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Author Archives: Brittany Ann Hamilton

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!

A Case for Turning on the Light in the Supply Chain Process

I really enjoyed Miriam Posner’s piece this week See No Evil because it brought up a common theme we’ve seen within the readings on digital humanities: how and why certain data/content is deliberately concealed or silenced and thus, what it means to utilize a variety of data software tools to draw attention to, address or even how data software tools contribute to the silencing or concealment of data/content. Personally, I am particularly interested in what we can uncover and learn from these concealings and silences to better address injustices and inequalities within society.

Prior to reading this article, my knowledge of the supply chain process was sparse and frankly, in the past, I have spent very little time considering the origins of where my goods came from. As an Amazon Prime member, I have the luxury of receiving my packages within 48 hours of ordering (2-day shipping) and as a person who has used the new Prime Now feature I have even received my goods the same day and within hours of ordering. I just want my items and I want them as soon as possible. Last minute birthday presents? No problem! Groceries delivered to my door? Delivered on the same day. The convenience is unreal.

However, what is at stake with my convenience? Should I know or care about the entire process for the supply chain of my goods? Why don’t I know more about the process? Am I part of the problem? Oh god, I am most definitely part of the problem.

Posner argues that the lack of knowledge of the supply chain process is deliberate, both to the company through the software they use and in turn the consumer; “By the time goods surface as commodities to be handled through the chain, purchasing at scale demands that information about their origin and manufacture be stripped away.” This is done deliberately by companies as a means to create an ignorance of the very specifics of how a product is created and transported, leaving companies turning a blind eye to horrifying work conditions and labor practices. This allows companies to avoid accountability for these work conditions and labor practices and pivot back to the consumer.

The consumers are in the dark, unaware of what their wants and needs for products mean for the working conditions and labor practices that impact those who are ensuring we receive our goods. Would consumers change their minds about a company if they truly knew what’s behind the scenes of receiving goods? I think most certainly.  As consumers should we demand to know the details of a company’s supply chain process? Perhaps we should be more active consumers and demand this knowledge by holding the companies that we purchase from to a higher standard. We, as consumers, could push companies to begin taking accountability for their supply chain process. Let’s do it!

However, we, as a society, rely on this darkness as a means to enable globalization and capitalism even when it means terrible labor practices and the suffering of those in the supply chain. We’ve exchanged scale, globalization, and capitalism for human rights. Globalization and capitalism are only possible through a lack of accountability companies and consumers are able to have regarding the goods they receive. Posner states “We’ve chosen scale, and the conceptual apparatus to manage it, at the expense of finer-grained knowledge that could make a more just and equitable arrangement possible.” Posner’s example of the supply chain process and software was the perfect example to highlight how deeply embedded capitalism and globalization is within society and the ways capitalism and globalization manifest themselves even in software programs.

So my question is where do we go from here?

By the end of the piece, Posner touches on the potential of visibility for supply chain software and programming, but ultimately the problem is more than just software. We must, as a society, agree to see, even if it is traumatic (as she references) for us to know the truth.

I believe that knowledge about things like the supply chain process may disrupt the structures of globalization and capitalism we’ve come to rely on, which may lead to more equitable working conditions and practices for all. We as consumers should do better at demanding to know the supply chain process and accept that it may mean that we see some things we don’t want to see and lose some convenience. Ultimately being in the light may help us be more understanding and empathetic to others lives and create better working conditions for all. Let’s turn on the light and be brave. Let’s do better. 

PS: (Slightly related but kind of a sidebar, Comedian Hasan Minaj just did an episode from his new Netflix show Patriot Act on Amazon discussing some different aspects on their growth and the impacts this has on their supply chain. Here is a link to a YouTube video of the episode.)

Thoughts on Drucker and Klein

I began this week’s readings by starting with the Drucker piece entitled Humanities Approaches to Graphical Display. Drucker began by arguing “that even for realist models, those that presume an observer-independent reality available to description, the methods of presenting ambiguity and uncertainty in more nuanced terms would be useful” (Drucker 1). I appreciated this critique. In order to better understand the very complex reality of observer bias and decision-making in research, it is essential to critically consider the ways in which assumptions regarding “traditional data and graphical displays” are established.  Thus, by accounting for and establishing new methods of presenting nuances, we establish a necessary space for these observations that counter positivist “claims of certainty” in research.

Drucker then goes on to say that “data are capta, taken not given, constructed as an interpretation of the phenomenal world, not inherent in it” (Drucker 3). Assumptions regarding data and data collection as the one size fits all approach become problematic and evoke systemic power relations between those who are allowed or able to to “create” knowledge and thus who get to “receive” knowledge.

While I agree with Drucker’s critiques and the necessity for myriad methods of presentation that account for nuances (thus allowing for multiple viewpoints and the reality of observer bias), I couldn’t help leaving Drucker’s work with some questions.I found myself wondering:

  • By using more ambiguity and uncertainty in the visualization of data are we making the data more accessible to a wider audience (a foundation that I believe is essential to the digital humanities field) or in fact, are we complicating it to the point of inaccessibility for those outside of the ivory tower? Can a person outside of academia understand these complicated images of data? Should they be able to?
  • Is there such a thing as too much ambiguity or uncertainty?
  • Further, are ambiguous and uncertain visualizations always the best way to represent data? Or are there sometimes cases when visualizations are unnecessary or more accurately represented in other digital methods?

I do not have any clear answers to these questions (would love to hear others insights on this). While I recognize the importance of ambiguity and uncertainty in data visualization, I wondered if by suggesting that we complicated these visualizations in order to account for nuances, we were also rendering them inaccessible to those who do not have access to the education or resources to understand them. Perhaps there is somehow a middle ground? Or perhaps certain visualizations are better explained in other ways utilizing other types of digital tools in order to create more accessible content? I feel strongly that, at the end of the day, accessibility should be a main focus in all digital humanities work, and thus data visualizations should not be only made for academic audiences or those who can understand their complexities. This does not mean that we should not address nuanced perspectives in our data visualizations, however we should keep in mind our own power and privilege as academics who have access to higher education. We must recognize and address our own positionally in our data visualization constructions. 

Moving on to Klein’s pieces, I really enjoyed her writing and the way she advocates for re-imagining silences in data visualization within The Image of Absence: Archival Silence, Data Visualization, and James Hemings. She states that “Illuminating this movement, through digital means, reframes the archive itself as a site of action rather than a record of fixity or loss.” (665) I liked the concept of a site of action or even–maybe more accurately put–these silences could be referred to as a call to action. The verb “call” designates a more demanding or forceful approach than a “site”.

When reading Klein’s piece I often related back to Choosing the Margin as a Space of Radical Openness by bell hooks. hooks states:

Understanding marginality as position and place of resistance is crucial for oppressed, exploited, colonized people. If we only view the margin as sign marking the despair, a deep nihilism penetrates in a destructive way the very ground of our being. It is there in that space of collective despair that one’s creativity, one’s imagination is at risk, there that one’s mind is fully colonized, there that the freedom one longs for as lost. (hooks, 207)

I want to say that these margins have been both sites of repression and sites of resistance. (208).

Reimagining these spaces that are known solely for their systemic injustices (as Klein has done through addressing silences and her data visualization of The Ghostly Story of James Hemings) offers the potential for us to gain a more accurate and thorough understanding of the past, present and future. These silences are places of repression, but also resistance for data visualization. 

Make Women’s Health Accessible Again (Mapping “Red” State Abortion Services)

It was difficult to decide on a topic to map for this assignment. With an assignment like this being very broad, it becomes hard to choose what to look at.  Indecision is my worst enemy. I wanted to map content that I was passionate about so eventually I turned to women’s health care access in the United States. Recently, many right-wing politicians have been more aggressively fighting Planned Parenthood and specifically women’s access to abortion services. Inspired by the Safe Place project, I wanted to do an updated mapping of abortion centers in the United States. I was curious to see how many abortion centers were still available to women across the country, specifically one’s sponsored by Planned Parenthood.

I began to collect my data by using the Planned Parenthood Health Center finder feature (by state). Quickly, I realized that the amount of data clean up I would need to do for this project would require me to work beyond the assignment. I decided to narrow my scope a bit. This led me to wonder how many abortion centers were left in states that voted red during the Trump/Clinton election. These “red” states typically tend to advocate against women’s access to abortion resources, so it would be interesting to map these out to get a visual of the distance between centers.

For the sake of the assignment, I was only interested in mapping centers that actually had abortion services within their facilities. Abortion services range from providing the abortion pill to in-clinic abortions, to pre and post-abortion care. There were many centers that offered only abortion referrals, however, were not able to perform abortion procedures within their facility. It’s hard to tell by the website exactly how easy it is to obtain an abortion near you from a local doctor using an abortion referral. The user of the website is prompted to call in for more information from each center.  Thus, I wanted to see the amount of specifically abortion service centers in “red” states.

First, I found all the red states from the 2016 election and combed through all of the Planned Parenthood-sponsored centers to determine the addresses to map. This was the most time-consuming part. One of my big takeaways from this project was the amount of time it took to organize and clean data. I had hoped that there was already an easily accessible list created all in one place, however, this was not the case. I needed to go through each state and then each center in each state individually to determine which centers specifically provided abortion services.

Next, I utilized ArcGIS Mapping software to plot the points across the United States. Here were my results:

Zoomed out map of the USA

There were several “red” states that had no abortion centers included sponsored via Planned Parenthood (some had abortion referrals but I chose to exclude them from the data). They were as follows:

  • West Virginia
  • North Dakota
  • Kentucky
  • Louisiana
  • Mississippi
  • Wyoming

I was not particularly shocked by the results, though it was quite discouraging to see how limited the options were for many of the “red” states. Most of the centers were only available in larger cities posing barriers of accessibility for those in rural America. One specific example of this is in Ohio, a state with a general population of almost 11.7 million. Within the state of Ohio, there were only three centers with Planned Parenthood-sponsored abortion services housed in the cities of Cincinnati, Cleveland, and Columbus.  Many women have to travel several miles to get to one of these centers, especially those who reside in states with no Planned Parenthood abortion services (both Kentucky and West Virginia share borders with Ohio, however, both states have no Planned Parenthood abortion services). While Planned Parenthood isn’t the only resource for abortions in the United States, it’s arguably the most accessible and known resource. Centers that are not Planned Parenthood are a bit harder to find. I did my own Google searches for some of the states that did not have any options for obtaining abortions but struggled to find easily accessible options.

Since I’m originally from the small town of State College, Pennsylvania I wanted to see how accurate this provided data was by trying to schedule an online appointment for a nearby abortion. While there were a few options provided by Planned Parenthood for abortion services within less than 100 miles of State College on my map, when I went to schedule an actual appointment (specifically for obtaining an abortion) the closest option was actually in Pittsburgh, approximately 2.5 hours or 140 miles away. Thus, I worried that the data provided by Planned Parenthood was not always perfectly up-to-date or that all the centers were not actively or able to take a patient that needed an abortion immediately.

Similar to Quinn’s mapping project, I thought about the “All Models Are Wrong” article we read by Richard Jean So and asked myself what is missing from this data. What can be changed with this model for understanding abortion access in the United States?

Ultimately, the map doesn’t reflect all the myriad barriers that people experience in trying to obtain an abortion. Like my quick search in State College, the map does not always accurately represent centers that are actively accepting patients at the time of the search or still open. Similarly, it does not account for other restrictions placed by states on those who are seeking abortions including forced waiting periods and counseling requirements, and/or take into account how systems of oppression like capitalism or racism add additional barriers to access. At the end of the day, it’s simply a map that contains well-meaning information on abortion centers that tries to make them easy to find and access. While it’s not perfect, it’s at least a start. It’s a model that can and must change. 

Besides adding in the “blue” state abortion services centers (which would be nice to see alongside the red states), it would be helpful to establish some programming that allows these locations to be automatically updated when a center is able to receive patients or goes out of service. Unfortunately, I do not have the necessary programming skills (or know if this is even possible), but this would be an interesting project to consider.

Overall, while there are some limitations with utilizing mapping software like ArcGIS it was still interesting and beneficial to use. I’ve just scratched the surface of its features, but hope to continue with this project to add in the blue states and other tools/programming in the future. 

Kavanaugh and Ford: A Mindful Exercise in Text-Mining

I’ve been fairly excited to utilize Voyant to do some textual analysis. I wanted to choose text to analyze that would engage with structural political issues to draw attention to inequalities within our societal structures. Thus, I’m particularly interested in engaging in discussions surrounding systems of power and privilege in modern America. This is why I’ve chosen to do a text analysis comparing and contrasting Brett Kavanaugh’s opening statement for the Senate Judiciary Committee with  Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s opening statement.

Before going any further, I would like to issue a trigger warning for topics of sexual violence and assault. I recognize that these past few weeks have been difficult and overwhelming for some (myself included), and I would like to be transparent as I move forward with my analysis on topics that may come up.

My previous research has centered around topics of feminist theory, and rape culture, so the recent events regarding Supreme Court Justice Nominee, Judge Brett Kavanaugh, have been particularly significant to my past work and personal interests.

To provide some very brief context on current events, Kavanaugh was recently nominated by President Donald Trump on July 9, 2018 to replace retiring Associate Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy. When it became known that Kavanaugh would most likely become the nominee, Dr. Christine Blasey Ford came forward with allegations that Kavanaugh had sexually assaulted her in the 1980’s while she was in high school. In addition to Dr. Ford’s allegations, two other women came forward with allegations of sexual assault against Kavanaugh as well. To read a full timeline of the events that occurred (and continue to occur) surrounding Kavanaugh’s appointment, I suggest checking out the current New York Times politics section or Buzzfeed’s news tab regarding the Brett Kavanaugh vote.  

The Senate Judiciary Committee surrounding Kavanaugh’s potential appointment invited both Kavanaugh and Ford to provide testimony about the allegation on September 24, 2018. Both Ford and Kavanaugh agreed to testify. Ford and Kavanaugh both gave a prepared speech ((initial testimony) on September 24, 2018 and then were asked questions from the committee. For this project, I am only comparing each opening statement–not the questions asked and answers given after the statements were provided. In the future, I believe much could be learned from a full and more thorough analysis including both the statements and the questions/responses given, however for the breadth of this current research and assignment I am only very briefly looking at both individuals opening statements.

This research is primarily exploratory in that I have no concrete hypothesis on what I will find. More-so, I am interested in engaging with each text to see if there are any conclusions that can be drawn from the language. Specifically, do either of the texts have implications regarding structurally oppressive systems of patriarchy and rape culture? Can the language of each speech tell us something about the ways in which sexual assault accusations are handled in the United States by the ways an accuser and the accused present themselves via issued statements? While this is only one example, I would be curious to see what type of questions can be raised from the text.

To begin, I googled both “Kavanaugh Opening Statement” and “Ford Opening Statement” to obtain the text for the analysis.

Here is the link I utilized to access Brett Kavanaugh’s opening statement.

Here is the link I utilized to access Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s opening statement.

Next, I utilized Voyant, the open source web-based application for performing text analysis.

Here are my findings from Voyant

Kavanaugh’s Opening Statement:

 

Ford’s Opening Statement:

Comparison (Instead of directly copying and pasting the text in as I had done separately above, I simply inputed both links to the text into Voyant)

There are several questions that can be raised from this data. In fact, an entire essay could be written on a variety of discussions and arguments that compare and contrast the text and further look at how they compare with other cases like this one; however for the breadth of this short post I will only pull together a few key points that I noted, centering how the text potentially relates to the structural oppression of women in the United States.

First, I thought it was interesting that Kavanaugh’s opening statement was significantly longer (5,266 total words) than Ford’s (2,510 total words). Within a patriarchal society, women are traditionally taught (both directly and indirectly) to take up less space (physically and metaphorically), so I wondered if this could be relevant when considering the fact that Ford’s opening statement was significantly shorter than Kavanaugh’s. Does the internalized oppression of sexism in female-identified individuals contribute to the length of women’s responses to sexual violence–i.e. do women who experience sexual violence take up less space (potentially without even noticing or directly trying to) in regard to their statements than the accused (in this case men)? Perhaps a larger sample of research comparing both accuser’s and the accused sexual assault statements (specifically when the accuser is female and the accused is male) could provide more insight on this. 

Additionally, another observation I had while comparing and contrasting the texts with one another was the most used words within each text. Specifically, one of the most used words in Kavanaugh’s (the accused) speech was “women” which I found to be interesting. Do other people (specifically men) who are accused of sexual violence often use the word “women” in statements regarding sexual violence? Is this repetitive use of the word used to somehow prove that an individual would not harm women (even when they are being accused of just that)? It makes me consider an aspect of rape culture that is often seen when dealing with sexual violence–the justification that one could ultimately not commit crimes of sexual violence because they are a “good man” who has many healthy relationships (friendships or romantic) with women. There is no evidence that just because a man has some positive relationships with women that he is less likely to commit sexual assault; however there is data that states that people are more likely to be sexually assaulted by someone they know (RAINN). I would be curious to look into this further by utilizing tools like Voyant to consider the most used words in other statements from accused people of sexual violence.

Ultimately, this was a brief and interesting exercise in investigation and exploration. I think that there could be many different interesting and important research opportunities utilizing tools like Voyant that look at statements provided by sexual violence survivors and those who are accused of sexual violence. This was just a starting point and by no means is the necessary and extensive research that most done on this topic, rather it remains the beginning for further questions to be asked and analyzed. I’m eager to dive into more in-depth research on these topics in the future, possibly using Voyant or other text-mining web-based applications.

The Lexicon of Digital Humanities Workshop: 9/18/2018

I ended up attending The Lexicon of Digital Humanities workshop on Tuesday 9/18/2018 since we didn’t have class.  Also, I still need to meet my workshop requires for the course and this was a good way to do so. Particularly, I wasn’t quite sure what would be covered within this workshop, but I figured it would be especially helpful as we move forward. 

We started out with going over some general information about Digital Humanities, which I thought was helpful and particularly related to our most recent class discussions on what digital humanities is. This session defined digital humanities as “digital methods of research that engage humanities topics in their materials and/or interpret the results of digital tools from a humanities lens.” I liked this definition a lot so far. It seemed to align closely with what we’ve been talking about in class. 

Next, they had us download Zotero, which was honestly really good because I needed to do this anyway. They went through how to download it, add it to your browser and sync it to all your devices. Since I am fairly new with Zotero I was thankful for the step by step instructions. I feel like Zotoro will be such an awesome resource moving forward. 

Next, we went over many different types of data and places/ways to find it. They showed us a variety of resources which I feel will be useful in the future. At one point we split into partner groups and an individual at the table I was sitting at directed us to this resource for harvesting data from social media platforms: http://www.massmine.org/. It has documentation that explains how to do things (step by step) with minimal online command line (and apparently a lot of copy and pasting which doesn’t sound too intimidating for newcomers like myself to the field).

Overall throughout the session, there were several different tools and resources that were shared. I’ve included a link to the presentation below for more information. I highly suggest that those who were unable to attend this session take a look. A really cool project (that wasn’t included in the presentation) that we were shown can be viewed here: http://xpmethod.plaintext.in/torn-apart/volume/2/index .This project shows a data and visualization intervention looking at the culpability behind the humanitarian crisis of 2018. It’s a great example to show how digital humanities is so relevant to the world at this current moment and how its efforts can be productive in many ways. 

Here is a link to the presentation from the workshop.

After attending this workshop, one major thought that has been consuming my mind was the accessibility of the field of Digital Humanities. With many of the resources and tools being open-sourced and free, this allows those who may not have class privilege to still have equal access (keeping in mind that one still needs access to a computer and internet of course to utilize these tools/resources). This becomes an important conversation when we think about accessibility and who gets to be able to practice digital humanities. These resources and tools help provide a layer of accessibility that other fields do not always offer.

That being said, there is still a hierarchy within the field of those who have access to academia for in-class digital humanities courses and education (like ourselves), and those who do not have the privilege of being able to attend higher education courses. I do however feel that as I’ve started to become more familiar with the field, one of the main priorities has been to make as much of the content as free and accessible as possible. I hope this stays true as the field continues to develop within academia and that it does not fall into the “ivory tower” trend that has plagued some other humanities fields; (I come from a background in Women’s and Gender Studies which has been often critiqued for losing its roots in activism and accessibility by being too housed in academia).