation project integrating text, video, and sound; and different projects integrating social media like Twitter, network visualisations, or geolocation. The second part of the workshop will encourage participants to consider and actively talk through the logistical, administrative, and infrastructural issues that such dissertations prompt for university administrations, students pursuing digital projects, and for those in mentorship and supervisory positions.
  3. DH after the Dissertation: Digital Humanities Postdoctoral Fellowships (Laura Estill): While many of us want digital skills, it seems that the best time to have learned them was always yesterday … or tomorrow. This workshop considers the benefits and challenges of learning digital humanities skills during a postdoctoral fellowship. We will discuss the different kinds of digital humanities postdocs (project-driven; teaching-oriented; research-focused), what you can expect, where to find them, and how to apply. We will talk about how to get the technological skills and support you need to complete your projects, how to manage your time, and how to position yourself on the job market. This session will be of value for doctoral students, faculty considering hiring a DH postdoc, and veteran postdocs and advisors.
  4. On-Campus Spaces and Services for Digital Dissertation Work (Brian Owen): Libraries have long been spaces for traditional, print-based academic work, including the PhD thesis. But how are libraries evolving to support or intersect with digital humanities research? How does the development of the research commons reflect the need for alternative approaches to learning and scholarship in the digital age? This workshop will grapple with these topics, as well as explore the research commons at Simon Fraser University (SFU) Library in Burnaby, British Columbia, as an exemplar. The SFU Library’s Research Commons opened in 2014 and supports the research endeavours of the university community, with particular focus on graduate students during all stages of the research lifecycle–ideas, partners, proposal writing, research process, and publication–and provides easy access to both physical and virtual research resources.
  5. Versioning Your Dissertation with Git (Jentery Sayers): Git and GitHub allow people to track changes made to a given project and, in so doing, produce a detailed revision history. In this workshop, participants will learn the basics of Git and GitHub, with an emphasis on how they can be used to archive, track, version, and even share changes to a dissertation. They will also discuss GitHub as a component in the publication process.
  6. Project Management for Graduate Students and Early Career Scholars (Lynne Siemens): Project management skills are increasingly in demand for graduate students, early career scholars and alternative academics. This offering will cover the basics of project management from project definition to project review upon completion, including management of resources, time, tasks, and budget, risk assessment and mitigation, software tools and related internet resources and other topics. Material will be covered through lectures, discussions, and case studies.

Post 4 Kirtz: In is the New Out or is Out the New In?/ HUMlab Specific.

Initial Reactions

Perhaps I am writing this due to the face that I am siting in a coffee shop, eating a croissant, and listening to Quebecois artists Arcade Fire, reminding me of the past several years I spent in Montreal. During this time there was heavy unrest between the schools, students and educators resulting with over 185,000 students “striking” over rising education costs as well as the bureaucracy and lack of proper infrastructure present in the Canadian higher education system. But perhaps it’s also because throughout all the articles, this sense of uneasiness permeated. Many that associate with digital humanities are dissatisfied with the institutional structure; however their approaches are problematized by their very compliance to exist within the university system itself. As Matthew Kirschenbaum so succinctly states scholars within the digital humanities or “”DHers are themselves solutionists, pretenders who arrive to fix the ills of the present-day academy with tools, apps, and the rhetorical equivalent of TED talks, all driven by a naïve (and duplicitous) agenda that has its roots if not (yet) in an IPO then in the academic currency of jobs, funding, and tenure” (8). Within the student movement in Quebec it was reported as an issue with tuition that had students unified. As someone who was “on the ground” I can tell you it was much more complex than that. There was a sense of frustration with university administrators who spent more money on a  Lexus car directly from the university budget than on an entire department’s funding. But students still wanted to learn, and classes were unofficially held in bars and coffee shops providing alternative means to education. Furthermore the strike resulted from months of tension and ultimately students realized that they could not fix their problems within the university. Does DH suffer the same fate? Can it exist within the university and still be resistant? Secondly, are we hypocrites for using DH within the university?


As illuminated in the previous paragraph, the tension between inside and outside, between corporation and freedom is something that troubles all of this week’s authors. Ramsay describes the complexities associated with using technology for subversive means that originates from corporations, such as infrastructure stemming from Google or Apple (“Why I’m In It”). In Emerson’s book, Reading Writing Interfaces: From the Digital to the Bookbound, she describes the controlling mechanisms of the Apple app store and the limitations it places on subversive art projects. Some projects do “push back” against the means of production, such as Jorg Piringer’s abcdefghijklmopqrstuwxyz which allows the user to “flick any or all letters of the alphabet onto a simulated white canvas” (Emerson). This subverts the reader’s typical expectations of poetry and sound/visual experience of language on an iPad; however it still functions within Apple’s sanctions. Many other projects have had to find homes outside of the institutional boundaries due to strict regulations. This type of desire to be accessible through highly visible technology, such as iPad, yet deeply rooted issues with the commodification of aesthetics and labour that it encourages is emergent in the trends of DH’s social media. Kirschenbaum too addresses this, as well as the associated problem of access: while DH claims or wants to be accessible though using publically visible sites such as Twitter, only through following the right scholars and threads is access to the discussion available (6).

What to do?

Svensson argues for an infrastructure that serves both the needs of research and education; he also calls for a global and local initiative  (345). As Ramsay states a DIY type of initative is needed, embodied in the statement: “Frustrated with business-as-usual in university press publishing? Let’s create new ways to do it” (“Why I’m In It”). But building from nothing is a tall order, and while requiring some material form of infrastructure, Svensson notes the tendency to adopt existing structures from engineering and sciences; for example, infrastructures that support big data (346). However, Ramsay would argue (and I would agree) that we should make our own tools, databases and infrastructure that is uniquely attuned to the needs of the project or humanities field.  Svensson suggests using the “humanistiscope” to think of how this type of infrastructure could be created, ultimately designing infrastructures for humanities needs and challenges (349).


The HUMlab is a creative space at Umeå University that encourages artistic investigation as well as scholarly research in “fields such as interactive architecture, religious rituals in online environments, 3D modelling, the study of movement and flow in physical and digital spaces through using game technology, geographical information systems, and making cultural heritage accessible through interpretative tool sets” (“About”). In looking through the current and completed projects page, the space acts through enabling these different projects by providing technology, infrastructure and physical space to display as well as research funding and opportunities. An example I found that addressed the call for DH to produce its own infrastructure was in the “Digital Rock Carvings” project, which digitized rock carvings and other archaeological data from Nämforsen and created an accessible database tailored to the needs of the archaeological findings (“Digital Rock Carvings”). This database isn’t organized by chronological development but rather uses the characteristics of the digital, in particular the medium of web based platforms, to create an adaptable model for interaction. For example, in order to find a specific carving users can search by subject matter (what), location (where), print type (how) and even slope direction as well as combinations of these factors (“Rock Carvings at Nämforsen”). Rather than using a preset database that organizes images by date and time, as is used by many library and engineering factions, building infrastructure for the specific needs of the digital humanities allows for a more interactive and ultimately pedagogically grounded approach.

Part of this approach derives from the lab’s thoughts on digital humanities as the webpage states that the “digital humanities is what is between humanities and the digital. The digital is a tool, study object and medium” (“Frequently Asked Questions”). By engaging with the digital humanities as a tool through web based platforms as new development and study object, i.e. understanding how the digitization of the rock carving are affecting the viewers as well as addressing the restrictions and potential of the medium this approach utilizing and perhaps confronts the tensions aforementioned.

HUMlab hosts a research project on the Virgin Mary, as Svensson mentions in his article, as well as “building new infrastructure by using “Facetted Browsing”, for example. This is a platform for complex research data, such as environmental archaeological data and demographic data, developed at the lab” (“Research at HUMlab”). The HUMlab is also home to another important project that questions technology and infrastructure, the Media Spaces project, which looks at screens and the spaces of interactions between the physical and digital. Som questions asked of the section on screens are: “ How can screens be used as construction materials? How do they affect human communication? How do people interact with screens? How can we understand this emergence in historical terms?” (“Screenscapes”) “Screens are in some ways an interface to a computationally inflected world. They hold historical, material and cultural significance (just consider windows, paintings or medieval churches, or the number of computer and mobile screens used in cafés). Screens can also be integrated with various kinds of interaction technology.” (“Frequently Asked Questions”)  This approach again exemplifies that by looking at the digital as a tool, study object and medium, the tensions between the outside and inside of the academy can be negated in certain sense as the HUMlab reaches past the confines of the typical institution.

Works Cited

“About.” HUMlab. Umeå University, n.d. Web. 26 Sept 2015.

“Digital Rock Carvings.” HUMlab. Umeå University, n.d. Web. 26 Sept 2015.

Emerson, Lori. Reading Writing Interfaces: From the Digital to the Bookbound. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 2014. Kindle AZW File.

“Frequently Asked Questions.” HUMlab. Umeå University, n.d. Web. 26 Sept 2015.

Kirschenbaum, Matthew. “What Is “Digital Humanities” and Why Are They Saying Such Terrible Things about It?” differences (2014): 1-17. Web. 25 Sept 2015.

Ramsay, Stephen. “Why I’m In It.” Sitewide ATOM. N.p., n.d. Web. 26 Sept. 2015.

“Research at HUMlab.” HUMlab. Umeå University, n.d. Web. 26 Sept 2015.

“Screenscapes.” HUMlab. Umeå University, n.d. Web. 26 Sept 2015.

Svensson, Patrik. “The Humanistiscope—Exploring the Situatedness of Humanities Infrastructure.” Between Humanities and the Digital. Ed. Patrik Svensson and David Theo Goldberg. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2015. 337-353. Print.

Roopika Risam

Here is to the link to Risam’s lecture about C.P. Snow’s Two Cultures and Digital Humanities:

Furthermore here is a course she offers on De/Post/Digital Humanities:

Post 3 Kirtz: DH Centers & Commodification (MITH Specific)

Alan Liu raises an essential point regarding the lack of cultural criticism in the digital humanities, particularly “how the digital humanities advances, channels or resists today’s great postindustrial, neoliberal, corporate and global flows of information-cum-capital” (2013). This is especially pertinent through the recent commodification of digital humanities spaces wherein digital humanities centers are becoming popular resources for universities and offer a chance for institutions to lay claim to a particular type of work. For example, the Stanford Literary Lab/Humanities Center is recognized for big data studies involving literature, while the University of Chicago has devoted resources to preservation projects and museum studies, as well as creating a masters in digital humanities. Centers began appearing in the early 1990s and have produced important theoretical and practical tools and applications as well as providing opportunities for graduate students and professors to interact (Fraistat, 2013); however, with the rise of neoliberalism is the commodification and quantification of space, people and research. As Fraistat claims, these centers present spaces for current research but also future models of what institutional learning could look like (2013). How then, can we change the future, or will it these supposedly alternative spaces become corporate features much like the rest of the university labs? The competitive aspect of these centers detracts from their purpose by isolating researchers, although some efforts have been made to connect scholars through initiatives such as centerNet (Fraistat, 2013). These centers establish themselves through their researchers’ cultural capital, which transfer certain forms of knowledge and connote various statements about status. This in turn illustrates the institutional biases inherent in forming centers, even though they are for the purpose for researching alternative methods. Ultimately this results in a kind of academic catch twenty two.

This problem of academic institutionalization and power dynamics is witnessed through the development of these centers. As Fraistat describes, MITH began with one director and two graduate assistants, but also with a large grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, which brought together the College of Arts and Humanities and the Office of Information Technology at the university (2013). This exemplifies the formation of subculture around capital, as Bourdieu speculates that with mobility, economic capital is transferred into cultural capital and vice versa (1986). In thinking about the exchange of capital or “value” in a Marxian sense, the objectification of these spaces is present at their very inception. Further many of the projects involve digitizing important texts and scrolls, borrowed from the Library of Congress or the Smithsonian, highlighting the objectification of cultural capital. The focus on goods and tools, particularly on their economic value as rare through the drive to preserve, highlights the mobility and power of the center due to its cultural capital. Interestingly, Julia Flander’s article focuses on how the university requires quantifiable work specifically in digital humanities environments in order to justify spending. Thus not only is the space objectified but the people within these spaces are too. They are (to borrow from Marx) alienated from their own work through the constant need to quantify their research and by unique specialization.

The commodification of space

The commodification of space

These centers also blur the line between traditional academic work and the “alt-ac” work described in the Flander’s article. The MITH embodies preservation seen through the Deena Larsen Collection, which is an archive of personal computers and software, as well as the Preserving Virtual Worlds Group that seeks preserve computer games, personal software and other computer related artifacts (Fraistat, 2013). This emphasis on alternative elements of study illustrates both the potential positives and fallacies of digital humanities as William Pannapacker notes the growing significance of the digital humanities, and the backlash of its imminent prevalence (2013). Furthermore he discusses the digital humanities as a space that “has included so many alt-academics who felt disrespected by the traditional academy” (2013). In Debates in Digital Humanities this problem is left unresolved, very much in the hands of the new generation.

The MITH is now an established center that is no longer entirely marginal as it receives funding and recognition within certain academic spheres. There are digital humanities communities and locations that exist outside the institution although these are not as widely populated. Hebdige describes power relations as the following: “some groups have more say, more opportunity to make the rules, to organize meaning, while others are less favorably placed, have less power to produce and impose their definitions of the world on the world” (1979, p.14). Those within institutions have the cultural, symbolic and economic capital to make rules and organize meaning, specifically in regards to defining digital humanities. Yet, there is no standardized test or evaluation system for measuring all intellectual activities and these activities have so far been defined only by already so-called intellectuals within social structure (Bensaïd, 2013). However, that does not preclude intellectual activity from existing outside the bounds of the institution (Bensaïd, 2013). Therefore is the only non-commodified space for digital humanities outside of the institution? How do we negotiate the socio-economic politics of digital humanities within the institution?


Bensaïd, D. (2012, Jan 20). “Pierre Bourdieu, l’intellectuel et le politique.” [Re-print of 2002 Editorial]

Retrieved from

Bourdieu, P. (1986). “The Forms of Capital.” In J. Richardson. (ed.), Handbook of Theory and Research for the Sociological Education (241-258). New York, NY: Greenwood.

Flanders, J. (2013). “Time, Labor, and ‘Alternative Careers’ in Digital Humanities Knowledge Work.” In Debates in Digital Humanities, edited by M. Gold. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Fraistat, N. (2012). “The Function of Digital Humanities Centers at the Present Time.” In Debates in Digital Humanities, edited by M. Gold. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Hebdige, D. (1979). Subculture: The Meaning of Style. New York, NY: Methuen & CO.

Liu, A. (2012). “Where is Cultural Criticism in the Digital Humanities?” In Debates in Digital Humanities, edited by M. Gold. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Pannapacker, W. (2013). “Digital Humanities Triumphant?” In Debates in Digital Humanities, edited by M. Gold. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.