Author Archives: rjones2155

Jones Post 10: Lab Spaces

The various spaces of labs carry with them various implications and capabilities. In this regard, I’m mainly focusing on how “making” takes place based on the material and online infrastructures and interfaces of a DH lab. This train of thought was prompted by work like Jentery Sayers who articulates in his articles how the physical interactions in his labs lead to better material inquiries into older technologies. This made me think about the progression of our own class, along with the what we have been reading, and the implications or capacities of each lab space.

In the beginning of class, we spoke about humanities computing, and the digitizing of literature. I’ll preface that my interest in this online, or “non-physical” space of the “immaterial” lab is not to take away from the material assemblages that make computers, the internet and online communication possible. Instead I’m using the term “non-physical” superficially to think through the differences or similarities­ between computing as digitizing laboratory work versus makerspaces engaging with material technology objects. This is also not to ignore how these labs spaces can become hybrid spaces of material pursuit and online colloboration with members discussing projects in person or over platforms like Skype. Instead this is to acknowledge how some labs may have less physical interactions or material goals when digitizing, scanning, visualizing or representing data. This type of DH work can take place through non-physical collaborative spaces, and in some of the DH labs present today, still do. For the CATH lab, Professor Radcliffe explained that the CATH lab was a collective of collaborators, and not necessarily a space where people met. This type of non-physical lab can allow for various collaborations over the vast space of the internet (over cables and through servers!), while also taking place in non-lab spaces. Communication is digital, but it is not necessarily restricted by proximity. This space was expanded through the making of digital DH work and expanded through the use of technology. This expansion was not only about digital collection and interpretation, but also about creating digital work.

From this image of the lab space, we then learned about the makerspace and the media archaeology lab. In these “physical” spaces the material object of technology became a prime source of inquiry. These lab spaces allow for experiential learning as the material object becomes a new space for scholarly research. I was very fascinated by Sayer’s article “The Relevance of Remaking”, and all of the matters that Sayers attends to. I felt that Sayer gave more insight into the Parikka and Ernst readings from previous weeks. Those readings at first appeared to be about dissecting the material from the human in order to remove the material history from its cultural position. Sayer’s article shows that material research can be about “what isn’t at hand, or what we don’t know, or what we’re willing to conjecture. In this sense it borrows heavily from traditions in cultural criticism.” In this sense, research becomes imaginative, reconstructive, and somewhat immaterial. These questions raised by Sayers seemed to have very fascinating results. Here, Sayers details how processes or interfaces with “’dead’ or ‘obsolete’ technology in the MLab […] assert themselves.” In this example, Sayers and his team can “reframe normative histories of science, engineering, and technology that typically privilege the perspective of the lone white male inventor.” From Sayer’s article, I see how investigating material objects can situate technology in a wider historical narrative. In these examples, the makerspace appears to be a physical space for testing and handling cultural critiques and analysis in some very interesting avenues with critique informing material processes.

In Sayer’s work, this cultural handling is enacted through a community of collaborators who want to test both the technology and the user interfaces. This had echoes to Matt Ratto’s “Critical Making: Conceptual and Material Studies in Technology and Social Life”, because the makerspace seems to resist on some levels essentializing and removing the relationship of technology and culture. Instead, it is work that engages both the material and the community in order to dissect how the two interact in processes: “in its focus on the constructive process as the site for analysis.” In Professor Emerson’s interview with Wolfgang Ernst, Ernst appears to paint this also as a work of re-configuring or “re-assembl[ing]” in order to excavate: “Taking machinic elements apart in order to try to reanimate their function is a way of media analysis in the strict sense: not restricted to textual interpretation but to diagramatic reading of circuit plans and material hermeneutics (media-archaeological philology).” This requires a re-working or resisting of the perceived dualism between human and technology, and instead encourages a type of collaboration with materiality in order to try and rediscover functionality in a physical space.

With all of these considerations, it appears that many lab spaces are trying to resist dominant functions of technology as a hidden process of output and efficiency. Working with “obsolete” or “dead” technology is re-envisioning history and various interfaces. Working with technology is acquainting researchers with the material spaces where technology and humans collaborate towards various goals. In some ways, provides further ways to see how there really are no “non-physical” labs, but I make this tenuous distinction to explore the various facets of the different types of work. The lab that I’ll be focusing on for the class discussion is a lab that focuses on digitizing work. The lab, the Digital Innovation Lab at UNC at Chapel Hill works on mapping projects, visual tours, and recovering narratives in history. I hope that in tomorrow’s discussion we can use this lab, along with Sayers’s labs and all of the other labs we’ve delved into in order to discuss the capabilities, differences, similarities, and implications of the varying material and digital work in DH labs.


Works Cited:

Ernst, Wolfgang, interview by Lori Emerson. 2013. Archives, Materiality and the “Agency of the Machine”: An Interview with Wolfgang Ernst (February 8). Accessed November 28, 2015.

Hertz, Garnet and Jussi Parikka. “Zombie Media: Circuit Bending Media Archaeology into an Art Method.” Leonardo 45.5 (2012): 424-30. Print.

Ratto, Matt. “Critical Making: Conceptual and Material Studies in Technology and Social Life.” The Information Society: An International Journal 27.4 (2011): 252-60. Print.

Sayers, Jentery. “The Relevance of Remaking.” Maker Lab in the Humanities UVic blog. (2014) Accessed November 28, 2015.

Jones Post: Digital Humanities and Posthumanism

Reading Braidotti’s The Posthuman was a fascinating look into the world of theory both past and present that revolved around or questioned “the idea of the ‘Human'” as “the basic unit of reference for the knowing subject” (143). Through Braidotti’s work, Braidotti  explored many of the issues that we’ve discussed this semester. The work of DH intersected again and again with Braidotti’s “crisis of Humanism”. This included questioning the “purity” of science, the human as the center, and the work of various movements to de-center or question normalized modes of producing knowledge. From Braidotti’s work, along with what we’ve covered with Harraway, it appears that both scholars recommend a localized and diverse analytic approach to culture, society, and science as path forward for scholars in the Humanities. This would appear to be an inclusive approach, one that tries to de-link itself from “a hierarchical scale of decreasing worth” where subjects are defined by their exclusion (143).

This de-linking, or localized focus, mirrors Samir Amin’s world systems theory that also mentions de-linking from dominant hierarchical forces. Much like Braidotti’s “Others”, periphery countries are marginalized by hegemonic forces of the self-aggrandizing Western humanist center. Both periphery countries and Braidotti’s “Others” are marginalized by the globalized, capitalist and Eurocentric system that normalizes and enforces ideologies in order to “dehumanize”  people for the “accumulation of wealth” (7). From both posthuman and world system theories, humans appear to be inextricably trapped in recapitulating and circular systems of commodification and violence by oppressive powers (7). Yet the idea of de-linking, or removing oneself from Humanist ideologies, seems to present itself as the possibility for future movement for various groups. Inclusion and diversification is presented a solution, but how does one become a part of this process?

In our class, we’ve discussed our own intimidation and marginalized in DH work. How do we, as students of the humanities include ourselves in discussions? Braidotti seems to suggest that we are in the middle of a process that has already started: “the crisis of Humanism means that the structural Others of the modern humanistic subject re-emerge with a vengeance in postmodernity” (37). However, we’ve read and seen dismissive theories that paint women and minorities into corners, or theories that don’t acknowledge the structural systems in place that would still exclude “alternative modes of subjectivity” (38). How do we localize the issues of fluency to ourselves so that we may access humanities computing or digital humanities work? Braidotti states that it is in the modern movements, or the “the women’s rights movement, the anti-racism, and de-colonization movements, the anti-nuclear, and pro-environment movements” that voices have been created and heard as the “structural Others of modernity” (37).  This seems to imply a need for proactive work, where the “Others” also work to pave various paths for diversity or inclusion and this seems to be focused on furthering or creating movements to address exclusion.

After last week’s demonstration and listening to the feedback of “anyone can do it”, I wondered to myself if perhaps the only way out would be by pushing through?  Again I returned to issues of “the master’s tools” and the dangers of working through exclusionary systems. How then, are localized or diverse spaces maintained or created? How can tools be created or manipulated to be intuitive or accessible? In my own final project, I’ve found the need to start researching the “how-to’s” of programming before even fathoming how to write  or propose a new language. I hope that by the end of the project I may have more answers than questions, but occasionally I feel like my own project may end up as a spectacular failure. Yet the process will be well worth it, as it will teach me more about processes that have been abstract, obscure, or difficult to access. Like Braidotti’s work, I see the importance to exploring, understanding and questioning how systems of exclusion or access pierce and intrude into avenues of life, from the humanities and sciences, up to globalization and systems of power. How do we de-link from exclusion? How do we turn back the tides of marginalization?

Works Cited:

Amin, Samir. Delinking: Towards a Polycentric World.  Zed Books, 1990. Print.

Braidotti, Rosi. The Posthuman. Cambridge: Polity Press, 2013. Print.

Jones: Material Readings of Technology

“Archaeology, as opposed to history, refers to what is actually there”(57), Wolfgang Ernst

In trying to reconstruct my understanding of the type of epistemological approach to media archaeology that Ernst was trying to advocate, I wonder what really was the “cold” reading that Ernst explores? To me, it appears that Ernst was interested in a very material reading, digging down into the purposes, substance, or intents of the machine. Yet Ernst’s reading seems to obscure the cultural or the human in from the devices and their accoutrements, privileging a calculated and objective “fairness” that does not incorporate how technology and humans are intertwined culturally and politically.

While reading, it seemed to me that Ernst was separating the cultural from the material. For Ernst, “media archaeology adds to the study of culture in an apparently paradoxical way by directing attention (perception, analysis) to noncultural dimensions of the technological regime” (61). When Ernst reads technological output, coils, or the smaller pieces of devices and machines, is he trying to elevate technology from human biases? Is there such an escape for technology? Both Latour and Pickering have attempted to in some way show how technology and culture are intertwined, with Pickering showing the two as entangled in co-evolution. Yet for Ernst, it appears that objectivity can exist within technology without a “narrative”, and that  “experience when cut off from epic tradition, could not be communicated in a narrative way anymore” (61). If we think of technology as the product of material cultural collaborations and productions, I’m wondering if perhaps another type of narrative reveals itself?

For example, during one class we discussed how precious metals are extracted for phones, tablets, computers and this has led to conflict, struggles, and violence in areas of the world[1]. Yet if we view this through a non-cultural analysis and see only spare parts, the abuse may disappear. I wonder if perhaps Ernst may have alluded  to this narrative, but I did not find as much evidence to support a cultural reading of material aspects of technology. Instead when discussing a recording device, Ernst mentions that the machine allowed “for an analysis of the acoustic event” that could be dispassionate (61). I question whether this two-fold production (human and machine) can ever truly escape a narrative of their co-evolution? While technology companies today may try to obscure or hide these narratives, I wonder if like Kirschenbaum’s Mechanics¸ these narratives can be reclaimed to show how both agencies are working towards and against one another? Ernst may suggest that “What cannot be explained by such analysis is the cultural-meaning of these microevents, because such voice analysis is unspecific and indifferent to “meaning” treating any random noise with the same technological fairness” (63-64), however, we return to the question of, “is a tool ever neutral”? Isn’t technological “fairness” really just the parameters set by the creators? Can parameters or functions be equitable? Perhaps they can be applied equally across a group, but even creating charts is not simply a neutral analysis. How is the information being pulled or extracted? What groups are filtered out or purposely excluded to create or inform specific hypotheses or operations? Even in Jocker’s computing work we see the coding of sentiment, and to me, quantifying emotional valences hardly seem neutral or indifferent.

Even in a media lab like the MAL, it doesn’t seem like experience is torn from technology. When playing with games or trying to use the devices, the human element is collaborating with the machine in exciting or frustrating ways. Or does media-archaeology simply account for the material “options and limitations” by exposing “culture to noncultural insights”(63)? This may imply that technology transcends the cultural, in order to inquire into or extract cultural operations. This transcendence is seen in Ernst’s reading of a recording device that “pays equal attention to all kinds of sounds without ever being affected by their emotional value” (63). Is Ernst conflating the lack of distinction with perfect objectivity and emotional detachment? Is this a function of technology devoutly to be wished? I would argue that lacking distinction does not mean that machines lacks bias. How is a tool being employed? What is the setting and again, what are the excluding parameters?

A tool is often the material output of cultural biases, and attempting to infuse a machine with “fairness” may hide or mask procedural biases in order to maintain “objectivity”. In the terms of Parikka’s work, “Things mater in terms of their politics and how they participate in the constitution of our world” (65). In this sense, I think that it’s unnecessary to use only a “’cold’” reading. Removing historiography could potentially remove invisible and minority voices from the machine. Media Laboratories should be critical of the technological in regards to its infrastructure. This would be similar to a reading like Parikka’s review of Kittler’s work, a work that is more than “substance-based”, where “Technology does not just determine arts, science does not just determine technology, and art is not only creation and contemplation of beauty. They all work in a co-determining network of historical relations where the aesthetics is also tightly interwoven with science and technology” (Parikka 69). This requires material readings of how the infrastructure was harvested, gleaned, or taken out of the material world and the many political or cultural implications that arrive with the coils, metals, or devices that Ernst is reading.


Ernst, Wolfgang. 2011. “Media Archaeography: Method and Machine Versus History and Narrative Media.”

Gettleman, Jeffrey. 2013. National Geographic: The Price of Precious. October. Accessed October 25, 2015.

Parikaa, Jussi. Media Theory and New Materialism. 2012.



Jones: Symmetrical Networks Breaking Down and Modification

“Disciplined human agency and captured material agency are, as I say, constitutively intertwined; they are interactively stabilized” – Pickering, 17,

Andrew Pickering’s The Mangle of Practice: Time, Agency & Science is a complicated piece about the sociological studies of science, and his theory points to the limitations of SSK while also utilizing actor-network theory to explore the practice of science. While reading this text, I found that Pickering conversing in the dialogues around SSK and I found that even after reading Laboratory Life, I still found it somewhat difficult to immerse myself in his theory  (I also found this video to be helpful). I’m particularly interested in focusing closely on Pickering’s theories about actor-network theory and how the social and the technological are “co-evolving”. This includes how humans and nonhuman agents, the nonhuman agents typically as machines, are ‘intertwined” and “stabilized” in their performance with one another. I wanted to focus on discussing the limitations of these symmetrical exchanges and how they can become re-engaged. If indeed technology and the social are co-evolving, then I feel that it may become very important in stressing the relationships of technological outputs to their social functions. In this regard, I’m interested in the limitations of human intentionality and the limitations of the machine to run the functions, but I believe modification may infuse both with the ability to reengage.

At my work, I act as a business analyst, and I was recently tasked with improving a very old, very paper-intensive process. I was asked to propose a work-flow and was told to create the perfect process and then the technology would follow the process. However, there are limitations to this strategy and I believe Pickering hints at many of these limitations. In one regard, I could not fully imagine the perfect workflow, because the workflow is limited and constricted by the technology available. In this way, co-evolution is clearer to me because the social and cultural can be restricted by what’s available, and my process would evolve with the technology at hand. For me, Pickering’s intentions are limited or restricted by this relationship. Pickering suggests that intentions may be “partially tamed, already on the way to being brought to heel by the cultures in which they are situated” (18), which plays out daily in work and scholarly life. We can only do so much with what we have, culturally and technologically. Pickering’s approach suggests that this is both a culturally impacted “taming” and a technological and material process as well. Goals are often shaped by the functions, abilities and capacities of the machines we use.  Pickering states that scientists seek future goals and “seek to bring them about” (18) and this can be influenced by human and nonhuman agents. This includes the laboratory function of building, testing, and implementing new functions in the machines we use.

What’s particularly interesting is that while intentionality seeks to build, shape or create new “contours” of material agency, we are also still restricted by the here and now. Pickering also mentions this: “Especially I want to stress the temporal emergence of plans and goals and their transformability in encounters with material agency” (18). Here “transformability” could suggest that the act of building can shape materiality, but materiality can also then transform intentions. Do laboratories think about building as a way to further materiality and its abilities? In some senses, my work is limited by technology, but depending upon the vendor or programming platform, our developers may suggest or create modifications to the platform. We are still restricted by the limitations of programming languages and what vendors are or are not willing to do, but there’s also a sense of modification or change. We can use the data available, and try to tweak it in order to reassess how our business processes are conducted. I wonder if this is also the same for how laboratories try to think about their machines and the machines’ material temporality or abilities?

In this sense of symmetrical co-evolution, intentionality appears to be one space where the symmetrical nature of the network “breaks down” for Pickering (17). We’re not always sure what the next programming tool will be, and so that requires a certain amount of ambiguity and flexibility when institutionalizing business processes. Yet there’s the continued network where humans and nonhuman agents are acting upon each other through practices. I’m curious to see how the output of technology is both acknowledged as a limitation, but also to see where modification lies in this process. When looking through labs, I found the Modlab at UC Davis. It appears that for this lab, experimentation is a way to explore modification for “new media technologies”. In the material sense, office space is transformed into a laboratory to encourage experimentation. This is an infrastructural development for creating a material system for exploration. In their optical tracking system, they are focused on creating the physical space that is interested in positioning, projection, and using applications to input data. The work space has been modified to create as a system that can respond to, draw, and track what is seen. They’ve also modified a Wii mote to this end, in order to accomplish some of their tasks. It’s interesting to see this physical transformation of a gaming system to perform their experiment, showing how technology and intention can be modified to create new goals. If intention is a breaking down of the symmetry, I think modification may be a way to re-infuse both human and nonhuman agents together in an act of evolution. Yet this can not always be accomplished at first, and can at times be hindered by time or cultural estimations of what’s possible. I wonder further still how modification can play into laboratories and actor-network theory, but I believe that it’s an interesting place highlighted through Pickering’s study of scientific practice.


Pickering, Andrew. The Mangle of Practice: Time, Agency, and Science. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1995. Print.

Jones Post: Looking Through the Lens of a Lab

It felt like this week’s readings was a sprawling set of promises, each exciting and full of possibilities. Some of the promises had been long fulfilled, and others we’re still waiting for in a more current sense. The Media Lab: Inventing the Future at M.I.T seemed to present an almost idealized version of the collaborations between academic and industry. Not only that, but Brand’s perspective seemed to give the Media Lab a position of privilege, as if they were looking out beyond the ivory tower to instill their prophetic vision onto corporations and the scholars would be justly rewarded for their vision from those willing to invest. While Brand used the term “Demo or Die”, it seemed to be a more privileged and invigorated sense of invention and bestowal of theories. Brand did mention that M.I.T has a had an unusual relationship to corporations, but even still, Brand’s exploration seemed to primarily focus on the promises of the Media Lab.

This focus allows one to read the possibilities for academic departments, one that is of course laboriously conjoined to corporate sponsorship, but it seemed to promise a type of authority. This authority seems to exist as a perspective that is filtered through the lens of the scholars in the lab. It seemed that the scholars were providing insight into the future, and in the case of Negroponte’s “teething rings”and the convergence of media and technology, there is a strong basis to their vision (pg 9-10). However, this also seems to be hopeful persistence in the power of these relationships because I could see from a current perspective because I could see how many of the inventions fell through or are no longer in use. I thought it was interested that Brand did not fully predict the difficulties that the printing industry have encountered, instead only mentioning how publishers were “riveted” by the possibilities of digital publishing (22). This exploration of the lab seems to focus more on the positives of possibilities as solutions or “cures”, and not the negative or disruptive effects that technology can inflict on markets (22). Even as Brand acknowledges that if an invention is not implemented quickly enough that it might be discarded or replaced by another, it seems to always be in a positivist matter. This then led me to wonder about the gaps in Brand’s analysis. Where are the horrific failures, or the displaced workers? Where are the oppressive hegemonic systems instilled by industry onto academia or from academia onto it’s own scholars? Where are the cracks in this seemingly utopia of development and innovation? Why aren’t we using the computer secretary (51-55)? Of course there’s Siri and Kortana, but those did not operate in the same manner as the computer emulation described that could estimate when to interrupt and when to take calls or when to take messages.

There are inherently some limitations in trying to predict future technologies, or trying to establish trends as stable predictive models. Yet there is something compelling or intriguing about placing academia as the scope for finding new developments or understanding how to think about new developments. I see how often universities are still leading many developments in science and technology, but it also seems that today academia is sometimes placed below industry developments. The hope for placing academia as the lens for viewing technology is that hopefully academia can also provide the moral compass for corporate decisions. Yet even with the Media Lab, it was clear that there was a need for appeasement and funding, so is there really ever a space free from the influence of capitalism or money? Not only that, but where are the critiques of those failed attempts? Is persistent optimism the only way to marry the collaborations of scholars and corporations? How then can failures be addressed or the problematic of capitalist productions? How are problems addressed through the lens that Brand has introduced? Can some of the promise and optimism be used alongside various critiques to explore how labs operate, what their limitations should be and what the limitations are beyond “Demo or Die”? Is optimism already a powerful tool of DH labs used along with the persistent attempts to define and critique the work being done?

It’s always fascinating to take a look back and see what was believe to be possible. It’s also helpful to use an exploration like Brand’s to revisit old goals and to reincorporate those goals if they have been discarded along the way. Yet there appear to be noticeable gaps even of the technologies being explained that were current, so I would be curious to see how the Media Lab scholars would have approached thinking about the gaps where technologies fell through or were incompatible with the practices or hardware of the time.


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


On a completely unrelated note, did any one notice how Negroponte’s picture looked like a younger Bill Paxton?


Jones: Reading the Material Approach to Laboratory Life

I’m fascinated by the material approach taken to observe the functions of laboratory work in Laboratory Life: The Construction of Scientific Facts. The observations provided demonstrate how scientists negotiate facts and how the observations gleaned from these negotiations can be applied to any academic discipline. Yet Latour’s and Woolgar’s approach seems particularly useful in environments that interact with material knowledge, environments where information is treated through organizational and conversational processes. I also wonder what the limitations to this type of approach may be? His work provides implications and various potential criticisms, but would employing new devices or processes for constructing facts lead to push back?

Latour and Woolgar state that their approach is interested in “The way in which the daily activities of working scientists lead to the construction of facts” (40). The observations culled and presented had a strangely disorienting impact as they deconstructed scientific method. Scientific method was organized as a culture where the production of knowledge is reproduced as a communicative literary inscription. This is a material approach contemplates the material interactions of objects and devices that can lead to the publishing of papers or the manipulation of statements to assert information as fact. I thought that this section was particularly compelling because knowledge then becomes an abstraction and the manipulated paper is the end goal for exchange (70-75). Yet in an anthropological exploration, the focus and obsession on the production of paper seems to be a process similar to literary creation and yet academic literary creation does seem to wield the same authority or credibility that scientific research wields.

If Latour and Woolgar are trying to “dissolve rather than reaffirm the exoticism with which science is sometimes associated”, they have done so by making those processes of production familiar through drawing parallels, analogies, and historically and socially recreating how facts are “negotiated” into being circulated throughout scientific and non-scientific groups (29). This almost creates the image of science as a compromised form of exchange and research, where fact finding may emerge from efforts as socially burdened as the “cessation of controversy” (184). This leads me to wonder about the limitations of this type of material reading because there is no efficient vacuum to escape from community review, nor would many desire to escape. If we must critically view how scientific facts are constructed then what are the implications for those DHers who are trying to emulate the scientific culture? Not only that, but if scientific research is similar to literary creation, should an exploration into the material productions of literary processes be conducted to scrutinize similar literary procedures?

How can DH take these criticisms to inform their work that if everything is a material construction? Would this require in-house critics or third party reviewers to constantly observe and determine possible areas of privileging certain groups? In trying to find an example through a lab, I noticed that the Northwestern University Digital Humanities Laboratory (NUDHL, “pronounced ‘Noodle’”), appears to be interested in similar critical conversations to those introduced by Laboratory Life. It appears that as an interdisciplinary lab, “discussions, presentations and working sessions” with various departments are facilitated, allowing for critics and assistance with projects or research. In one colloquium, it sought to “help define” situations as “the scope and nature of computational thinking continues to evolve.” I also wonder how many more DH laboratories are interested in establishing a space to think about how technology is changing the way that facts are constructed or research is created?

In any case, Laboratory Life questions assumptions about how the scientific culture is viewed and how previously reified authority should be questioned or reviewed. I found the arguments presented to be compelling and though provoking as they deconstructed how laboratories function and how we perceive facts as “givens”. This creates a wealth of epistemological criticisms, and may even allow for different modes of production or creation that may lead to differing or contested forms of knowledge through various kinds of laboratories, DH or otherwise. This could also lead to greater criticism and push back as previously mentioned, but what would the potential benefits be to new bodies of information?


Latour, Bruno, and Steven Woolgar. 1979. Laboratory Life: The Construction of Scientific Facts. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

n.d. Northwestern University Digital Humanities Laboratory. Accessed October 4, 2015.

Jones: What Might Redesigning the Tools of DH Look like?

After this weeks readings, I’m interested in the idea of creating specific tools for DH. I’m interested in both Ramsay’s  and Svensson’s focus on building an infrastructure or tools for DH that would be “based on core and central needs of the humanities”.[1] I believe that the needs for DH resources are currently being met by scholars who provide access to pre-existing resources, and these resources are often called “DH Toolkits.” From an outsider’s perspective, it appears that these resources are often defined in a list in order to be fitted to a model or project. This seems different from what Ramsay meant when he implied that he wanted a “new blast pattern”. Perhaps Svensson and Ramsay did not require the building of a wholly new set of tools, but I wonder how the tools or infrastructure would be created.  Can entirely new tools be redesigned or built specifically for DH? Or will the existing tools be continually adapted for laboratory work? Are these tool kits the solution or is creating new programming languages for building truly the notion?

Perhaps redesigning a new set of tools is too great a task, but this could potentially reshape the way that DH is viewed internally and externally. The focus of building appears instead for some DH labs to resides in projects that use tools like XML, Google or other industry tool and then providing a list of what’s already out there. Perhaps the new infrastructure could include outlining methodologies for using or finding the tools of DH work, and then how to adapt them. For some of the labs that I’ve looked into this week, (trying to find if there are any particularly “new” DH tools), the  “DH Toolkits” act as long introductory lists of different resources.  The University of North Carolina’s cdhi, or Carolina Digital Humanities Initiative, offers such a detailed list of tools for DHers, along with other colleges and universities.

If there are so many tools available, why does Ramsay ask, “Should we redesign our own tools, metadata protocols, archive frameworks, languages, and ‘content management systems”? [2] What is specifically wrong with the tools available? What  are the constraints of current resources? While blogs and their temporality and the way that they privileging recent work was mentioned, what else is going wrong? Also, what’s holding current scholars back from “the new?” If Ramsay will not be writing a book, a blog, a manifesto, then what will the “new blast pattern” be? I’m not trying to be entirely critical, but I’m interested in the possibilities. How could scholars overcome limitations of time, ability, and funding to make new DH tools? When trying to formulate for myself what this may look like, I tried to again think of the values of DH work, but on a smaller more technical level. Is permanence valued in the humanities? Or is it the movement “from critical sensibility to creative[3]” that Svensson mentions?

I tried to use Kirschenbaum’s article to think about some of these issues. I think that Kirschenbaum’s call to critique the work may offer the insights into outlining what humanities based needs may be when figuring out how to build “the new”. Kirschenbaum mentions in his article, “that ‘digital humanities’ is in fact a diversified set of practices, one who details and methodologies responsible critique has a responsivity to understand and engage.”[4] This lends a material, historicist, multicultural, and formalist (among other perspectives) view to understanding DH work. The humanities then appear to be interested in exploring many avenues, so the “new tools” must be able to capture or encapsulate this varied world of social, historical, and cultural exploration. This would necessarily need to include the creative along with the quantitative, but if not a blog, then what? Would this be virtual reality reconstructions of theories? Would this be a lab hosted domain where blogs, representational data (charts, graphs, and more), along with archives and queries be accessible to all? Would it include 24/7 feeds and open “sand boxes” where the new languages could be used to develop new projects? Would this be similar to Earhart’s explorations of labs that “emphasize a laboratory model as one that privileges traditional humanistic inquiry through material and spatial construction?”[5] Once built, would scholars use Kirschenbaum’s theories about how to read DH work: “Let us read citation networks and publication venues. Let us examine the usage patterns around particular tools” and “reading the working involves reading the tools”?[6] If the tools were to be redefined and redesigned, a new reading may need to be developed so that it could read the methods and tools of DH work. This seems like such an exciting notion to put forward, but now I wonder how it’s to be accomplished and will humanities scholars be at the forefront of this development?


Earhart, Amy E. 2015. ““The Digital Humanities As a Laboratory.” In Between Humanities and the Digital, edited by David Theo Goldberg, Patrik Svensson, 391-400. Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Accessed September 26, 2015.

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

Ramsay, Stephen. 2013. Why I’m In It. Accessed September 25, 2015.

Svensson, Patrick. 2015. “The Humanistiscope – Exploring the Situatedness of Humanities Infrastructure.” In Between Humanities and the Digital, edited by Patrick Svensson and David Theo Goldberg, 337-353. Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Accessed September 26, 2015.



[1] Svensson, Patrick. 2015. “The Humanistiscope – Exploring the Situatedness of Humanities Infrastructure.” In Between Humanities and the Digital, edited by Patrick Svensson and David Theo Goldberg, 337-353, 337.

[2] Ramsay, Stephen. 2013. Why I’m In It. Accessed September 25, 2015.

[3] Svensson, Patrick. 2015. “The Humanistiscope – Exploring the Situatedness of Humanities Infrastructure”, 337

[4] Kirschenbaum, Matthew. 2014. “What Is “Digital Humanities” and Why Are They Saying Such Terrible Things about It?” differences 1-17. Accessed September 25, 2015., 14

[5] Earhart, Amy E. 2015. ““The Digital Humanities As a Laboratory.” In Between Humanities and the Digital, edited by David Theo Goldberg, Patrik Svensson, 391-400. Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 395

[6] Kirschenbaum, Matthew. 2014. “What Is “Digital Humanities” and Why Are They Saying Such Terrible Things about It?”, 14 & 16.

Jones Post 3: Thinking About Values and Technology

Debates on Digital Humanities offers varying theories on the discourses taking place about DH. A few of those discussions were particularly interesting: creating a set of values to unify the DH community, and using technology to create and build. I feel that these two issues converge on the subject: what is the responsibility of digital humanities? Or, what should we expect from DH? I think this is a point of convergence because although DH is trying to define itself, DH is tied to technology and technology is evolving rapidly. From the readings it appears that many scholars are still not entirely sure what DH or technology is fully capable of and that question may never fully be answered as technology continues to change. During this constant state of transition, DH should be subject to critical critiques and attempts to define it, but DH may be a field that should be allowed to exist in some state of uncertainty and experimentation.

I thought that the blog post “Where’s the Beef?” articulates this issue well, but does not entirely acknowledge that technology is not static.[1] Scholars should be allowed time to understand their tools, but with computing, this may never be fully possible. There’s always a new language or innovation. Although DH is scrutinized and questioned on its ability and scope, the changing landscape of technology appears to create misunderstanding and anxieties that splinter the DH community.[2] Spiro appears to offer a type of salve by realizing that technology is often an abstraction in flux, and that the field may instead require the drawing of values and goals. Technology’s changing presence has plagued the Luddites and even scholars now, it constantly creates “growing pains.”[3] We’ve discussed the binary of technology as tool or object, but this is a temporal designation. As technology expands and improves, technology may do more that is unknown now. Spiro’s focus on values then becomes essential as any field on the edge of development involving technology will continually transform into newer forms.

Having flexible values and aims in humanities and computing  leaves space for using nascent methods of research. This construction of values may offer the ability to unify the community, but may also allow space for expansion into bold new opportunities.  What more is coming down the line? Technology is capable of more operations since humanities computing’s beginnings. This means that scholars in DH should remain flexible while always remembering those values delineated by Spiro “Openness”, “collaboration”, “collegiality”, “connectedness” “diversity’ and “experimentation”.[4] This would also allow for the time to “articulate” the tools.[5]

I mention this need for time and Scheinfledt’s post because it reminded me of my interview with Professor Radcliffe from the CATH lab.  In the interview, Radcliffe mentioned that before the labs were discussing theory, they were practicing technolog0y by building and creating. It was experimentation that created a field to question and observe. The theories then started to follow the work. Perhaps in the value of “openness” DH scholars should be allowed the flexibility to see what technology is capable of, publish theories and findings and that work can then be evaluated and critiqued. From here scholars will inevitably return to the drawing board to reinvigorate the humanities, but this is a process over time.  This practice acknowledges the way that the future is unknown and could also encourage further research to explode the field open again and again, allowing the humanities to be a field that can be renewed or transformed, while adhering to the values and goals of the humanities.

The values of DH should then be open to critiques. This theoretical process can help to try and prevent hierarchies from developing. In the article by Johanna Drucker, she quotes another scholar, Berry: “If code and software are to become objects of research for the humanities and social sciences, including philosophy, we will need to grasp both the ontic and ontological dimensions of computer code.”[6] I believe this could be taken even further, as Drucker suggests. While flexibility should be given to experimentation, the theories of experimentation or the language of technology should always be subject to social, cultural, gender, racial, (and more) critiques. Is there a hierarchy to technology and DH? If so, how can this be constructed to allow for Spiro’s “diversity?” These questions will always be relevant, even as scholars are trying to find ways to “articulate” the phenomena of technology.


Alvarado, Rafael C. 2012. “The Digital Humanities Situation.” In Debates In the Digital Humanities, edited by Matthew K Gold. The University of Minnesota Press. Accessed September 20, 2015.

Drucker, Johanna. 2012. “Humanistic Theory and Digital Scholarship.” In Debates in Digital Humanities, edited by Matthew K Gold. The University of Minnesota Press. Accessed September 20, 2015.

Ramsay, Stephen and Rockwell Geoffrey. “Developing Things: Notes toward an Epistemology of Building in the Digital Humanities. In Debates in the Digital Humanities, edited by Matthew K Gold, 16-35. The University of Minnesota Press. Accessed September 20, 2015.

Scheinfledt, Tom. 2012. “Where’s the Beef? Does Digital Humanities Have to Answer Questions?” In Debates in Digital Humanities, edited by Matthew K Gold. The University of Minnesota Press. Accessed September 20, 2015.

Spiro, Lisa. 2012. “”This is Why We Fight”: Defining the Values of the Digital Humanities.” In Debates in the Digital Humanities, edited by Matthew K Gold, 16-35. The University of Minnesota Press. Accessed September 20, 2015.



[1] Scheinfledt, Tom. 2012. “Where’s the Beef? Does Digital Humanities Have to Answer Questions?” In Debates in Digital Humanities, edited by Matthew K Gold. The University of Minnesota Press. Accessed September 20, 2015

[2] Spiro, Lisa. 2012. “”This is Why We Fight”: Defining the Values of the Digital Humanities.” In Debates in the Digital Humanities, edited by Matthew K Gold, 16-35. The University of Minnesota Press. Accessed September 20, 2015, 16.

[3] Alvarado, Rafael C. 2012. “The Digital Humanities Situation.” In Debates In the Digital Humanities, edited by Matthew K Gold. The University of Minnesota Press. Accessed September 20, 2015, 51.

[4] Spiro, Lisa. “This is Why We Fight”, 24-28

[5] Scheinfledt, Tom. 2012. “Where’s the Beef? Does Digital Humanities Have to Answer Questions?” In Debates in Digital Humanities, edited by Matthew K Gold. The University of Minnesota Press. Accessed September 20, 2015, 56.

[6] Drucker, Johanna. 2012. “Humanistic Theory and Digital Scholarship.” In Debates in Digital Humanities, edited by Matthew K Gold. The University of Minnesota Press. Accessed September 20, 2015, 100.


Jones Post 2: Thinking through Kirschenbaum’s Formal and Forensic Materialities

If academia is exploring how to evaluate digital humanities, then Kirschenbaum’s theoretical work in Mechanisms provides another fascinating facet to what DH can do and how to understand digital work. Kirschenbaum lays the foundation for his theoretical reading in Mechanisms, which involve forensic and formal materialities that trace the impacts of computing. Kirschenbaum is proposing a reading through both mechanical and representational constructs and creations. This fascinating theory may assist in rethinking some of the earlier aspects of DH discussed, where “textual critics have tended to treat the computer mainly as a platform-independent venue for study the artifacts of other media.”[1] In regards to labs, this made me think of the Scholar’s Lab, which has a makerspace for “tinkering, experimentation with technologies like desktop fabrication, physical computing, and augmented reality.”[2] The emphasis in experimenting with physical computing can help scholars understand how to understand the digital and its potentials, (like forensic materialities) as well as understanding why DH is important and how signification is undergoing representational expansion (formal materialities). Not only this, but Kirschenbaum’s theory and the Scholar’s Lab makerspace reveals the ways that digital research is collapsing the space between signification and physical creation.

One example of this collapse is the way that lab encourages uses tinkering for digital creation, that can in turn be mapped or built into reality. The lab includes tools like conductive threads and fabrics, needles, frames, cameras, toolboxes, soldering irons, and parts for electronic construction. One project used coding, constructing a platform, and two Kinects to create 3D models of topology and Kinect sand. [3] The use of 3D printing is a newer technology that shows how the digital, scientific, and the creative are used in unison to research methods of creation. Using a forensic and formal materiality focused reading shows how “material circumstances…. leave material (read: forensic traces)” that can leader to greater research that can reify abstract models into physical conditions.[4] Computing can invade the physical by creating models, tools, art or entertainment. When thinking of gaming systems like the Occulus Rift, computing can invade systems of perceptions to create other realities as well. Technology can play with or participate in reality, and so it should then be read or experimented with on its own terms.

From this point of makerspaces and material readings, I believe that Kirschenbaum’s reading arrives at the heart of many of the points made in the papers calling to rethink how DH is evaluated. From these electronic texts, or even  physical models (artistic or commercial), how do we evaluate this work? Is there too much focus on projects that digitized literary texts?  It appears that there is more movement to evaluating the purely digital texts, so how is this work encouraged? Should online only be evaluated online? But what if they’re translated into a physical space? What then of the process that created it? Do we read it through the makerspace, by understanding how experimentation created the text? This seems to be an important point for Kirschenbaum and Rockwell, and many of the other readings this week. For Rockwell, electronic work “is meant to be experienced in electronic form.”[5] Then electronic work that psychically creates should be evaluated on both digital and physical processes. Again this opens up the possibility for greater research if tinkering or experimentation are encouraged and evaluated on the various processes or theoretical stretch of a project. If digital projects are able to amplify the creation of varying models, then this should be evaluated on the collaborative or technical depth of the project, giving credit to all persons or pieces that came together to build the work.


[1] Kirschenbaum, Matthew G. Mechanisms: New Media and the Forensic Imagination. Cambridge, MA: MIT, 2008. Print, 16.

[2] n.d. Scholar’s Lab Makerspace. Accessed September 13, 2015.

[3] Graham, Wayne. 2015. Augmented Reality and Simulation. September 8. Accessed September 13, 2015.

[4] Kirschenbaum, 15.

[5] Rockwell, Geoffrey. “Thoughts on Evaluating Multimedia Scholarship.” Profession 2011.1 (2011). Web, 153.



Graham, Wayne. 2015. Augmented Reality and Simulation. September 8. Accessed September 13, 2015.

Kirschenbaum, Matthew G. Mechanisms: New Media and the Forensic Imagination. Cambridge, MA: MIT, 2008. Print.

Rockwell, Geoffrey. “Thoughts on Evaluating Multimedia Scholarship.” Profession 2011.1 (2011). Web.

n.d. Scholar’s Lab Makerspace. Accessed September 13, 2015.

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.


Abrams, Dennis. 2013. “Stanford Literary Lab Applies “Big Data” to Reading.” Publishing Perspectives. Accessed August 30, 2015.

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.

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.


[1] Abrams, Dennis. 2013. “Stanford Literary Lab Applies “Big Data” to Reading.” Publishing Perspectives. Accessed August 30, 2015.

[2] Unsworth, John. 2002. What is Humanities Computing and What is Not? Accessed August 30, 2015.

[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.

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