Finding a Cure for Colonial Hangovers: Doing my best not to be an internet troll at work

I’d like to go have coffee with Roopika Risam. She has beautifully articulated exactly why it is of the utmost importance to working to remedy the damages of colonialism, and is simultaneously aware and honest about the complicated challenges that institutions face in this effort. This is a conflict I have seen play out many times during my tenure at Gilcrease Museum, and I happen to have a decent example of my ability to exercise self-control as the Museum’s social media personality when presented with this comment from a Gilcrease Museum member on this Facebook post that featured the exhibition I-Witness Culture: Frank Buffalo Hyde(For Context: The exhibition features artwork by artist Frank Buffalo Hyde (Onondaga/Nez Perce), and it "investigates the space where Native Americans exist today: between the ancient and the new; between the accepted truth and actual fact; between the known and the unknown.")

I remember when Gilcrease displayed some of the finest historical art in the country and had excellent traveling exhibits. Now, it seems that Gilcrease displays mostly junk art and trys to be political rather than historical.”

Currently, Museum policy is that I can’t troll people who comment in this manner, although I would love to do that. Fortunately, we had some supporters step in and show their love. Richard illustrates the dangerous belief that many other Gilcrease donors and members hold: history and politics should remain separate. Risam makes it very clear early on that there are “disruptions within the digital cultural record produced by colonialism and neocolonialism” (Risam, 3.) People like Richard, however, prefer to remain unaware of those disruptions because of how they were taught history long ago. They believe what they learned was fact, and now those facts that they cherish as cannon are being shown in a new light. This is problematic because, as I said, Richard is a paying Gilcrease Museum member. His opinion is taken more seriously by museum leadership because he contributes to covering our operating costs, and we don’t want to lose his support.

Risam addresses comments like Richard’s head-on, stating “digital humanities practitioners must contend not only with the colonial hangovers from the cultural record, but also with the forces that are actively constructing the medium of the digital cultural record—the internet—as a hostile environment where universities, libraries, and the cultural heritage sector are under threat, right along with the knowledge being produced and made publicly available by them” (Risam, 6.) Comments like Richard’s are not unique to Gilcrease Museum. They are an exhausting reality many museum social media managers face, but fortunately, it does appear that more museum followers are empowering themselves to fight back. However, Facebook comments only go so far. If people like Richard are unable to bring themselves to fund institutions like Gilcrease Museum because of their alleged politicization of history, which is more accurately postcolonial discourse, how will Gilcrease continue to operate?

Fortunately, people like Richard aren’t the only source of income for institutions with postcolonial pursuits. There are plenty of grant opportunities, foundations with similar interests, donors who see the value in uncovering voices that had been marginalized for far too long. Risam notes, though, that to best move forward in postcolonial efforts, institutions must “cultivate diverse communities; challenge the myth of democratized digital knowledge; make the case for and actually make new tools and methods” (Risam, 143.) All of these examples, if enacted successfully, can also help welcome more contemporary voices on social media to counter those like Richard’s. It takes time to shift brand perception and engage a new, more diverse audience, but historical and cultural institutions globally are making concerted efforts to do so. It will be rewarding to see fewer comments like Richard’s as this work continues.

The Need To Read Between the Lines

If there's anything I've learned after two years of working in a history museum, it's that history is problematic.

Before I took my job at Gilcrease Museum (which I constantly write about in my blog posts because I have no life,) I looked myself in the mirror and asked myself: “Do I really want to sell a museum that is the embodiment of the John Wayne cowboy trope?” I remembered the museum from my obligatory visits from elementary and high school to fulfil requirements for United States history classes and being inundated with mustached, old, white cowboys on horseback (still today, Gilcrease unfortunately has a crushing lack of Black representation in its collection of art from the American West). Fortunately enough, the marketing team in place at Gilcrease at the time I was brought on the team had done their best to promote the museum’s incredible collection of Indigenous art and objects, and the curatorial team had lined up a diverse range of powerful exhibitions which caught my interest enough to entice me to take the job.

The first exhibition I worked on promoting at Gilcrease was The Chisholm Kid: Lone Fighter for Justice for All which featured comic strips from the Pittsburgh Courier’s comic of the same name that ran in the early 1950’s. Set in the proverbial ‘Old West’ The Chisholm Kid featured a Black cowboy who roamed the Chisholm Trail from Texas to Kansas doing good deeds and fighting crime, but more importantly, the trailblazing comic brought attention to the fact that an estimated 25% of cowboys on the Chisholm Trail in the years following the Civil War were Black. However, if you asked me in third grade after a trip to Gilcrease Museum what that number was, it would have been much lower due to how history had been taught, not only at Gilcrease, but in media and the U. S. education system. Now, though, that trend is changing at Gilcrease and elsewhere.

It is wonderful to hear of work being done by researchers like Lauren Klein (great name, by the way) to give voices to those that had been marginalized for generations. It is not by accident that priority was given to preserving voices of white men over the last several hundred years, but rather by design, and it is wonderful that researchers today are working to change the oppressive systems in place. Klein illustrates how hundreds of years ago, men in power were aware of their legacies, including Thomas Jefferson. She explains Jefferson had a “desire to influence that legacy through the documents he recorded, edited, and preserved” (Klein, 662.) This problematic figure actively worked to curate how he was remembered in history, and did well to quell records of those he enslaved.

Klein’s drive to examine the power dynamics at play in what remains of literature recording the history of those Jefferson enslaved is long overdue and incredibly resourceful. It is also refreshing that she addresses the importance of performing her work “without reinforcing the damaging notion that African American voices from before emancipation—not just in the archival record, but the voices themselves—are silent, and irretrievably lost” (Klein, 665.) There is plenty of work that can be done that can retrieve these resilient records if one looks closely and considers new means of data analysis and visualization that are available. It is also excellent that she jabs at Jefferson in the closing of her piece, stating that history must recognize “Jefferson’s personal responsibility for inscribing the silences of slavery into American culture” (Klein, 684.) While Jefferson’s willful omission of the voices of enslaved men and women had succeeded in his presentation as a hero to schoolchildren for generations, historical institutions in the United States are now finally recognizing the lack of representation of minority voices throughout history and the problematic legacy of the United States’ “founding fathers.”

Mapping: Following the Characters of "Eveline"

Mapping: Following the Characters of "Eveline"

My belated mapping lab follows the travels of the characters from James Joyce's "Eveline" after they manage to leave the Dublin. I chose to include the characters whom Joyce explained are dead, and placed them at Dead Armadillo Brewery in Tulsa, Oklahoma for a better visual representation of the characters who were never able to leave Dublin.

Working on this map allowed me to explore different areas of Ireland as I decided how to place Eveline's brother, Harry, who "was nearly always down somewhere in the country" (Joyce) working on churches. To find a representation of where he may be, I explored the most beautiful Cathedrals in Ireland to see if I could find one that was in a more secluded location. Without much luck in the embedded article by Celtic Group Hostels (probably due to their desire to promote themselves as locations to stay when visiting said cathedrals) I explored Google Maps myself to find a worthy cathedral for Harry. I landed on St. Mary's Catholic Church in Killarney. This was a nice escape from the cathedrals in Downtown Tulsa that, while lovely, are a reminder that Covid-19 has greatly limited my ability to travel this year.

Making this map made me reflect upon how difficult travel was before flying became possible, helping put into perspective how final moving a long distance could be for any relationship. It also illustrated the difficulties women like Eveline faced in attempting to travel. Eveline was unable to afford a way out of Dublin on her own due to her father taking her wages. She was likely making less money than a man would make for the same work, therefore it would have been difficult to save enough money to pay for a long trip regardless of her living situation.

Eveline’s feeling of isolation as she is away from her brothers and mother, who all were far away from her either in death or distance, is clearly illustrated in the scattering of lines away from Dublin, where Eveline remains for the duration of the novel. The beginning of the story makes it clear that Eveline desires to “go away like the others” (Joyce), but she was only able to attempt to do so with the alleged help of a man. The Google map draws attention to Eveline, represented as the only red marker on the map, alone not far from where she began in Dublin. The rest of the markers are much farther from the original location, remaining their original blue.

There is a very clear connection between this lab and the reading Moretti’s “Maps” from Graphs, Maps, and Trees, in that creating this map allowed me to give Eveline much more thought than I would have if I were reading Joyce’s Dubliners without slowing down to consider just how stranded Eveline felt in her world, far away from the people she grew up with. This also makes me reconsider the concept of a work’s aura referenced in Bornstein’s “How to Read a Page,” and how “Eveline” would have been received by someone familiar with Joyce’s Dublin.

Bornstein states that ”removing that aura removes the iconicity of the page, and important aspects of a text's meaning” (Bornstein, 7). My first reading of this passage disregarded his sentiment as a conservative longing to return to print over digital media, however his argument is valid. My original reading of the text without considering the importance of location caused me to overlook the significance of the loneliness Eveline felt as she remained in Dublin while her childhood companions were gone. Having gone back to reread the text and consider the distance between Eveline and her loved ones makes the passage much more powerful.

Why Literary Periods Mattered

The selections from Ted Underwood’s book on literary periods were eye-opening. As with much of the material in this course, I found myself initially resistant to his ideas—I will blame my commitment to longstanding methods on being a Taurus. I agree that the emphasis on periodization and the dramatization of historical continuity can be harmful or at least limiting. Prominent periods/movements like romanticism, modernism, etc. do become institutionally entrenched in a sense, with courses on those periods being routinely offered. While I love all the literature classes I’ve taken, I will read an article now and then that will awaken me to (often interdisciplinary) trends that fit my interests but would be difficult to encounter in a standard period survey. At the same time, I’m 1) still coming to terms with distant reading and 2) allegiant to my “teams,” which are often periods or movements, the very taxonomies Underwood finds confining. I always hear music critics say that in the 90s, it was uncommon to publicly like indie rock and pop, grunge and rap, etc. I feel that there is something pure about identifying yourself with a category that—like modernism, postmodernism, etc.—may be complicated and fraught itself but still exists as a recognizable category. Underwood writes that genres like romanticism and realism “were themselves participating in broader discursive trends” which “play out on a scale that literary scholars aren’t accustomed to describing, and it may take decades for us to figure out how to describe them” (169). As someone new to grad school, I have found the potential for period specialization exciting. I am easily most interested in contemporary literature (and, movement-wise, confessional poetry). That said, the vision of literary studies that Underwood offers does seem more progressive, comprehensive, and nuanced.

Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction

There's a pretty famous series by feminist photographer Sherrie Levine called "After Walker Evans". In it, Levine takes works by male artists, in this case, Depression-era photographer Walker Evans, and "re-photographs" them. 

As Howard Singerman puts it in his article "Seeing Sherrie Levine", "From the beginning, then, they [Levine's re photographs] have existed not as images on the wall, but as an absence in those images" (p.79). As Benjamin pointed out, the implication of exact reproductions of art is political. By taking an artist like Walker Evans and photographing his work to the point where it's impossible to tell the difference between the two, Levine is working beyond the visual spectrum and into the theoretical. "After Walker Evans" is a visual representation of an experiment in authorship, authenticity, and gender. 

Looking at “After Walker Evans” on a screen, then, is a further degree from the original sharecropper's wife. I’m looking at a replicate on my screen of a photo of a photo. It’s more complicated than Inception

That is to say—as Benjamin points out in "Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction" the existence of the ability to rapidly replicate works of art complicates art. It complicates artistic processes, complicates authorship, complicates reality. This is only truer now with the advent of smartphones, etc. 

I guess the thing about this is, it kind of excites me. Quick reproduction and the ability to totally capture the audio and visual qualities of an object, person, or place allows for a total new medium, and different approach to art. We don’t have to be hyper realistic in painting, anymore. Paintings can be whatever they need to be.The advent of photography as a medium means that we were able to re-prioritize was important in other mediums, and thus lead to movements like post-impressionism, surrealism and postmodernism. I wonder what the advent of our current digital age means for art now. Is it changing the game? 

As Singerman point's out about "After Walker Evans", the importance of the piece is rooted in the absence of the real piece, but when standing in the room with "After Walker Evans" there is still piece that holds space in the physical realm. What does it mean when that physicality isn't present in the repclication—when I look at "After Walker Evans" on my phone? When looking at "After Walker Evans" on my phone, not only is the absence of the original felt, but now I feel the absence of the replica, too. 

The Work of Art in the age of Digital Reproduction

Walter Benjamin’s “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction" struck a chord with me from the time I read the title because, as I type this blog post, I am procrastinating on updating Gilcrease Museum’s Rights and Reproductions policy on our website. Gilcrease Museum, like countless other art and cultural institutions, owns the rights to thousands of pieces of art. There are many people ranging from scholars to art-lovers who desire to own a reproduction of a piece of art, or, more complicatedly, want to use a work of art for in a book or film. I had taken for granted any time I read a nonfiction book about an artist and saw their artwork displayed on the page, and I have learned while working at Gilcrease that the process behind printing that piece is incredibly complicated. Gilcrease Museum does not always own the rights to a piece even if we own the piece itself.

In many cases, Gilcrease does not own the rights to a piece because the artist is still living. In others, it is because another organization secured those rights. For example, Georgia O’Keeffe’s Antelope Head with Pedernal is currently on display in our exhibition Masterworks from the Gilcrease Collection. But, we cannot freely share the image on social media or in print without consulting with the Artists Rights Society, who represents the entity who hold the rights to the majority of O’Keeffe’s works (honestly, I can’t remember the name of the entity). It is a big hassle and a barrier for many institutions who cannot afford to pay licensing fees any time they want to reproduce a piece they own, but I digress.

What makes things even more complicated when it comes to reproducing works is that Gilcrease, like many other institutions, had a system for granting reproduction rights that had not altered much since the museum opened in the 1940s. Any individual who wanted to attain the rights for something would submit a form for a quote on how much it would cost to reproduce a piece for their personal use, or use in a book or video. Then, if the use is deemed appropriate, Gilcrease would let them know the price and that individual can decide to continue if they can afford those rights. This can also be a barrier for use, but it does help protect the image from inappropriate use. The form one would submit to attain rights would take into account the purpose, the medium for reproduction, the amount it will be reproduced, among other things. This system worked for decades, but then came the rise of the internet.

Gilcrease Museum has begun seeing the need to grant rights use in perpetuity to individuals who want to use the piece in perpetuity online, either in video format or static on a website. This begs the question: How does one assign value to the use of a work forever by someone who is not the artist themselves? Benjamin’s essay alludes to issues exactly like this when he states in closing,  “the instant the criterion of authenticity ceases to be applicable to artistic production, the total function of art is reversed. Instead of being based on ritual, it begins to be based on another practice -politics” (Benjamin, 217.) Politics, of course, can be messy.

A few weeks ago, I was in a meeting where we addressed the need to update our system to allow us to grant rights in perpetuity to users. There were some in that meeting who staunchly opposed the idea. Benjamin captures exactly their mentality, as opposers believed allowing perpetual use of these works would be a “tremendous shattering of tradition” (Benjamin, 219.) They shared Benjamin’s sentiment that reproducing these works in perpetuity can damage their aura, which is why we continue to ensure that the uses of these pieces is appropriate when they are reproduced. However, that qualifier is not enough. Although we will do our due diligence in preserving the aura of the work as best we can, there is still the issue of money. If we allow people to use work in perpetuity with a one-time fee, we will not profit as much as we would have if we make the user pay a recurring fee for the duration of that piece’s use.

I felt that was a needless barrier for many of the individuals who seek to use our artwork, as did several of my colleagues. Many of the cases for reproduction are for benevolent purposes that support the study of artwork, which upholds our institutional mission. Not only that, but we would be willingly ignoring the fact that the internet has forever shifted how artwork can be reproduced. Ultimately, I argued that not only can we charge an increased fee to help us cover museum operating costs, but the use of artwork from our collection with our name attached also had value as it strengthens our brand. It was disheartening that our institutions’ defining conversation on how we will allow others to reproduce works from our collection was boiled down to “how can we profit the most?” but it is a fitting example of how, 85 years later, Benjamin was exactly right. We’ve entered an age of digital reproduction, and it is incredibly political. 

The Treasure of Born-Digital Literature, and why Digital Humanities is so vital in studying it

Born-digital literature, media, and storytelling is an inevitable and exciting expansion of storytelling into the digital space. It utilizes as its tools aspects of the digital that contribute to its audiences' experiences in a way that only the Born-digital can. There are communal storytelling hubs, in which various writers and artists gather and share a story world, canon, and characters, and contribute to and build that world both through digital art and digital storytelling contributions. There are "tine games" which are methods of digital story telling in which the reader clicks through various dialogue options or choices, influencing the story or choosing what information they want to read, and how deeply they want to know the backstory of the characters. There are online literary/game/visual experiences such as Homestuck by Andrew Hussie, which was one of the most popular born-digital literary and artistic achievements of its time and continues to be one of the most famous, and first "classic" born-digital media creations to this day. Then there is the epic, slowly unveiled story of Mother9Horse9Eyes, told in a collection of strange, surrealist, yet connected responses across many different reddit threads that were collected, assembled, ordered, and theorized on by an entire base of loyal readers. Then, of course, there are hte video games, some of which are primarily vessels with which to tell stories, such as the "visual novel" games which allow the gamer/reader to embody a character and act out anything from a romantic comedy, to deeply complex stories, as well as combinations of both to horrifying results, such as the horror game masked within a romantic comedy, Doki Doki Literature Club, many of which are bafflingly studied within the humanities despite their literary achievements and affects on culture. 

Each of these types of born-digital stories and literary creations tell stories in a unique way, and utilize the medium of the digital in surprising ways that makes the experience completely different for readers and audience members from piece to piece. Some position their audiences more traditionally, such as with Mother9Horse9Eyes, which encourages reading, interpretation, and analysis, and where the writer themselves sometimes interacted with and responded cryptically to the community, yet the readership were still reading the works of a single writer and analyzing those works for their literary merit and the story that was being told. Other born-digital experiences are even more deeply hinged upon the user's input, not just inviting it, but requiring it, such as in games and in community driven worlds and collaborative worldbuilding games. These kinds of creations make the audience members not just readers, but creators in and of themselves, and readers cannot participate in these works without being active creators of their own right who then build communities of readers around themselves and their own works within the shared world as well.

It is all these aspects, and too many more to name, which make the born-digital such an exciting expanse of the literary. It is a front of creation that illustrates that literature and stories will always be at the forefront of human inventiveness and experimentation, and one day, I firmly believe that some of these early born-digital works will be what are studied, read, and analyzed within dissertations and college classrooms. For writers, expanding into and experimenting with the medium of the digital is about as irresistible as it would be for an artist to experiment with a newly discovered color that no humans had ever seen before previously. Through trial and error, through much experimenting and practice, more and more artworks would be created using this new color, and experimenting with the experience that it gives to its viewers. 

Of all the areas in the humanities, perhaps the Digital Humanities is the best positioned to recognize and begin to analyze these born-digital literary creations. It was the Digital Humanities that first began asking the questions and defining what the digital humanities would be, and why such a field was necessary and should not be confined to the realm of computer science and engineering. Digital Humanities was used to study early video games and the consoles that humans interfaced with in order to play those games. It is therefore the most equipped, and appropriate field, to begin to study the works of art that are sometimes games, but are often things that have not been named yet, have not been categorized, and, though they are beloved and treasured by their wide and diverse communities, have yet to be studied by almost anyone for the unique treasures that they bring to the study of literature. 

Down the Rabbit Hole, or How I Got One Step Closer to Accepting that I Don't Know What I'm Doing

A few weeks ago, I added the post Never Have I Ever where I stress-roasted myself because I felt incontrovertibly stupid trying to figure out what I am doing with my life Gephi. I really cannot emphasize how stressed and discouraged I was when I made that post. I have generally resigned myself to being technologically left behind from this point on, which is grim, but comforting.


Trying to read Lauren Klein's "The Image of Abscence" tonight before the kids' bedtime (not my brightest idea today), I made it about 7 pages when I saw her reference 'Protovis,' "a JavaScript-based toolkit for data visualization" and off I went to Google, since I knew it had to be in some way comparable to Gephi. Sure enough, Protovis is a thing and I got excited and ready to download it, till I caught the blurb right in the middle,

Protovis is no longer under active development.

The final release of Protovis was v3.3.1 (4.7 MB). The Protovis team is now developing a new visualization library, D3.js, with improved support for animation and interaction. D3 builds on many of the concepts in Protovis; for more details, please read the introduction and browse the examples.


and off I went to search for D3.js, which I easily found and downloaded...and could not open/run/use at all. But rather than the instinctive dispair I'm inclined towards...I kept trying. I cannot emphasize how surprising that is. 


The next level of the rabbit hole was googling how to run JavaScript in Google Chome, which led me to the Chrome DevTools' JavaScript page. This page provides detailed instructions, which I began following along and I totally did the thing! I typed in the lines of code and changed the little practice box to read 'Hello, Console!" instead of 'Hello World!' and it worked perfectly. Feeling exuberant, I again tried JavaScript...and nothing happened, so I clearly still don't know what I'm doing, but Dr. Drouin mentioned looking under the hood to see how it works and I feel like I finally grasped at it more than I have all semester. 


By this time, the kids were late for bed and everyone was frazzled...another happy night in the Pearce household. After ensuring my little heathens children were asleep, I sat back down and promptly dove into the rabbit hole head first. I went back to the Protovis page, where I did ...something?...and totally copied the code for the block quote announcement and pasted it into the plain text editor just for giggles...and it worked!! I did the thing! I went back and tried the DevTools Hello, Console! exercise again and it took many more attempts before I finally got it right (which is when I took the screenshot that I'm too tired to try working at uploading here). Now, it's 10:33 (yes, it's late—I'm old in my 30s and I don't care), I'm bordering on deriliousness (I legit just spent three solid minutes staring at to make sure I spelled that correctly), and a sense of calm resignation...I really don't know what I'm doing, but for the first time (maybe ever?) I'm not panicking about it.


...except for the part where I only read the 7 pages of Klein...

Elizabeth Losh: Bodies of Information

Losh talks about the need for feminism and inclusivity in the digital humanities.She articulates women being marginalized in technical fields even in recent times. I am interested in her take on how different voices being heard. What I do worry about, is the idea of feminist voices becoming a monolith due to technology cramming them all together based on subject manner. Just as there are stereotypes about other groups of people, the need to label others based on racial, gender, or sexual orientation seems to run more rampant than ever.

One of my favorite quotes was by Torchwood, "You people and your quaint little categories." The way technology is used may not allow for subtleties that are part of the human condition. Some women love the idea of feminisim and make it their reason for being. Some women may not just want to be seen just as a feminist, and some women may not even want to be feminists at all or labled that way. There are disagreements between 2nd and 3rd wave feminists on a host of issues. None of them are wrong for wanting to be seen as an individual of beliefs in a wide field of voices. I hope for the future that these issues are taken under consideration when archives are being created, because it is just as important as females being treated equally in the digital humanities.


Mapping the Boy's Journey in Araby

I decided to map “Araby” following the boy’s journey down to the Araby bazzar. As I was adding places on the map of Dublin, I realized several things that I hadn’t noticed before. The first thing I learned was that the distance from his home to the bazzar was quite far from each other, and seeing the geographical condition of both places, I could guess that the atmosphere of both places would very different—North Richmond Street, just as Joyce described, being “blind” and “quiet,” whereas the Araby bazzar is across the River, which he described as “twinkling,” and the boy could have a glimpse of the bustling nightlife of the city on his way to bazzar. Another thing I noticed was that the boy moved from North, where his house and school are located, to South, where the bazzar is opening. This physical movement from North to South aligns well with his psychological change because he is emotionally going down from hope and expectation to disappointment, doubt, and hatred. Also, because he had to leave his house after 9 p.m., he is surrounded by the darkness of the night and the silence in a lonely train riding, and with the experience of mapping his journey, I was able to better understand how these outside settings—going South alone at night—amplify as well as reflect the boy’s emotional movement.

I think a mapping of a novel enables the three-dimensional reading of a text. When I was reading “Araby” only from the book, I focused more onto the boy’s emotional journey than his physical movement, which still makes the story great. However, after mapping his journey and seeing with my eyes the geographical difference between North Richmond Street and the bazzar place (+Westland Row Station), I could clearly see how his perception of his love and himself is prompted to go through the gradual degradation by the change of surroundings.