Author Archives: Farah Zahra

CUNY DHI Lightning Talks

For those who couldn’t make it to the Lightning Talks on Tuesday, here is the list of the great & cool projects that were presented:

1- Manuscript builder
by Teresa Ober – GC

2- The fabric of Cultures: Systems in the Making
By Eugenia Paulicelli – Queen’s College & GC

3- DH as OER
by our colleague Nancy Foasberg – Queens college

4- Art history teaching resources (AHTR)

5- Net-Art

6- Building and Modeling undergrad DH research
by Dr. Andie Silva – York College

7- Translating Nuova York 
by Julie Van Peteghem – Hunter College

8-  Visualizing epistemology
by David Giuseppe Colasanto & Julian Gonzalez de Leon Heiblum – GC

9- Communities of Platform Development from OPENLAB at CITY TECH
By Kristen Hackett – GC
AND Commons in a Box OpenLab: A Commons for Open Learning
by Matthew Gold

10- QC Voices
by Stefano Morello – GC

11- Expanding Communities of Practice: DH research Institute
By Lisa Rhody & Kalle Westerling – GC

12-Digital Publishing with Manifold Scholarship with University of Minnesota Press
By Matthew Gold & Jojo Kerlin – GC


Praxis assignment: Edward Said’s imaginative geographies

Alright this is a tough assignment—especially when you’re trying to map something related to a geography that has been fought over for a century and remembered and evoked in terms of metaphor.

For this assignment, I chose to map the main stops of Edward Said journey (from Palestine to the US then back to Palestine). And while the map is simple (and simplistic) and straightforward, Said’s conception of place and geography is very far from that. For that reason, I have to say that the map I created doesn’t come near to capturing any claims that Said makes: partly because navigating ArcGIS requires technical training I don’t have, and because of the very assumptions underlying these maps that are rooted in a certain (western/modern) historic and intellectual development that Said largely critiques.

Briefly speaking, Said speaks of “imaginative geography-ies” by which we construct a geography/world (you may also want to check this article discussing the topic). His views on place are part of the project in social theory/post-colonial studies that took it upon itself to reconceptualize space and geography. As his nation is still in fight with an occupier, Said is thus one of the scholars who invited us to reimagine territories in the post-colonial world. He was always keen on pointing to the role of hegemonic culture in imposing delineations of geography and borders. Threads of his writing on this topic are vividly present in his book Reflections on Exile (2000) and his own autobiography Out of Place (1999) from which I seized the data for the map (I also inserted some quotes on the map). Said writes in the preface of his memoir:

“Along with language, it is geography—especially in the displaced form of departures, arrivals, farewells, exile, nostalgia, homesickness, belonging, and travel itself—that is at the core of my memories of those early years. Each of the places I lived in—Jerusalem, Cairo, Lebanon, the United States—has a complicated, dense web of valences that was very much a part of growing up, gaining an identity, forming my consciousness of myself and of others.”

Although the Presner’s discussion of “thick maps” may seem complex enough to engage with Said’s approach to geography especially when he writes:  “thick maps are not simply more data on maps, but interrogations of the very possibility of data, mapping, and cartographic representational practices” (Presner, 19), it still heavily draws on a particular intellectual history in the humanities (this is actually Talal Asad critique of the interpretative Geertzian project that Presner borrows from). On the other hand, another theme we read about this week might have been more convincing to Said; that of white lying of/in maps. And while the author of that piece contends that reality is three dimensional but maps are clusters of two-dimensional graphic scale, I imagine Said jumping in and saying: they are four dimensional—with the fourth dimension being imagination tied to the wit of collective memory and individual remembering. I think, for example, of Said’s trip to Jerusalem in 1992 when he was able to visit his family home for the first time after they were forced to leave in 1948.

Few notes on the map:

I used three layers following Said’s autobiography—childhood, in the US and visits to Palestine and Egypt. I couldn’t however figure out how to make the locations appear in a chronological way…

Jerusalem, where Said was born, can be located in four different ways: Jerusalem, Israel / Jerusalem, the old city, Israel / Jerusalem East, West Bank, Palestinian territories / Jerusalem, West Bank, Palestinian territories. Said was born before the partition of Jerusalem but visited it after the East-West Jerusalem division.


Said visited Northern Palestine/Isreal in 2000 with his son—a region whose cities are named in Hebrew but Said refers to the Arabic names of towns. Ultimately, there are endless ways in which Said’s “imaginative geographies” and the ongoing contestation and fight over territories of his homeland complicate the task of mapping. I’m optimistic though, especially when I find thinking about “maps” is being undertaken in terms of “mapping”– a verb and a process rather than a given static form of geographical representation.

Overall, this exercise makes me ponder the following questions: how has the colonial project shaped the ways in which we experience/think about space and geography? How can we “decolonize” mapping as a practice in the DH? How are material and metaphorical geographies entangled?  what ‘mapping’ practices may be best to express more local/particular understandings of geography and relation to place?

On the Sound Workshop

In this week’s reading, Lauren Klein teased an important critique of the distant reading method and tools by asking: “what might be hidden in [the corpus we are analyzing]? And are there methods we might use to bring out significant texts, or clusters of words, that the eye cannot see?” Today’s workshop on sound recording and analysis engaged with that critique by presenting the different ways in which we can analyze and present data through sound. “Sound” as a category that relates to sensual perception has longed been overlooked by humanistic inquiry and literature that privileges visual and textual data and analysis. “Sonification” therefore refers to the methods of displaying date through sound. The workshop was led by digital fellow Kelsey Chatlosh who is a PhD candidate in cultural anthropology and an active voice on the Sound Studies and Methods Working Group here at the GC.

So instead of summarizing the entire workshop, I will just share the topics and tools that engaged directly with the approach raised above. I will also share the link to the presentation:

First, it’s important that we think about what falls under the category of sound/audio that we want to record, analyze or share. Here we are speaking of music, remixes, oral histories, radio, podcasts, sound art, soundscapes, sound installation/sound walk, sound map, sound therapy, etc.

Second, various scholarly works on sound studies and anthropology have theorized about sound. The most significant contributions in the field are that of anthropologist Steve Feld and composer Muray Schuffer. Feld develops the notion of acoustemology that regards sound “as a modality of knowing and being in the world” (2000). Schuffer introduced the concept of soundscape to treat growing concerns about acoustic ecology and created The World Soundscape Project. Both contributions were widely received and expanded on within their disciplines. On that note I wonder how much and in what ways other disciplines in the humanities may be open to these scholarly approaches.

Third, we were introduced to:

John Barber sound resources archive (he also teaches at the DH Summer Institute)

If you want to share your oral archive or create a website to share it, you can check the Oral History Metadata Synchronizer

Software for (qualitative) coding and analyzing:
Atlas.ti, it’s the software widely used by anthropologists (it’s not open source, but it’s available on the GC PCs)
Trint, open source for transcribing
Jacket, open source for analyzing performative speech

Google speech to text, non-open source for transcribing and requires knowledge of python to operate

High Performance Sound Technologies for Access and Scholarship, open source audio toolkit for analyzing and preparing audio for machine learning

And finally, my favorite ethnopoetic transcription that addresses an issue I wrestled with when doing the praxis assignment; that is the challenge of representing the semantically loaded spoken words with words on paper.

  • Sound art projects:
    works by artist Zach Poff ; and by Markus Kison who does WWII memorial exhibits of touch echo installations  that help transmit sounds of cities which devasted in 1945 using bone conduction technology

Overall, the workshop served as a great introduction to the sound/audio tools and DH projects that deal with sound. It still seems to me however that most software/tools are designed in such a way to render sound into text that can be analyzable. The reason to that may be related to the nature of sound itself. After all, sound is ephemeral. Even when captured in recording, it can never be grasped in its entirety. What I think this reveal (about us people working in the academe) is perhaps an intellectual anxiety at the challenges raised by the immediate sensual experience and what it engenders at the moment of its unfolding—that I believe what we actually do (writing/text) cannot rightly encompass.

Finally, I hope you find my summary useful!

Text Mining – The Rap Songs of the Syrian Revolution/War

The purpose of this text mining assignment is to understand the main recurrent themes, phrases and terms in the rap songs of the Syrian revolution/war (originally in Arabic) and their relation (if any) to the overall unfolding of the Syrian war events, battles and displacement. In what follows, I will highlight the main findings and limitations of the tool for this case study.

The rap songs can be found The Creative Memory of the Syrian Revolution, that is an online platform aiming to archive Syrian artistic expression (plastic art, poetry, songs, calligraphy, etc) in the age of the revolution and war. Interestingly, the website also incorporates digital tools (mapping) to map the location of demonstrations, battles, and the cities in which or for which songs were composed. It’s useful to mention that I’ve worked for the website/songs & music section since March 2016, and thus translated most of these songs lyrics. Overall, the songs cover variety of themes elucidating the horror of war, evoking the angry echo of death, and expressing aspirations for freedom and peace.

To begin with, I went over the 390 songs archived to pick the translated lyrics of the 32 rap songs stretching from 2011 until this day (take for example, Tetlayt).

I then entered the lyrics, from the most recent to the oldest, into Voyant. And here:

fig. 1

fig. 2


Unsurprisingly, the top 4 trends are: people, country, want, revolution (fig. 1 & 2).






The analysis shows that the word “like” comes fourth, when the word mostly appears in a song where the rapper repeats “like [something/someone] for amplification (fig. 2 & 3).



fig. 3

Next, I looked into when or at what phase of the revolution/war some terms were most used. It was revealing to see the terms “want” and “leave” (fig. 4 & 5) were popular at the beginning of the revolution in 2011, the time when the leading slogan was “Leave, Leave, oh Bashar” and “the people want to bring down the regime“.

fig. 4

fig. 5

fig. 6

On another note, it doesn’t seem that Voyant can group the singulars and plurals of the same word (child/children in fig. 6). Or is there a way we can group several words together?






So although the analysis gives a good insight into general trends, I would argue that song texts require a tool that is adaptable to the special characteristics of the genre. After all, music reformulates language in performance, and what may be revealed as a trend in text may very well not be the case through the experience of singing and listening. Beyond text, rap songs (any song really) are a play on  paralinguistic features such as tones, rhythms, intonations, pauses; and musical ones, such as scales, tone systems, rhythmic temporal structures, and musical techniques–all of which of course, a tool like voyant cannot capture. I know there are speech recognition software that are widely used for transcription, but that’s not what I’m interested in. I’m thinking of tool that do analysis of speech as speech/sound. I’m curious to know what my colleagues who did speech analysis thought of this.