Author Archives: Camilla Skoglie

Reflections on Race and Surveillance

We want you to know that we know who you are.

Mankind has always had the unfortunate and vile need to make distinctions between “desired” and “undesired” people, a deep-seated human aspect which throughout history has brought destruction upon many lives. This need to define ourselves, not based on what we are but on what we are not, has sometimes been given a physical expression in the form of visual identifying markers such as the yellow star of David required to be worn by Jews during the Second World War, to identity cards stating Hutu or Tutsi ethnicity during the lead up to the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. The 2010 “Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhoods Act” of Arizona which required citizens of the to wear identity cards at all times is a more recent example of a state’s attempt to single out a specific group, in this case the Hispanic population. The law was partially stuck down by the Supreme Court but still allows law enforcement officers permission to check a motorist’s immigration status, opening up the argument that the law can be used as a tool for racial profiling.

Simone Browne’s writings, on how racializing surveillance can function as a tool to exercise social control over target populations, addresses both the history and the practical component of discriminatory factors, tracing such practices back to the era of American slavery. By describing different mechanisms of surveillance, the author details how a slave’s physical movement was controlled in the form of “a slave pass” which had to be produced upon request while operating outside of the plantation. Other measures existed in the form of slave patrols and publicized posters of runaway slaves which encouraged the vigilance of the everyday man. This practice acted as an invitation for communities to get involved as enforcers of social control. Efforts to control “undesired” people are still in place today and as described by the author, census questions, racial box ticking, and bio metrics are all part of the techniques used to get a grasp on who’s out there.

On another note…..I recently moved. I have not notified anyone nor renewed my driver’s license yet the other day I received a request to fill in a juror qualification questionnaire…’d they know where to find me………!


My mother still recalls being a young girl and receiving her first phone call from abroad. Sometime in the 1960’s my grandparents had a phone installed in their house and my great uncle, who was a sailor, called the house all the way from Australia. To this day my mother remembers the amazement of being able to speak to someone located at the other side of the world, and better yet, to hear her uncle’s voice so clearly!

Shannon Matter’s article “Scaffolding, Hard and Soft – Infrastructures as Critical and Generative Structures’’ reminded me of this story and got me curious about this amazing infrastructure which we now pretty much take for granted.

The deep seabeds of the ocean are home to over 428 submarine cables stretching over 1 million kilometers around the world, connecting continents, large communications hubs with small, remote places. These cables consist of fiber optic material which “sends information coded in a beam of light down a glass or plastic pipe”, which sounds like a beautiful description of communication. However, the external home of these “beams of light” is a lot less poetic, consisting of steel wires, copper and petroleum jelly.

Image result for fiber optic cable ocean

It turns out that optical fiber cables measure in size from that of a soda can to as small a magic marker depending on how deep into the oceans the cables are laid. It also turns out that sharks enjoy chewing on these internet cables, posing somewhat of a threat to our internet access. I suppose challenges are to be expected when humans invade territories that are not natural to us and the gnawing sharks serve as a reminder that our digital lives are rooted in very real, physical equipment which is susceptible to damages and breakdowns. These submarine communication cables can be positioned as deep as 8000 meters down onto the bottom of the ocean and follows what Matter’s describes as “the principle of path dependency” where new infrastructure is built on top of previously established infrastructure, in this case that of the telecommunication networks. This might mean that the “beams of light” that carried my great uncle’s voice from half way around the globe traveled across the same ocean route as the internet does today. Matter’s article provided me with the opportunity to reflect upon the physical dimension of our wireless existence that surrounds us. It also served as a reminder of how humans are involved in every aspect of the process of communication from the innovation of devices to designing the infrastructure to implement the technology, not to least mention all of the manual labor that goes into maintaining the infrastructure. The article also made me pause and think about the network that makes it possible for me to receive photos from my mom on my phone. I bet she didn’t imagine that when she was a girl!

A shout out to the Python User Group

I just wanted to give a shout out to the Python User Group which is truly an asset for students  at the GC. The workshop is run by the Digital Fellows and the group meets every three weeks. Meetings are held on the 7th floor in the Digital Scholarship Lab, room 7414 and every meetup has a different theme followed by a wok session where participants can get help with concrete issues that they are working on. They will help you get set up with Anaconda, Jupyter Notebook, Powershell and all other kinds of mysterious sounding things that are new to people who have never written a single line of code. Better yet: they will explain to you what these programs do and how to use them.

For me, who is completely new to coding it has been a great experience to be able to attend these meetings (there’s been two so far this fall) because it’s a group that is open to everyone and all levels. The Digital Fellows are enthusiastic and patient and take their time explaining what ever questions you might have. Possessing great knowledge of coding they are able to help out with a range of issues, including projects you might be working on. They’ve helped me with assignments in addition to helping get started with understanding the concepts of coding. So, for those of you who want to learn how to code you should definitely come along. There is also pizza 🙂

 Where I spend my time

     Where I spend my time

The map you’re looking at might seem like a simple map, but it tells a personal story. It literally pinpoints where I spend my time, which despite being spent on two different continents, is still constricted to a few designated areas. Brooklyn, Manhattan, Oslo, my hometown of Fredrikstad, and the obligatory shopping trip to Sweden. This is what my life has narrowed down to. I visit airports frequently, but I only ever travel between two points and these two points on the map of the world also represents where I live my internal life.

Having lived outside of Norway for the past thirteen years now, I have realized that I live in two different realities at once. Regardless of where I am physically, the two pinpoints and their countries and their people coexist in my mind simultaneously. I am always here and there.

To immigrate is a wonderful, exciting, twisting, heart wrenching experience. You are constantly forced to reevaluate your values and conceptions of the world around you and your identity goes through multiple changes. As in my case you end up neither here nor there. Or rather, as the headline of my map shows, I have landed in myself, somewhere in between, midway through the Atlantic Ocean.

I used the ArcGIS Story Maps which was fairly easy to use. Some of the features were a bit tricky to use so I opted for using the 3D Paint feature on my laptop’s photo software for editing the features I wanted, such as text descriptions.

One issue I had with ArcGIS is the same as I have with most other digital platforms. Put simply: the requirement to give up your privacy in order to utilize the software. It seems to me that pretty much any online program requires you to give access to images in addition to forcing you to publish your work in order for you, the creator, to get access to the final product you yourself has created. This drives me nuts, to the point where I’m mentally tempted to withdraw all my cash from my bank account and rent a cabin upstate with no internet access where I cannot be found. It does indeed seem contradictory then that I have chosen to create a very personal visualization but as all the topics I wanted to map had been done I simply decided to map myself. Having to yet again relinquish my privacy did make me hesitant to use my own life for the project, but I also think it’s a shame not to be able to use personal themes for such an analysis because it can bring clarity and truth to the person exploring their own experience. In the end I decided not to use photos due to the public requirement and come to think of it, once this post is posted to the Commons blog the information can be found outside of our classroom as well! But too late to change the subject now! So, welcome to my life, take a look, snoop around. And be kind.



Grad School in Wonderland

This assignment, as much as this semester, has felt somewhat like an Alice in Wonderland experience. Weightlessly bumping up and down in slow motion I am still slightly confused while gazing into this new universe with wide eyed awe.

As Alice stands bewildered in the forest deciding upon the right path to take, so have also I been confused at where to start and exploring text mining has been yet another trip to wonderland.



For the project I chose to use a scene from “Antony and Cleopatra” by William Shakespeare. The play revolves around the romance between a Roman General and the Queen of Egypt set against the politics of territorial gain and political power. I used scene xv in the fourth act which is a short but significant scene where Antony dies whereupon Cleopatra decides to beat the Romans to it and “make death proud to take her”.


The text was sampled from the Gutenberg Project and was chosen based on a desire to get a sense of how text mining works and how useful it could be in the context of analyzing a play for research purposes. For an actor studying for a part text mining does not seem to be of much use as actors try to connect with the feeling of words rather than frequency but for scholars researching Shakespeare it’s a tool that could prove practical.


Initially the text was analyzed in Voyant with ambiguous results. The most frequent words came up as Antony, Cleopatra, Charmian, come and women. The program, however, wasn’t able to detect the difference between character names and other frequently used words such as “come”. The word “Antony” appears 17 times, but no further categorization is made differentiating how the word is used. When manually searching through the text it appears that seven of those times indicates a line spoken, seven refers to his name being uttered, and three incidents refers to the name being used in stage directions, demonstrating that Voyant does not differentiate between character name, spoken name and name in stage directions. So for instance used as a tool searching for detailed information regarding how many times a character speaks the tool can produce misleading information while it can produce an overview as to what a scene is about in singling out the most common words describing which actions take place in the scene as shown below where the words death, dying and dead pretty much sums it up.

In order to obtain a more nuanced filtering of words and character names I tried different text mining tools without success. The tools tested, such as “Bookworm” and especially “Orange” seemed to be great tools, but I was not able to operate them properly, thus not being able to utilize their potential.


As for challenges I have come across many. Coming from a non-tech background means starting from scratch, trying to figure out the basics, covering everything from understanding concepts to converting files into different formats. I might have been going into this new field being slightly naïve in thinking that technology has become so advanced, yet simple and intuitive that computer programs can be navigated with ease. So far I can say that technology holds the potential for some adventurous trips, there’s just a lot of planning and packing needed to get done before one can set off.