Final Project: One Instrument : Propaganda and the embargo of images following the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki

One Instrument, the Virtual Reality (VR) documentary using historical footage from Hiroshima and Nagasaki, will attempt to connect the dots between the persistent false narrative that the US had to drop the bomb and the propaganda machine that created the story after the fact in 1945. To this day, when people are asked about the bombing of Hiroshima, they will get serious, look you in the eye, and shake their head saying, “Oh, yes. They had to drop the bomb; otherwise, Japan would have never surrendered,” Seventy-five years later! This is a false but tenacious story crafted by the US government through propaganda, censorship, and counter-narratives. The fact that it persists after 75 years is a testament to the effectiveness of this program.

The original idea for One Instrument comes from my short story “Nightfall” published in July of 2018 about two survivors of an apocalyptic event that neither of them understands. In the story, the woman returns to her home in the blast zone to find her badly burned husband lying on top of the rubble that had been their home. She lies to him about help coming as she sits by his side and waits for him to die.

The research for the story brought me to the New Yorker Magazine piece, “Hiroshima” by John Hersey which later became a book by the same title. I didn’t realize that the first significant piece written about Hiroshima was that piece a year later. After a little digging, I discovered that the Office of Censorship, and then, General Leslie Groves, were instrumental in keeping a lid on the images and stories broadcast from Japan in the immediate aftermath of the blast. The US occupied Japan until 1952, and the stories of the survivors didn’t come out until after the US left.

This project is a DH project for the general public. The NEH Digital Projects for the Public requires that it be for as large an audience as possible. So, I tried to make it as broad, excluding only the very young as possible audience members in the idea for its execution. It should also be ready for the 75th Anniversary of Hiroshima and Nagasaki which will be in 2020. The semester-long project will prototype a short immersive documentary that will lay down the techniques to be used for the longer ten -twelve-minute documentary (twelve minutes is the upper limit of attention inside of VR).

When thinking about how this project fits into the digital humanities, the Klein piece about James Hemings, “The Image of Absence: Archival Silence, Data Visualization, and James Hemings” comes to mind with its reference to Alan Liu’s call to action to reestablish “cultural criticism” (665) in the Digital Humanities. This documentary will squarely focus an eye on the critique of our culture both in the present and in the past. Also, Klein’s impetus to make Hemings’ “ghost” visible in the archives (668) is in the same vein as illuminating the use of propaganda through broadcast archival footage.

One instrument intends to look closely at the relationship between the narrative and the reality helping the viewer to understand how their opinion about the US bombing in Hiroshima might have been shaped by showing them embargoed images while the audio narrative plays the propaganda. Perhaps the public will begin to understand how their opinions are influenced as well as realizing how the US covered up the immediate aftermath of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Having worked as a broadcast news producer for a foreign agency during much of the Iraq War, I have seen the sanitized images that the US broadcast news agencies play. Even though there has been not Office of the Censor since 1945, we are still living under a kind of panopticon behavior modification that shows we believe that “they” will come knocking on the door at any minute if we show the “wrong” images.

Final Project/Seminar Paper Switch

Hi friends!

I hope everyone is having a great holiday season!

In class, I presented a final project proposal which I am still very passionate about (and hope to eventually work on)–however when I actually went to write up my project proposal with all of the details I kept getting stuck on the section of how the project relates to DH. I was curious as to what it means to create a Digital Humanities project and research. Was my project a DH project? How did I know? There was so much information in our class that I began to go back to the questions that were addressed at the start of the class regarding what DH is (or is not). I know that we had discussed the topic a bit in class, but I felt like I needed to define it (I use this word loosely) for myself in order to have a better understanding of how my research interests fit into DH. Thus, I ended up scraping the project proposal to write a seminar paper titled “Defining the Digital Humanities: A Graduate Student’s Exploration Into the Guiding Principles of DH”.

I was primarily interested in exploring the academic space of DH to better understand the commonalities of the research encompassed within the field and what these may mean for the future. I was specifically inspired by Spiro’s work defining the core values of the Digital Humanities and wanted to create something similar (but not quite the same) which is what led me to develop guiding principles (as opposed to hard and fast “rules” which I don’t believe DH does or should ever have). Spiro’s recognition that, “By developing a core values statement, the digital humanities community can craft a more coherent identity, use these values as guiding principles, and pass them on as part of DH education,” was what ignited my interest in this exploratory writing. Through my paper, I offered an attempt to classify what I believe Digital Humanities means as a field of study by addressing questions and current debates within the field to identify the guiding principles which shape it. While it is hard to say specifically which work is or is not considered DH, I argued that by defining the guiding principles of the field we could more thoroughly understand and recognize the potential for its future.

The questions I explored in my paper were:

  • Does Digital Humanities have to answer questions?
  • Does the Digital Humanities have to be collaborative?
  • What role does the Digital Humanities play in breaking down systems of power and oppression?

Writing out my responses to these questions helped shape my thoughts on what I feel are some of the guiding principles of DH. This process was super helpful to me (and maybe it would be for others as well). I outlined my answers to the above questions in detail in my paper, but feel free to share your thoughts on the questions above in the comments!

Happy New Year!

Project T.R.I.K.E. — Triple the fun!

A third reminder about our project. Check Nancy and Hannah’s posts here.

Many of our readings, and other readings that these have pointed to, have referred to issues Digital Humanists have in finding and working with data. Occasionally, the authors of these readings have made explicit calls for more humanities datasets in general, while some have focused on issues with using data in research and pedagogy. It is probably important to observe that there are a wide range of notions as to what constitutes data for the discipline, including, most broadly, the internet itself, or the entirety of content on social media platforms, but often referring to material that has been digitized and made available as “unstructured data” on the internet. The latter comes in the form of e-texts, images of photos, art and text, video, and etc.

There is an important distinction between data that is collected through experiment or exists already in a form delineated as computationally interrogatable, and what humanists generally designate as objects of study — which tend to have prior significance in their own cultural domains.  Humanistic “raw data” (a troubled term) is functionally transformed when it is viewed as data.

As Miriam Posner writes, “When you call something data, you imply that it exists in discrete, fungible units; that it is computationally tractable…”, (Posner, “Humanities Data”) but notes that for most humanists, the “data” that is used is only “computationally tractable” to the extent that it arrives in digitized form; that, say, a film comes to us as something that can primarily be understood as it is observed across its visual, aural (often), temporal and cultural dimensions, whereas what is generally considered as data to a scientist might take the form of a list of each of the film’s frames.

Clearly, this concept implies the need for an additional step in the process of converting digitized culturally-significant objects into data that can be analyzed computationally. Thus, the problem of transforming data objects of interest to a digital humanist, e.g. a digitized novel, a collection of images of an historical correspondence, into a such a form, while not unique to the digital humanities, is certainly fundamental to any digital humanities project that analyzes data.

Posner’s article goes on to describe how this distinct relationship to data troubles the humanities around issues of computational research:

There’s just such a drastic difference between the richness of the actual film and the data we’re able to capture about it…. And I would argue that the notion of reproducible research in the humanities just doesn’t have much currency, the way it does in the sciences, because humanists tend to believe that the scholar’s own subject position is inextricably linked to the scholarship she produces. (“Humanities Data”)

But she does recognize the importance of being able to use quantitative data. One of her students engaged in art history research on the importance of physical frames in the valuation of art in the late 17th through the 18th century. He was able to make a statement about the attractiveness of “authenticity” based on an analysis of sales records, textual accounts and secondary readings. Posner concludes, “So it’s quantitative evidence that seems to show something, but it’s the scholar’s knowledge of the surrounding debates and historiography that give this data any meaning. It requires a lot of interpretive work.” (“Humanities Data”)

The problematics of humanities data Posner identifies include:

  • the open availability of data, i.e. conflicts with publisher pay walls and other kinds of gating
  • the lack of organized data sets to begin with and the difficulty of finding what data sets have been released
  • the fact that humanities data is generally “mined”, requiring specific tools both for mining and organizing what is mined
  • the lack of tools for (and/or datasets that include the tools for) modeling the data in the ways appropriate to specific inquiry given a humanist’s understandable lack of experience with manipulating data

Our own praxis assignments in the Intro to Digital Humanities class, have brought us face to face with these problematics.  We were tasked, with the aim of exploring digital humanities praxis more generally, to create our own inquiries, find our own data, “clean” said data, use a specific methodology for transforming/visualization it, and then use these transformations to address our original inquiries.  If we started with an inquiry in mind, we had to find suitable data that promised to reveal something interesting with respect to our questions, if not outright answer them. We also had to wrangle the data into forms which could be addressed with digital tools, and then make decisions about what it means, given our goals, for data to be “clean” in the first place. In so doing we ran into a number of other issues, such as: what is being left out of the data we have identified? What assumptions does the choice of data make? What reasonable conclusions can we draw from specific methodologies?

As James Smithies writes in Digital Humanities, Postfoundationalism, Postindustrial Culturedigital humanists tend to regard their practice as “a process of continuous methodological and, yes, theoretical refinement that produces research outputs as snapshots of an ongoing activity rather than the culmination of ‘completed’ research”.  (Smithies) Using that idea as a springboard, it seems fair to posit that humanists often adopt an attitude towards data that does not halt the processes of interpretation and analysis at the point when the data’s incompleteness and necessary bias is discovered but will seek to foreground the data’s unsuitability as a point of critique — and thus incorporate it into the conclusions of the theoretical work as a whole.

An example from our readings of this sort of thing done right is Lauren Klein’s article The Image of Absence wherein she recounts the story of a man (a former slave of Thomas Jefferson’s), of whom little trace remains on record, by looking at his absence in the available sources (primarily a set of correspondence) and, in so doing, reconstructs the social milieu that contributed to his erasure. What is especially exciting about Klein’s work is how she maintains her humanistic orientation — which enables her to use data critique as a vehicle for forming a substantive statement. Indeed, this is a wonderful example of turning the very fact of a data set’s incompleteness into a window on an historical moment, as well as choosing the right visualizations to make a point, and focusing on what is most important to humanists, the human experience itself.

It was clear to us that to complete projects of this scope responsibly, and with a similar impact as Lauren Klein’s work, not only requires a significant time investment, but also specific skills. Our class provided us with a generalist’s knowledge of what skills a complete digital humanities project might require, but it was beyond the scope of the class to train us in every aspect of digital humanities praxis.  

Project T.R.I.K.E. is thus designed to support students who might lack some of the skills necessary to contend with digital humanities praxis by providing them with practical references and their instructors with the tools to focus on domains that fit with the pedagogical goals of their classes and institutions.  It is important to note we don’t participate in a methodological agenda — in other words, it is not our goal to prescribe pedagogy, but to support it in all its reasonable forms.

Workshop (Nov.26, 2018): How to use Pivot Chart in Excel for data visualization

On Nov 26, 2018, I’ve attended the data visualization workshop organized by GC ITP Skills Lab in the GC main library. The instructor’s first name was Hannah and she said her specialization is commuter science.  (She didn’t inform more about herself, so apologies for missing more detailed information about her affiliations, research interest, and so on. )

The workshop was largely focused on how to visualize datasets with Pivot Chart in Excel.

  1. Hannah provided us the graduation.csv that collected data of the number of high school (?) students that arrays the data as follows: Demographic,Borough,Cohort,Total Cohort,Total Grads,Total Regents,Advanced Regents,Regents w/o Advanced ,Local,Still Enrolled,Dropped Out. Because I’m not familiar with the borough divisions as well as the culture where students frequently drop out, the dataset itself felt somewhat distant to me. (But we will see what I learned to overcome geographic and cultural unfamiliarity in dealing with data through geo-visualization techniques merged with data visualization. )
  2. Then, Hannah asked us to import that dataset to Excel. Simply we had to click “insert” and then find “Pivotchart” and then we imported the dataset by browsing the file saved in our drive previously.  We had to adjust the format of the dataset a bit at this stage. Although we were not sure what to do with it exactly, the data started displaying as a chart on-screen.
  3.  We learned the merit of using Pivotchart in data-visualization is that we can adjust categories and select/deselect “the fields” we wanted to see distinctively on the chart.  The figure below is one of the examples we’ve got in trying out various charts.

    figure 1

    4.  we’ve tried different graph styles as well depending on what we want to see and which graphs would be more effective for chosen field characteristics.

    5. After that, Hannah taught us how to merge Google Earth’s geographic information with the data visualization and visualize them together by variating the colors (and the color degrees) of the fields. We’ve tried a few different datasets to do this and it was interesting to discover that we can use GIS platforms (eg. Google Earth/Map) and the statistic data graphs at the same time, which helps those who are unfamiliar with site-specific geography and its relevance to data in a given data visualization & analysis project.  

Overall, this workshop was helpful in a way that taught us to use a familiar software like Excel in a data visualization project for our specific needs of seeing the selected data fields which can be also aligned with geo-visualization by utilizing GIS technology.

 

 

Final Project: A Call to imagine

How do we transcend cynicism to embrace hope and love in our politics during these tough times? How do we help this generation of organizers consider not only what they are fighting against but what they are fighting for?  These are the guiding questions of my digital humanities project proposal. For the final project, I proposed a website that is open for people to imagine the world of their wildest dreams, where they are truly free, consider the steps it would take to reach that world, and find local resources to aid in the journey toward that freedom dream. Freedom dreaming as I have defined it is the act of first envisioning the future you want to see and second contemplating the steps it will take to get to that vision. I hope for this website to be a community space where people can share ideas and resources to help get us all to a better tomorrow.

The website will be made with undergrad and high school students in mind and have three main components. The first would be selected texts from POC radical thinkers of the past. Themes will be pulled out through text analysis to serve as inspiration for visitors to the site. Second, is the social media aspect. Visitors to the site will be invited to share their freedom dreams on Twitter. Given a longer period of time I would look into using instagram to include visual and sound art, but given time constraints of a semester I think it will be best to stick with text. The third component will be a section with online resources and local organizations that can help people realize their freedom dreams.

Guiding principles that  I will keep in mind as I create this website are as follows:

  • Freedom Dreaming means actively uplifting the intricately connected and complex lives and stories of Black, Brown, Indigenous, Asian/Pacific Islander, Latin/os/as/x, Arab, Middle Eastern and Multi-ethnic people
  • Freedom Dreaming is about affirming and respecting all levels of ability, gender identity, sexuality, age, stages of healing, and socio-economic class
  • Freedom Dreaming is about connecting people and communities to create shared visions with one another
  • Freedom Dreaming means acknowledging and harnessing your own intrinsic power and expertise
  • Freedom Dreaming is about listening deeply while unlearning harmful ideologies and ideas

I think working on this project will prove both interesting and challenging. Thankfully there are resources on how to create accessible website that any user can use regardless of how they access the internet. I also had the idea while writing the proposal that something that might be interesting once the Twitter feed gets populated is text mining those posts using the Twitter API to see if any themes come out of it. I have no idea what it will show but I think it could be an interesting way of looking at what people feel are important topics that need to be discussed and things that are broken in our society that need to be fixed. It might also be good to compare and contrast our freedom dreams today with those of previous generations.

Final Project: A Bit More on “Nonprofit News Board”

Sandy’s post on our project proposal on a nonprofit news aggregation/curation site pretty much summed up everything but I wanted to add a few more thoughts, especially to clarify what I said during our presentation/Q&A.

One tentative feature we have in mind for presenting the stories (via headline and link, photo, brief excerpt) is a list of trending news topics. While the nonprofit sector is usually not in the business of covering news as it breaks, they do report on the news by providing context and giving explanations. I had mentioned during the Q&A portion of our presentation that this option (there would be multiple ways we hope to present the stories) would, for example, show the stories on mass shootings if/when one, god forbid, happens. But instead of covering the latest updates, such as the number of victims to the apprehension of the suspect and their name, the linked-to articles would instead tend to cover the shooting in the context of the bigger picture: How many mass shootings have there been so far this year? Might the latest incident prompt gun reform

These stories would focus on the consequences and in that sense, keep the issue at the forefront longer when the rest of the media has moved on. There are overlaps, of course, between outlets that are nonprofit and those who stay abreast of breaking news, such as the Associated Press and PBS, but for our site we plan to focus primarily on the typical small nonprofit startups.

To give an example, I searched for stories related to the government shutdown, produced by members of the Institute for Nonprofit News, and here are some of the headlines:

Going by this small sample, this potential feature would help demonstrate what sets nonprofit-generated news from much of the mainstream, often for-profit media.

Final Project: Gaming & Representation in Digital Humanities (Anthony & Raven)

For the final project, Anthony and I have created a playable beta of a game that attempts to address the intersections of online spaces, education, representation, and equity/accessibility through digital tools in learning spaces. Raven and I divided this post into two in order to explain our different angles on the same goal.

Our proposal will  focus on the power of identity and aims to provide a perspective of what is possible in using games to expand the pedagogical scope of interactive mediums as a tool for learning and re-creating the standards of knowledge production in higher education. To do this we will be referencing small scale games and creating our own Twine game as a model. We will be emphasizing the gaming content, and related source material and will be referencing Digital Humanities pedagogical practices that can be theorized into game-building strategies to structure equality and dismantle power-dynamics in traditional classroom settings, and aims to integrate this practice in introductory level writing courses at the community college level (as Anthony elaborates on in his post). Our larger goal being to also create a Twine game, which is currently in a beta/bare bone stage reflecting some of our own experiences as Latin(x), students in college settings and how game creation can be a cathartic experience in our own education. We will also be looking at Kishonna Gray’s “Race, Gender, and Deviance in Xbox Live:Theoretical Perspectives from the Virtual Margins” & “Live in Your World, Play in Ours’: Race, Video Games, and Consuming the Other” by David Leonard as a contextual approach to understanding the cultural approaches to avoid and utilize in our own gaming project. In summation our aim is to expose students & faculty to the possibilities simple text-based games can offer as an alternative mode of written expression in higher education settings.

Games: Homebound,  College Admissions Simulator, & Everything’s Fine

College Admissions Simulator

Homebound

Everything’s Fine

I wanted to use these three games as a positive examples of some student projects that  can be easily incorporated into a “Cyborgian” classroom. These in particular were created by students at an Amherst College course titled “Video Games and the Boundaries of Narrative”with Marisa Parham I took last semester. The first is a group collaboration I was involved in, the College Simulator is intended to allow the player to think critically about the desensitizing process involved in the college admissions process. In thinking of the differences between inclusivity and equity, the categorization of students based on class, race, gender, and economic standing greatly blurs the lines of how colleges interpret and sell the “diverse” college experience. I enjoy sharing this game with students because it allows them to think outside their own experience, and into an aspect of a perspective which has systematically determined and shaped the lives of many students of colors attempting to center an institution which has historically excluded them from being included into higher education. Alternatively, Everything’s Fine explores the usage of “Mechanics as Metaphors” which portrays the immersive experience of a 1st generation college student managing their mental health and cultural expectations of leaving home to pursue a college education.  I’m also interested in drawing from Amanda Phillips’ syllabus, “Gaming & Justice” and her critical work in finding the connections between written and game based narrative expressions as an example of the type of work Dh’ers are doing with interactive mediums in the classroom. 

I’ll end by sharing a sneak-peak at our current game project: How Have Your Experiences Shaped Your Paper, through an image of the narrative tree-branch used in Twine to demonstrate the narrative timeline of each curated dialogue. You can currently see certain title words sticking out as reference to some of the themes we are hoping to cover in the larger game. It also offers an insight into the scaffolding/structure process of Twine as an accessible platform. Please feel free to explore and play some of the short games I linked below!

Final Project: Gaming & Representation within Digital Humanities (Anthony & Raven)

For the final project, Raven and I have created a playable beta of a game that attempts to address the intersections of online spaces, education, representation, and equity/accessibility through digital tools in learning spaces. Raven and I divided this post into two in order to explain our different angles on the same goal.

Our overall goal of this project is to find a way to increase the parameters of equity in a standard classroom, as well as offering alternative methods of knowledge creation. We want to use interactive technology as a method to give voice to those often misinterpreted or silenced within the traditional western literary canon. In education, we need to utilize multicultural texts as a means to provide diverse student-bodies with the ability to align themselves with the literature at hand. However, there is the battle of always having a group of students who will not align with what the class is studying. So, we believe that by utilizing gaming in the classroom you can expose students to different experiences such as diversity in race, disability, gender, and sexuality.

In constructing this game from a digital pedagogical perspective, I drew information from scholarship surrounding these topics, specifically in terms of educational facilities. Right now, I am using information from Tools of Exclusion: Race, Disability, and (Re)segregated Education by Beth A. Ferri of Syracuse University and David J. Connor of Columbia’s Teachers College, as well as Cathy Davidson’s (a professor here at The Graduate Center) How and Why to Structure a Classroom for Student-Centered Learning and Equality from the collection Structuring Equality: A Handbook for Student-Centered Learning and Teaching Practices, published by HASTAC. The first piece addresses the complicated issues around the interconnectedness of segregation, special education, and race. The second piece dives into how we can restructure English courses (and the classroom in general) to create a more equitable space in terms of helping students foster their identities. Helping students develop a deeper understanding of not only their own identity experience, but as well as their peers’ difference identities, helps to foster a safer and more productive classroom space.

Another piece I am drawing upon to support these notions in a more direct way is No Fun: The Queer Potential of Video Games that Annoy, Anger, Disappoint, Sadden, and Hurt by Bonnie “Bo” Ruberg. Ruberg shines a light on the aspect of “Play,” taking it in a direction of how the idea of “having fun” is so closely related to gaming. We buy and play games because we enjoy them and have fun, but not everyone has the same type of fun with certain things. She continues to talk about how “no-fun” can be a tool for addressing uncomfortable topics that need to be talked about. We have developed a game based around this notion because topics of prejudice are uncomfortable topics in whichever form they take. So we are using a game as a platform to widen the perspective of students using emotional experiences linked to the said game.

In relation to Digital Humanities, we believe that platforms like Twine are very user-friendly, and definitely open up the opportunity to scaffold the assignments (like Ryan Cordell suggests doing in How Not to Teach Digital Humanities) so that students can naturally be exposed to digital humanities in all of its glory. Creating these narrative-based games offers up an entirely new way to write and create public knowledge, two very important aspects of academia. This could lead to potential workshops on using different game-creation platforms and how to implement them pedagogically.

Final proposal: Born-Digital Graduate Conference in DH

Prototyping a born-digital graduate conference in digital humanities
PI: Michael Gossett (MA in Digital Humanities) | mgossett@gradcenter.cuny.edu

Overview
This proposal requests support for the planning and development of a born-digital, open-access graduate conference to be held in May 2019. The conference would be organized and jointly hosted online by the inaugural cohorts of the MA in Digital Humanities and MS in Data Analysis and Visualization programs at the CUNY Graduate Center.

The project would serve as a proof of concept for exploring the introduction of the conference’s online scholarly meeting functionality into the infrastructure or instructional documentation of open-access educational platforms such as the CUNY Academic Commons and Commons in a Box (CBOX).

There would be three phases to the larger project, of which this proposal figures as the first:

Phase 1 – Plan and prototype: Design and host in May 2019 a graduate conference in digital humanities (DH) that takes full advantage of the scholarly and social affordances of the web and makes accommodations for the particular personal and professional needs of graduate students. This phase would require the formation of a conference planning committee of MA and MS students; an advisory committee of GC Digital Fellows, librarians, and faculty; and a small stable of external consultants with experience in designing born-digital conferences and with developing infrastructure for field-building in the humanities. Phase 1 would conclude with two key deliverables:

  1. an innovative flagship DH conference for two new masters programs in their inaugural year at the GC; and
  2. a replicable (if developing) model for inclusive, accessible, cost-effective, and environmentally friendly online conferences capable of featuring critical and creative work from emerging and established scholars, educators, artists, and librarians working across interdisciplinary fields in the humanities in the United States and abroad.

Phase 2 – Develop, iterate, and share: Evaluate the scholarly, social, and technical successes and challenges of the conference for future building; consult with the GC Library and the Data and Digital Projects librarian to compose a data management and retention plan for the May 2019 conference and for the conference model going forward; and compose the white paper. This phase would require the project team to iterate on the initial conference model in preparation for additional conferences (at minimum: a May 2020 graduate conference in DH), and to possibly “fork” the model to accommodate developments required for other graduate-student-centered scholarly meetings or events in the humanities (e.g., the poetry reading, the paper workshop, the lecture series, the acting showcase, the studio art critique). Phase 2 would conclude with three key deliverables:

  1. a developing data management plan, created in consultation with the GC Library, for the online and archival preservation of the May 2019 conference and of any future born-digital conferences at the GC;
  2. a white paper on the conceptual and technical successes and challenges of the grant that would be distributed to DH graduate programs and centers in the United States and abroad; and
  3. one or more additional conferences or scholarly meetings in the planning or development stages for Fall 2019/Spring 2020.

Phase 3 – Refine and implement: Determine the sustainability and replicability of the initial conference model at the GC and elsewhere. During this phase, which would potentially arrive only after several cycles of phase 2, the project team would begin conversations with leadership for the CUNY Academic Commons and CBOX to explore integrating the scholarly meeting functionality developed through this project with the Commons and CBOX platforms and/or instructional documentation. These conversations would help to determine what further development and promotion would be required to make the model easily shared beyond across the GC and to institutions beyond it.

Enhancing the humanities through innovation
Note: This section seeks to adapt and apply to DH parts of Ken Hiltner’s (University of California at Santa Barbara) white paper on UCSB’s digital conference model. (See also: Environmental scan)

New technologies have opened up exciting possibilities for reimagining what humanities research looks like in the digital age. Keeping pace have been innovations in how scholars communicate this research through publishing and pedagogy, with monographs, journals, and classrooms each adopting a variety of new forms in the digital landscape. However, considerably less effort has been put into translating scholarly meetings—particularly the academic conference—into a comparable digital format, which leaves an important gap in coverage after the initial research stage and before the final publication stage in the new digital scholarship workflow. This gap disproportionately and negatively affects graduate students who, as emerging scholars, benefit most from the kinds of opportunities to share and refine works-in-progress that conferences are particularly adept at providing, and who, as students, have more limited funding options and travel time at their disposal than regular conference attendance typically calls for.

This project would look to fill the gap in coverage with a prototype for a born-digital graduate conference that would account for the particular personal and professional needs of graduate students (as hosts, as presenters, as attendees) by taking advantage of the scholarly and social capabilities of the networked web.

Though the particular format of the proposed conference would be determined by the conference planning committee in the early weeks of the project, generally speaking a born-digital conference would be conceived as one in which:

  1. speakers or lead participants pre-prepare their presentations (e.g., a video of them speaking via webcam or smartphone; a screen recording of a presentation via PowerPoint; some hybrid of the two, with speaker and presentation alternately or simultaneously onscreen; a string tweets or blog posts);
  2. talks or presentations are viewed on a dedicated conference website (e.g., WordPress) or social media platform (e.g., Twitter); and
  3. discussion and conversation is facilitated through online commenting forums that are kept open and active longer than the duration of a traditional conference Q&A.

Thus, a born-digital conference would have distinct advantages over a traditional conference format, several of which would be of particular import to graduate students:

More inclusive: Without a travel requirement, graduate students would be able to participate in the conference from nearly anywhere on the globe, allowing for increased attendance and a cross-pollination of ideas from national and international colleagues. Traditional graduate conferences, for a number of logistical reasons, tend to be highly local or, at best, regional, with the host institution grossly overrepresented among attendees. Because born-digital conferences can be built using largely or exclusively free, open-source software, it makes them inexpensive to host and free to attend. This allows a range of groups and institutions, particularly remote or under-resourced colleges and universities, to be able to do so.

More accessible: Born-digital conference content can be closed captioned for hard-of-hearing individuals, optimized for audio screen readers, and made available as audio podcasts. Additionally, conference talks have the potential to be captioned in more than one language, and can accommodate multiple translations through accompanying transcriptions. This means there is potential for presenters to present in their native languages with English (and other) translations, opening up the possibility of a true multilingual conference.

More citable and shareable: By existing online, a born-digital conference functions as both an event and a publication, giving nearly anyone anywhere on the globe, as long as Internet access is available, instant and lasting access to all the cutting-edge material introduced at the event. This is especially valuable to graduate students, whose developing scholarship and creative work is less likely to have a stable, citable, and shareable (i.e., published) form once the conference is over.

More available: Born-digital conferences offer graduate students the ability to create and consume conference content on their own time. This makes attending these events far more efficient, as it allows one to attend all of the presentations of interest–eliminating the unfortunate phenomenon of “competing panels”–and none of those that are not, all in the order, and at a time, of one’s own choosing. This is especially valuable to graduate students, whose classroom, teaching, work, and family responsibilities often limit their ability to devote uninterrupted time to days- or even day-long conferences.

Environmental scan
This project would look to maintain and build on several existing efforts to rethink the nature and structure of scholarly meetings, especially inasmuch as they appear in higher education via the traditional humanities conference. Three initiatives in particular serve as important touchstones for the future work of this project: the “nearly carbon-neutral” conference, the unconference, and the Twitter conference.

The “nearly-carbon neutral” conference: The University of California at Santa Barbara’s Environmental Humanities Initiative (EHI) introduced their “nearly-carbon neutral” (NCN) conference model in 2016 in an effort to eliminate the massive carbon footprint of traditional fly-in conferences. By the EHI’s estimates, an average traditional conference of 50 attendees from eight different countries would require over 300,000 miles in air travel, resulting in over 100,000 pounds of carbon dioxide in the process–the equivalent of the total annual carbon footprint of 50 people living in India or 165 people living in Kenya. To curb this, the NCN model takes a digital approach, wherein keynote addresses, plenary discussions, and panel presentations are pre-recorded as videos that are hosted on a publicly available and widely promoted conference website that remains open for viewing and commenting for approximately three weeks. In an NCN, Q&A sessions are regularly staged in a registered comments section adjacent to the presentations, with presenters and speakers committed to asynchronous engagement with commenters during the duration of the conference.

The NCN is the leading model for born-digital conferences, having been well-received by its presenters and attendees (87 percent of speakers have said “yes,” the conference was successful) and having been iterated on and refined in a total of three pilot projects at the UCSB EHI between 2016 and 2018 (here, here, and here). It is more than likely that much of what this project would attempt to do would be in large part indebted to the lessons learned and best practices established in conference organizer Ken Hiltner’s white paper and practical guide to hosting an NCN. However, even Hiltner acknowledges that this model is still very much in development, using the white paper to encourage others to “modify the NCN conference approach explored here,” “experiment,” and “let me know what worked (and what didn’t) so that future NCN conferences can be improved upon.” Since “the goal is to create a viable alternative to the traditional conference,” Hiltner says, “improvements to the approach are most welcome.”

This project would take seriously Hiltner’s call and would look for improvements to the model that would benefit the graduate student experience. The project would augment the innovations of the NCN by introducing to the eco-focused conference some additional innovations gleaned from two significant digital conference models developing in or around DH.

The unconference: The “unconference” model created by BarCAMP and popularized in DH over the past decade by THATCamp (“The Humanities and Technology Camp”) is an open, inexpensive, and highly informal type of meeting where humanists and technologists of varying skill levels gather in regional meet-ups to learn and build together in sessions proposed on the spot. Unconferences differ from traditional conferences in two significant ways: (1) the program for the unconference isn’t set beforehand by a program committee, but is mostly or entirely created by all the participants during the first session of the first day; and (2) there are no formal or prepared presentations, as sessions at the unconference are conducted less like lectures and more like seminars, where everyone participates and shapes the direction of the conversation.

The planning committee would be tasked with finding ways by which to integrate this organic and “bottom-up” unconference approach into a born-digital model that requires no physical travel accommodations and that can be easily preserved and shared online.

The Twitter conference: In the Twitter conference model used for the Public Archaeology Twitter Conference as well as for PressED, a conference on how WordPress is used in teaching and research, presenters are simply allocated approximately 15-minute time slots over the course of the day of the conference to post a 10-12- tweet-conference paper linked to other conference papers via an established hashtag.

Though likely to borrow less from this model than from the NCN or unconference models, the planning committee nonetheless would be tasked with finding ways to incorporate the flexibility, dynamism, concision, and minimal computing of the Twitter conference approach into a born-digital format that affords time and space for more sustained argumentation or creative exploration.

Work plan
The project activities for Phase 1 will be grouped into four stages:

Stage 1 (Jan-Feb 2019)

  • Establish planning committee, advisory board, and consultants
  • Choose project management tool (e.g., Airtable, Google Doc)
  • 1-day retreat to design the structure of the conference
  • As applicable, identify keynote/plenary speakers (target: 2-4)
  • As applicable, send targeted invitations to graduate students (target: 4-6)
  • As applicable, draft an open call for proposals and distribute to GC and elsewhere, both in the United States and abroad (target: 24-32)
  • Draft how-to and best practice guides on digital presentation
  • Create wireframes for conference website in CUNY Academic Commons
  • Create social/media presence (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, SoundCloud)
  • Apply for MA/MS Digital Project Startup Grant (application due January 25)
  • Apply for MA/MS Training Grant (application due January 25)
  • Apply for New Media Lab resources and workspace

Stage 2 (Mar 2019)

  • As applicable, finalize participants list and organize into clusters (target: 8 clusters of 3-4 presentations)
  • Develop a social media strategy for pre-conference and conference content
  • Begin to acquire presentations from participants

Stage 3 (Apr-May 2019)

  • Acquire remaining presentations from participantsUpdate conference website with presentations
  • Create transcripts and, as applicable, translations of presentations
  • Remediate presentations according to ADA standards
  • Post audio podcasts to conference SoundCloud page
  • Quality check pre-Go Live

Stage 4 (May 2019)

  • Conference Go Live
  • Roll out daily social media announcements highlighting conference content
  • Monitor comments sections and encourage panelist engagement

Stage 5 (May-Jun 2019)

  • Prepare for Phase 2
  • Draft preliminary white paper