Tag Archives: Digital Humanities

Final Project: DH in Prison

Here are excerpts from my project proposal. If you want to read the whole proposal let me know and I’ll share it with you.

Photograph from Vera Institute of Justice Reimagining Prison Report

In view of the devastating effects of mass incarceration in the United States and in an effort to address the needs of incarcerated people as they rebuild their lives, I propose to design and develop an undergraduate college-level course in digital skills and digital humanities to be taught in prison. Although education is a powerful tool for successful reentry, only 35% of prisons in the United States offer college courses at the present time.[1] Digital humanities are hardly taught at all. An environmental scan of college programs in prisons shows a low occurrence of digital humanities courses in curricula largely due to a scarcity of hard and soft infrastructure to support digital work and because incarcerated people are generally forbidden access to the internet. This gap, or digital divide, presents us with an opportunity to build a course that does not exist at the present time and to innovate through exploring ways to teach specific digital skills without an internet connection. By developing minimal computing software we will create course materials easily exportable to low-tech environments around the world. We will produce a course curriculum, syllabus, lesson plans with datasets, open source documentation and a project website.

This project comes at a time when the field of Digital Humanities is turning from seeing itself under a big tent to being under no tent. Teaching digital humanities and digital skills in prison is an opportunity to share the work we do in the field of digital humanities with a population that on one hand, given its disadvantages, will benefit greatly from having a digital edge and on the other hand will add new perspectives and contributions to the field of digital humanities, expanding its scope by bringing the interests and concerns of communities traditionally underrepresented in digital humanities to the fore.

Photograph from Vera Institute of Justice Reimagining Prison Report

Photograph by anonymous

[1]Bender, Kathleen. “Education Opportunities in Prison Are Key to Reducing Crime.” Center for American Progress, March 2, 2018.

See also Reimagining Prison Report. Vera Institute of Justice, October 10, 2018.

Make the infrastructure you want in the world

“Infrastructure and Materiality” may sound like a dry and bloodless module, but I’ve found the readings this week positively rousing.

Brian Larkin expanded the definition of infrastructure from the physical, built forms that move material to the political and social systems from which the physical networks can not be teased apart and without which they could not exist. ‘Placing the system at the center of analysis decenters a focus on technology and offers a more synthetic perspective, bringing into our conception of machines all sorts of nontechnological elements.’ This perspective is in line with a social shift I’ve noticed toward taking a more holistic view of causes and effects in our world, a recognition of the massive complexity in the systems we create and which shape us in turn.

Shannon Mattern too emphasizes the reality of infrastructure as greater than its emblematic factories and power lines. ‘[I]ntellectual and institutional structures and operations – measurement standards, technical protocols, naming conventions, bureaucratic forms, etc. – are also infrastructures’. This is where I feel like the praxis assignments could have done so much more. The bulk of our time, as reported in accompanying blog posts, was spent in trying to get data cleaned up and transformed into a shape that would be accepted by the text analysis, mapping, or network visualization tool. Many of us bemoaned the lack of understanding of our results at the end of it. It might be useful to provide an option that facilitates less time on data cleanup and more time interrogating the infrastructure of the tools and praxis. Ryan Cordell endorses this approach for similar reasons in his piece, How Not to Teach Digital Humanities. (In class it was put forth that he was only writing about undergraduates, but this is incorrect. His piece is explicitly about teaching both undergraduate and graduate students).

What I loved most in the readings are the loud and clear, outward-facing calls to action. Mattern’s article and the book draft notes from Alan Liu both earnestly exhort the reader to go forth and make works that reify and support the world we want. Build! Create! Generate! Mattern suggests we look at our field and identify opportunities to create infrastructure that support our liberal values. Liu encourages looking at our works as opportunities to channel the energy and values in the digital humanities today into actions that affect society beyond the academic realm.

I can’t think of a more inspiring and invigorating set of readings to shake off the mid-semester doldrums and power us up for the final few weeks of class. We will be developing project proposals. Perhaps we’ll end up with some projects that positively shape the infrastructure of our field.

Shannon Mattern’s Critical and Generative Structures

In “Scaffolding, Hard and Soft – Infrastructures as Critical and Generative Structures” (2016) Shannon Mattern, Associate Professor of Media Studies at the New School, delivers a hopeful and inspiring message and provides a clear introduction to the importance of thinking about infrastructure in our work.

Shannon notes that new infrastructures – both hard and soft – are built on old ones. In the case of hard infrastructures, optic fibers are strung where cables and wires are traditionally laid, in sewage ducts and water and gas pipes, and alongside roads and railways. Many of these infrastructures are concentrated in cities or, in the case of satellites, directed towards large urban centers in more industrially and technologically developed parts of the world. Intellectual or soft infrastructures similarly follow old paths in their conceptual design. Despite their path dependency and heavy engineering new infrastructures bear the imprint of human agency, of the people who form part of these infrastructures as links, builders, and deliverers. Human agents are particularly evident when “in particular disenfranchised pockets of the world, when [the] scaffolding [that underlies more economically secure communities] is simply absent.” By turning our attention to the often precarious infrastructures in economically poorer parts of the world we see how splintered our  “seemingly universal infrastructures” are.

The politics of hard and soft infrastructures are cleverly addressed in artist Hito Steyerl’s 2013 video How Not to Be Seen: A F***ing Didactic Educational .MOV File which Shannon Mattern recommends. In this radical work Steyerl declares that resolution determines visibility hence shows the world as a picture. Because pixel calibration determines visibility, she argues, to become invisible one has to become smaller or equal to one pixel, or be any number of things including someone living in a gated community, being in an airport or museum, being a female over 50, undocumented, poor, or “a disappeared person as an enemy of the state. Eliminated, liquidated and then disseminated.” Invisibility becomes a visible network in Steyerl’s film as disappeared people retreat strangely into 3D animations, then hold the vectors together and mesh the picture, then reemerge into a world of pictures as shadows of themselves. The video’s central recurrent image is a cracked and rutted resolution target in the California desert which Steyerl’s voice over says was decommissioned in 2000. “happy pixels hop off into low resolution, gif loop!” Multilayered and cryptic, Steyerl’s .MOV file is worth watching more than once.

Hito Steyerl, How Not to be Seen: A Fucking Didactic Educational .MOV File, (2013).

While artists must critique, it’s still not enough to represent, that is, to reveal and critically analyze, infrastructures, writes Mattern. Creative practitioners should design more just infrastructures, she adds. To do so and in doing so they should “approach infrastructure as a generative structure – a framework for generating systems and environments and objects, and cultivating individuals and communities, that embody the values we want to define our society.”

One of the examples of generative structures that Mattern provides is the use of existing infrastructure to bring about change in the labor conditions of workers in the fast fashion industry in countries like Bangladesh. This calls attention to materiality and affect in the communities involved in the production of clothes we see in store windows on, for example, 34th Street between 5th and 6th. Another example of infrastructure as a generative structure provided by Mattern are mesh networks (see for example The Red Hook Wifi Project [2013]), which are particularly exciting to think about when one thinks of what can happen when infrastructure is not controlled by the community in moments of danger. Two such moments come to mind: Egypt during the Arab Spring, when Vodafone cut off internet and cellphone networks at the height of massive uprisings in Cairo in 2011, causing protesters to lose vital communication with each other about where Egyptian military were firing bullets and consequently being shot down by these. Puerto Rico following Hurricane Maria is another example where mesh networks would have facilitated rescue and recovery.

In less extreme situations landscape urbanism advocates for looking beyond architecture at infrastructures in all their complexity to seek more equitable models. Other fields can follow landscape urbanism’s lead, and an important thing we can do as graduate students is look at the infrastructure that shapes and girds our fields “or what we might call the ‘cultural techniques’ for making knowledge and generating work within a field” (Mattern).

Mattern’s closing message is inspiring and directive:

Recognizing what’s missing in your field’s current infrastructural ecology might inspire you to contribute to the design of a discursive space or a landscape of practice that embodies a political economy more in line with those liberal values that our theories espouse. You, as critical-creative practitioners, have the opportunity to transform criticality into generativity – to imagine and then construct the hard and soft scaffoldings for tomorrow’s fields of practice.

Learning how to code, critically reading artifacts and imagining new ways of doing things are essential to making meaningful contributions in our field. Thinking of infrastructure on all its scales, from corporeal to global, will point to where generative structures most urgently need to be built.








Shannon Mattern on Scaffolding + Infrastructures

I really enjoyed Shannon Mattern’s essay. While reading it I realized that I know her from The New School’s Media Studies Dept. where I completed my first MA. Her bio is worth a read. She also was the MC for my commencement from the Media Studies program there — a truly lovely ceremony, complete with cap & gown & diploma handshake and my aunt who graduated from Hunter College in the 1940’s in attendance.

Shannon’s work is very complex, as the theoretical nature of this essay demonstrates. She’s very interesting to converse with as I’ve had the occasion to do.

Regarding the essay, I particularly like her closing academic pep talk about us as practitioners in our fields “transform[ing] criticality into generativity”. Her commencement address was similarly inspiring in tone.

I have many additional observations on this reading which I will add via editing this post.

Continuing on, Mattern advocates for DHers and our colleagues as “critical-creative practitioners” (a moniker I like) to go beyond the representation of infrastructure to the design of infrastructure [our]selves” so that we’re approaching infrastructure as a generative structure [which is] a framework for generating systems/environments/objects and cultivating individuals/communities that embody values we want to define in our society. (7)

This is a tall order organizationally speaking, but approachable on the individual level of our classrooms, projects, and as members of group projects.

I like how SM acknowledges the “entangled soft and hard infrastructures that often propel ‘making’ in our fields”, and lead to institutional forces that seek branded theories, methods and churn out grad students, like us, eager to discover the ‘new big thing’ via conferences, etc. and the “infrastructure” travel these require with its inherent sustainability sub-issues of fuel, jet fuel, diesel, electricity, and the environmental impact of these.

I also like how SM takes a bold step in acknowledging that liberal conceptions of labor, knowledge, and taste that many theoretical and aesthetic movements “actually embody” often fail to match up to their professed politics. The legendary waste in the fashion and film industries, while many of its leading design professionals and celebrity consumers profess to be “green” and/or shame others in different industries is an outrageous form of hypocrisy.

Therefore, I think keeping “infrastructional ecology” in mind is indeed a great motivating force for us DHers as “critical-creative practitioners” to contribute practices that embody a political economy aligned with the liberal values of our chosen field’s theories. Maybe this is the “NEXT new big thing….?”

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.)

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).