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THATCamp Theory Presentation

This past weekend I led a workshop at THATCamp Theory, at Rutgers, on evaluating and critiquing multimodal projects.I must admit, my talk was kind-of a mash-up of two older projects: my CUNY DHI talk from last October (video here) and this post. Above are my slides, and below are my notes.

I unfortunately was able to attend only Day One of the two-day conference (Rory said Day Two was quite the brain-bender). Yet I thoroughly enjoyed the sessions I was able to take part in!

EVALUATION / CRITIQUE OF DH PROJECTS

This workshop will focus on developing a critical vocabulary for responding to DH and systems for providing meaningful evaluative feedback, including 1) developing critical evaluative criteria for various formats of multimodal work and 2) identifying theoretical frameworks that inform those criteria. We’ll consider both professional and student projects and spend some time considering how to make project evaluation an integral part of the DH classroom. Depending on the interests of the group, our case studies might include data visualizations, map-based projects, crowdsourced archival projects, and other interactive publications.

  • Recognize that there’s a history of considering “multimodal evaluation” in composition

[SLIDE 2] I’m not fully ensconced in the DH community – sympathetic to their interest in different forms, practices, praxes, of scholarship.

  • Craft as a useful model for considering how similar intellectual values and practices span domains – reading, writing, making in various modalities
  • But not all making is scholarship

[SLIDES 3-4] McPherson article: Multimodal Humanist – this term, still a mouthful, resonated more with me

[SLIDE 5] Scrivener on when production is research

[SLIDE 6] Question about Feedback & Evaluation — not simply so I could assign a grade, but so we could provide meaningful feedback

  • Work – particularly technical skills – were sometimes outside my area of expertise
  • How to balance weighting of form and content – “rigor” in concept or execution?
  • Individual vs. Group Accountability

[SLIDE 7] Revisited the list of criteria two years later

[SLIDES 8-10] Fall 2010 / 2011 / 2012 : Urban Media Archaeology

  • [SLIDE 11] Semester Schedule – discuss theories representing each unit
  • [SLIDE 12] PROJECT PROPOSALS – not different from trendy “contracts”
    • Justify choice of “genre” and format – use of media tools as method
  • [SLIDES 13-14] Student Proposed Projects
    • Carrier pigeons, electrification of lower Manhattan, video game arcades, newspaper company headquarters, “media actors” in Atlantic Yards using actor-network theory, etc.
    • I provide individual feedback; students post to blogs and classmates comment
    • This semester’s class hasn’t yet posted their proposals online
  • [SLIDE 15] Learn Data Modeling (interface now looks a bit different)
  • [SLIDE 16] User Scenarios
  • [SLIDE 17] Look inside Black Box – Software Development
  • [SLIDE 18] Pecha Kucha
    • DH projects inherently collaborative – need experts from multiple fields
  • [SLIDE 19] All the while, we’re collectively developing criteria for evaluation:
    • [SLIDE 20] By working in small groups and as a class to evaluate other “multimodal projects” + Hypercities
    • [SLIDE 21] Through individual map critiques
    • Thru Peer Review of one another’s projects
  • [SLIDE 22] Process Blogs – Self-Evaluation
    • Make public their process
      • [SLIDE 23] Discuss work w/ other public/cultural institutions – e.g., archives
    • [SLIDES 24-26] Practice “critical self-consciousness” – about their work processes, choice of methods, media formats, etc.
    • Hold themselves accountable for their choices
  • [SLIDE 27] Peer Evaluation: Paper Prototypes
  • Final Presentation: [SLIDE 28] My Feedback + [SLIDE 29] Students’ Peer Reviews

[SLIDE 30] Where was theory throughout?

  • Underlying the entire project, informing their understanding of the way cities work, informing their understanding of how maps work as media, informing how they design their data models, which are in shaped by how they want their projects to look for users – thus, theories about the visualization of data mix in with their theories about how databases work
  • And in order for students to know how we were going to evaluate success, these theories had to be made an integral part of our development process

[SLIDE 31] Through critique, we’ll reverse-engineer student and professional projects and find the theory that informed it

  • [SLIDE 32] From my list of evaluative criteria – Concept + Content; Concept-/Content-Driven Design + Technique; Documentation and Transparent, Collaborative Development; Academic Integrity and Openness; Review and Critique – are backed by theories: theories central to the project’s content, theories of design, theories of knowledge production, theories of labor, etc.
  • [CLICK] But we’ll focus on the few dimensions that are overtly theoretical, and that we can potentially discern in a quick review, in the short time we have here
  • [SLIDE 33] Break up into groups and assess the Concept + Content and Concept-Content-Driven Design + Technique of a few sample DH project and reverse-engineer that theories that might’ve informed their creation

[SLIDE 34] Case Studies:

  • These are the cases we choose from in my UMA class.
  • Solicit ideas for classes of projects to critique (e.g., data visualizations, map-based projects, crowd-sourced archival project, interactive publications)
  • Solicit ideas for specific projects groups can collaborative assess

Examples:

 

 

 

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Urban Research Mobile Media

Here’s my presentation for the Urban Research & Mobile Media panel at Mobility Shifts:

Mattern_MobilityShifts_URT

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DH: The Name That Does No Favors

via ToastyTreat87 @ Flickr: http://bit.ly/f6HVOp

I just returned from a workshop at NYU called “Why Digital Humanities?” I went primarily because Kathleen Fitzpatrick, who’s always fantastic, and Diana Taylor were on the panel — but also, I must admit, because, even though I work just a few blocks away, I often miss my alma mater and its fancy facilities and nice catered lunches.

After the four panelists presented, roughly a half-hour remained for questions — and it became clear after the third or fourth person spoke that most of their questions centered on the issue of definition. “If I show a YouTube clip in my writing class, am I practicing the digital humanities?” “Will history departments ultimately split into traditional and digital camps?” I’ve been working with digital archives for 15 years. I was a digital humanist before there even was such a term!”

Last summer I participated in a think tank organized by our Provost’s office at The New School. The challenge I set for myself was to do an “environmental scan” of “alternative modes of scholarly practice” — focusing in particular on DH, a “field” I’d been curious, but also skeptical, about for a while — and to figure out how to translate some of those findings into my classes in the fall. After several months of research, some skepticism lingered — but I also managed to find a new, more fruitful, less techno-fetishist way to conceive of the really valuable things that DH has to offer.

I came to the conclusion that the “Digital Humanities” name doesn’t do anybody any favors. It prioritizes the digital, implying that the insertion of new media into any endeavor inevitably makes it better — and, conversely, that print and old media are inherently retrograde. This is not the message I need to send to my students, many of whom already assume that the world was reborn — and humanity reached its apotheosis — with the rise of the Internet. What’s more, it singles out the humanities, suggesting that in this evolving educational universe, they can go it alone — with the help of a few technical gadgets. DH (or [insert better name here]) is necessarily interdisciplinary and collaborative.

Anyway, here’s the summary report I wrote. It’s no masterpiece, since I wrote this while simultaneously finishing the syllabi for two new grad classes. Still, I think it gets at some of these “image” and “self-definition” problems that seem to get some people stuck.

*     *     *     *     *

via LaughingQuid @ Flickr: http://bit.ly/e575FN

In the work I completed in my preliminary literature review[1], and in research I’ve conducted since then, I’ve discovered that a sizable portion of the Digital Humanities literature is dedicated to addressing when the Digital Humanities began, what the Digital Humanities (DH) are, and what counts as a DH project.[2] These identity-negotiation discussions are perhaps to be expected of a “diverse and still emerging” field[3]. Yet I find that the prevalence of these debates, and their focus on self-justification, limit the attention directed toward meaningful applications. In addition, the efforts to define the Digital Humanities as a discipline often mean that a great deal of (liquid and digital) ink is spilt in establishing the particular nature of DH’s relationship to “the humanities” and “the digital.” Patrik Svensson, in his recent article on “the landscape of digital humanities” – the second in a three-part series in Digital Humanities Quarterly – writes:

there is [even] a question of whether “the digital” needs to be specified at all, and it is not uncommon to encounter the argument that technology and the digital are part or will be part of any academic area, and hence the denotation “digital” is not required.[4]

The continued insistence on (and seeming fetishization of) the digital, however, seems to privilege these media at the expense of other, non-digital, yet equally appropriate and effective, media forms. Rather than fetishizing the database, as some “humanities computing” (what some call “Digital Humanities 1.0”) scholars seemed to do, however, I’d prefer that we consider other modes of “processing” a research project – that we apply the valuable lessons that DH has to offer to a broader scope of scholarly modes. I’d prefer that we consider how particular questions or problems might lend themselves to investigation or representation through aural, visual, or interactive media; through maps, audio archives, documentaries, video games – even architecture, designed products, clothing. In some cases, we should remember, a print document – designed so that its material form reinforces its argument – might be the most appropriate means of giving form to an argument.

I have found media scholar Tara McPherson’s approach most similar to my own vision, and her voice most refreshing. McPherson, who is affiliated with USC’s Institute for Multimedia Literacy, calls such a cross-platform oriented scholar “multimodal”: the multimodal scholar “thinks carefully about the relationship of form to content, expression to idea.” She examines “what happens when scholarship looks and feels differently, requiring new modes of engagement from the reader/user.”[5] She wonders: “How do you ‘experience’ or ‘feel’ an argument in a more immersive and sensory-rich space?” “Can scholarship show as well as tell?” “Will representing data differently change the ways we understand, collect, or interpret it?”

I prefer to use McPherson’s terminology – multimodal scholarship (although I think that there’s still something inelegant in this construction) – so, for the rest of this document I’ll be referring to “MS” instead of “DH.” However, I do think that there are a great many intellectual and ethical parallels between DH and MS, and in some cases we might even be able to use the terms interchangeably. So, although I’ll be using the term (or, rather, acronym) MS in what follows, I’ll be drawing from the literature on both MS and DH.

Rather than get caught up in the debates over labels and territory and disciplinary status, I have found it much more beneficial to focus, like McPherson, on those intellectual practices and values that are central to the new scholarly practices defining MS – values that seem consistent with the new pedagogies and university structures called for by a host of recognizable figures and entitites, including Henry Jenkins, Cathy Davidson, David Theo Goldberg, and the MacArthur Foundation.[6] Those values, which I highlighted in my preliminary literature review, include (1) opening up, laying bare, and critically reflecting on the process of scholarship; (2) collaboration; and (3) a deep concern with epistemological questions (e.g., how is knowledge “made,” who gets to make it, what’s done with it, etc.) I’ll say a few words about each:

First, the practice of chronicling one’s research process, Johanna Drucker says, benefits the researcher him- or herself in that it opens up “occasions for critical self-consciousness.”[7] The practice also benefits academia’s publics – both the limited ones it has now, and the potentially wider and more numerous ones it could have in the future; explaining what we, as researchers/critical-practitioners/critical-educators/etc., do can “illuminate the shadowy process of critical thinking, encouraging readers not only to digest finished works, but also to learn from and evaluate the mechanisms of their creation.”[8] Second, collaboration allows participants to “leverage the increasingly distributed nature of expertise and knowledge and transform this reality into occasions for scholarly innovation, disciplinary cross-fertilization, and the democratization of knowledge.”[9] Collaborators on DH/MS projects increasingly come from outside the university: libraries, museums, archives, historical societies, arts organizations, advocacy groups, non-profits, schools, and local communities all have the potential to participate (as I’ll explain below, I’ve attempted to integrate several outside participants in my fall application). Third, as Stephanie Barish and Elizabeth Daley, also affiliated with USC’s IML, argue, “To be literate today, one must understand how strategically chosen and juxtaposed combinations of media enable the construction and dissemination of meaning in ways that bypass of enrich traditional text and the spoken word. Indeed, one must not only be able to read such media, but also to author it.”[10] Such knowledge work calls into question the distinction between theory and practice. And, through its continual reflection on process, this work also has the potential to raise critical questions about what constitutes knowledge, “who gets to create [i]
,… how it gets legitimated and authorized, and how it is made accessible to a significantly broader (and potentially global) audience.”[11]

My late-summer research has focused primarily on how these values can be integrated into the classroom. The final section of my preliminary literature review addressed the challenges and opportunities of introducing faculty to DH- or MS-inspired pedagogies, and incentivizing them to make the extra effort to incorporate these new modes of teaching into their courses (and to take some risk in doing so). Much of our online ATT discussion throughout the summer has focused on these issues, too. But my literature review closed by bringing these issues back to bear on the students: I focused on how the collaborative, process-focused, multi-disciplinary, “multiple literacies” approach is central to USC’s IML. While the program is immensely inspiring on paper – and it has no doubt achieved tremendous success during its few years of existence – we heard from Holly Willis recently about the challenges even it, with its generous funding and active fellowship programs, has faced. These types of issues require structural changes and widespread institutional commitment to change – efforts that, as we discussed, are beyond individual faculty members’ purview but within the realm of responsibility of the Provost’s office.

A more small-scale, but no less significant, issue that I then turned my attention to was the issue of assessment. I wrote at the end of my preliminary literature review: “As the rampant DH boosterism and invariably positive commentary on [particular high-profile] projects…reveals, the Digital Humanities community has yet to build a tradition of critique.”[12] But how does one critique a research-based interactive map? Or a theoretically informed performance-installation? The standard processes and rubrics of grading, or of peer review, fail in these cases. So, I spent the final few weeks of my summer investigating models for assessing multimodal student projects. My blog post on this topic, I learned (much to my surprise), was tweeted around a bit. And given the specific multimodal form of my students’ projects – an interactive dabatase-driven map – I’ve begun an effort to integrate criticism sensitive to the medium-specificity of the map, with these multimodal evaluative rubrics. I will continue to work through these issues with my students as the fall progresses. And throughout the semester we will be blogging our design and deliberation and evaluation processes, for the benefit of those who might learn from our experience…..

X


X

[1] See here, here, and here.

[2] Sometimes it seems as if it would be easier to explain what doesn’t count, given the expansive nature of some DH definitions. Todd Presner, for instance, defines DH as “humanistic practice anchored in creation, curation, collaboration, experimentation, and the multi-purposing or multi-channeling of humanistic knowledge.” (“Digital Humanities 2.0: A Report on Knowledge,” May 13, 2010, Module m34246, Connexions.)

[3] Digital Humanities Quarterly, “About DHQ”: http://digitalhumanities.org/dhq/about/about.html

[4] Patrick Svensson, “The Landscape of the Digital HumanitiesDigital Humanities Quarterly 4:1 (Summer 2010): ¶ 51.

[5] Tara McPherson, “Introduction: Media Studies and the Digital Humanities,” Cinema Journal 48, no. 2 (Winter 2009): 120-1.

[6] Henry Jenkins, “Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture: Media Education for the 21st Century” [white paper] (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2006); Cathy N. Davidson & David Theo Goldberg, “The Future of Thinking: Learning Institutions in a Digital Age” (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2010).

[7] Johanna Drucker and Bethany Nowviskie, “Speculative Computing: Aesthetic Provocations in Humanities Computing,” in A Companion to Digital Humanities, ed. Ray Siemens, John Unsworth, and Susan Schreibman, Hardcover., Blackwell Companions to Literature and Culture (Oxford: Blackwell, 2004).

[8] Avi Santo and Christopher Lucas, “Engaging Academic and Nonacademic Communities through Online Scholarly Work,” Cinema Journal 48, no. 2 (Winter 2009): 133-134.

[9] Jeffrey Schnapp, Todd Presner, et. al., “The Digital Humanities Manifesto 2.0,” n.d.: 5.

[10] Stephanie Barish and Elizabeth Daley, Multimedia Scholarship for the 21st Century, Educause Forum for the Future of Higher Education (Educause, 2005): 39.

[11] Presner, “Digital Humanities 2.0: A Report on Knowledge.”

[12] See Jennifer Howard, “Hot Type: No Reviews of Digital Scholarship = No RespectChronicle of Higher Education (May 23, 2010).

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Of Pigeons and Power Plants

On the very last night of the fall semester I pulled an all-nighter to finish reviewing my Urban Media Archaeology students’ final projects before my husband and I caught a 6am flight for our Christmas visit to Chicago. Thus, I didn’t get a chance before the break to say anything about the students’ fantastic projects. It was a whirlwind semester: we learned about “urban media” and media archaeology, about maps as media, about the digital humanities and multimodal scholarship, about archival research, about data management, about software development, and loads more stuff. We took a walking tour of Lower Manhattan’s internet infrastructure with Andrew Blum, talked with Jesse Shapins about his own urban media art projects and parallels between our class and his Media Archaeology of Place class at Harvard, did a Pecha Kucha, played with paper prototypes, and did some mad-crazy things with spreadsheets.

The students developed some fantastic projects; their topics included subway symbols; the human labor of newspaper circulation; locative media and food delivery; literary, film- and music-focused walking tours; PacMan and urban navigation; the lost movie theaters of Brooklyn; carrier pigeons; zines’ production and distribution networks; New York media companies’ evolving headquarters; the history of New York radio; speakeasies; cell phone signal strength; screen-based public art; the evolution of New York’s electricity networks; and the history of the city’s coffeehouses. I shared their works-in-progress as part of Parsons’ Streaming Culture series and at the Reimagining the Archive conference at UCLA in November. Rick Prelinger tweeted us some props.

Our semester wasn’t without its hiccups, though. Our collaboration with another class didn’t work out exactly as planned — so we ended up with a mapping tool that didn’t have all the bells and whistles we were (perhaps naively) hoping for. And we don’t yet have an interface design, so the final projects don’t look quite as pretty as we would’ve liked them to. It took me a little while to figure out how to help everyone, including myself, “reframe” these minor disappointments. In thinking through our process over the course of the semester — and marveling at the student’s dedication to their projects, and how thoughtfully they approached their work — I came to realize that all those un-checked-off items on our wish list weren’t signs of failure. Rather, they were an integral — and incredibly meaningful — part of the process. Our class, it became obvious (and should’ve been obvious all along), was way more about process than product. I think we learned some super-valuable lessons about accepting the inevitable frustrations of collaboration and technical snafus, about being comfortable with incompletion, about looking past the gee-whizzery of interactive tools (especially mapping tools — and particularly in regard to research-based projects in the digital humanities) and appreciating the quality of the research and arguments they’re meant to present.

For now, I’ll highlight a few projects that represent not only the great promise of “multimodal” scholarship, but also strong scholarship by any standard, in any format. Again, the interface isn’t yet intuitive (or attractive) — so my advice is to start with the project description, then work through the “Arguments,” which will link you to relevant archival records that have been posted to the map. The system’s still pretty slow, too, so please be patient!

Architecture of Media” examines the evolving headquarters of the New York Times, Tribune, World, and Herald, and the Wall Street Journal, in an attempt to appreciate how publishers use “their own buildings in New York City as a way of advertising their preeminence and establishing themselves as an integral part of the city’s cultural fabric.”

The objective of “Mapping the Social Life of Zines” is to “both physically and theoretically map the trajectories of self-publishing channels/networks in NYC. The premise is that mapping the social dimensions of zine exchange — the ways in which zines were produced, appropriated, and consumed throughout their histories by different individuals, at different times —  provides valuable insights into how sub-cultural communities were formed and social ties maintained. Moreover,   mapping the geographic circulation routes of exchange allows for a unique spatial analysis of how zines influenced political moments and alliances between movement organizations.”

Pigeography” examines pigeons as communication conduits and makes use of fantastic sound-based arguments. [The video isn’t a part of the project.]

Walking Tours: The City Underfoot and Over Time“aims to explore “how…three walking tours…offer (or don’t) a new way of exploring the city conceptually, historically and physically” — and “how walking tours offer radically new and enlightening ways of exploring and understanding the city, whether in its current state, its historical incarnations, or its never-ending transformations.” There’s an unfortunate bug here: the sheer volume of data points on this map overtaxed the system,” which means that despite the fact that each record is geotagged, there don’t appear to be any markers on the map. If you navigate via the “Arguments,” you’ll still encounter all the relevant geotagged records and appreciate the richness of this project.

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“Notes, Lists, and Everyday Inscriptions” Issue of The New Everyday

I’m happy to announce the relaunch of The New Everyday, an online “middle-state” academic publishing venture supported by MediaCommons (which is in turn supported by the Institute for the the Future of the Book and the NEH). I had the pleasure of editing the brand-new cluster on “Notes, Lists, and Everyday Inscriptions,” which marks the debut of a fantastic site redesign by the NYU Libraries Digital Library Technology Services group. You’ll find terrific contributions from Laura Bergeron, Dan Cohen, Kate Eichhorn, Lisa Gitelman, Katie Harvey, Liza Kirwin, Linda Levitt, Andrew Piper, John Thompson, and Heidi Wilkins, as well as a dope intro by yours truly.

Check out the issue, post a few comments, share some of your own work, or propose a cluster of your own.

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Call for Proposals: 2011 Society for Cinema and Media Studies Workshop on “Urban Informatics, Geographic Data, and Media of Mapping”

I posted the following CFP to the SCMS conference bulletin board. See the conference FAQs for more information about the workshop format, submitting a proposal, SCMS membership, etc.

Dan Hill-Keynote: New Soft City from Interaction Design Association on Vimeo.

The past several years have seen increasing corporate and educational interest in, and major funding for, projects that make urban histories, knowledges, data, etc., accessible, visible/audible/tangible, and, ideally, intelligible to urban publics. Examples include the projects of the recent Towards the Sentient City exhibition at the Architectural League of New York, UCLA and USC’s Google Map-based Hypercities, and mobile-phone- or mp3-based audio walking tours, like Justin Hopper’s “Public Record.”

This workshop will examine a selection of these projects, critically addressing their rhetorical and aesthetic strategies and examining their utility as platforms for research, as pedagogical resources, and as political tools for civic engagement. Acknowledging the widespread commitment among these projects to “making the invisible, visible” (which occasionally results in collapsing “the urban” into “the visible”), we will pay particular attention to the media and sensory modes of mapping and “content” presentation.

Please send 300-word abstract, links to relevant media, and c.v. to Shannon Mattern (matterns AT newschool DOT edu) by Wednesday, August 11. All will be contacted regarding the status of their proposals by August 15.

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TWMHADH, Part 3

Digital Humanities and New Ways of Knowing. UCLA’s (Center for?) Digital Humanities and Media Studies recently released a “Digital Humanities Manifesto 2.0,” which explains that DH is “not a unified field but an “array of convergent practices” that have the potential to profoundly transform the “production and dissemination of knowledge.”[1] A well-designed DH project fosters “attention to complexity, medium specificity, [and] historical context” and promotes “analytical depth, critique and interpretation.” It accepts that knowledge might exist in many forms: “it inhabits the interstices and criss‐crossings between words, sounds, smells, maps, diagrams, installations, environments, data repositories, tables, and objects.” The process of knowledge production is “anchored in making: making in the poetic sense of poeisis, but also in the sense of design carried out in action.” Digital humanists “make” knowledge, they build theory, by building things, designing websites, plotting maps, producing video and audio and, as always, writing cogently. Although one need not have expertise in all modes of production or communication – DH projects are necessarily collaborative in part because of the need to tap into others’ specialized skills – one should have basic literacy in these various modes. DH thus has a stake in the recent discussions about expanded “21st-century literacies.” As Stephanie Barish and Elizabeth Daley, who are affiliated with USC’s Institute for Mutimedia Literacy, argue, “To be literate today, one must understand how strategically chosen and juxtaposed combinations of media enable the construction and dissemination of meaning in ways that bypass or enrich traditional text and the spoken word. Indeed, one must not only be able to read such media, but also to author it.”[2]

Such knowledge work calls into question the distinction between theory and practice. And, through its continual reflection on process, this work also has the potential to raise critical questions about what constitutes knowledge, “who gets to create [i]
,… how it gets legitimated and authorized, and how it is made accessible to a significantly broader (and potentially global) audience.”[3]

Teaching Through the Digital Humanities. All this talk about scholarship might suggest that DH is primarily a field, or practice, for advanced scholars – for people who, as our traditional research models suggest, are specially trained and have been authorized to participate. In other words, DH seems like a faculty affair. Yet the critical skills and values that DH promotes – critical examination of methods, multiple “literacies,” collaboration, internationalization, interdisciplinarity, careful consideration of research presentation, making research accessible to wider publics – are also central to the 21st-century university’s pedagogical mission. DH might not be right for all types of classes, or for all faculty and students – the literacy of print-based reading and writing and research skills required for individual study are still an integral part of any contemporary curriculum – but there is significant opportunity for greater integration of DH into the classroom.

One impediment to that integration is the way many teachers have been trained to think about technology in the classroom. As Barish and Daley note, “To date, much of the support for university faculty to use media is directed toward technical services and basic pedagogical applications.”[4] Faculty are encouraged to use audiovisual materials in the classroom, to integrate social media, etc., “but the implications of their use, as well as the formal components and theoretical basis of multimedia, are not addressed.” Nor is “teaching with technology” instruction tailored to address specific intellectual content. If faculty become more aware of how technology might enhance their own scholarship, they are likely to approach classroom technology as something more than mere illustration or ornamentation. Possible means of introducing faculty to the potential of the Digital Humanities – or at least helping them to develop rudimentary technological literacy so they can more meaningfully integrate technology into their classes and perhaps encourage “multimodal” student projects – include sending faculty to the regularly occurring THATCamps or the Digital Humanities Summer Institute, or, given the number of talented, technologically adept faculty at The New School, hosting a summer “digital humanities boot camp” (much like the camp Parsons’ MFADT organizes for its incoming students each summer) on campus during the semester breaks.

 

As we encourage faculty to change the way they think about technology in the classroom, we must also reconsider how we ask our students to use these learning tools, and to what ends. “Although many students are involved in the creation of their own expressive media presence through personal webpages and social networking,” Presner and Johanson write, “they are infrequently engaged in either interrogating or applying these technologies in their learning and scholarship.”[5] Faculty should be helping students to develop both traditional and new (media) literacies and “the technical skills related to this literacy,” as well as…

tools for critical analysis, the ability to navigate across, reconfigure, and evaluate different media forms, the ability to negotiate and work across diverse cultures and communities, the ability to synthesize material and bring together different methodologies to solve complex problems, the ability to interpret and construct models for responding to real-world situations, the ability to critically evaluate the potentials and limitations of new technologies, and the cultivation of a broad understanding of the social, historical, linguistic, and cultural context in which they are learning and working.[6]

A well-organized DH project has the potential to reinforce all of these skills and promote critical thinking that is transferable to any kind of problem in any context, inside the classroom or out.

Presner and several colleagues have involved their students in the development of HyperCities, a well-funded, frequently lauded interactive map – or, as described on the website, a “a collaborative research and educational platform for traveling back in time to explore the historical layers of city spaces in an interactive, hypermedia environment.” On HyperCities, “student projects exist side-by-side with scholarly research and community collections and can be seen and evaluated by peers.”[7] He finds that his students “demonstrate a high degrees of skill in articulating a multi-dimensional argument in a hypermedia environment and bring together a wide range of media resources,’ including 2D maps, 3D models, photos, videos, audio, text, etc. Their success can likely be attributed to the fact that the existing content on HyperCities models for the students what a successful submission looks like – and because the public nature of the site, and the stature of some of their co-contributors, motivates students to take the challenge seriously. Through their work on HyperCities, the students come to appreciate the distributed, “processural, iterative, and exploratory” nature of digital scholarship.

USC’s Institute for Multimedia Literacy is based on offering many such experiences for undergraduates. The IML’s Steve Anderson and Anne Balsamo explain the program’s philosophy:

Participants in IML programs learn to “write” multimedia by first learning to critically read it. Students develop proficiency with the modes of formal analysis required for the critical evaluation of a wide range of multimedia artifacts—including images, video, sound design, information visualization, typography, interface design, and interactivity. In addition, students become familiar with the major theoretical frameworks guiding the development of contemporary multimedia applications and interactive experiences. One of the key concerns of multimedia pedagogy is ensuring that students avoid the uncritical adoption of conventions of commercial or entertainment media. The IML curriculum addresses this concern by exposing students to a broad range of multimedia genres—such as argumentative, documentary, essayistic, experiential, game-based, narrative, and archival forms—and by teaching the relative strengths and weaknesses of each. In their own projects, students are required to justify their authoring and design decisions to demonstrate that their use of media and techniques are appropriate to their overall communicative goal.

As students become critical readers of multimedia, they also learn to produce it in a scholarly way. Students gain experience in both individual and collaborative forms of multimedia authorship. Rather than positioning “multimedia literacy” or “scholarly multimedia” as an emerging field, the IML focuses on developing strategies of integration with existing disciplines and academic practices. The strength of the IML methodology is its modeling of pedagogical practices that are highly mutable, scalable, and flexible in implementation.

Wherever and however (in individual productions or group projects) these practices are implemented, that implementation must be followed up with critique. While students might learn to engage in a form of social or cultural critique through their multimedia creations, they must also learn how to critique their own multimodal productions – how to assess their success in serving their intended purpose, effectively making an argument, meaningfully (and not gratuitously) employing various modes of presentation, etc. As the rampant DH boosterism and invariably positive commentary on projects like HyperCities (despite its limitations) reveals, the Digital Humanities community has yet to build a tradition of critique.[8] In the DH classroom, a project isn’t complete when it “goes live” online, or when the video is screened; a period of reflection and critique must follow.

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[1] Schnapp, Presner, et. al, 2. Presner writes elsewhere: “I consider ‘Digital Humanities’ to be an umbrella term for a wide array of practices for creating, applying, interpreting, interrogating, and hacking both new and old information technologies” (“Digital Humanities 2.0: A Report on Knowledge”).

[2] Stephanie Barish and Elizabeth Daley, Multimedia Scholarship for the 21st Century, Educause Forum for the Future of Higher Education (Educause, 2005): 39.

[3] Presner, “Digital Humanities 2.0: A Report on Knowledge.”

[4] Barish & Daley, 40.

[5] Presner & Johanson, 4.

[6] Ibid. For more on new “literacies,” see Henry Jenkins, “Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture: Media Education for the 21st Century” Occasional Paper on Digital Media and Learning (MacArthur Foundation).

[7] Presner, “Digital Humanities 2.0: A Report on Knowledge.”

[8] See Jennifer Howard, “Hot Type: No Reviews of Digital Scholarship = No RespectChronicle of Higher Education (May 23, 2010). USC’s Institute for Multimedia Literacy has developed a list of criteria for evaluating multimedia student work.

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Trying to Wrap My Head Around the Digital Humanities, Part 2

Laying Bare the Process of Scholarship. This reflection on method and process is another defining characteristic of Digital Humanities 2.0. “From a distance,…much of what is currently done in digital humanities has the look of automation,” argues textual theorist Johanna Drucker; it often appears as if digital scholarship consists of feeding a data set into database, and waiting for it to crunch the numbers and perhaps graph or map the results.[1] Digital humanists “have to show that digital approaches don’t simply provide objects of study in new formats, but shift the critical ground on which we conceptualize our activity… The challenge is to structure instruments that engage and enable these investigations.” Sometimes these investigations happen when the instruments call attention to themselves. Matthew Kirschenbaum notes that the technologies he worked with in creating the William Blake Archive, a text-and image-encoding project that has been online since 1995, “constantly make their presence felt, visibly and palpably pushing back against the interface we attempt to enfold around them.”[2] This is a common occurrence in the digital humanities, he says, because “necessity often dictates that we adopt and adapt tools and technologies that were originally developed for other needs and audiences.”[3]

But in the 15 years since the Blake Archive debuted, new technologies have emerged that make even the most rudimentary sketch appear professionally produced; they often smooth over the cracks and create a semblance of rhetorical seamlessness. Likewise, new tools have the potential to further automate data input, crunching, visualization, and analysis. DH projects often use these tools, but do not do so uncritically. As Drucker says, “Digital humanities projects are not simply mechanistic applications of technical knowledge, but occasions for critical self-consciousness.” In creating an interactive version of her book The Virtual Window, Anne Friedberg discovered the limitations and affordances of the print and interactive formats: “the digital format is not at its best in building a complex argument; it works by accretion, by juxtaposition, by comparative assemblage. It is rhizomatic.”[4] Creating a digital humanities project requires that one consider the unique capabilities of particular instruments, media formats, etc., and employ those that are best suited to their particular project.

Foregrounding these considerations in the public presentation of a digital humanities project has the potential to open up the scholarly process to a wider audience, and to invite them into a conversation on method, value, even the purpose of research. Avi Santo and Christopher Lucas have noticed a shift “in scholarly work practice, from an emphasis on polished demonstrations of academic virtuosity to a foregrounding of scholarly process and collaboration.”[5] Blogging one’s research or posting drafts online and soliciting comments – through standard blog comments, or through platforms like Commentpress or Sophie – can “illuminate the shadowy process of critical thinking, encouraging readers not only to digest finished works, but also to learn from and evaluate the mechanisms of their creation.”[6] The public is thus not merely an audience for this work; it has the potential to critically engage with it and perhaps even contribute.[7]

The actions that constitute the research process in DH might seem foreign to our traditional models of humanities scholarship, which emphasize solitary study and single authorship. Presner describes DH as a “humanistic practice anchored in creation, curation, collaboration, experimentation, and the multi-purposing or multi-channeling of humanistic knowledge.”[8] Many proponents of DH draw particular attention to its collaborative nature, which helps it to “leverage the increasingly distributed nature of expertise and knowledge and transform this reality into occasions for scholarly innovation, disciplinary cross-fertilization, and the democratization of knowledge.”[9] This “distribution” of expertise and knowledge spans both traditional disciplinary boundaries and geographic boundaries. Inclusive, team-based DH projects are thus well positioned to respond to, and foster, interdisciplinarity and the globalization of education.[10] Computer scientists from California might collaborate on a project with designers from China, historians from Canada, and high school students from Zimbabwe.[11] By further integrating institutions outside the university – Presner mentions libraries, museums, archives, historical societies, advocacy groups, non-profits, schools, and local communities (I would add arts organizations) –  DH projects can become inter-institutional, inter-public, fostering “community-based learning experiences” that promote “new forms of civic engagement.”[12] Such ways of working have the potential to make possible new ways of knowing.

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[1] Johanna Drucker and Bethany Nowviskie, “Speculative Computing: Aesthetic Provocations in Humanities Computing,” in A Companion to Digital Humanities, ed. Ray Siemens, John Unsworth, and Susan Schreibman, Hardcover., Blackwell Companions to Literature and Culture (Oxford: Blackwell, 2004).

[2] Matthew G. Kirschenbaum, “’So the Colors Cover the Wires’: Interface, Aesthetics, and Usability,” in Companion to Digital Humanities, ed. Ray Siemens, John Unsworth, and Susan Schreibman, Hardcover., Blackwell Companions to Literature and Culture (Oxford: Blackwell, 2004).

[3] The “Digital Humanities Manifesto 2.0” exhorts scholars to not only think critically about how they use existing tools, but also to play an active role in creating new tools, as does George Mason University’s Center for History and New Media. Digital humanists should seek “not only to seek to understand and interrogate the cultural and social impact of new technologies, but to be engaged in driving the creation of new technologies, methodologies, and information systems, as well as in their détournment, reinvention, repurposing, via research questions grounded in the Arts and Humanities: questions of meaning, interpretation, history, subjectivity, and culture. (Schnapp, Presner, et. al., 6)

[4] Friedberg 153.

[5] Avi Santo and Christopher Lucas, “Engaging Academic and Nonacademic Communities through Online Scholarly Work,” Cinema Journal 48, no. 2 (Winter 2009): 133.

[6] Ibid. 133-4.

[7] Related concerns that are central to DH are open access, intellectual property rights (i.e., allowing content makers to control theirs), and digital preservation (See Brett Bobley, “Why the Digital Humanities?” 2008 [pdf no longer available] and Schnapp, Presner, et. al., 10). Making sure that these “knowledge productions” remain open and publicly accessible requires that scholars and librarians “work together to ensure that the output of our scholarly work is created, published, shared, and preserved appropriately” (Bobley, 3).

[8] Presner, “Digital Humanities 2.0: A Report on Knowledge.”

[9] Schnapp, Presner, et. al., “The Digital Humanities Manifesto 2.0”: 5.

[10] There is much talk about how DH might reconfigure, or reinvent, the academic discipline. We might need a new university structure to accommodate this “transformation of scholarly practice from individuals working and writing in isolation to team-based approaches to research problems that cannot be conceptualized, let alone solved, by single scholars. Here, we are beginning to see the emergence of finite, flexible, and nimble ‘knowledge problematics’ that do not derive from or reflect entrenched disciplinary lines, methodological assumptions, or scholarly silos. I see these knowledge problematics as “virtual departments,” which exist only for a finite period of time, are agile, and are constantly built and dismantled. To use a term from the emergent field of digital cultural mapping, they might function as “overlays” on existing departments and institutions, connecting distant scholars and communities together and creating new feedback loops or among between them” (Presner, “Digital Humanities 2.0: A Report on Knowledge”).

[11] “Digital Humanities scholarship not only cuts across and unifies traditional fields in the humanities (literature, history, the arts) but also brings the tools—both technological and methodological—of other disciplines to bear on the analysis of culture and society. For example, tools from Geographic Information Systems (GIS) help historians to map the transmission of cultural artifacts; architectural modeling and simulation tools aid archaeologists in the investigation and recreation of ancient city spaces and societies; text-analysis and data-mining tools help linguists and literary scholars to detect and analyze patterns in the study of complex textual corpora (Todd Presner, Chris Johanson, et. al., “The Promise of Digital Humanities,” White Paper, March 1, 2009: 3)

[12] Presner & Johanson, 3.

On to Part 3…

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Trying to Wrap My Head Around the Digital Humanities, Part 1

This summer I’m participating in an “academic think tank” organized by our Provost’s Office at The New School. We participants are charged with investigating possible areas for pedagogical innovation or the development of new academic initiatives. I’m looking at how we could make a space for the digital humanities — or digital, or “multimodal,” scholarship, or whatever you want to call it (I’d prefer that we call it something other than “digital humanities,” for a bunch of reasons) — at The New School. There’s already plenty of work going on here that approximates the digital humanities, and I think that if we simply recognized it for what it is, and pushed it a little father to claim it as a new form of scholarship, we’d be in a much better position to tap into communities of like-minded researchers and designers and into the DH grant pool.

Plus, over the past couple of years I’ve come to the realization that my current research exceeds the limitations of print-based presentation. I’m focusing on the historical layering of media infrastructures and material media systems in various global cities. Edward Soja acknowledges the limitations of print in representing geographic complexity:

What one sees when one looks at geographies is stubbornly simultaneous, but language dictates a sequential succession, a linear flow of sentential statements bound by that most spatial of earthly constraints, the impossibility of two objects (or words) occupying the same precise place (as on a page). All that we can do is re-collect and creatively juxtapose, experimenting with assertions and insertions of the spatial against the prevailing grain of time. In the end, the interpretation of postmodern geographies can be no more than a beginning (Postmodern Geographies: The Reassertion of Space in Critical Social Theory (New York: Verso, 1989): 2).

I’m still writing a book, of course, for tenure purposes (I hope Minnesota will have me again!) — but I hope to supplement it with some interactive components, maybe even an entirely-online chapter. I’ve had the extremely good fortune to discover several like-minded colleagues with whom I’m now collaborating on the creation of an online platform that will support not only my research, but also the work for my new fall class and their fall classes — and, eventually, the research and coursework of any “urban” faculty at The New School.

For the purposes of our summer think tank, I’m trying to explain this new mapping project within the context of the digital humanities. I’ve been watching these DH people for quite some time now, trying to deal with my slight annoyance with their boosterism and seeming technofetishism. What eventually won me over was Tara McPherson’s thoughtful, temperate intro to the special “digital humanities” section in the Winter 2009 issue of Cinema Journal. I figured I should figure out what this enterprise is all about. So, what follows is the alpha version of a lit review; I have yet to integrate more of my own critical perspective.

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Defining the New Digital Humanities. The Digital Humanities are not new; they’ve been around for almost a half-century.[1] In the early days, the term “digital humanities” was often used interchangeably with “humanities computing,” in which practitioners were “mobilizing the search and retrieval powers of the database, automating corpus linguistics, stacking hypercards into critical arrays.”[2] Much of the work was quantitative and focused on building “large-scale digitization projects (typically of literary corpuses) an the establishment of technological infrastructure.”[3] At the same time, scholars began incorporating new media technologies into their publications; “Writing in the Digital 1.0,” as media scholar Anne Friedberg calls it, involved the addition of digital concordances – in the form of packaged CDs or links to online supplementary materials – to conventional print books; “the digital material was largely illustrative and served as a supplement.”[4]

The second wave of the Digital Humanities (DH) are emerging, proponents say, amidst ever more rapid technological, social, cultural, and economic changes – changes for which “digital scholars” are beginning to develop appropriate “intellectual tools, methodologies, disciplinary practices, and institutional structures” to interpret an respond to these transformations.[5] These tools and methodologies must go beyond conceiving of new technologies as mere illustrations for, or processors of, traditional printed texts. As German scholar and “digital humanist” Todd Presner explains, Digital Humanities 2.0 is…

deeply generative, creating the environments and tools for producing, curating, and interacting with knowledge that is “born digital” and lives in various digital contexts. While the first wave of Digital Humanities concentrated, perhaps somewhat narrowly, on text analysis…within established disciplines, Digital Humanities 2.0 introduces entirely new disciplinary paradigms, convergent fields, hybrid methodologies, and even new publication models that are often not derived from or limited to print culture.[6]

Architectural historian Diane Favro and Christopher Johnson, Associate Director of UCLA’s Experimental Technology Center, for instance, use digital models of ancient funeral processions in the Roman forum not simply as “post-research presentations of their work, but [as] integral research tools.”[7] Their models allow for the “consideration of (funeral) events in situ,” which helps them better understand “how the Romans choreographed their processions to exploit the scale, orientation, sequencing, and symbolic associations of structures and places.” Similarly, media scholar Tara McPherson notes that, in some projects, databases allow for new ways of organizing data:

Our carefully collected evidence can now be animated in new ways, allowing us to present multiple lines of thought in relation to the materials at hand and to invite others to join us in this process in extended collaboration and conversation. Working with databases allows us both to present our arguments differently and to understand our materials differently.[8]

Rather than fetishizing the database, as some “first wave” scholars seemed to do, however, Digital Humanities 2.0 scholars consider other modes of “processing” a research project. They consider how particular questions or problems might lend themselves to investigation or representation through aural, visual, or interactive media; through maps, audio archives, documentaries – even video games. In some cases, a book – designed so that its material form reinforces its argument – might be the most appropriate means of giving form to an argument. This media-minded scholar, whom McPherson calls “multimodal” (I prefer her terminology because it does not privilege the digital at the expense of other, non-digital, yet equally appropriate and effective, media forms), “thinks carefully about the relationship of form to content, expression to idea.” She examines “what happens when scholarship looks and feels differently, requiring new modes of engagement from the reader/user.”[9] “How do you ‘experience’ or ‘feel’ an argument in a more immersive and sensory-rich space?” “Can scholarship show as well as tell?” “Will representing data differently change the ways we understand, collect, or interpret it?”

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[1] Willard McCarty, “A Brief History of Humanities Computing, 1964-70” [Blog Pos]
Humanist Discussion Group (May 7, 2004): http://www.digitalhumanities.org/humanist/Archives/Virginia/v17/0771.html.

[2] Jeffrey Schnapp, Todd Presner, et. al., “The Digital Humanities Manifesto 2.0,” n.d.: 2.

[3] Todd Presner, “Digital Humanities 2.0: A Report on Knowledge,” May 13, 2010, Module m34246, Connexions.

[4] Anne Friedberg, “On Digital Scholarship,” Cinema Journal 48, no. 2 (Winter 2009): 151.

[5] Presner, “Digital Humanities 2.0: A Report on Knowledge.”

[6] Presner, “Digital Humanities 2.0: A Report on Knowledge.”

[7] Diane Favro and Christopher Johanson, “Death in Motion: Funeral Processions in the Roman Forum,” Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians 69, no. 1 (March 2010): 31-2.

[8] Tara McPherson, “Introduction: Media Studies and the Digital Humanities,” Cinema Journal 48, no. 2 (Winter 2009): 121.

[9] McPherson, 120-1.

Part 2 comin’ up…