Category Archives: Digital Humanities

Desk: Elephants to Catch Eels

Locally, we’re ending a semester and with a new season comes the need (!) for a new blogging app. This one is Desk , with good reviews on its paper-on-a-desktop interface. Writes in markdown. Handles image embeds and placement well – very easy. Affordances of headings, styles, quotation and lists are hidden away a little: select the text and a popup selection bar appears (it visually wars with PopClip for a moment). They’re available by keyboard, too. Preview and publishing options, too, are tucked away until you want them.

I enjoy – yep: enjoy – the minimalist writing interface (sans scrollbar) and appreciate the single-window design over floating palettes. I appreciate, too, the stats: characters, words, and reading time. And because I work across two Macs, using iCloud Drive to store drafts is welcome. There’s also some welcome legibility intelligence built into the interface: Re-sizing the editing window re-sizes the text for drafting.

The weblog setup is a little geeky, asking for the xmlrpc.php address. Not a problem for me, and perhaps a feature to teach a few users what is necessary for logging into a weblog. I approach new apps with the mind that the developers are going to show me something new, and I’m ready to let them, so I don’t balk at geek or new interface moves. Every app another way to think about what we’re doing. Every app a machine to think with.

There are a few things that push towards re-learning. Like the minimalist interface that removes the context. Like the disappearing publishing information that redraws the text when it’s called up and again when it’s hidden. The difficulty in seeing paragraph breaks in the draft window where everything is single-spaced.

It’s a v 1.0 release, so by the time I get used to these new gestures, the developer will have changed things anyway.

The promotional website is over-kill for the understatement of the actual app – a blast of marketing hype on story and empowerment and mission and passion. The first-grade marketing silliness creeps into the app. Publishing a post is rewarded with a gold-star, “Success! Great Job!” Using hyperbole to market understatement is a nice rhetorical irony, well-taken, but when it creeps into interface design, annoyance lies in wait. To get the best feel for the app, look at John's blog.

Update: Editing and resending a post doesn't update the original post but creates a new one. After publishing this post, I edited it further and then updated – I thought. I ended up with seven versions. Desk uses the old-school way of thinking about publishing and updating: Get it right before you publish, then publish once and commit! I'm more of the wiki-habit of development in situ. I deleted the six earlier versions and all is fine.

Update: Turns out I was editing and repeatedly uploading a local copy of the post rather than editing the already-uploaded version. The uploaded post is editable. Look over the navigation bar closely and select the version to edit. Desk is slippery, but flexible.

Eco and lists

Curating is making a list, but lists are significant.

The list is the origin of culture. It’s part of the history of art and literature. What does culture want? To make infinity comprehensible. It also wants to create order – not always, but often. And how, as a human being, does one face infinity? How does one attempt to grasp the incomprehensible? Through lists, through catalogs, through collections in museums and through encyclopedias and dictionaries. Eco on lists

I’m not talking about The Ten Best kind of lists, or their detractors. Or maybe I am, but I’m not emphasizing those occasional-lists here. Those lists that are aimed at narrowing, at reducing what is complex to a commodity chunk. I’m talking about the curated list, the list we make not to reduce to a finite and clever number but the list that we make to articulate the complexity. The list, the categorized list, organizes complexity without reducing it. Eco again:

Lovers are in the same position. They experience a deficiency of language, a lack of words to express their feelings. But do lovers ever stop trying to do so? They create lists: Your eyes are so beautiful, and so is your mouth, and your collarbone … One could go into great detail.

But listing is not just infinite expression and love. The culture part is indexing: how the list can be an index to the location of a tiny element of the thing.

Culture isn’t knowing when Napoleon died. Culture means knowing how I can find out in two minutes. Of course, nowadays I can find this kind of information on the Internet in no time. But, as I said, you never know with the Internet.

And while Google is The Master at aggregating the elements, it’s we Turks who gather and arrange and name the items to be indexed. That’s what makes even Google (even Google?) problematic. That’s where curation comes in. To feed Google so others can find out in two minutes.

Think of the list as a method of content curation, and as an index, or fetish.

Character and lists

Practice. Draw up a list of 40 items that characterize a friend or place.


Curating the Digital World: Past Preconceptions, Present Problems, Possible Futures

silenc and volum

First, a visualization that would interest students in #en4709: Digital Humanities. silenc

silenc is a tangible visualization of an interpretation of silent letters within Danish, English and French.

Silent letters themselves aren’t (semantically) silent. They guide pronunciation in some instances (tin | tine – pin | pine), can signal meaning that context would disambiguate in others (night | knight), and are signs of the word’s history and derivation (ptomaine). But the visualization points up that even though we read silently, we use the sound of the words to guide meaning.

silenc is the kind of work currently going on in digital poetics (here, here, and here), experimenting with concepts such as, in this case, the distance between speaking and printing. Books don’t disappear, but print gets a good hard look. In the same stall as Humument, and Tree of Codes.



As for volum, I read this morning in The Guardian that January is ZTT’s 30th anniversary.

The blue spaceship in Basing Street is housed in the studios where, all those pre-punk years ago, Island Records first recorded Bob Marley and the Wailers. Island boss Chris Blackwell’s swinging 60s bachelor pad in the west wing is still there, unchanged except for the blue and white ZTT dots splattered on the walls. But then these are everywhere, even the loos.

Inside this gilded palace of din, the new home of the hits is expanding daily. Yet another studio is being constructed, yet more personnel being drafted in. Not that you’re in a pop factory: Trevor Horn vociferously denies that ZTT is any such thing.

Island Records (now ZTT) is over the bridge and just down the Westway from the pub I used to work at en retro diem, a pub that Trevor used to visit once in a while. I didn’t know then he was Trevor Horn. I admit, I didn’t know then who Trevor Horn was at all. Just one of the weekend punters who worked down the studio. Did some production. Played bass. Pint of lager in a sleever, right, Mick?

Turns out, I discovered five or six years later, he’s this guy:

Video Killed the Radio Star from 2004 Prince’s Trust concert

ZTT produced others: Frankie, Art of Noise, Propaganda – and Yes (Prog-Rock video warning) which is nothing to shrug at. So, on its 30th anniversary, ZTT is adding a new studio and looking for new projects.

But that’s not the point. The point is that 30 years marks a turning point, summed up by Video Killed the Radio Star where one medium was giving way to another, and the artists were guiding and negotiating the transition. Who knew? Video Killed the Radio Star was a one-off pop song, that was also the first video to be aired on MTV. MTV? That can’t last. Dead in a year. (Well, it took 20 years and YouTube to kill off MTV. But it’s dead now.) Trevor? Just a nice bloke who played bass one night in the pub with a skiffle group. Who knew?

#en4709 week 2.5: projects in lifelogging and lifecasting

Take Pepy’s Diary (a humanist document if ever there was one, now online, mapped, annotated by crowdsource) not too much further and we get to lifelogging. Process and publish the life logged data and we get to lifecasting. Go all French and panopticonic and you get sousveillance.

To some extent, we’re already there. Tweets, emails, Skype calls, SMS messages, cameras and GPS in smart phones, playlists… We can record what we say and see, where we go and who we talk to. Smartphone apps can record heart rate and breathing, weight, and running pace and distance. We also have increasing access to public information: weather, traffic, news. More and more apps are coming out that scrape both personal and public files we have access to and collate and display results. Life logging looks at ways of aggregating the data we record, and for things to do with that data that will create insight into living, self, society.

It’s not much further and lifecasting takes us to Wunderkammer.

Connections with DH

  • rhetoric: life logging is kairos all the way down
  • history, biography, biographical criticism, philosophy, social history, social geography
  • new ways of collecting what it typically considered qualitative data
  • new ways of working with ditto
  • new working methods: graphs, maps, charts, timelines
  • projects …
  • To what extent can we make a life, a day, an event, a self, a work of art?


Lifecasting Projects

dh week one: net-working #en4709

Week 1 of DH went well, but we had to cut it short because of events for BSU Community Appreciation Day. It’s hard to pay attention to The Cure in class when the local radio station is blasting pop music the quad.

As a way of getting started in DH practices, I assigned this activity for week two

Twitter Essay
– Sign up with twitter.
– Follow @mcmcorgan.
– Locate and follow others in this course.
– Compose a Twitter essay of exactly 140 characters using #en4709 enacting what a student of digital humanities does. Don’t waste a character. (Borrowed nearly verbatim from Jesse Stommel at Hybrid Pedagogy).

But, in my haste, I forgot to include a strategy for finding each other on Twitter. Here it is:

How? Send a tweet including #en4709. Any tweet at all – but include #en4709. That will make us all findable. Search for #en4709. When you locate someone, follow them. Also, view who they follow and who is following them. Others in this class may be on their list.

What’s the rationale here?
The idea is to bootstrap us, as a class, into DH practices. Locating each other and forming a network makes a sensible starting point, as working in and as a network is one of the central practices (and values) of DH. Spiro mentions it, but it’s clear net-work is present from the beginnings with V Bush, Ted Nelson, Doug Englebart all working towards it. The first challenge is to find the network itself, then to find others of like mind. I specified the network – Twitter – but didn’t provide a way of finding each other by way of that network.

As students in humanities studies, we find other students and professors of like minds and interests. A physical campus with buildings housing departments gives us a physical space to find those people – as does the campus itself, and the local community. Coffee shops, restaurants, bars are all places to find others in our disciplines. Ditto disciplines and departments as organizational structures: They function as strong links. If students can locate the strong links, they can follow links from there, and create links between themselves, to extend the network, and providing new (weak) links to bring in new information. As students, we do this physically, by hanging around, asking around, looking lost and bored. New faculty do it by going to mixers that the university organizes. (And, yes, this is an argument for the persistence of physical campuses.)

Online, it’s still a matter of finding the strong links. Me, in this case. If every student in the class finds me on Twitter and follows me, then they can find and follow everyone else in the class by looking at who else is following me. That can be just as nerve-wracking – or exciting – as sitting around in the corner of the union, hoping someone will recognize you, or you someone else. The alternative way of finding each other – by way of weak links (send a tweet with a designated hash tag) – helps. That’s how participants at conferences find each other. It’s a practice the DH crowd has developed over the past six years of Twitter.

By my forgetting to include it, I brought the need for and practice of findability to the surface.

I’m not talking about ‘community’ in any “community appreciation” way here. I’m focusing on making connections between nodes that need to be connected somehow in order to get things done. To get the information to create a network, students have to locate professors that are on the fringe but have information they need, and they have to locate and test out connections with other students they have no interest in being friends with. This is why FB, with all its timelines and updating and stress on images, makes a poor platform for this kind of net-working. It’s not a matter of keeping friend and study networks separate – that can be done on any platform. Twitter works for creating non-committal pathways that can be followed or ignored, as the need arises.

Spiro, Lisa. “This Is Why We Fight”: Defining the Values of the Digital Humanities. Debates in the Digital Humanities. University Press of Minnesota.

late mid-summer digital humanities reading list update

At Dunn Bros

I’ve had a couple of requests for the texts for ENGL 4709/5709: Digital Humanities this fall. For some reason, the bookstore wanted text selections in mid-June. Not sure why. They can order texts and get them here within a month. And while I would like to accommodate the bookstore – because that’s what good customers do: accommodate the vendor – I won’t have a final list until late July because a) I’m conscientious and b) I’m not a hack. And just so we all know that I am conscientious and not a hack, here is my current reading list for the course.

This isn’t the final reading list – so don’t panic. It’s my reading list for the course – the stuff I’ve been working with since May. The final section of the list comes closest to what we’ll be reading for class. Might be one or two more, or less.

Card Sorting

Back in The Day, I used to get an overview of what I’ve read, of what I still needed to read, and how the texts would gather by sorting physical books and xeroxes into groups and piles. As more and  more of the texts become digital, I have to act more and more like a library, creating tokens to represent the texts and then arranging the tokens. The token on the list becomes separated from the text, which might be stored in a number of places: bookshelf, Pinboard, local pdf files. Here’s the current arrangement.

Summer Reading List for DH

A Starting Point

Digital Poetics


Writing and Rhetoric

Digital Scholarship

  • Martin Weller. The Digital Scholar. Selected chapters.
  • This section looks a little shy but there are a lot of readings on digital scholarship in the collections – and three of the texts in the final list address digital scholarship.
Social Critique

Tentative final list

The current reading list is on the DH site.



Three lessons on reading Geoffrey Sirc’s “Box-Logic” for the 4th or 5th time in preparation for a graduate seminar in Composition Theory.

Lesson One

I attended the local Times Talk lunch on Wednesday, and I appreciated the salad of iceburg lettuce and sliced chicken with oil and vinegar dressing over spaghetti, but  I discovered, when I asked the students attending the lunch about their reading habits, something less appetizing. I asked them, when it comes to news, do they pick up a paper and read what they find interesting or do they, maybe, go to google and search on a topic that interests them, like eurozone, f’rinstance, and read around what they find there? I guess I could have predicted the answer of mass comm students and student senators at a Mass Comm department and NY Times sponsored lunch about reading the NY Times: We read the paper. If you read blogs (I didn’t mention blogs, just “read around,”) you have to figure out if the source is credible. We don’t have the time to do that. What’s the eurozone? How are we supposed to know what’s important? The NY Times rep wasn’t helpful, remarking that a story in the Huffington Post was “a rumor,” while The NY Times wouldn’t report it until it was “news.” These students, it seems, like their news pre-packaged and branded to guarantee quality. The newspaper spoon in the Naked Lunch. The market share.

Then, today, I’m reading Sirc, “Box-Logic” (pdf), and I stop at this:

I really don’t think it’s up to me to teach students how to process that ‘serious writing […] the long and complicated texts’ (B and P) of the academy; if certain disciplines feel the need to use those texts, they are certainly free to teach students their intricacies themselves. 143.

Which got me thinking about that lunch again in this way:

A professor from the psych department who attended the Times Talk made it clear she did want to teach students how to process that serious writing when she commented to the group at large that she taught her students how to distinguish between a news story and an academic journal article. Why? Well, she said that her students have difficulty telling a news story from an advertisement from an academic journal article. That sounds like hyperbole, but given the reading habits the students mentioned … well, when you eat from the newspaper spoon, you don’t need to make distinctions. If her students have difficulty reading a psychology journal article, that’s her lookout, not mine, and it sounds like she has it all well in hand.

But doesn’t that make me part of the problem? Shouldn’t I, as a professor of composition, teach students how to distinguish between a news article and an article in a psych journal? Isn’t that my role in the academy?

Well, no. I needn’t teach the distinction. That is the psych department’s job. I would argue, in fact, that to make the distinction meaningful to the students it is meant for, the distinction has to be taught in the psych department.

In fact, given the reading habits of those students above, it’s clear that Sirc’s box-logic pedagogy does address the concerns of the psychology professor – and more fundamentally than simply discussing differences between two genres.

And suddenly I’m not part of the problem anymore. I may not be the solution, but I’m not part of the problem. I feel better now. I feel good. I feel better than James Brown.

Lesson Two: Vocabulary for this Chapter

Cut them out. Paste them on cards. Collect them all.

– a convolute – box logic – hip hop – rap – Fluxus – engagement – paratactic assemblage – association – implication – poetic concretism – expressionism – passion – constellated – constellation – trace-capturing – pulsion – academic curator – daybook – Abercrombie & Fitch lives – aggregate – juxtaposition – annotate – re-mix – re-purpose – share – docent-guided tour – self-guided tour

Lesson Three: Two Reasoned Responses to Sirc

Reasoned response #1. Sirc is advocating nothing more than throwing shit at the wall to see if it sticks. He might use 20th century modernist artists as a base for his ideas, but he relies on worn-out notions of romantic expressionism and the trendy, self-help ideas of engaging your Passion to defend his so-called pedagogy. The truly difficult – and highly valued – mental work of analysis goes by the board in this plan, as does any criteria for evaluation of the work or of students. There’s no critical thinking going on here – not even the possibility of it occurring. This is Creative Writing 101 Lite. You don’t even need a teacher to do this!

Reasoned response #2. Sirc is re-defining the comp teacher as curator, and the processes of composition as it unfolds in the classroom as a physical, material engagement with those practices, ‘from l’etat brut inquiry” to the logic of being engaged scholars 138. The influx of new media may be the occasion for this re-definition but the box logic Sirc sketches places students in a valuable pedagogical relationship with that new media and new media practices – practices that go on around us all both inside and outside the academy: within and without the walls. You can’t write this off by calling it creative writing, mere expressionism. The approach, the method, might be novel to humanists, but it’s how Agassiz or any good science teacher teaches the next wave of scientists. The approach patently requires a teacher, but one that acts as a curator rather than a docent.