Bodies of Information and Data Visualization

In the introduction of Bodies of Information, the author says the significance of field of digital humanities and how this filed can work with politics around the world in nowadays. Some critics say the logic of digital humanities will work for the perspective of neoliberalism and this idea would be served for traditional white male discourse instead of issue of class, gender, and race. What the author wants to say is that this idea would be possible to speak for the feminist perspective. The author explains in the field of digital humanities, the gender fluidity can be found in every aspect. For this reason, the author says that digital humanities would be possible to work with various discourses of political agenda nowadays. The author’s idea on digital humanities is that it has been examined with various disciplines including sociology, anthropology, and other fields. It has allowed expanding the boundaries of the concept of texts and instead of just focusing on an issue of technological sphere, it entails the issues of various political issues. The author discusses various issues on materiality, and values of theory on woman issue. The author also says that this idea of innovation by DH is important, but we also should think about how to maintain this perspective of DH afterwards. This idea reminded me of the article that I read “Using a Feminist Digital Humanities Approach Critical Women’s History through Covers of Black Coffee.’” This article deals with the music record of black woman, and examines the issue of feminism by the aids of digital technology. In this respect, we can find that DH would be able to use for political situations nowadays.

Lauren F. Klein’s article deals with how the examination of textuality can influence the understanding of the meaning of the text. She deals with the letters of Thomas Jefferson which has been sent to William Evans, and from this writings, she explains the relationship between Jefferson and people around him. The method of examining this issue is done by Digital Edition, and instead of focusing on the contents of the texts, it focuses on the extra-textual information to explain the meaning of the text and supports how using technology would be possible to examine the issue of class in that era. What he suggests is that although digital humanities are not yet prepared to answer the humanistic questions, it can actually aids us to decide how to respond to the questions around us. The depiction of arc to represent the frequency of contacts as to Jefferson and his acquaintance seems interesting, as it shows well how the social relationship around him can be examined through the help of technology. She also emphasizes the importance of visual aspect of texts and how this way of looking text can be helpful to understand the issue of race in Jefferson’s writing. Personally, focusing on the materiality of text seems important nowadays. As study on media has been emphasized recently, I want to ask whether this concept would be related to the idea of McLuhan’s study on media. As he also focused on the change of medium and contents of text also can be conveyed through medium, I would like to ask the possible connection between his idea and study on materiality of text.

A Fragmented Record

I too was struck by Klein's article, especially her depiction of silences in the archive, her use of Foucault, and building on last week's discussion of postcolonialism. Her observations on data visulatization, especially her documentation of Jefferson's correspondences with the Hemings, shows the level of relationship that is so often untold and Hemings' work went silent until this rediscovery.

I also can't help but consider the fragments, ciphers, and silences in the archive. This is where I consider DH to have the most important work. As my final project involves correspondences, I can't help but think how I am reshaping the narrative and wonder if I am doing it justice. There are a lot of ways to repeat the sins of imperialism, rewriting the silences narratives again in a voice not their own and I think DH is evolving and trying not to repeat those mistakes, but rewrite fixed silences, show ignored narratives and create the active archive Klein alludes to.

Ghost in the Archive

I was particularly struck by how Klein discusses the idea of notable and observable absences in archival materials, such as the voices of slaves in Jefferson's archive. To me, it feels like a more concrete way of discussing and critiquing the selection bias I have been concerned about since the start of the semester and have kept coming back around to. Klein describes theses absences, saying "its shadowy form, the ghost captures a sense of what is palpable, yet cannot be fully grasped. In its lingering presence, the ghost conjures a sense of the haunting of the present by the past" (666). I feel like this is a perfect way to think about certain selection biases. For example, we discussed last week the idea of post-colonial digital humanities and the default archival of canonical writers and voices. In instances such as that, the absence of voices and perspectives from people of color and other minorities is aparent, and we can usually pinpoint that something feels off, even if we aren't consciously sure what that something is. This is also an instance of the past haunting the present, in a way, as decisions made to exclude these perspectives from the archive and the canon have carried forward into the present, consciously or not, and could potentially harm the discourse. I can see how digital humanities and network maps are particularly useful here, as showing the communications networks between Jefferson and his aquantances highlights the gaps and degrees of separation between himself and the enslaved people in his sphere of influence.

[Insert Blog Post Title]

In reading Wernimont and Losh, I found myself consistently saying "Where's the info?" They made a lot of claims about stuff like a purposeful white-washing of DH history and ignorance of the feminist and antiracist work that went into building DH, but never actually gave examples of ignored people who should be considered the cornerstones of DH work. I found myself wanting to stop reading their intro and just jump to the pieces in the book, were they offered in the reading, because then I would get some kind of hard information. I would be hypocritical if I were against Moretti and Jocker's broad claims about DH's importance, and I sat back and let Wernimont and Losh say things like "our argument is that feminisms have been and must continue to be central to the indentity and the methodologies of the digital humanities as a field" without at least pointing out the same type of forceful language. Especially someone like myself whose field includes professionals that utilize any number of theoretical lenses, including race/feminist/queer theory, and views the field as all the better for it. To argue for one central theory that all of a particular discipline must center around is...too much.


The Klein was particularly great because it deals with a particular concern of mine in my DH project. I am currently working on making a record of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn's membership rolls and minutes, so that I can easily digitize them from the record provided in Gilbert's book The Golden Dawn Companion. There is enough information there that I can do a few cool things that will illuminate the membership of the Golden Dawn and show the general idea I have for my "Artistic Network of the Golden Dawn." However, as I'm going through the data, I am consistently struck with the fear that there are people on the rolls that I will simply never know anything about. There are people that are simply lost to time, or more simply the very poor record keeping of the Golden Dawn, and my archive will not be able to rectify that. I was sincerely worried about how I could fix these potential problems, but the Klein reading put my mind at ease. Sometimes I will be able to trace the histories of these people. Sometimes I will not. Both of those outcomes are fine. Ghosts don't have to be solved. They can be allowed to exist. Just as you cannot force more information about characters from a novel or drama or poem, you cannot wish up an extensive background on every single person that has ever lived.

A Spectral Presence

While I enjoyed both of the readings for this week, I found myself especially drawn to Klein's archival work. For me, Klein's discussion of the interstices of the archive illuminates the potential of DH not only to combat hegemonic master narratives but also to challenge our conceptions, as Klein writes, "of what it truly means to know" (665) as well as what it means to archive. I think, for me, one of my main difficulties in this course correlates to how entrenched my English-brained conceptions of learning and reading are. Klein's project provides an important reminder that DH is/can be much more than an subfield of English literature. Indeed, the symptomatic reading that I have come to rely on in many of my projects here serves as a form of violence rather than of cultural recovery and sociopolitical praxis. 

"What is DH, really?" or "Shamelessly indulging a tangent or two"

I'm quite fascinated by the dialogue between this weeks' readings, or, well, to be more precise, between our actual readings and the additional articles by Nan Z. Da and Ted Underwood that Dr. Drouin sent our way. Not that I didn't appreciate Ted Underwood's guiltily satisfying teardown of periodization in the other article of his we read, but I think I'm just at the point in the semester where I'm hoping to start bringing my thoughts together into something resembling coherence, and, although they oppose one another, these two though pieces seem related to our other readings precisely because they are trying to get at the heart of what exactly the "Digital Humanities" are. The interesting thing to me is that both sides seem to be remarkably astute in both their criticism and their defense.

Personally, although it was not one of our key readings this week, I found Nan Z. Da's criticism of the field in "The Digital Humanities Debacle" refreshing, especially because she hits upon something I've felt since the get-go but couldn't put my finger on: the tendancy of DH to redefine terms at will in a way that rather fundamentally changes their meaning. Taking Da's "close" and "distance" reading example, for instance--it sounds quite nice to argue for the necessity of "distance" reading, as Moretti has done extensively in Graphs Maps Trees, and yet this close/distance dichotomy presented is not what the literary act of "close reading" actually means. "Close reading" in literary studies, as Da points out, simply functions "as a description of smart, attentive, original exegesis", in other words, insightful analysis that actually says something about what is being examined. This insight almost always moves from very "close" to somewhat "distanced" as one attempts to show what these findings mean for either the individual work, the author's body of work, or some corpus at large. Although of course I understand the argument of Frank Moretti and other's that looking at something from a great distance can reveal new and interesting things about it, certainly it is a bit, well, tricky, to suggest that "close reading" in its traditionally understood sense requires a viewed-from-way-far-away component in order to be sound. This is rather like manipulating the language to prove a point, although I suppose this is what we are all doing on some level or other, and is DH really to be condemned for playing the same game?

How does Da's scathing criticism (although tempered by some rather sensible recommendations of accountability and so on towards the end) square, though, with the enthusiasm of Ted Underwood and Roopika Risam and many others we've read who truly feel, as argued by Risam in "New Digital Worlds", that "The potential for digital humanities lies in its capacity for world making--for using digital humanities scholarship to create new models for knowledge and the world" (142). These are lofty statements indeed, and yet seem, in some cases as when one is exploring the possibility of "A digital cultural record that puts social justice at its center" (Risam 144), to not be wholly exaggeration. Is the discrepancy perhaps between ideal and real, potential and actual? Da looks closely and finds actual dificiency in DH scholarship as it is currently conducted, and which I am sure this is not a pleasant accusation for anyone, it doesn't necessarily devalue the potentiality of DH to accomplish "world making" asserted by Risam, either. I wonder if, in tempering its eagerness to claim itself the Absolute New Method of Criticism, as Da suggests occurs naturally in any critical movement, DH will not (or has not already?) become a much more useful tool in the process.



Underwood and the Debate

If there is one thing this week has taught us, it is that the debate of computational studies in literary analysis continues to rage. Underwood's argument (March 27 2019) argues that "advances in computing" are going to create a new opportunity for the field, an avenue that makes us marketable to undergraduate audiences, rewrites the 20th century model that leaves the fun, new questions to the scientists and creates an arena that is interdisciplinary. His article changes the perspective of the humanities losing ground to the sciences to one where the disciplines can work together to reward curiosity of the past. Underwood's position seems optimistic to me and in reality, I agree with Da a little more than Underwood. I think we can use CLS to enhance learning systems, but I think we need to be careful about how we use CLS, especially big data (everyone recently in the sciences seems to be turning to big data to do more (I'm having doubts, clearly). I'm thinking about how in petroleum engineering, there's a call to use big data to process complex questions that traditional computational analysis lacks for conventional drilling and I think there's danger there because even if it is using a thousand variables, with so many, we lack the ability to suss out the specific complexities that yield to new form and new discoveries; that's my biggest beef). 

I also found Underwood and Risam's articles illuminating. In Underwood, he takes up the issue of periodization and the potential of historical continuity. Underwood (164) speculates the reasons for the objections to quantification in literary science, but what I find interesting is that by end of his argument addressing Romanticism (169), I agree with him. Perhaps periodization fails to acknowledge the complexity of certain cultural trends and moments and quantification offers an opportunity to reexamine old questions. Well, I fell in love with Risam's description: "the opportunity to intervene in the digital cultural record--to tell new stories, shed light on counter-histories, and create spaces for communities to produce and share their own knowledge should they wish--is the great promise of digital humanities (5). That is the most optimistic description I've heard, especially since many--as Risam later notes-- compare it to the cultural wars (theory) and have DH killing humanities. Risam also takes up the issue that the issues prominent in post-colonialism--exclusions and biases, a refusal to acknowledge politics and racial privilege--have reproduced in digital knowledge production (139); his work shows how groups are beginning to combat that and I find that uplifting as well as enlightening. I must admit I found the debate more fascinating, but I found these pieces integral to my understanding of how complex the field of DH is becoming and how it has the potential to revolutionize our discipline.


The Additive Tendencies of Digital Humanities

I think one of the most important points Risam makes is that adding to the digital archive is not enough to disrupt the remnants of colonialism and imperialism that are hanging around, as a result of the housing of so many of these archives in academia and the university. They points at the Whitman, Blake and Rossetti Archives as examples of the dangers of assuming the canonical digital humanities are no different from the canonical literary works. It makes sense to me that we should work to contextualize how and why things came together the way they did, because, as Risam notes, adding voice is great but they risk being dwarfed by the shadow of the canonical works in the digital realm as well. I think this sort of context and possibility for reorientation is one of the greatest potential roles for digital humanities, as the dream of completely democratized knowledge woud allow for anyone's voices to be heard and almost every perspective to be represented. HOWEVER, as Risam points out, most of the DH projects coming out of the literary world still propegate the imperial colonialism of the university. I really do think the correct thing to do is provide context for what is already there and point out the problematic aspects of the canon, as well as adding more voices and perspectives.

literary periods and new digital worlds

‘Why literary periods mattered’ explains changes of understanding periodical study in literature. Traditionally, literary study focused on periodization to understand literary works, but nowadays as focus on study moves toward on social aspect, this way of studying literature has changed. According to this article, poets of Romanticism era tried to suggest discontinuity of history and this contrasted with the concept of continuity of history in enlistment movement. From this idea, the article explains how a continuous history in model of collective mind has changed toward discontinuous historic model. The idea of Foucault’s discontinuous history would be meaningful in that sense, as Foucault also negated master narrative which has been asserted by modern historicists. From this perspective of postmodern theory, the writer says that using digital humanities would work well with the view of fragmented history. Distant reading and quantitative reading would be meaningful for that reason. Personally, with the help of digital technology, we would be able to analyze literary works with various tools, and examine them in a different way. However, we should be always conscious of reading the meaning of the text through close reading, because literary study is different from scientific point of view toward the knowledge.

‘New Digital Worlds’ deals with the issue of how postcolonial study can be correlated with digital humanities. As to postcolonial digital humanities, it tries to deal with question of global relation through technological mediation. This study of global issue is correlated with various aspects including corporate interest, academic field, cultural and racial issues. Through this use of postcolonial digital humanities, studies on canonical writing or historical stuffs can be examined differently, because many literary works are archived in websites. Conceptualizing the world through technology was meaningful, because through this work, digital humanities can resist against the idea of colonial discourse. Especially, the article states that the focus on Global North moves toward Global South, and local aspects by using digital humanities. I think with the help of technological development, many people around the world would be able to access to data much easier than the past. For this reason, information archived in Global North could have been disseminated to other society in different regions, and this has allowed people around the world to enage in issues of the wolrd in a convenient and democratic way.

I don't know if Underwood wants individual disciplines

When I first read the title, I had Jockers flashbacks. "Historical periods still matter, and will always matter," ran through my New Historicist-head at least twice. Add the current worries of what exactly "restructuring" means to my admittedly conservative fatigue over constantly having to defend close reading against these DH scholars, and I didn't have any patience going into the Underwood.


As Underwood gets into his argument though, it makes sense. The title is not nearly as inflammatory as I'm sure he knew it would be, either. Scholars starting back in the 1840's put forward this idea that historical periods mattered as a way to reinforce our own claims as a field that we matter. (He doesn't explicitly mention the concept of 'deep history' from what I recall, but they used it in the Victorian period to reference a period of time long past that we have evolved past. It was a professional response to the worry that evolution meant we were linked to the cavemen of long ago in some kind of irredeemable way. It was an early attempt by Victorians to relegate themselves to a new, modern humanity and a new, modern history. So it makes sense that the English department concept of historical divisions were birthed in the 1840s.) If we do not need to defend our field as "mattering," or if we have another way to defend ourselves against the constant threat of "restructuring," then sure. Historical periods no longer matter.


This is where he makes his most attractive claim, though I don't know if it actually stands on its own merits. I still have to think on that. At any rate, English doesn't need to use historical periods to defend itself as a field anymore because, instead, it can use interdisciplinarity to do so. As he closes the piece, someone has to teach students how to take into account cultural and historical considerations when reading and analysing literature. Might as well as be us. And we might as well add in a bit of quantitative analysis alongside our literary, psychological, sociological, historical, and economic theory. The reason I don't know if this works or not as a theory is that he doesn't seem to be arguing for an English department as much as he is arguing for a Liberal Arts department. He would handwave this criticism away as a slippery-slope worry, but I'm not sure that is enough. And this is coming from someone whose DH project for this class is essentially a history project with only a passing nod to literature.

A Brief Note on New Digital Worlds

One important point that Risam raises is, I think, the increased visibility that DH brings as the field continues to grow. Indeed, the point seems rather intuitive: in a field based on the interplay between and the intersections of technology and the arts and in an increasingly technological world, it seems only natural that DH would fly past the gatekeepers of academia. Yet, I don't think the significance of the untapped political potential of DH really hit me until I read this piece. The democratizing potential of DH is undoubtedly vast; of course, technology is instrumental, dependent on the user, on us. Because of DH's potentially expansive reach, the social imperative of academics becomes incredibly important. I'll be interested to hear what y'all think on this topic. 

Photography and Yearning After Permanence

As a childhood-to-present lover of photography who has experienced several dramatic shifts in the medium during my lifetime, but also one whose sensibility has ever been more medieval than modern, I found this brief excerpt of Walter Benjamin’s account of the image in “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction” refreshingly straightforward. It also, however, caused me to wrinkle my brow a bit (is that a phrase? I feel like it is) in both chagrin and, at times, hesitation over his statements. On one level it is certainly hard to argue with his assertion that print reproduction has dramatically altered not only the individually artistic endeavor but also many other aspects of (societal and political, he implies) life, especially as the ideal held within mass production has become not only possible but, in many cases, preferred (any mention of mass production or appeal reminds me that a great amount of US produce is discarded or at the very least considered unsaleable, although being perfectly healthy, just because it does not match the common perception of a perfectly shaped/colored supermarket Red Delicious).

Surely Benjamin’s words strike a chord in me when he claims that this thirst for sameness occurs due to “the desire of contemporary masses to bring things 'closer' spatially and humanly, which is just as ardent as their bent towards overcoming the uniqueness of every reality by accepting its reproduction” and declares that “Unmistakably, reproduction as offered by picture magazines and newsreels differs from the image seen by the unaided eye” because “Uniqueness and permanence are as closely linked in the latter as are transitoriness and reproducibility in the former" (219). I have ever believed that the photographic image is, in some poignant way, an attempt (and only such, be it ever so joyful or desperate) to hold the moment within the permanent, to find “the still point of the turning world” and preserve a in instant eternally. So I appreciate his words on this subject very much, and yet I still wonder if this is unique to photography. Does not the Grecian Urn attempt permanence? And were there not likely many poorly made urns or statues of Venus that have not inspired reverence in the same vein as mass produced art today?

I am also curious about this statement: “If, while resting on a summer afternoon, you follow with your eyes a mountain range on the horizon or a branch which casts its shadow over you, you experience the aura of those mountains, of that branch” (219). This is true, I feel, and it is not something to make light of—the value in the individual experience of any given mountain, stream, forest. I do wonder, however, if to view a photographic image created by another (even one that has been gasp reproduced) who themselves viewed and contemplated the scene is so very far removed from its “aura” as Benjamin implies. What of the “aura” of the individual photographer who has crafted the image? Although I know it is not always the case, I have long considered the intent of “real” photographers, for lack of a better term, to be something akin to providing the viewer with a depiction of his or her own unique perspective upon viewing of a scene. True, photographs must be made, but in being made they also, at times, bring into sharp focus one aspect of a scene (take a macro photograph of a leaf or an apple, for instance) and show it to the viewer in a manner so focused and pure that it causes one to reexamine their own reality with greater care. Is this experience truly utterly lacking in the “aura” of that scene?

I have quite a few more thoughts on this rather delightful reading this week, but have unfortunately run out of time to formulate them in writing.

Borges and Benjamin

I really enjoyed the readings this week, particularly the Library of Babel. I was really struck by the passage: "when it was proclaimed that the Library contained all books, the first impression was one of extravagant happiness. All men felt themselves to be the masters of an intact and secret treasure. There was no personal or world problem whose eloquent solution did not exist in some hexagon." I connected this to the digital, the promise of the digital archive to provide a solution seemingly at the touch of our fingertips and its ability to hold all the world's knowledge (the knowledge that we choose to place there). This reminded me of our past discussions surrounding the archive. 

I was also struck by the idea of reproduction in Benjamin's work and the idea that art is being designed for reproducibility; this idea in particular extends to the digital age. Works are now being produced for a digital medium, art designed to be retweeted and re-shared via a community. This ties into how cult value is being replaced by exhibition value; works of art are now meant to be displayed and the once sacred process of art-making through ritual, intended for the gods, is now, as Benjamin puts it, hidden. Quantity is another issue in Benjaimin's piece that relates to the digital; he notes that "quantity has been transmuted into quality," meaning that the quality of a piece of art is now determined by the number of its reproduction. A modern example of this at work is a popular YouTube channel, the videos becoming quality pieces of film by the number of times they are viewed or liked rather than the actual technique of filming or another aesthetic quality. 

The digital provides a platform for more reproducible art and a space that acts as an archive, as problematic and challenging as those concepts are. I'm looking forward to class discussion.


Borges and Benjamin - Art in the Internet Age

Borges was a fun story to read, if a little obvious in his metaphors/allegories when we get to specifics. But the general idea of a Librarian who is seeking to interact with books when all books have been catalogued and contained into a central structure pretty accurately and succinctly mirrors what I brought up a month or so ago; to ask us to deal with these electronic archives on a mass scale is like giving us the Enterprise and saying "Alright. You have the entire universe at your fingertips. Go find God." Borges highlights the same feelings of fear and inadequacy I know I feel when I realize just how much information is out there for us to access.


Then there's the Benjamin, which sees this electronic reproduction as a natural occurence. That makes sense. We've been reproducing stuff since time immemorial, and we're not going to stop just because there's such a thing as copyright law. He mentions though that this seems to separate the art from an inherent quality it possesses, and that this is yet another natural separation between art and the cult that the Decadents called 150 years ago. That's a major point of connection between Benjamin and Borges, though Borges still seems to be engrossed by the hidden potentialities of the texts despite the general unease of the short story.


I do find myself wanting to disagree with Benjamin, but have you ever found some 150 year old text that's simply been written out in a text document and uploaded to either Gutenberg or some other content aggregator? It's distressingly plain. Even sites like that upload PDF scans/pictures of the entire book, including its front cover and spine, add a bit of the mechanical. Not that print books aren't a mechanical process. I think my point is that the scanning/eletronic reproduction process highlights and maybe even exacerbates the mechanical aspects of production and drains a bit of what Benjamin would call the "aura" of the object away from it.