Building Data Crosswalks: Dr. Janelle Jenstad Speaks to Queen’s Students and Researchers about how DH can Integrate and Streamline Scholarship

Researchers working in digital humanities are probably familiar with the notion that a lot of DH projects are done in teams. The nature and scope of the work involved tends to require expertise in different areas as well as considerable labour power to populate digital platforms with scholarly data. Despite this collective quality to DH work, it can often feel like digital humanities projects have to begin from scratch. Researchers bold enough to envision DH projects that involve this kind of scope of expertise and labour, and who venture forward to assemble teams and build platforms often feel like they (even with their teams) are constructing isolated tools. However useful, these projects are often conceived as discrete, self-contained works that make use of digital technologies in new (and exciting) ways for the humanities. Speaking recently at the Queen’s English Department Research Forum, Dr. Janelle Jenstad pointed to the need, and the potential, for DH projects to integrate with other platforms and projects  rather than only construct new ones. She emphasized the value of developing “data crosswalks” not only between different DH projects but between such projects and scholarship more broadly.

Dr. Jenstad spoke about creating a digital gazetteer for the Map of Early Modern London (MoEML), a DH project based on the 1560s Agas woodcut map of London. The map itself allows users to visualize, overlay, combine and query information in the five databases that comprise the map’s Encycplopedia—a placeograpy, personogrppahy, orgography, bibliography, and glossary. As such, it reflects the spatial turn in the humanities where information is organized and connected geographically. The gazetteer, as Dr. Jenstad explained, is an important addition to the project that serves as a geographical index, or dictionary.

For students and researchers in attendance, the relevance of Dr. Jenstad’s presentation extended far beyond scholarship of the Early Modern period. It went beyond discussions of geo-humanities or even the value of digital gazetteers. Rather, it raised issues of how digital technologies can be used in humanities research to foster integration through standardization, and as a result, streamline and exponentially grow scholarly work. As Dr. Jenstad explained, one of the key components and advantages of a gazetteer is the establishment of an authority name for a place. Establishing standard authority names for historical places enables interoperability between different scholarly projects, particularly digital humanities projects that adopt the same xml:id for the place. The more projects that adopt the same standard for names and the same standardized encoding, the greater the possibility for integration of project platforms and, consequently, for streamlining scholarly work. In addition to an authority name, the digital gazetteer also includes all variant names, or toponyms, aggregated together and linked with the authority name, allowing for the preservation of this key nuanced information while still forging the necessary links to standardized language and encoding. Other digital humanities projects that have integrated with the work done by MoEML include Shakeosphere, a DH project concerned with mapping Early Modern social networks, and the Database of Early English Playbooks (DEEP).  Not only have these projects adopted the same authority names as MoEML for standardization purposes, they have also been able to link their data directly to the MoEML. Queen’s graduate students listening to Dr. Jenstad’s talk were particularly intrigued by this idea that the more scholars, editors, and researchers adopt these same authority names in their research, edited editions of texts, and DH datasets, the easier it will become to link research together and build on each other’s work more effectively.

While many in attendance were students or faculty working in or interested in digital humanities, many were also either unfamiliar with DH or even dismissive of it as a field. Amongst this latter group were those who held the view that digital humanities doesn’t present anything really new in humanities research—it just involves the use of computing technology which everything does now anyway. Dr. Jenstad’s illustration of how digital technology can be used to standardize, integrate, and streamline humanities scholarship at the level not only of language but of encoding problematized such a view. The key aspect of a digital gazetteer is that all data contained in it can be tagged, and therefore, mined. The development of a digital gazetteer also opens up opportunities for using Natural Language Processing (NLP) and Named Entity Recognition (NER).  Advocates of DH research who attended Dr. Jenstad’s talk were quick to point out to those less convinced of the unique potential of DH that mining and analyzing humanities data through these mechanisms represents new scholarly methodologies and opens up the possibility of entirely new research questions. Furthermore, as Dr. Jenstad mentioned, standardized encoding makes it possible to link projects like the MoEML with works such as the Early English Books Online Text Creation Partnership (EEBO-TCP) at the Bodleian Libraries, Oxford. This kind of integration makes it possible to mine and analyze huge amounts of data not feasible before. In discussion after Dr. Jenstad’s talk, several attendees began to think of this capacity of computing interacting with humanities texts not only as a question of handling a greater quantity of data, but in so doing, changing what humanities scholars can ask.

One final component of the MoEML that caught the imagination of those in attendance was its recent integration with Google Maps using geo-coordinates. Dr. Jenstad painted a picture of researchers, or members of the general public, walking around London, using the MoEML along with Google Maps to learn what places of Early Modern London they may be standing on or beside. The capacity of DH projects to integrate with other digital platforms, whether they be scholarly, corporate, public, or private explodes the possibilities for who academics might consider as partners, stakeholders, and users of their research products. Scholars of Early Modern London will no doubt have a use for the MoEML, in addition to residents and tourists of London, academics producing traditional or DH scholarship, or high school students producing book reports. With standardized encoding made available to any and all, digital humanities projects like the MoEML allowed Queen’s students and researchers to imagine how data crosswalks might be built to new users and partners of humanities research to new, and perhaps more democratic, ends.

 

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Community Brainstorm: Demystifying DH Wants Your Input!

Please join us to give your input on Thursday, 2 April, in the Third Floor Lounge of the Grad Club. Let us know if you plan to come here.

Event Announcement:

Is your research related to the Humanities or the Arts? Are you practicing or interested in practicing your scholarship in the Digital Humanities (DH)? Do you have a project idea that you need technical, skills-based, or community-based support for? Are you thinking about a DH-related research project, but you are not sure what kind of support is available for you? Do you wonder if your project or idea could be a DH project?

The Demystifying Digital Humanities Initiative invites students, teaching fellows, adjunct instructors, faculty, and staff to an informal brainstorming session about DH needs on campus. Please join us on Thursday, 2 April at 2:00pm at the Grad Club to discuss resources that you’d like to see on campus, barriers you’ve experienced to your work, and resources that the Initiative can work towards providing.

The Initiative will have hosted three events this semester, and we’d like to shape the future of the Initiative around what the DH community at Queen’s needs. The Demystifying DH Initiative is a group of humanities scholars at all levels of their career. The Initiative seeks to support collaboration amongst scholars and students; provide opportunities for emerging and established Digital Humanities practitioners to showcase and build upon their knowledges; and facilitate community at Queen’s Campus, at its satellite campus at Herstmonceux Castle, and in the broader community.

The Digital Humanities (DH) is an emerging field concerned with investigating the intersections between digital culture, technology, and traditional arts and humanities disciplines. It includes using digital tools (such as visualization or textual analytics) to address humanistic questions, and applying the skills of critical analysis native to humanities disciplines to the study of contemporary digital culture, both scholarly and popular.

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Scholarly Markup Workshop at the British Library

Last week, Dr. Shannon Smith, (Director of the Digital Humanities Field School and Instructor for IDIS221) and Ms. Emily Murphy (Instructor for IDIS222) co-taught the workshop, “Scholarly Markup Languages: TEI & EAD ” to staff participants at the British Library for the British Library Digital Scholarship Training Programme.

You can find course materials for the workshop here.

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Partnering Up to Sustain Digital Humanities Projects

Last Friday, Dr. Janelle Jenstad shared with Queen’s faculty and students a model for conducting digital humanities projects that benefits projects, students, and professors, while simultaneously addressing one of the key issues faced by DH projects—sustainability. Dr. Jenstad is an associate professor at the University of Victoria and project director of the Map of Early Modern London (MoEML). The MoEML is a set of four interoperable DH projects including a digital “map-like object” and gazetteer based on the 1560s Agas woodcut map of London; an Encyclopedia of London people, places, topics, and terms; a Library of marked-up texts rich in London toponyms; and a versioned edition of John Stow’s Survey of London.

In developing the MoEML, Dr. Jenstad and her team needed to build what she refers to as “the container”—the technological platform that houses the map and its accompanying information—as well as fill it with enormous stores of information. To do so, she required a comprehensive placeography, personography, orgography, bibliography, and glossary for Early Modern London. As with many other digital humanities projects, the project team’s ability to populate their “container” was limited by their numbers and the corresponding amount of time and labour available for the task–a limitation that can restrict a project’s practical sustainability. The team’s digital platform provided the necessary tools to incorporate massive quantities of data into their map, which in turn called for a data collection methodology that could optimize this technological capacity. Dr. Jenstad saw the potential to expand and accelerate the population process through a model she calls Research-based Learning Pedagogical Partnerships.

The methodology works like this: the MoEML teams up with professors in other locations, assigning a topic and teaching material that matches gaps in the project with a professor’s teaching interests. The professor in turn assigns portions of this needed research to her students, and supervises its collection and presentation to ensure scholarly quality. The MoEML team supports these research efforts through regular check-ins, research guidance (provided through a Student Research Guide), help with evaluating and refining research topics, project management, revisions, and peer reviews. Professors receive an editorial credit on the MoEML, and students receive credit on the site for their research contributions. Thus, students benefit from research experience and credit, professors benefit through the research opportunities they are able to offer their students, and the project benefits from reliable scholarly labour. Furthermore, students and scholars often continue to feed research to the MoEML after their initial partnership.

This past year, the MoEML has maintained eighteen pedagogical partnerships. Given that so many digital humanities projects are abandoned as a result, at least partly, of the unfeasible amount of labour it would require to sustain them, Dr. Jenstad’s model offered a replicable solution for Queen’s faculty and graduate students in attendance, many of whom were themselves developing digital humanities projects. For students who were interested in finding opportunities to contribute to digital humanities research projects or faculty seeking to offer such opportunities to their students, Dr. Jenstad not only provided pedagogical partnership with the MoEML as an option, she also advised pursuing similar partnerships with other digital humanities projects.

 

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Come Learn about the DH Field School at the BISC this Thursday!

The deadline for applying for the next session of the Digital Humanities Field School at the BISC is March 14th, 2015!

Those students who are interested in the program can attend an information session on campus this Thursday, March 5th from 5:30 to 6:30 pm at Gordon Hall. Please register for this event here: http://bit.ly/1K8XrFo.

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Closing Ceremonies: DH Field School Hosts THATCamp

DH BISC Students and Instructors

DH BISC Students and Instructors

This summer’s Digital Humanities Field School finished with a splash at THATCamp DH BISC 2014. As a culmination of their hard work, students presented their projects to their peers at Herstmonceux Castle and to members of the wider Humanities and Technology community in the morning, and they hosted THATCamp DH BISC that afternoon.

Attendees at THATCamp DH BISC 2014

Attendees at THATCamp DH BISC 2014

In the morning, students presented their micro-projects in TEI editing to the attendees, providing editorial statements, discussions of their editorial processes, and accounts of the problems and solutions they encountered.

Student Microproject Presentation

Student Microproject Presentation

In the afternoon, students and attendees proposed a series of workshops that ranged from anime fan cultures and social media anxieties to translating emotion in a digital space and industrial software development processes.

Planning the unconference sessions

Planning the unconference sessions

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DH Field School Launched!

The inaugural DHFS Class, with instructors!

The inaugural DHFS Class, with instructors!

The BISC Field School in Digital Humanities has flown by. Our students, from the diverse disciplines of English, History, Political Studies, Psychology, and Chemistry, spent the first couple weeks in a crash course on digital literacy and TEI encoding supplemented by Field Studies with experts in the field. After a wine and cheese reception at the Castle folly, Field School students got to work debating issues in critical digital studies and got the rare opportunity to look under the hood at new projects in the Digital Humanities.

Dr. Clare Horrocks lets us look at the soon-to-be released Punch Magazine Database. Dr. Smith looks through a print-technology version of Punch.

Dr. Clare Horrocks lets us look at the soon-to-be released Punch Magazine Database. Dr. Smith looks through a print-technology version of Punch.

Dr. Clare Horrocks, professor at Liverpool John Moores University, presented the soon-to-be-launched digitization of Punch Magazine, a collaboration with Gale Cengage Learning. The Punch collection at Gale Cengage is among the first large-scale digitization projects of its nature to partner with academic experts in the field, and Dr. Horrocks spoke to students about the nature of collaboration in public-facing projects such as this one. Students also delved into the Punch Ledgers Project, working with the at-yet-unreleased Punch database to try to answer research questions about the contributors to the magazine using historical financial records.

Dr. Chris Jones teaches students the history of Charlwood Church.

Dr. Chris Jones teaches students the history of Charlwood Church.

Dr. Chris Jones from the University of Canterbury, New Zealand, led an expedition to two local parish churches in West Sussex and Surrey, one of which houses well preserved medieval wall paintings, and the other which contains a copy of the King James Bible that belonged to the father of English hymnology, Issac Watts. Students discussed these two nascent digitization projects from the perspective of the possibilities and limitations of a digital project. Questions like the preservation of cultural heritage, object-, space- or text-centered approaches to digitization, and the ethics of digitizing ever-changing elements of cultural heritage were central issues in this Field Study.

In the first couple weeks, students gained insight into projects at completion and at the very beginning of their development on an international scale. Over the next few weeks, they will visit some of the state of the art digital workspaces at the British Library, and deepen their understanding of how digital projects may be curated for both academic and popular audiences.

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DH Pedagogy at Queen’s: Jennifer Hardwick

Jennifer Hardwick is a 5th-year Ph.D. student in the Department of English Language and Literature at Queen’s. Her research interests include Contemporary North American Literature, Indigenous Studies, Rhetoric, Youth Culture, and the Digital Humanities. Jennifer is currently teaching a class on Youth and Digital Culture, in which she models her pedagogy on the concept of multi-literacy: that the emergence of new cultural technologies (New Media, Web 2.0) adds to and enriches the existing technological and cultural landscape (books, poetry).

Jennifer Hardwick,  5th-Year PhD Student at Queen's

Jennifer Hardwick, 5th-Year PhD Student at Queen’s

Your class focuses on youth and cyber cultures. How do you feel that the class intersects with or informs your or your students understanding of the Digital Humanities?

The relationship between youth culture and digital culture has been a source of popular and scholarly fascination over the last few years. Cyber bullying, social networking, #occupywallstreet and #idlenomore, the growth of youth-generated artistic production online… all of it has created a great deal of curiosity and controversy. Do we need to save the children from digital media? Or are the children going to use digital media to save us? Books like Mark Bauerlein’s The Dumbest Generation and Don Tapscott’s Grown Up Digital really tap into that debate.

Of course, the truth of the matter is far more complex and nuanced, which is really the point of my course. Digital technology is a tool, and as such, it is used differently by different individuals. A lot of academic and popular rhetoric surrounding digital media treats it as though it is this force in and of itself — something that has the power to corrupt or save — but the truth is technology needs users. If we want to understand why and how someone uses technology, we should probably look at that person’s social, cultural, political and economic contexts. In that sense, this course definitely leans towards the social end of the digital humanities spectrum. It seeks to better understand youth cultures, and to critically examine how those cultures both inform and are informed by technology and media.

What were some of the challenges that you and your students encountered?

I think both my students and I took our knowledge for granted going into this course. We all use digital media every day, and we know how it functions. We know intuitively that blogs and books are different, and that multimedia changes how we read. However, articulating those differences and changes is surprisingly hard. I struggled to build coherent lectures when dealing with material that was not remotely linear, and I watched my students struggle to draw comparisons and apply their analytical skills in different contexts. Sometimes I felt like we were all in the classroom looking at each other going “we know this. We do it every day. Why is this hard?” I think a lot of it has to do with language — we don’t have a scholarly vocabulary yet to describe so much of DH work. It’s developing, but it’s not standardized in the same way it is for something like literary analysis. As a result, talking about digital humanities work can make us feel inarticulate in a setting where we want to seem intelligent and well-spoken.

What were some of the surprises?

Two of the biggest surprises were related to the challenge of language I noted above. The first one is how adept all of my students were at media analysis, even if they’d never been trained in it. Once they were given a vocabulary and framework they blew me away. It came very naturally. It was like watching 99 people go “oh, this is what we’ve been doing. Cool.”

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Spotlight: DH and Medieval Studies with Dr. Chris Jones

Dr. Chris Jones will join the Field School from the University of Canterbury, New Zealand to lead a Field Study. Dr. Jones tells us about how the Digital Humanities has opened up new possibilities for scholarship from a Medievalist perspective. 

Students of the DH Field School will be able to acquire the employable digital literacy skills that Dr. Jones indicates as the backbone of the field. 

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Spotlight: Queen’s University Libraries and DH

We sat down with Martha Whitehead, the Queen’s University Librarian, to discuss how the Queen’s University Library plays a central role in the Digital Humanities on Queen’s Campus.

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The Library and Archives Master Plan (LAMP) has laid out a vision for Queen’s Library that includes a Centre for Digital and Print Culture in Douglas Library. As the Library and the University community flesh out what the Centre will entail, how do you see this Centre supporting and deepening the Library’s collaboration with scholars across the University? How will scholars benefit from the co-location of entities like the Archives, Special Collections, and the McGill Queen’s University Press?

One of the exciting things for us is working with our academic communities to define what we mean by that Centre for Digital and Print Culture. What we are saying in LAMP is that we picture Douglas Library being this fabulous new facility, with both a dynamic and heritage feel, that pays tribute and gives presence to Archives and Special Collections in a way that currently doesn’t exist on campus. And in doing that, we also want to say that they are so central to scholarship and to such interesting thoughts about print and digital culture.  We imagine secure spaces for Archives and Special Collections housed under the same roof as services supporting digital forms of research and knowledge sharing, and very community-oriented spaces.

The phrase itself [Digital and Print Culture] first came from Dr. Shelley King, and from really interesting conversations with people like Dr. Laura Murray, talking about the excitement of students exposed to, for instance, vinyl records, or printing presses, and also being so immersed in the digital. They really encouraged us to think about the convergence of these things. We liked the word ‘culture’ for the way it embraces the world very broadly.

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