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It’s Open Access Week! Have an Essay I Wrote!

A collection of 19th-century wax phonograph cylinders.

It’s Open Access Week, in this, the sixth year of my blog (AKA 2015). Like many younger scholars and people who have grown up with the most recent incarnations of digital humanities, I’ve been an open access enthusiast for a long time. But since I haven’t had a lot of my own publications, my version of openly sharing knowledge has normally been to post talks that I’ve given here in this space.

Earlier this year, however, I had an article come out in American Imago. It was exciting for a number of reasons. First, PUBLICATION! 🎉 Second, it was an essay that I’d been working on getting published since 2009 but that had been interrupted for years at a time because of family health problems and the challenges of working as a low-wage adjunct and then the changing nature of my work. Third, it was the first publication to come directly out of my dissertation research. I remain proud of the work that I did on that project, but also don’t really expect to see much more of it come to light given the different sorts of research I do these days. Fourth, I was excited to be working with The Johns Hopkins University Press because their author agreement was really very generous with what I could do with my own work. Past publications have seen me trying to use the SPARC Author Addendum to try to argue for expanded access to my own research. JHUP was going to give me those rights without me having to convince them.

And so, at the beginning of this week, I thought: I should make this essay open access, since I have the right to do so. I decided that I would share it via the MLA’s Commons Open Repository Exchange, or CORE. Part of the innovative community structure that the MLA has built for its members to share and discuss their work, CORE is a disciplinary-focused, “permanent, open access storage facility for [members’] scholarly output.” Not only does CORE allow researchers to share their work with the world, but it makes it easy to let others in the MLA who have interests in common with you know about the article. And did I mention that CORE handles a lot more types of research output than just PDFs? My good friend and steampunk collaborator, Rachel Bowser, and I submitted a talk we gave earlier this year to CORE, and it was a good experience. So with all of that and some institutional loyalty to the MLA as a member of the Executive Council, CORE was a perfect fit for my article.

One of the last lines of the CORE deposit asked me how I wanted to license the article for use by others in the future. I tend to prefer the CC-BY license, as that gives the most possible avenues for my work to be used again by others, and it’s what applies to everything I share on this site. I decided to check the author agreement one more time to see if that had any specific instructions about what I should do in this case. Here’s what I found:

Rights of the Author: You have the following nonexclusive rights: (1) to use the Article in your own teaching activities; (2) to publish the Article, or permit its publication, as a part of any book you may write or edit; (3) to include the Article in your own personal or departmental institutional database or on-line site; (4) to include the Article in your institutional repository provided the repository is institution specific and not a discipline-based database that accepts contributions from outside the institution; (5) to include your Article, if required by law, in an open access archive such as PubMedCentral.

When I had first reviewed the author agreement in February, I paid particular attention to point 3, which meant that I could put the essay on my website and share it that way. I had also noticed that point 4 meant that I could put it in an institutional repository. But this week, it was the second half of the point 4 that caught my attention: I can’t share the article in a “discipline-based database that accepts contributions from outside the institution.” When I signed this, MLA CORE wasn’t yet live and I just didn’t notice the prohibition.

While I don’t like this particular clause in the agreement, it is nevertheless an agreement and one to which I was a willing party. As much as I would like to support the MLA and to share the article in what I think would be the most useful means for my disciplinary peers, that’s not an option. In the future, I will certainly negotiate my author agreements to try to get permissions to submit to CORE. I might not always get it, but at least I will know to ask.

The other thing worth mentioning is that I’m currently serving the second year of a four-year term on the MLA’s Executive Council. It’s been a tremendous learning experience to this point, and I’m proud to be working with an organization that I care about. (You may consequently call my above comments about CORE “boosterism,” but please note that I speak only for myself and not for the MLA.) But from this vantage point, I have the opportunity (as do all MLA members) to bring items to the attention of the organization. You can be sure I’ll be talking to MLA staff and fellow Council members at our meeting next week about how the MLA might advocate to publishers—even ones with liberal and good starting places like JHUP—to re-consider clauses like point 4 in their author agreements.

Was this a bait and switch? “Where’s the article?” you clamor. Nope, not at all. Please help yourself to your very own copy of “‘Becoming Another Thing’: Traumatic and Technological Transformation in The Red Badge of Courage.” What? You can’t tell what it’s about given that title? Of course not! This is academia!

Here’s how I described the argument in the abstract:

This essay examines the traumatic transformation of Stephen Crane’s young protagonist in battle. It argues that this metamorphosis is brought on by the technologies on the battlefield and the youth’s outdated expectations about their speed. Further, it explores how Crane deploys tropes of mechanical and media technologies—especially the phonograph and the camera—to describe the protagonist’s psychically dissociated state and to account for the processing of traumatic memories. It closes by demonstrating that The Red Badge of Courage deploys metaphors of technology as a way to demonstrate the continuing relevance of the novel as genre in the face of rapidly evolving media ecologies.

That captures it pretty well. But it’s probably more accurate to say that this is what you get when you take someone who has been reading a lot of Virilio, Kittler, and Bolter and Grusin and then let them loose on Freud and Crane. Whether that’s something anyone actually wants is something else altogether.

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Constellations at the Convention: 10 Years of MLA Data

Title slide with a tree against star trails with caption 'Constellations at the Convention: 10 Years of MLA Daya'

Yesterday I had the chance to speak on a panel about “The MLA and Its Data: Remix, Reuse, and Research,” which I organized on behalf of the MLA’s Committee on Information Technology. The panel was very successful, due largely to fabulous co-panelists: David Laurence, Ernesto Priego, Chris Zarate, and Lisa Rhody. Ernesto has shared his slides for his presentation on his and Chris’s analysis of tweets from last year’s convention. Unfortunately we missed Jonathan Goodwin, who became ill. Lucky for us, he shared his talk as well.

What follows is the text of my talk, “Constellations at the Convention.” The metaphor of the title suggested itself immediately as I began looking at the network within Gephi, but I couldn’t help but think of Matt Kirschenbaum’s post following the 2011 MLA Convention, “The (DH) Stars Come Out in LA.” I think that the methods I’ve been able to begin deploying here might help us track the star system—if not within the profession, but within the convention.

Even though I say it within the talk, it’s critical that I acknowledge up front the assistance of two people. First, Chris Zarate kindly provided the data from the MLA that I asked for. (The MLA itself needs to be thanked for being willing to support this scholarship.) He made suggestions about the sorts of information he could provide me and gave me exactly what I asked for. Unfortunately, since I had never done something like this before, I didn’t quite know what to ask for. So when I discovered the data weren’t quite as I needed them, my colleague Sara Palmer who took the raw XML and transformed it with XSLT and Python into a format that I could use. Sara and I then spent several hours playing with the data and then talking about the different things that we were seeing. She identified the Midwestern Mafia as a question worth pursuing. Finally, Rebecca Sutton Koeser pointed out the Javascript exporter plugin for Gephi, which is why you can now play with the data easily.

I appreciated the interest from the crowd and the thoughtful questions about “algorithmic cruelty” and where such work might lead in the future. If you want to play with the data yourself, you can download the Gephi file of the 2014 and 2015 Mark Sample data. I will see what I can do about sharing the MLA data set. But for the moment, you can explore the four different networks that I showed.

As always, my work is Creative Commons-licensed. Let me know what you think!

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Links for my 2015 MLA talk

I’m currently speaking at the 2015 MLA on the panel “The MLA and Its Data: Remix, Reuse, and Research,” which I organized on behalf of the MLA’s Committee on Information Technology. I’ll be posting the full text of my talk—“Constellations at the Convention: 10 Years of MLA Data”—shortly, but here are some links that people might want to play with in the meantime.

The latter two might take some time to load. See if you can find yourself in the data!

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“Help, I want to do DH!”

Man wearing a shirt that reads "staff can halp?" on the back.


I just answered an email about digital humanities. I do this on kind of a regular basis, seeing I’m a certified “Digital Humanities Strategist.” This email was a certain type, however, the one that I think of as “Help, I want to do DH!” I get this question—although it’s not a question—pretty regularly from people, and it’s a hard thing to answer. There’s just so much to say. This is what Bethany Nowviskie was talking about in 2010 when she wrote about the “Eternal September of the Digital Humanities.”

That said, I’m happy to get the question and I’m happy that people are willing to ask me. I just worry, as I expressed on Twitter, that my answers just aren’t going to be satisfactory. Again, there’s so much to say and only so much time to respond to such questions.

Merisa Martinez responded to me on Twitter and observed that people ask these questions because they’re new and because “there’s no one size fits all ‘FAQ’ with DH.” So people ask those whom they think can help them, and when possible I try to answer as best as I can. But given my conversation with Merisa, I figured I might as well share what I wrote to this interlocutor. It’s not a FAQ per se, but it’s a list of things that people might use to get started with digital humanities.

What follows is the text of the email that I wrote to this student. For context sake, he is an MA student who is working with a very good friend of mine from graduate school who now teaches at Illinois State. This friend and I were in different disciplines. The email below has specific recommendations to this individual, but I’ll gloss one of them with a broader rule. I appreciate my friend for referring this student to me and the student for being willing to cold-call someone he doesn’t know and stick out his neck.

Two caveats:

  • It’s still true that even with what follows that there is no one-size fits-all FAQ for DH. This is just my response. You’d get a different one from any number of other (smarter) people in the field. See this post by Paige Morgan, for example, which Merisa and Melissa Terras brought to my attention. Or this post by Lisa Spiro which Ryan Cordell reminded me of. You’d probably get a different response from me on another day.
  • As I say below, it can take a long time to start thinking differently with a computer. Too often we forget that we didn’t start studying a particular field on the first day of graduate school. When I started my PhD in English literature, I had been writing about poetry and fiction for well more than 10 years. If you’re in a language program, you’ve got to count not just the literature classes in college, but those language classes in junior high. We live in an awesome age when you can find most things online—including the answer to “what is digital humanities?”—but the time that it takes for us to learn to think in a particular way is real and it can’t be skipped. Thinking, as Mark Sample has it, can be difficult.

So here you go, my answer on 25 September 2014 to the “Help, I want to do DH!” email.

Hi X,
Thanks for your note. This is a big question and one that isn’t entered into lightly nor, I’m afraid, especially well in an email conversation.

What I’d recommend is that you look for some opportunities:

  • Read. Start with Matt Gold’s edited volume, Debates in Digital Humanities. Take a look at Steven Jones’s The Emergence of Digital Humanities. Hunt down all three of Matt Kirschenbaum’s “What is DH?” articles (1, 2, and 3), even though they’re a bit of inside baseball. Look at Digital Humanities Answers.
  • Explore. Look at different digital humanities projects. Think about how they could affect the work that you’re doing. There are several different things that people mean when they say “digital humanities.” They include the following, and none is “right”:
    • The examination of digital objects from the perspective of the humanities (e.g., media studies)
    • Digital pedagogy
    • Digital scholarly communication
    • Digital collection/archives creation
    • Humanities computing (using computers to help you identify patterns in your text / data that you then interpret)
  • Realize that as far as humanities data analysis goes, there are several different “pillars,” as Elijah Meeks has called them: text analysis; geospatial analysis; network analysis (consider this Coursera course); image analysis; and so on.
  • Look at people nearby who can help. Patrice-Andre Prudhomme in your library might be a resource ( You’re only 60 miles from Champaign-Urbana, and they have a lot of interesting stuff going on there. Consider attending the Chicago Colloquium on Digital Humanities & Computer Science that happens next month. (The broader rule here is that there might be people at your institution or nearby who are doing this work already. Libraries are a great place to find many of these people.)
  • Get on Twitter and network with people that do digital humanities. It’s where a lot of conversations happen.
  • Think about attending a THATCamp:

Perhaps the main things to think about here are the following:

  • Digital humanities is, in the end, still about the same humanities questions. You should start with questions and then choose a method for investigating based on what will help you get the best results.
  • It can take a long time to figure out what those questions are to be paired with computational methods. I’ve been doing this for 7 years, and I’m only starting to figure out what I feel like are some GOOD questions. Think about how long you’ve been working in your discipline and you’ll realize that there’s potentially a long time to be engaged in something before you’ll hit a pay off.

None of that is to discourage you so much as a way to say that it’s a big discourse and there’s lots to learn.

EDITED: Included Lisa Spiro’s very good post.

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Day of DH Starts Early

Today is the ever popular and fun Day of DH. I’ve got a blog on the main Day of DH site, but I’m going to cross-post some of the content here. Because findability?


As I was explaining to some of my coworkers yesterday, Day of DH started with the goal of trying to make public the work—and the many different types of work—that take place under the rubric of digital humanities. We accomplish this by blogging and tweeting, just making note of what we do throughout the day.

Of course, the not-so-secret part of Day of DH is that one doesn’t get it all done in a single day. And that’s why last night found me in front of my computer, churning through email and the like. In doing that, I found an email from a collaborator with whom I’ve been writing a project proposal. We had been aiming to deliver it on the first of April, but some serious illness interposed. Since she was feeling better, she’d done the last fact check on one of our references. The proposal was ready, so I cleaned up the file and sent it on to one of the Co-Directors of Emory’s Center for Digital Scholarship. Only after I clicked ‘send’ did I realize that it would have been more appropriate to wait to send it until this morning, so I could have #DayofDH’d about it. Oh well.

I don’t think that I’m quite ready to share what we hope to do, but I’ll say that it builds on the work that Rebecca Sutton Koeser and I have been doing on the Belfast Group.

Writing this proposal was an interesting experience. A group of us started brainstorming what we could do right before the academic year started, and we followed with some monthly meetings. Given the schedules of some of our collaborators, monthly meetings were about as good as we could do. When we suddenly found ourselves in January, with not a lot of progress made, I made a suggestion that we move the proposal writing group down to a smaller number of individuals. That’s exactly what needed to happen. Following a 90-minute conversation, Lisa Chinn and I knew what direction we wanted to take. A few writing sessions later, we had a proposal ready to go. I hope that we’re able to keep it within scope.

The real lesson here—apart from timing one’s emails to big blogging events—is that while collaboration is important and often a big part of DH work, collaboration isn’t an end in itself. If collaboration isn’t working for you, then there’s nothing “DH” about sticking to its current form. Adapt and get the situation that you need in order to get your work done. Because, at the end of the day, getting your work done is about the most DH thing you could be doing.


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