Keystone DH script/slides

Since I am looking for feedback, I thought I would post my slides and the script from my talk earlier today at the Keystone DH conference.


Hello, my name is Kevin Smith and the title of my talk is (Re)orienting XML/TEI in composition.

I’d like to start with a story: last summer, I worked every day in Northeastern’s digital scholarship commons, which is a collaborative working space for faculty and grad students working on digital projects. While I was plugging away on my own work, the project team for the Early Caribbean Digital Archive was also meeting almost everyday in that space. For those not familiar, the ECDA is a wonderful archival project that, among other things, tries to remix/deform early caribbean literature to foreground the voices of slaves that are mediated and interpolated in white authors’ texts. During that summer the project team was working on customizing a TEI schema to encode their texts in ways that were more in line with their decolonial activist project. And as they went about this, I was overhearing these amazing conversations they were having about the meanings and applications of certain aspects of their TEI schema. How should they tag an embedded slave narrative? What about unnamed slaves? And commodities?

And I’m listening to these conversations and realizing that it is precisely because they are encoding the texts in TEI that the act of encoding literally inscribes these texts with interpretation, that’s why these conversations are even happening; and they’re important conversations! About how we represent our objects of inquiry in the humanities. About the ethics of data representation.

Unsurprisingly, I’m not the first person to have realized this.

Julia Flanders has called this the “productive unease of 21st century digital scholarship.” Flanders is drawing on and responding to on John Unsworth’s definition humanities computing as “a practice of representation, a form of modeling or […] mimicry.” The key, for Unsworth, is that digital representation forces us to grapple, very self consciously, with the fact that our representations are merely surrogates.

So it is this self consciousness that Julia Flanders calls “the productive unease of digital scholarship.” Importantly, for Unsworth, a representation, once expressed in a formal grammar (like XML), is “subject to verification—for internal consistency, and especially for consistency with the rules we have stated” (Unsworth n.p.), I want to say that again because Flanders responds directly to this phrase: our representations are “subject to verification—for internal consistency, and especially for consistency with the rules we have stated.” Flanders writes,

The word verification stands out here, sounding very cut and dried, threateningly technical, a mental straitjacket, but in fact the key phrase there is “the rules we have stated”: it is the act of stating rules that requires the discipline of methodological self-scrutiny … [A]s our tools for manipulating digital models improve, the model stops marking loss and takes on a clearer role as a strategic representation, one which deliberately omits and exaggerates and distorts the scale so that we can work with the parts that matter to us. (para. 23)

So for Flanders, formalization is not an end, but is rather an important step in what she calls “that same oscillating, dialectical pulsation that is the scholarly mind at work” (para. 27). I love that phrase.

And this is what I was witnessing when I was overhearing the ECDA meetings. I was witnessing the oscillating, dialectical pulsation of a whole group of scholarly minds at work. The requirements of formalization meant that discussions could not be tabled, they had to be hashed out and a solution had to be implemented. These solutions, and the encoded texts, are representations, situated and interpretive, inscribed by the agents of their creation.

I was struck by these conversations. I wanted my students to have those kinds of engaging, difficult conversations about writing. I want my students to feel this productive unease.

This actually taps into a larger conversation in the digital humanities around building or making as a way of knowing, or what here I will call critical making. Stephen Ramsay has called building “a new kind of hermeneutic,” and Bethany Nowviskie uses the phrase “productive resistance in the materials” to characterize this way of knowing through map-making in Neatline. She writes:

Neatline sees humanities visualization not as a result but as a process: as an interpretive act that will itself – inevitably – be changed by its own particular and unique course of creation. Knowing that every algorithmic data visualization process is inherently interpretive is different from feeling it, as a productive resistance in the materials of digital data visualization. (“Neatline & Visualization” n.p.)

These conceptions of critical making, have started a discussion about how this way of knowing can inform our pedagogical approaches, how we can leverage DH methods to engage students in this work. Mark Sample describes critical making as a way to mitigate the disconnect between the traditional essay and the tasks that most students will undertake in their professional and academic lives. Instead of writing, Sample asks students to “weave—to build, to fabricate, to design” (“What’s Wrong” 404). We can see in the quote here that Sample emphasizes the complex interplay between thinking and making:

As my students build—both collaboratively and creatively—they are also reshaping, and that very reshaping is an interpretative process. It is not writing, or at least not only writing. And it is certainly not only thinking. (“Building and Sharing” n.p.)

And while Jentery Sayers instead uses “tinkering” as his term for defining a pedagogical approach, his thrust is the same (279). This pedagogically-focused literature, important as it is, remains somewhat on the fringes of digital humanities discourse. Informal discussions of classroom approaches do circulate, however, the digital humanities has done little to engage the undergraduate classroom as a site of formalized research studies. Sayers recognizes this gap in scholarship when he writes, “More formal in situ research needs to be conducted in order to determine—more concretely—how humanities pedagogy can benefit from tinkering” (295).

Here, finally, is where I would like to transition to my project: a teacher research study of a first-year writing course in which students use a custom XML schema of their own creation as their primary method of composition. This project seeks to enter the conversation around critical making in the classroom, while taking a step toward the gap in formal research that Jentery Sayers identifies through the methodology of teacher research. Let’s bracket, for this talk, teacher research and take on the critical making in the classroom. How is it that students composing in XML will be critically making?

Actually in a few ways. As in the story with which I opened, encoding is thus an interpretive act of representation. First, composing in XML refigures the often audience-less and disembodied writing of composition classes as inscription. Students must explicitly represent their understanding of their own writing by encoding their writing in XML.

We can see this explicitness if we look at the the building blocks of XML/TEI: the element, the attribute, and the attribute value. In this example from the TEI consortium, we can see clearly the human readability of XML: the element “seg” marks an arbitrary segment of text, ending with the backslash “seg” highlighted in red, called a closing tag. The attribute, “type” tells us the that this arbitrary segment is of a certain type, and the attribute value, “stutter” tells us that the segment, I-I-I, has been identified as a stutter by the encoder.

But it also tells us something about the values of the encoder or project. Specifically, it tells us that the encoder is interested in identifying stutters. This may give us a view into the values and goals of the project—it could be focused on broadly on language use, or dialogue in novels; it could be a project that focuses on speech impediments specifically, or any other number of goals. The point is that the act of encoding forces a choice, in this case, the choice is whether or not we care about stutters. And this choice is inscribed in the encoded document and can thus be challenged, critiqued, complicated, etc. It requires the encoder to scrutinize and reflect on the goals of encoding, and their methods for working toward those goals. This is why TEI has been used in undergraduate literature classrooms, often as a method of close reading. It forces students to decide and explicitly identify the elements of the text that they care about.

As we shift to thinking about students as authors, I hope we can also see the potential of this self scrutiny, of this explicitness, for increasing the metacognitive awareness of students in their own writing.

Trey Conatser refers to an increase in metacognitive awareness as one of the primary benefits of his own XML-based composition course. Conatser’s project is a great example of a committed teacher taking on a huge task and, by all accounts, succeeding in the learning goals which he set out. My point of contention with Conatser is that he created a schema for each writing assignment which identified the salient elements students would use to fulfill the goals of the assignment.

For example, in his primary source analysis, Conatser requires students to make the following formulation at least once in their documents:

“In at least one paragraph match evidence (details) from the primary source with the interpretations you draw from them:

<seg type=”ev_interp”>

I would call this a top-down approach to markup. That is, the schema is created and then the applied to the documents. In a writing class, this seems unnecessarily prescriptive.

So the second, and, to my mind, more powerful kind of critical making in this course is the making involved in building a collaborative, customized schema. This sees students as designers and knowledge makers, trying to answer a deceptively simple question: what can we say, together, about writing.

I hope to accomplish this through a method of bottom-up schema building through exploratory markup suggested by Wendall Piez in his article “Beyond the ‘descriptive vs. procedural’ Distinction.”

What do I mean by exploratory markup? By that I mean beginning with a very constrained schema, perhaps describing only structural aspects of typical writing: this is a title, this is the author, this is a paragraph, etc. Handing this over to students and having them compose writing assignments while identifying (through tags) what it is that their compositions are doing. Then coming together and collaboratively hashing out the differences until we have one, usable schema we’ve authored together. Then, introducing the students to new writing situations—new genres, new rhetorical situations—and iteratively adjusting the schema throughout the semester. Here you can see prospective workflow where the key element is analysis, which proceeds from the markup corpus either to schema design or back to the markup to make adjustments. The key here is that it is always recursive—new markup always necessitating new analysis and change to the schema or markup.

The idea here is to capture that magic I witnessed in the ECDA meetings—in the tension, the productive unease, of having to take their disparate, exploratory tagged documents, and design (and redesign, and redesign) a schema for describing writing.

Students can actually start doing this very quickly through <seg> tags. Like the example here from a sample document that I marked up in this manner to build the proof of concept. We can see I identify a segment of type “summary” and attribute a quote Tara McPherson. This is very preliminary, but the idea is that the segments of text that the students begin marking up with different attribute values may become elements in their own rights, so there may be a summary element that has a constrained set of attribute values depending on the types of summary the students find useful.

But the XML is useful for more than just prompting schema creation. And this is something I’m only just exploring, but I would like to create a whole visualization engine for the course. I would like to end my talk today by looking at just a few examples of potential visualizations that can be useful both to students and researchers. We can take the document and format and color code it based on XML tags. We can apply rollovers and other methods to render the markup visible in ways that can be useful to other users of the schema, or to those who are not versed in XML. This can be useful both for students reflecting on their own work and comparing their work with peers.

Finally, we can do things like what I call a faceted approach, where you can toggle between different versions of texts. The third example, the markup without the contet, could be a powerful comparative feature for students to compare their texts to other students or texts composed for other assignments; on a larger scale, it could be used to visualize and compare an entire corpus of student work. Employing what Lev Manovich has called large-scale “direct visualization without sampling.”

And that is where I’d like to end, looking forward to the, as-of-now, unforeseen possibilities of this project. thinking about what may be possible when we understand students as builders and knowledge makers in our classrooms. Thank you.

 

Works Cited:

Conatser, Trey. “Changing Medium, Transforming Composition.” Journal of Digital Humanities. 2.2 (2013): n. pag. Web. 15 July 2015.

Flanders, Julia. “The Productive Unease of 21st-Century Digital Scholarship.” 3.3 (2009): n. pag. Digital Humanities Quarterly. Web. 20 July 2015.

Manovich, Lev. “What Is Visualization?” paj:The Journal of the Initiative for Digital Humanities, Media, and Culture 2.1 (2010): n. pag. Web. 18 July 2015.

Nowviskie, Bethany. “Neatline & Visualization as Interpretation.” Web blog post. Bethany Nowviskie. 2 Nov. 2014. Web. 18 July 2015.

Piez, Wendell. “Beyond the ‘Descriptive vs. Procedural’ Distinction.” Markup Lang. 3.2 (2001): 141–172. ACM Digital Library. Web. 18 July 2015.

Ramsay, Stephen. “On Building.” Web blog post. Stephen Ramsay. 11 Jan. 2011. Web. 18 Jan. 2015.

Sample, Mark. “Building and Sharing (When You’re Supposed to Be Teaching).” Journal of Digital Humanities. N.p., 9 Mar. 2012. Web. 18 July 2015.

—. “What’s Wrong With Writing Essays.” Gold, Matthew K. ed. Debates in the Digital Humanities. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota, 2012. 404-405. Print.

Sayers, Jentery. “Tinker-Centric Pedagogy in Literature and Language Classrooms. Collaborative Approaches to the Digital in English Studies. Ed. Laura McGrath. Logan, Utah: Utah State University Press : Computers and Composition Digital Press, 2011. 279-300. Web. 18 July 2015.

Unsworth, John. “What is Humanities Computing, and What is Not?” Jahrbuch für Computerphilologie 4 (2002): n. pag. Web. 17 July 2015.

 

#f14tmn and first steps towards TEI for composition

I want to write a quick post that points to the work that came out of my last graduate seminar: Texts, Maps, Networks: Digital Literary Studies; or, as it has been referenced on this blog, #f14tmn. A project report for a project that is (and I imagine will be for quite some time) still developing. I’ve written this up elsewhere on this blog, but wanted to get it on the main page to solicit feedback. So, if you’re feeling generous, I welcome any and all comments.

Prototype:

Screen Shot 2015-02-23 at 12.28.48 PM
Plain text without markup visible
Screen Shot 2015-02-23 at 12.30.10 PM
Text with markup made visible via CSS stylesheet

 

Background and introduction

This project is an initial foray meant to serve as a proof-of-concept for a larger (potential) dissertation project. As such, like a lot of digital humanities work, it is ongoing and unfinished. But it is at a point that I would like to make it public (so far as my blog is public) because it is at a good place for feedback. And because it is my final project for #f14tmn.

The overarching idea of the project is to explore the potentials of using markup (specifically, customized TEI) as the primary compositional method in a first-year writing course. First, I think that this method of composition will defamiliarize students’ notions of composing by changing their primary compositional tool from the word processor to an XML editor. I’d like to leverage this defamiliarization to underscore that all texts are mediated and situated in very specific ways. Second, I hope that having students apply markup (which is essentially metadata) to their texts will promote a metacognitive awareness of the (often implicit) rhetorical choices that are made during the composition process.

To begin this project, I’ve created a prototype (see above) using one of my own pieces of writing. Though the writing is about this project, the content of the document is not the concern here. Rather, the goals of the prototype are:

  1. To showcase a potential visual display of a marked up text.
  2. To inform the development of a foundational customized TEI schema.
  3. Develop TEI and CSS templates for use with undergraduates.

Theoretical framework

Briefly, there are three primary theoretical threads that inform this work. I’ve written about each of these more extensively on my blog, and I’ll link to these posts as appropriate, but for the sake of context I will rehearse some of my thoughts here.

First, conceiving markup as a kind of direct visualization; this idea is drawn from Lev Manovich’s description of “direct visualisation without sampling” (I have written about this here and here). The capabilities of digital technology are such that there may be ways to visualize materials without reducing them at all. When describing what direct visualization would look like without reduction/sampling, Manovich analogizes:

But you have already been employing this strategy [direct visualization] if you have ever used a magic marker to highlight important passages of a printed text. Although text highlighting is not normally thought of, we can see that in fact it is an example of “direct visualisation without sampling”. (44)

My contention is that visualization can be used as a tactical term to get students thinking productively about what text encoding affords. Further, the simplicity of highlighting is a good way to get students thinking about the ways they already add visual metadata to texts. This approach is evident in the marked up prototype, which is basically a more interactive version of a highlighted text.

The second theoretical thread that informs this project is critical making as a hybrid methodology that balances the role of theory and practice in the digital humanities (I worked through this debate in detail here). The key aspect I want to get at here is something Bethany Nowviskie asserts when talking about Neatline:

Neatline sees humanities visualization not as a result but as a process: as an interpretive act that will itself – inevitably – be changed by its own particular and unique course of creation.  Knowing that every algorithmic data visualization process is inherently interpretive is different from feeling it, as a productive resistance in the materials of digital data visualization. So users of Neatline are prompted to formulate their arguments by drawing them.

The act of drawing is productive in a way that abstract thinking about drawing cannot be.

Finally, Wendall Piez’s concept of “exploratory markup” outlined in his brilliant article, “Beyond the ‘descriptive vs. procedural’ distinction” (in Markup Languages: Theory and Practice 3.2 (2001): 141-172). I have outlined Piez’s influence on my project here, but it is worth briefly noting his major contribution to my thinking. Piez ultimately argues that generic markup languages like TEI function as a kind of rhetoric about rhetoric:

One thing that does need to be observed here … is that in markup, we have not just a linguistic universe (or set of interlocking linguistic universes) but also a kind of “rhetoric about rhetoric.” That is, markup languages don’t simply describe “the world” — they describe other texts (that describe the world). (Piez 163)

This speaks to my aim to develop students’ metacognitive awareness through markup.

Previous projects

There are two projects that have influenced my approach. I have written about Trey Conatser’s XML-based first-year writing course at Ohio State here. And my discussion of Kate Singer’s use of TEI in a poetry course can be read here.

Here, it will suffice to mention my primary points of departure from these projects. First, instead of dictating the schema for writing assignments as Conatser does, I’d like to think about how building or adding to an emergent customized TEI schema as necessary tags arise can benefit the metacognitive awareness of students as they compose. Second, Singer’s ultimate investment in TEI is in the service of a traditional humanities methodology—close reading. The final project in her class was not a scholarly edition of poetry built in TEI, but rather a hermeneutical paper based around the close reading of texts. My approach necessarily differs, as I will be teaching a composition course rather than a poetry or literature course. I would like to retain the open and interpretive tagging that Singer’s approach employs while retaining the goal of metacognitive awareness that Conatser aims for.

It is also important to note that Singer’s approach to display way also influential—her class applied simple CSS stylesheets to their XML documents display.

Visualizing TEI

Again, in developing the CSS stylesheets, my goal was to create a template files that would be useful for students. I’ve included extensive comments (see below for example) to explain the functions of different sections and declarations. This will help students navigate the CSS stylesheets and teach them best practices for producing their own.css seg type comments

A major decision that I have wrestled with is the mechanism by which we make the XML documents visible. Below is a very condensed comparison of affordances and limitations of the three approaches I’ve considered: using XSLT to transform the XML to HTML, using CSS to style the XML directly, and using the TEI Boilerplate.

XML + XSLT

XML + CSS

TEI-BP

  • Accessibility (screen readers, browser compatibility)
  • Search engine indexability
  • Linking mechanisms understood by browsers
  • Images converted to browser compatible HTML
  • High learning curve
  • Less student involvement
  • Retains the richness and robustness of XML tags (vs. HTML)
  • Simplicity (only two documents required for display)
  • Human-readable; easy to learn
  • I already know CSS
  • Students can learn CSS
  • Can build from the ground up
  • Greater student involvement
  • Difficulty linking
  • Easily integrated into Omeka for archiving
  • TEI elements remain in the Document Object Model (allows for more complex interaction via JavaScript)
  • TEI elements still exposed to direct styling via CSS stylesheets
  • Automatic linking
  • Provides high level of default styling

Ultimately, for this prototype, I decided to style the XML directly via CSS. The main drawback I have run into with this approach is that the linking mechanisms in XML are not recognized by web browsers. As such, not of the references are currently linked, though URLs do populate the reference rollovers. I think the affordances of this approach—especially the ground-up approach and level of student involvement—outweigh the limitations. I plan to look into some light XSLT for the linking mechanisms to solve this problem.

In the prototype, I’ve used two stylesheets. One that simply structures the XML into an unmarked but formatted document and one that visualizes the markup via highlighting and rollovers. Since the XML documents are identical for both stylesheets, it would be easy for students to have more than two versions of their document. This faceted approach allows students to pull out certain aspects of the markup in specific versions of their documents.

Markup / custom schema

Since we are not using TEI Boilerplate, the question arises: why have the students use TEI at all? Why not just have them freely markup in XML and match the CSS to whatever tags they employ?

The benefits of creating a custom schema are two-fold. First, it allows me to constrain the elements we start with. This is a pragmatic concern, as I don’t want students to be overwhelmed by the sheer number of tags available to them. Second, a custom TEI schema is (functionally) infinitely extensible. This is important because I envision adding elements as their need arises during the class. This extensibility will allow for the type exploratory markup that Piez describes, while the in-class conversations that seek to formalize these exploratory tags will be productive in having students make explicit the implicit rhetorical choices they make in writing. These formalizations would not take place if all students were not validating to a common schema.

The groundwork for the customization is being laid with this prototype. The tags I’ve employed will be compared to the existing TEI schema to create an ODD file which will generate the customized schema. Most of the elements that will be added are currently tagged using <seg>, and differentiated with the type= attribute (example pictured below).

segpic2
Through this exploratory tagging, I will build the constrained schema. The same method will be used for the expansion of the schema as needs arise. Students will use elements outside the schema and propose them for inclusion.

Next steps

As this project is developing, there are a few next steps on the immediate horizon that I’d like to mention here:

  1. Create constrained “foundation” schema based on the tags I’ve employed in the prototype.
    1. This will necessitate the creation of an ODD file
    2. I attended a TEI customization workshop in January that will help in this regard
  2. Explore possibilities of XSLT to address issues with directly styling the XML with CSS
    1. Linking will help with citations and cross-references in document
    2. Linking will allow for a more seamless integration of multiple stylesheets (rather than multiple links from one HTML page)
  3. Explore XML + CSS compatibility with Omeka

Exploratory markup and composing for recomposition

This post is a continuation of a previous post: (Re)orienting TEI in the classroom: Notes on an evolving project. My goals here are two-fold: first, to work through Wendell Piez’s brilliant article, “Beyond the ‘descriptive vs. procedural’ distinction” (in Markup Languages: Theory and Practice 3.2 (2001): 141-172) and how his ideas connect to my project; second, I’d like to try to make some connections from markup theory and DH to rhetoric and composition.

Piez’s article is extremely useful in orienting oneself towards the idea and function of markup languages. He argues for a more complex, matrix-like characterization of markup languages that resists the simple binary of procedural vs. descriptive. Basing his new distinction first on the role of validation in various markup languages, Piez designates “exploratory, mimetic markup” (151) as that markup which proceeds from the object (or the instance) to the model. This “bottom-up” (152) tagging seeks as faithfully as possible to encode that which is interesting to the encoder, or that which is interesting in the document being encoded. The model emerges after the iterative tagging process has concluded.

Two connections are readily apparent to my own research. The first is a connection (largely, though not completely unacknowledged in Piez’s article) to grounded theory (GT) as applied by scholars in composition and rhetoric (for a useful overview of GT as applied to rhetoric and composition, see: Farkas, K., & Haas, C. (2012). A grounded theory approach for studying writing and literacy. In K. M. Powell & P. Takayoshi (Eds.), Practising research in writing studies (pp. 81-95). New York, NY: Hampton Press). GT is generally applied to large, unwieldy, and unpredictable data sets; unstructured survey responses, interview transcriptions, and text artifacts about which there is no a priori knowledge are common data types for which a grounded approach is appropriate. A model “emerges” as the more exploratory codes cultivated in the open coding phase are consolidated. And the theory is “grounded” such that the claims (whether these are genre distinctions, or types of responses, etc.) are grounded ontologically in data. Like Piez’s description of exploratory markup, the process is necessarily iterative and cooperative—open coding, pulling in data, consolidating codes, memo writing—the justification for code distinctions are hashed out between researchers. Piez, to his credit, seems to recognize the viability of exploratory markup in the social sciences:

It could prove to be a useful methodology in psychology, sociology, economics—any study with a complex and manifold data set—and a source of hitherto-unthought-of ontologies and modeling techniques. (Piez 152)

Indeed, and it is the process of formalization that produces self-reflexive methodological choices that, as Julia Flanders argues, arise out of our creation of digital models of physical artifacts, “productive: not of forward motion but of that same oscillating, dialectical pulsation that is the scholarly mind at work” (I’ve written more extensively on this topic in this post). There may be an additional benefit to an exploratory markup scheme in this process: that it is a built-in way of making your data public and accessible. Once you formalize the markup scheme, you could publish it as-is to allow others to easily read, interpret, and manipulate your data (in XML) across platforms and for manifold purposes. This openness is, hopefully, generative of that vacillation Flanders so rightly points out.

The second connection I see with this portion of Piez’s article is to the precursors to my project. But before we talk about Trey Conatser and Kate Singer, Piez’s argument needs to be teased out a bit more. As Piez claims, “descriptive” is really an insufficient way of describing markup languages like the TEI. Instead, he calls TEI, and languages like it, “generic markup languages,” occupying a middle ground between strict validation and exploratory markup. This is a productive middle ground for Piez, as a certain amount of validation is helpful for scalability and processing. So if his first axis for describing markup languages has to do with validation (from strict to exploratory), he adds a second axis between the prospective- and retrospective-ness of markup languages (158). That is, the degree to which a markup language seeks to describe an existing object (retrospective) or the degree to which a markup language “seeks to identify a document’s constituent parts as a preliminary to future processing” (Piez 158). The deceit of generic markup languages are that they are purely descriptive (or purely retrospective), while, in actuality, there is always some engagement with procedural concerns; looking forward to processing, prospective (Piez 153-5). Piez usefully outlines this tension:

So generic markup involves us in a strange paradox. It forgoes the capability of controlling behavioral “machine” semantics directly, but wins, in return, a greater pliability and adaptability in its applications for human expression. (Piez 162)

This is the middle ground that makes something like TEI compelling for use in the classroom. A customized TEI schema seems to be the perfect apparatus through which the complex work of marking-up and displaying student-authored documents can proceed. Importantly, for my purposes, Piez designates markup languages as

far more than languages for automated processing: they are a complex type of rhetoric working in several directions at once, often in hidden ways. Inasmuch as markup systems then may begin to resemble other textual systems (such as literary canons or conventional genres), it is reasonable to turn to rhetorical or literary critical theory for explanations, or at least higher-level characterizations of them. (Piez 162-163)

Piez goes on to describe just the kind of peculiar rhetorical situation embodied in markup languages:

One thing that does need to be observed here, however, is that in markup, we have not just a linguistic universe (or set of interlocking linguistic universes) but also a kind of “rhetoric about rhetoric.” That is, markup languages don’t simply describe “the world” — they describe other texts (that describe the world). (Piez 163)

Compelling. And interesting. It makes one wonder how Piez’s conception (or inception?) of rhetoric about rhetoric shifts when the other texts are written by those composing the texts that describe them? Or when they are one and the same text, as in the case of composing directly in markup? Piez proceeds to apply the rhetorical terms prolepsis and metalepsis to markup languages. Piez’s argument is that the productivity of TEI (and generic languages like TEI) arise in the tension/slippage between its proleptic and metaleptic characteristics. TEI tries to be retrospective while also benefitting from strict validation schemes (looking forward).

It is retrospective tagging for prospective purposes: thus, it works by saying something about the past (or about the presumed past), but in order to create new meaning out of it. (Piez 167)

And now we can start to think about how this relates to Singer and Conatser. The two authors take very different approaches to the use of XML/TEI markup in their undergraduate courses. On the one hand this makes sense—Singer was teaching a course of poetics while Conatser was teaching within the confines of a (seemingly) strict writing program. Both were adapting the TEI for new purposes. I’ve written pretty extensively about Conatser’s project before, so I won’t go into much detail here beyond my primary point of departure: that, instead of dictating the schema for writing assignments as Conatser does, I’d like to think about how building or adding to an emergent customized TEI schema as necessary tags arise can benefit the metacognitive awareness of students as they compose. In this way, I am adopting a form of Piez’s “exploratory markup,” though with some differences since students will be encoding their own texts.

In her article, “Digital Close Reading For Teaching Poetic Vocabularies,” Kate Singer justifies exploratory tagging in her approach, though she does not explicitly define it as such, by calling attention to the shortcomings of a top-down model of markup—that is, one that proceeds from the model (or schema) to the tags:

If TEI users have been less interested in interpretive than editorial markup, perhaps it is because TEI appears to read both structure and meaning too definitively into a text that should be a resource or open set of data for any scholar to interpret at will. Yet, this may be more the fault of our blindness to the ways in which markup may act not as formalizing structures but can mark, instead, moments of textual instability, suggestiveness, or ambiguity. This method would pinpoint moments of figuration that educe both semantic or non-semantic abstraction. Certain TEI tags, precisely because of their ambiguity, became generative in such a way.

Singer’s analysis of the discussions that took place in her course exemplify this claim. Decisions to mark up line groups led the students to think about the historical codification of the stanza, and how these particular poems push back on this definition for these particular women writers. This is what is so compelling about markup as a scholarly act. Not that formalization will lead to interesting conversations about formalization as such—though that will certainly happen—but that encoding will lead to discoveries about the original objects of study.

We can also see Piez’s assertions of a prospective/retrospective slippage or tension play out in Singer’s course through the way that markup is actually taken up by the students:

As mentioned above, students were especially gunning for the point at which they could transform their underlying encoding to “the real edition.” The disjunction between the encoding “signified” or genotype and the transformed document “signifier” or phenotype presented some important practical and theoretical issues (Buzzetti 2002). Students began to ask why TEI-encoded websites didn’t always have a button or function to display encoding to savvy readers, as another type of annotation or editorial self-awareness. (Singer)

The focus on the end user/visualization is something that, in my limited experience, I have already noticed is a major concern for students using TEI/XML for the first time. What does this do? How will people interact with this text? And I agree with Singer’s students—why isn’t the markup available for savvy readers? In some cases, like the Dorr Rebellion project, there is this option. TEI projects hosted on TAPAS will also have built-in mechanisms for accessing the TEI that are beyond right-click → View Source. The foregrounding of the markup as a visible analytical language will be central to the ultimate form of visualization for my project.

While her approach is very useful to me in conceiving my approach, Singer is ultimately invested in another traditional humanities methodology—close reading. The final project in her class was not a scholarly edition of poetry, but rather a hermeneutical paper based around the close reading of texts. In the end, is Singer privileging a ‘high criticism’ over the ‘low criticism’ of scholarly edition production? Does the re-inscribe the divide between the two scholarly activities? What she seems to be after is more than an acknowledgment or embodiment of how the edition/database/visualization is interpretive, instead she wants that interpretive work to inform the activity of close reading. This is an interesting departure that speaks to the differences between the goals for our projects. I would like to retain the open and interpretive tagging that Singer’s approach employs while retaining the goal of metacognitive awareness that Conatser aims for. Maybe the only difference is that instead of a scholarly edition, I am asking students to create encoded portfolios of their work. Protfolios that would be neither institutional, nor commercial.

Another approach, as opposed to ePortfolio—which, in my experience, often struggle with audience—may be to ask students to compose for recomposition. In some ways, this is a reinscription of the kind of work scholarly editors have always undertaken—creating a work that will be used as the object of interpretation for other scholars. This may connect to a thread of writing studies that foregrounds recomposition/remix in public writing. Jim Ridolfo and Nicole DeVoss posit the term “rhetorical velocity” in their webtext introducing the project:

The term rhetorical velocity, as we deploy it in this webtext, means a conscious rhetorical concern for distance, travel, speed, and time, pertaining specifically to theorizing instances of strategic appropriation by a third party. In thinking about the concept, we drew from several definitions:

  1. Rapidity or speed of motion; swiftness.
  2. Physics: A vector quantity whose magnitude is a body’s speed and whose direction is the body’s direction of motion.
  3. The rate of speed of action or occurrence.

Combining these definitions allowed us to create a term (i.e., rhetorical velocity) that allows us to wrestle with some of the issues particular to digital delivery, along with layering in a concern for telos.

To embody their idea of composing for recomposition, Ridolfo and DeVoss deliver their text (digitally) in the form of a press release which, they argue, is a generic example of writing with remix or recomposition in mind that has been around for decades. One could argue that a scholarly edition of a text (whether print or digital) is a form of composing for hermeneutical recomposition. The edition as such is not the end goal, rather it is the scholarly activity which it enables. Is this a possible approach? How would a model of public composition for recomposition shift the way the students prospectively (and retrospectively) markup their texts. How, to use Jerome McGann’s phrase, will they “deform” their texts for this purpose? I don’t think it is possible for this kind of rhetorical velocity to arise in Conatser’s version of XML in the writing classroom. Rather a more exploratory approach to the markup is required to promote this awareness; an approach which allows a customized schema to emerge from the actually-existing tags arising from the actually-existing needs of students in composing their texts.

Peer review, uneasiness, and #GradDH

In Planned Obsolescence, Kathleen Fitzpatrick discusses potential futures of peer review. While discussing Noah Wardrip-Fruin’s experiment in peer review, she explains:

In the end, he notes, “the blog commentaries will have been through a social process that, in some ways, will probably make me trust them more” (Wardrip-Fruin). Knowing the reviewers’ reputations, and seeing those reputations as part a dynamic process of intellectual interaction, produces the authority of the comments, and will thus affect the authority of the book that Wardrip-Fruin finally publishes.

Reading this reminded me of Jean Bauer’s JDH article “Who You Calling Untheoretical?” In the article, Bauer argues that the theory brought to bear on digital projects inflects the project as a whole—from vocabulary to color choices. It is up to the project creators to make the theoretical choices visible, but it is also the responsibility of those “reading” the projects to recognize the ways that “the database is the theory.” What fascinates me, however, is how Bauer handles the process of revision of the blog post for republication in JDH. She explains in a note prefacing the piece:

[A note from the author: This blog post, as a piece of prose, is very much of the moment when it was written. Likewise its reception has been based on its tone as well as its content. So, rather than take this chance to revise the piece, I have decided to annotate the original text in the style of a documentary editor, although I have only annotated my own text, leaving the text of my commentators, Chris Forster and Jeremy Boggs (see below), alone. Aside from a few minor, silent corrections for editorial consistency, all new and supporting material can be found in the footnotes or set off by square brackets.]

There is no doubt that the article is better for including the comments. Through the conversation in the comments, among other things, Bauer usefully works through her deployment of the term “theory” in the post, and takes stock of work role big-T Theory has enabled in the humanities in the past. The choice to make this thinking-through visible to the reader of JDH makes a case for the value of the publish-then-review model that Fitzpatrick argues for in PO. The social process of the argument is laid bare, and thus Bauer’s piece is trusted more (at least by me). The type of publishing JDH allows looks a lot like what Fitzpatrick argues for:

For this reason, peer review needs to be put not in the service of gatekeeping, or determining what should be published for any scholar to see, but of filtering, or determining what of the vast amount of material that has been published is of interest or value to a particular scholar.

But republishing existing content in an electronic journal (as JDH, in part, is designed to do) isn’t the only model. Rather, there are simple aggregators—like Digital Humanities Now—using curators to gather and promote “good content.” Ultimately, I think both of these models are important and necessarily separate. While I’m sure it is an honor to have a blog post selected to the “Editor’s Choice,” I don’t think that it would warrant a line on my CV in the same way publication in JDH would. Obviously these are not mutually exclusive. And maybe I am wrong.

As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, I’m in the process of completing a reading list for the first of my comprehensive exams. To refrain from getting into excruciating detail, let’s say my list is focused on archival and encoding methodologies as they are taken up in DH. During some the conversations with Prof. Cordell this semester, I’ve expressed concern over the amount of blog posts on this reading list. My concern was not a concern about the influence of these pieces. Rather, these included influential blog posts like Stephen Ramsay’s “On Building,” and Bethany Nowviskie’s “On the origins of ‘hack’ and ‘yack.’” Pieces around which particular debates in the field solidified, important pieces. My concern, instead, was for how all of these blog posts will be judged when I finalize and submit my reading list and exam. How will the department look at these pieces?

In a pragmatic (though not at all progressive) way, I have help in this regard through other publication venues. Ramsay’s idea is taken up in his article with Geoffrey Rockwell in Debates in the Digital Humanities, and Nowviskie’s piece has been (slightly) revised and published in the most recent issue of JDH. These provide citations for my exam and reading list that look more conventional. Funny, though (as Prof. Cordell pointed out at the time), that I would feel uncomfortable with the citing the blog posts. Indeed, it is the (original) blog forms of these arguments that circulated most widely, that are most influential. While this is true, I think part of my concern is the way my list looks compared to some of my peers completing more traditional literary exams. This unease with the new and different recalls the comment discussion in the “credentialing” section of Planned Obsolescence, which I include a screenshot of here:

Screenshot 2014-11-11 at 12.03.08 PM

The pressure on junior faculty to publish in conventional ways is palpable to anyone who has worked on a DH project. The conservatism that results affects the graduate students on whose labor these projects (partially) depend. Junior faculty need to publish a monograph, or at least several journal articles in top journals in their field (however that comes to be assessed). At Northeastern, we’ve seen the dark side of this first-hand. Last year, three feminist scholars in the College of Social Sciences and Humanities were denied tenure, despite the support of their departments, chairs, and dean. Predictably, all three (two by reputation and one I knew first-hand) were known to be strong mentors for graduate students. Unfortunately this is not something that seems to help a tenure case. Junior faculty need to be protective of their time inasmuch as they feel pressure to publish in traditionally-valued ways. While these professors were not DH practitioners, all were interdisciplinary scholars pushing the boundaries of their respective disciplines. This does not bode well for the kind of interdisciplinary, collaborative, and evolving work taken up in DH. This is not a new conversation, Roopika Risam mentions this in her ada article, “Rethinking Peer Review in the Age of Digital Humanities

Beyond project directors or principal investigators, other participants – programmers, graduate students, interns – often play critical roles in the creation of digital scholarship but traditional citation and reward structures of academe are not configured to acknowledge these contributions.

Indeed. And while I’m excited about the attention being paid to rethinking peer review for DH scholars, I am more interested (selfishly, perhaps) in the way this will affect graduate students. My colleague at Northeastern, Jim McGrath, has recently been trying to bring additional attention to graduate work in DH by asking graduate students to document their labor through the Twitter hashtag, #GradDH (check out his presentation slides from a recent presentation on graduate labor at UConn’s Scholars’ Collaborative). This is an important conversation that will become increasingly relevant here at Northeastern. Some of us graduate students working in DH intend to defend non-traditional dissertations in the next few years. Many spend a significant time working on faculty-led DH projects that are not directly related to our own research. The less fortunate (often) obtain outside work to bolster our inadequate stipends.

To be clear, I don’t intend to criticize our faculty here; however, the realities of grant-funded research make it difficult for graduate students, especially new students, who came here to do DH work. There simply isn’t enough work for everyone who wants to be involved. How can we be supported? How do we advocate for a model institutional support, perhaps like that of the Praxis Program at the Scholars’ Lab? How can we, as graduate students, garner support (financial and professional) for grad student-led projects? How can interdisciplinary collaboration amongst graduate students be facilitated?

In some ways, these are good problems. It means that the role of DH at Northeastern is shifting from the fringe (at least in the English department). It is silly not to expect some dissonance as new modes of scholarship are integrated into the institutional milieu.

 

(Re)orienting TEI in the classroom: Notes on an evolving project

[note: I briefly considered an alternate title: “And you may ask yourself: Well, how did I get here?” before I thought better of it]

This semester I’ve been interested in the use of XML markup as an approach to composition (up front, I would like to credit Trey Conatser’s piece, “Changing Medium, Transforming Composition,” for an invaluable touchstone project; I will talk a lot more about Conatser and his approach towards the end of this post). As I’ve had this idea in the back of my head throughout the past few months, I’ve been thinking about two things. First, the ethos of “making” in DH; particularly the way a focus on making/the material can make explicit some implicit features of academic discourse (but also how a making focus may elide certain theoretical decisions/considerations). Sometimes this discussion is (problematically) called hack vs. yack; a false binary that is more usefully approached as the role of theory in DH work, and the level of discursivity of said theory (see? not nearly as sexy as hack vs. yack). The most recent issue of the Journal of Digital Humanities includes Bethany Nowviskie’s recovered history of the origins of this debate. Second, and perhaps more pragmatic, I’ve been thinking about ways to approach the introduction of DH methods to first-year undergraduates in a composition course. Is this even appropriate?

 

As I’ve established,  I am interested in the idea of having students encode their own writing in TEI. The main benefits I see of this is to make explicit the often implicit conventions of academic discourse. As Trey Conatser argues:

Requiring students to compose and tag their writing within an XML editor ensured that they explicitly and deliberately identified their own rhetorical and compositional choices.

I agree, but wonder how the critical interventions made by scholars like McPherson, Koh, Bailey, and Cecire need to inform this practice? Cecire underscores the theoretical burden of established DH practitioners to make explicit the often tacit knowledge of the field. Here, she responds to the idea of a fundamentally non-discursive theoretical mode argued for by Ramsay in his influential MLA talk and blog post. Further, Nowviskie argues that the “eternal September” of DH means rapid growth, an influx of amateurs, and institutional support—the field (especially the established practitioners) cannot afford to be implicit. Similarly, Cecire argues that it is not that DH isn’t theoretical, it is that real consequences arise when “we fail to theorize practice, or when we insist on the tacitness of our theorizing,” while McPherson critiques the history of DH, as work “proceeded as if technologies from XML to databases were neutral tools.” Important, difficult, and still-evolving questions for the field are packed into these and other critiques. Fortunately for me, I can control a composition classroom in such a way that takes account of these perspectives. I can assign these articles and blog posts. I can ask students to question the hierarchical structure of XML. I can approach the course in a way that resists facile binaries. “Both/and […] hack and yack,” as Nowviskie ultimately asks of us.

Functionally, my approach to this is informed by Trevor Owens’s discussion of design-based research, which rests on the idea that “there is some kind of hybrid form of doing, theorizing, building, and iterating that we should turn into a methodology.” Owens contends that all designs have “implicit and explicit arguments inside them,” and that one solution to the problem of tacit knowledge is to write these arguments down. Owens is arguing for a change in the way we as humanists value the documentation produced in the process of a project—grant proposals, memos, documentation—as a form of scholarly production (a lofty task). For my purposes, this hybrid methodology can be the basis of the course. Theorization can be made explicit (indeed, be required and valued) relatively easily in the space of the classroom.

 

How will students have time to meaningfully engage these methods while also taking the time to critically examine them? To answer this question, I will discuss the two primary methods to my approach: first, conceiving markup as a kind of direct visualization; second, crowd-sourcing (sort of) a customized TEI schema.

 

I was struck with Lev Manovich’s description of “direct visualisation,” especially after hearing about the “generous interfaces” of Mitchell Whitelaw from Katherine Bode’s talk at Northeastern titled “Digital Humanities & Digitized Newspapers: The Australian Story” (you can view the slides and read the transcript here). Now I’m not sure which of these terminologies I prefer, but I will use direct visualization for the remainder of this post, as I think Manovich’s idea gets closer to my own project, which I will eventually talk about. I still think there are problems with direct visualization. Some of these problems are brought up in Denis Wood’s article, “A Map is an Image Proclaiming its Objective Neutrality.” In particular, I think that often visualizations (of all kinds) participate in the same kind of rhetoric of objectivity that Wood associates with (official) maps. While direct visualization promises to visualize in a way that is less abstracted from the original material, the name itself belies the reduction of the material that is a necessary byproduct of visualization as such. Right? But Manovich pushes his description of direct visualization further. The capabilities of digital technology are such that there may be ways to visualize materials without reducing them at all. When describing what direct visualization would look like without reduction/sampling, Manovich analogizes:

But you have already been employing this strategy [direct visualization] if you have ever used a magic marker to highlight important passages of a printed text. Although text highlighting is not normally thought of, we can see that in fact it is an example of ‘direct visualisation without sampling’. (44)

When compared with generous interfaces, this description (without sampling) seems to be a difference in kind, rather than a difference in degree. This is where I begin to think about using this terminology in my own project. Despite the fact that we would not be spatially representing anything, would it be possible to present this project in terms of mapping? Or as a form of visualization? Can direct visualization be deployed as a tactical term to get students thinking productively about what text encoding affords? It seems to me that this approach could be helpful in shepherding reticent students. The key aspect I want to get at here is something Bethany Nowviskie asserts when talking about Neatline:

Neatline sees humanities visualization not as a result but as a process: as an interpretive act that will itself – inevitably – be changed by its own particular and unique course of creation.  Knowing that every algorithmic data visualization process is inherently interpretive is different from feeling it, as a productive resistance in the materials of digital data visualization. So users of Neatline are prompted to formulate their arguments by drawing them.

The act of drawing is productive in a way that abstract thinking about drawing cannot be.  Already in my composition classes, I ask students to create abstract models of writing. This primarily takes two forms: first, ‘reverse outlining’ their own papers to prepare for revision; second, generating abstract outlines of examples of writing (student and otherwise) to use as models for their own writing. I use these methods because they work. These activities help students organize their writing. But they also help students understand how to speak back to texts. Understanding the underlying structure can help them get at how an argument is functioning and help them critique that argument. My argument with using TEI/XML is that we could formalize these abstractions, and make them an explicit part of the composition process. Indeed, in a nod to Manovich’s idea of highlighting-as-visualization, I want to make the markup visible in the final product. This (I hope) can be accomplished through XSLT (though this is an area I need to familiarize myself with)

Even if my conception of mapping/visualization of texts is problematic, there is also a pragmatic ethos to Nowviskie’s assertion that is very seductive to me. And one that I think applies to textual encoding as a scholarly activity inasmuch as it applies to deep mapping. Part of what the discussion above (regarding hack/yack) was meant to work through is the common ground in the “making” methodology. What is it that these disparate methods of DH have in common? To make TEI markup the principal form in which students compose texts, there will be moments that are difficult. One can imagine having whole classes dedicated to deciding between the deployment of one or another tag. The interpretive process of TEI is certainly one of the primary features that makes it a productive tool for scholarship. Eventually, though, the students will have to choose one option and roll with it of they want to complete their composition. They simply can’t endlessly discuss the relative benefits and drawbacks of a particular tag. This grounding in the material (i.e. the tags) seems to enable both abstract and concrete thinking with respect to a text in a way that I think will be productive in a composition classroom. All of which relates to the “productive unease” which, Flanders argues, arises out of our creation of digital models of physical artifacts, “productive: not of forward motion but of that same oscillating, dialectical pulsation that is the scholarly mind at work.” While my students will not be creating digital models of physical objects, I think the key for Flanders still applies:

it is the act of stating rules that requires the discipline of methodological self-scrutiny … [A]s our tools for manipulating digital models improve, the model stops marking loss and takes on a clearer role as a strategic representation, one which deliberately omits and exaggerates and distorts the scale so that we can work with the parts that matter to us.

This methodological self scrutiny is the same thing I ask of my students when I ask them to create abstract models of writing: let’s state the rules abstractly. Together, let’s feel the complex and situated writing we do resist abstract modeling. What can we learn from this resistance? This feeling is productive whether the feeling is generated through drawing on a map, or creating a digital scholarly edition, or deciding one tag or another in a markup scheme. This last area, the markup scheme, is the final consideration I’d like to outline with respect to my planned approach.

I plan to have the class collectively create (I’ll call it crowd-sourcing or student-sourcing) a schema for marking up texts. Conatser describes personally creating a “markup scheme in line with [the] most urgent goals” for each of the four assignment in his XML-based composition class. Part of this consideration must be logistical (something I continually worry about). But another part of me sees this as unnecessarily prescriptive. To be fair, I think Conatser convincingly justifies this choice:

Rhetorically-oriented markup schemes make assignment goals explicit in a way that traditional prompts simply can not; they provide consistent opportunities during the writing process to reflect critically on whether the composition is successfully working toward the assigned goals.

So again we are talking about implicit vs. explicit expectations. I sense a theme here. Conatser’s approach put the onus on the instructor to be explicit. To not obscure the tacit knowledge we employ to participate in scholarly discourse. And I think he is right here, so far as it goes. Part of teaching composition (especially to first year undergraduates) is an attempt to make explicit some of the implicit rules and conventions of academic discourse. As an instructor, creating a markup scheme creates actually-existing mechanisms (as opposed to abstract concepts) by which students can assess their work as they write. Then again, the term “academic discourse” is problematic. So in my classes a lot of the time what I end up talking about is John Swales and “discourse communities.” And generally, I let students choose their audience for any given assignment. Given the diversity of approaches in the class, I have (often, not always) crowd-sourced grading criteria for these assignments. After completing some pre-writing and early drafting, we use a class to collectively discuss and compile the metrics by which their assignments will be assessed. The results of this approach have been mixed (to say the least), but I am not prepared to abandon it. At its best it serves to create a meaningful discussion about what is expected of writing in myriad contexts. How do disiplines and audiences constitute conventions? How does the setting of the classroom obscure the readers of texts? These are old questions in composition, but important questions nonetheless. In the same way that I have student-sourced the creation of grading criteria in the past, I think a student-sourced markup scheme would allow a more complex conversation to arise around the structure of XML, writing conventions, and issues of authority. I suspect that the schema will evolve as the course evolves, adding elements, attributes, and attribute definitions as the need for them arises. Again, it is this process of formalization, of stating the rules, that is so compelling for me.

 

Finally, I want to address the most pragmatic of questions: what are my next steps?  It’s time to start working on this project.

 

Ultimately, I suspect there may be a happy medium between Conatser’s approach and what I envision. I plan to customize a TEI schema that I feel can serve as a foundation of sorts. This will both constrain the TEI—removing elements, attributes, and definitions that are extraneous to my project—and expand it—adding elements, attributes, and definitions—based on what I think students will and will not need to compose in XML. I’m lucky to know several people working on the (amazing) Early Caribbean Digital Archive. My plan is modeled off of my understanding of how the ECDA customized their TEI schema (thanks, Sarah Stanley!). The first major step is the creation of my ODD file (which will generate the schema). I’ll attempt this by marking up a sample (or several samples) of my writing, paying particular attention to the rhetorical features without thinking about validation. This will (hopefully) lead to identifying the necessary, unnecessary, underdeveloped, and non-existent elements, attributes, and definitions. Validation errors will serve, as Sarah described it, as “notes to self” about what needs to be customized for my purposes. This will be the basis for the ODD file and the customized schema.

So after a lot of talk of how I got here, that’s where I’m going (hopefully).

Visualizing Digital Humanities Now (and a little Facebook, too) with Gephi

Like many people, I immediately thought of citation networks when we started fooling around with Gephi. What I decided was that I was interested in the Digital Humanities Now blog. I chose this blog because of the “Editor’s Choice” section that aggregates DH content from around the web. I thought it might be interesting to look at the disciplines that the DH Now editors are selecting the content from over time. As an initial foray into this question, I looked at October of 2014 and October of 2012 to see if there were major differences in the disciplinarity of the chosen posts. My hunch was that two years ago, the chosen content would be from fewer disciplines than now. Here is the visualization:


DHNOW

The disciplines are broken up by color: yellow is English, purple is History, green is Communication/Media Studies, red/pink is Library Science. I did this by adding a column to the nodes table and then partitioning by that attribute. Basically, it doesn’t seem like the disciplines are all that different or more varies now than they were two years ago. If I were to continue this visualization I would look at who is cited in the posts themselves. That way there would (presumably) by some more interesting things going on with edge weights, etc. As it is, the edge weights are all the same.

I’ve also produced a visualization of my Facebook network. There are tons of easy tutorials, but all you really need to know is the Facebook app Netvizz. The app will let you download a graph file of a few different kinds of networks. I found it pretty useful to play around with some statistics and layouts and such with a large data set. I settled on Force Atlas 2 and weighting the nodes by degree. The most interesting thing that came out of this was the way the different communities were structured. Gephi did a pretty good job of selecting distinct communities of friends–family, high school, college, some grade school.
PhD
You can see the one community that got propelled out of the main network (on the top of the visualization). These are all of the friends I’ve added since moving to Boston (mostly from Northeastern). One other interesting group is of people I met on a trip I took to Australia. They are a small teal community, floating off the top-right of the main mass of nodes, unconnected to anyone else in my network.

Thinking through theory in DH (through JDH 1.1)

This is the first (of several) posts that center around the reading list I am compiling (with Ryan Cordell) for my first comprehensive exam. I’m starting here by trying to frame the central debate around which I will construct the ‘field’ portion of my field and focus paper. I could call this debate hack vs. yack, or theory vs. practice. But (spoiler alert) I think both of those are problematic formulations of a more interesting debate of the role of theory in DH. Is the impetus on the DH scholar to make explicit the sometimes nondiscursive theoretical underpinnings of a project? Is nondiscursivity exclusionary? Or rather, is the onus on the ‘reader’ of said project to develop critical literacies capable of discerning the implicit theory of a project? What does ‘theory’ even mean in this context? What counts as DH and how are projects recognized?

These questions are generative, as I look back on this reading, of new questions for me: what is the legacy of critical editing in DH? Is the historical shift from humanities computing to digital humanities representative of something more that the release of The Blackwell Companion? How does a media framework (like Hayles and Pressman’s Comparative Textual Media) complicate the centrality of making/building/design-as-research in DH? 

But I’ll quit stalling here and get to the meat of the thing. Below is my (initial) thinking through the idea of theory in DH, mainly via the inaugural issue of the Journal of Digital Humanities (with some other stuff peppered in). Here we go.

While the idea of “hack” vs. “yack” is, in many ways, a false dichotomy—originating from an off-hand comment at the first THATCamp (Nowviskie “Origin”)—it has become a centralizing debate in the DH community. Nowviskie does well to dispel the notion that digital humanities practitioners actually subscribe to a zero-sum view of doing vs. saying, while pointing out the problems in the way this debate has been taken up (mostly by those outside the field) (“Origin”). This problematic formulation, however, sparked a useful debate around the role of theory in the digital humanities, taken up in the inaugural issue of the Journal of Digital Humanities. Natalie Cecire opens this special section by claiming, “the debates around the role of ‘theory’ in digital humanities are debates about the relationship between saying and doing” (“Introduction” 44).

As must by now be evident, I am not, for my own part, persuaded that the digital humanities’ epistemology of building is enough of a saving grace to render the hack/yack division a happy fault. My sympathies rest with bell hooks’s insistence that theory can solve problems that urgently need solving, that articulating in words how things work can liberate. I am troubled by the ease with which the epistemology of building occludes and even, through its metaphors, legitimizes digital humanities’ complicity with exploitative postindustrial labor practices, both within the academy and overseas, and I wish to see digital humanities dismantle as well as build things. And yet, as the contributions to this special section attest, the methods and metaphors of digital humanities are far from settled. What is needed is not self-flagellation (much less defensiveness) but attempts to develop the discipline within which we wish to work. (“Introduction” 49)

In her own contribution to the section, Cecire underscores the theoretical burden of established DH practitioners to make explicit the often tacit knowledge of the field (“DH in Vogue”). Here, she responds to the idea of a fundamentally nondiscursive theoretical mode argued for by Ramsay (“On Building”), Rockwell, and Scheinfeldt. As the “eternal September” (Nowviskie, “Eternal September”) of DH means rapid growth, an influx of amateurs, and institutional support, the field cannot afford to be nondiscursive. Cecire argues that it is not that DH isn’t theoretical, it is that real consequences arise when “we fail to theorize practice, or when we insist on the tacitness of our theorizing” (56).

Jean Bauer argues that the theory brought to bear on digital projects can inflect the project as a whole—from vocabulary to color choices (68). Her idea is to create new tools or design to make this theory visible, while commenter Chris Forester spells out ways that more engagement with capital-T Theory can benefit DH projects in some of the same ways it has proved productive in traditional humanities work (71-2). In some ways, Benjamin Schmidt agrees with Forester in his claim that all DH work should begin “with a grounding in a theory from humanistic traditions” (60). Schmidt appears to take issue with Ramsays idea of a hermeneutic of screwing around in his opinion that “we should have prior beliefs about the ways in which the world is structured, and only ever use digital methods to try to create works which let us watch those structures in operation” (60).

One proposed solution comes from Trevor Owens in the form of design-based research, which rests on the idea that “there is some kind of hybrid form of doing, theorizing, building, and iterating that we should turn into a methodology” (83). Owens contends that all designs have “implicit and explicit arguments inside them” (83), and that one solution to the problem of tacit knowledge is to write these arguments down. In some ways we are already doing this—projects already generate writing that spells these arguments out in the form of grant proposals, memos, documentation, etc.—we simply need to value these texts as scholarly production. In a similar move, William G. Thomas asks, “in the broadest terms […] how does scholarly practice change with digital humanities?” (64). His answers call for a reorientation of the digital archive as “intentional and interpretive” (64), which calls into question how we value collaborative scholarship and what scholarly argument actually looks like in digital form.

Elijah Meeks and Patrick Murray-John both take up the relationship between computer science/programming and the humanities. Meeks, in an attempt to resist the values of comp. sci. from being unreflectively taken up by humanists, calls for humanists to begin to

pick up coding, write weird and not-at-all pragmatic software, and, perhaps, create standards through practice or, more likely, just create lots and lots of weird code that better describes queer black artists in the twenties or a republic of letters or Walt Whitman. (80)

This seems to me to relate to Jerome McGann’s idea of “deformance,” referenced in Mark Sample’s piece on critical making in the classroom. Murray-John, on the other hand, sees a possible convergence of the computer science / humanities dichotomy through a shared value of noticing:

[a humanist] does need some training to be able to start noticing the difference between two data models that at surface appear to describe the same things. And, coders should be ready to learn what useful things theorists can offer that, despite a first appearance of scope creep, might just be valuable things to consider building into the code. (77)

That this noticing is two directional is reminiscent of McPherson’s call for humanistic theory to feed back into the computational models and tools that it uses for DH projects, rather than simply adopting tools and practices which reinscribe problematic worldviews:

In extending our critical methodologies, we must have at least a passing familiarity with code languages, operating systems, algorithmic thinking, and systems design. We need database literacies, algorithmic literacies, computational literacies, interface literacies. We need new hybrid practitioners: artist-theorists, programming humanists, activist-scholars; theoretical archivists, critical race coders. We need new forms of graduate and undergraduate education that hone both critical and digital literacies.

Moya Bailey speaks to a certain kind of noticing through her discussion of recognition. She argues that there has been lots of critical feminist work that incorporates the digital, but is not recognized as DH. It is therefore important to resist an “add and stir” model of diversity in DH by

meeting people where they are, where people of color, women, people with disabilities are already engaged in digital projects, there’s a making of room at an already established table. (Bailey)

More than a facile recognition of this work as DH, this can take the field in new and productive directions that may expose, examine, and resist the implicit structural identities of the field (be they ableist, white, male, capitalist, etc.). It is these problematic worldviews that are central to the role of theory in the digital humanities. The question of “what counts?” is similarly taken up by Fiona M. Barnett in her article “The Brave Side of the Digital Humanities” through a close reading of the #AntiJemimas blogs. As with Bailey, Barnett emphasizes the openness of DH as a field. That this stuff is literally being hashed out in real time—at conferences, in blogs, and via Twitter. As Alexis Lothian outlines in JDH, the impetus behind #transformDH is a response to just this openness. DH can be transformed, and maybe through a loose and messy confederation of scholars over Twitter. As such, Lothian posits #transformDH as one possible answer to the question, “what do we mean when we say ‘theory’ in DH?”

 

 

[Sorry for the messy references! The logic here is to cite the entire JDH volume followed by other citations in chronological order]

JDH 1.1

Natalie Cecire, “Introduction: Theory and the Virtues of Digital Humanities

——–, “When Digital Humanities Was in Vogue

Ben Schmidt, “Theory First

William G. Thomas, “What We Think We Will Build and What We Build in the Digital Humanities

Jean Bauer, “Who You Calling Untheoretical?

Patrick Murray-John, “Theory, Digital Humanities, and Noticing

Elijah Meeks, “Digital Humanities as Thunderdome

Tom Scheinfeldt and Ryan Shaw, “Words and Code

Trevor Owens, “Please Write it Down: Design and Research in Digital Humanities

Mark Sample, “Building and Sharing (When You’re Supposed to be Teaching)

Alexis Lothian, “Marked Bodies, Transformative Scholarship, and the Question of Theory in Digital Humanities

Peter Bradley, “Where are the Philosophers? Thoughts from THATCamp Pedagogy

Tim Sherratt, “It’s All About the Stuff: Interfaces, Power, and People

Moya Z. Bailey, “All the Digital Humanists are White, All the Nerds are Men, but Some of Us Are Brave

Other stuff:

Bethany Nowviskie, “On the origin of ‘hack’ and ‘yack’”, blog post

Stephen Ramsay, “On Building”, blog post

Tara McPherson, “Why Are the Digital Humanities So White? or Thinking the Histories of Race and Computation”, from Debates in the Digital Humanities

Fiona M. Barnett, “The Brave Side of the Digital Humanities”, from differences 25.1 (2014)

 

 

Direct visualization as/is a tactical term

I was struck with Lev Manovich’s description of “direct visualisation,” especially after hearing about the “generous interfaces” of Mitchell Whitelaw from Katherine Bode. Now I’m not sure which of these terminologies I prefer, but I will use direct visualization for the remainder of this post, as I think Manovich’s idea gets closer to my own project, which I will eventually talk about. I still think there are problems with direct visualization. Some of these problems are brought up in Denis Wood’s article, “A Map is an Image Proclaiming its Objective Neutrality.” In particular, I think that often visualizations (of all kinds) participate in the same kind of rhetoric of objectivity that Wood associates with (official) maps. While direct visualization promises to visualize in a way that is less abstracted from the original material, the name itself belies the reduction that is necessary in projects like Cinema Redux, which Manovich describes. This naming is problematic, perhaps arguing for Whitelaw’s more spacious “generous interfaces” over direct visualization.

But Manovich pushes his description of direct visualization further. When describing what direct visualization would look like without reduction/sampling, he says:

But you have already been employing this strategy [direct visualization] if you have ever used a magic marker to highlight important passages of a printed text. Although text highlighting is not normally thought of, we can see that in fact it is an example of ‘direct visualisation without sampling’. (44)

When compared with generous interfaces, this description (without sampling) seems to be a difference in kind, rather than a difference in degree. This is where I begin to think about using this terminology in my own project. Despite the fact that we would not be spatially representing anything, would it be possible to present this project in terms of mapping? Or as a form of visualization? Can direct visualization be deployed as a tactical term to get students thinking productively about what text encoding affords? Perhaps this is a connection that doesn’t need to be made. I think the key aspect I want to get at here is something Bethany Nowviskie asserts when talking about Neatline:

Neatline sees humanities visualization not as a result but as a process: as an interpretive act that will itself – inevitably – be changed by its own particular and unique course of creation.  Knowing that every algorithmic data visualization process is inherently interpretive is different from feeling it, as a productive resistance in the materials of digital data visualization. So users of Neatline are prompted to formulate their arguments by drawing them.

The act of drawing is productive in a way that abstract thinking about drawing cannot be.  Already in my composition classes, I ask students to create abstract models of writing. This primarily takes two forms: first, ‘reverse outlining’ their own papers to prepare for revision; second, generating abstract outlines of examples of writing (student and otherwise) to use as models for their own writing. I use these methods because they work. These activities help students organize their writing. But they also help students understand how to speak back to texts. Understanding the underlying structure can help them get at how an argument is functioning and help them critique that argument. My argument with using TEI/XML is that we could formalize these abstractions, and make them an explicit part of the composition process. Since I am fundamentally interested in TEI markup as an explicit interpretive act, I want to make the markup visible, even in the final product. This is akin to Manovich’s idea of highlighting-as-visualization. Though the TEI was not developed as a visual medium, it can be adapted to such a project through XSLT.

Even if my conception of mapping/visualization of texts is problematic, there is also a pragmatic ethos to Nowviskie’s assertion that is very seductive to me. And one that I think applies to textual encoding as a scholaraly activity inasmuch as it applies to deep mapping. To make TEI markup the principal form in which students compose texts, there will be moments that are difficult. One can imagine having whole classes dedicated to deciding between the deployment of one or another tag. The interpretive process of TEI is certainly one of the primary features that makes it a productive tool for scholarship. Eventually, though, the students will have to choose one option and roll with it of they want to complete their composition. They simply can’t endlessly discuss the relative benefits and drawbacks of a particular tag. This grounding in the material (i.e. the tags) seems to enable both abstract and concrete thinking with respect to a text in a way that I think will be productive in a composition classroom.

 

 

Boston’s South End: Burying grounds, Boston College, and my apartment

My Neatline exhibit is about my neighborhood.

Coming from Chicago, a relatively new city (most of it burned down in 1871, thanks Mrs. O’Leary!), I am continually frustrated and amazed by the City of Boston. On the one hand, the maddeningly labyrinthine streets, lack of alleys, and apparent total disregard for the fine art of city planning make it a difficult place to live at times. There is nothing like the smell of garbage baking on the picturesque brick sidewalks of Massachusetts Ave. on a humid August morning. On the other hand, I live in a (delightfully shabby) Victorian brownstone that is older than my previous city! And I constantly pass things that are older than the United States. Crazy! And inspiring, and weird, and creepy at times (I’m looking at you, Old South Burying Ground).

I decided for my Neatline map that I try to represent a few interesting historical spaces that I encounter on a regular basis.

This foray into Neatline (though not technically my first) aimed to both explore possibilities and make an argument. I tried to choose spaces and artifacts that overlapped in some way to provide a narrative of the historic space of the South End and its distinct eras–from the era of “across the neck,” the landfill projects of the South and Back bays, becoming the jazz hub of the New England, the tumultuous 70’s and 80’s, the era of the elevated train coming to an end, to the (ongoing) gentrification in the 80’s and 90’s. The South End remains an eclectic neighborhood, host to Boston’s primary trauma hospital (across from my apartment!) as well as the swanky restaurants and dog bakeries (seriously) of Tremont St. We still have boarded-up beauties like the Hotel Alexandria on Washington St. And we have the thriving SOWA art galleries. And this is only the stuff I know about and the little things I’ve noticed. There is so much more to be explored here.

Though this exhibit is just kind of an initial thrust, I would love to expand on it to a more thematic exhibit based around the eras I identified through my (cursory) research. Obviously these eras overlap, which is where I think the interesting bits would show up. What are some historical artifacts from the era when part of the (mostly African American) South End was also the primary gay and lesbian neighborhood in Boston? I think archival research in this case would be greatly bolstered by my actually physically going to see and explore some places. Huh. Who would have thought a map could influence the way I move around my environment?

Key project: TAPAS as application and as community

I made a late switch for my key project reflection. I was originally planning to review the “Mapping Texts” project, which is interesting to me in part from my work on Viral Texts, as both projects make use of data from the Chronicling America project’s set of digitized newspapers. Instead, I’ve chosen TAPAS, which I identify as a possible repository to host a collection of TEI texts produced in a hypothetical composition course that may be my dissertation project (see my post here on the perils of DH pedagogy). With this in mind, I’d like to lay out the scope of TAPAS as it currently stands. Keeping in mind that the platform was only officially released on October 7th (a week ago!), I will also spend some time laying out what TAPAS aims to become. Finally, in the spirit of self-interestedness, I’ll talk a bit about how TAPAS does (and doesn’t) fit the needs of my potential project.

TAPAS

TAPAS is a TEI publishing and repository service that aims to provide that oft-forgotten element of DH projects—infrastructure. This is not the case at Northeastern (due in large part to the growth of the Digital Scholarship Group), but many institutions do not have the infrastructure to support DH projects—server space, IT personnel maintaining that server space, etc. This is especially if those projects require not only server space, but that the materials remain accessible for long periods of time. As a result, there are countless well conceived TEI projects that, after their initial publication, have disappeared or are no longer accessible in their intended form. Whether this is from lack of resources or simply lack of time maintaining a site, this is a discouraging factor for adopters of the TEI. TAPAS seeks to address this issue by providing the necessary infrastructure and expertise required to publish and maintain TEI projects.

I’ve already used TAPAS, in a sense, to teach a TEI workshop to Prof. Cordell’s undergraduate Technologies of Text course. To be more precise, I used a collection of TEI encoded letters that is published and stored on TAPAS called the Dorr Rebellion Project as the basis for the in-class workshop. I had the students transcribe and encode a series of Dorr’s correspondence working from printed facsimiles of the original letters. Then to underscore the particular choices the students made as editors, I had them compare their own transcriptions with those on the Dorr Rebellion Project. [For those interested in learning more about a fascinating time in Rhode Island history, I recommend you check out the project’s external site]. It was this experience that inspired me to examine TAPAS further through the lens of pedagogical potential. I argue that TAPAS has the potential to make a meaningful contribution to the field of DH in two primary ways: as an application, and as a site of community. I stress potential here because it seems to me that a platform like TAPAS is only as good as its users, and how it reacts to the needs of early adopters. I hope this will become clear as I get into more detail.

TAPAS as an application

As briefly mentioned above, infrastructural and technical support are the primary benefits a particular project can expect by using the TAPAS platform. First, TAPAS provides the infrastructure for people to publish their TEI. This includes all-important server space. The platform will recognize the All-TEI schema, and provide very basic visualization of valid TEI. Importantly, and in addition to the infrastructure, a key feature of TAPAS is

to provide data curation services … includ[ing] automated migration of TEI data to future versions of the TEI, and basic format migration of any image files. We will also offer the option of more detailed hand curation for data that cannot be automatically migrated, probably for an additional fee. (According to their FAQ page)

To me, this is the primary technical contribution of TAPAS. Using TAPAS to publish your TEI ensure that this work will be accessible for the long term. Changes in the TEI guidelines, HTML markup, or any other issues which normally cause a web project to become inaccessible will be dealt with by TAPAS curators. It is important to note here that TAPAS is a paid service (through paid membership in the TEI Consortium). Here, they hint at a yet-to-be-defined premium fee structure for special projects requiring additional curation.

TAPAS as a community

The impact of TAPAS should not be measured through technical features alone. Rather TAPAS is meant to function as a community space on and through which to build, share, and collaborate on TEI projects. TAPAS enables this community in several ways. First, the TAPAS Commons provides a space for those without membership in the TEI to try out TAPAS before making the initial investment. These collections are publicly accessible. Any good platform is only as good as its documentation and forums (see WordPress and Omeka for excellent examples of what a forum community can look like). The Forums are made up of the community of people using TAPAS, where questions can be posed and expertise shared. Finally, the TEI project visualizations provide spatial (see map for an example) and tempScreenshot 2014-10-13 at 4.36.02 PMoral ways of accessing the growing repository of TAPAS. A major goal of TAPAS is the sharing of TEI—aimed at fostering the growth of textual encoding as a method of scholarly production. The geographic and temporal visualizations of are ways for entrants and established scholars to find relevant projects as models or sources of collaboration. Obviously in this early stage these visualizations are a bit sparse, but will grow in size and usefulness as TAPAS is adopted by more projects.

Personally, I am interested in how TAPAS could function as a repository for publishing and hosting TEI files created by students. As it stands, I don’t think TAPAS would work, but there are encouraging developments in the works for subsequent releases (all of this information is available on the FAQ page). First, future iterations of TAPAS intend to allow for the use of custom schema, something I think will be a necessity for my project (as I mentioned in a previous post, the schema would ideally be designed in conjunction with the students in the class). Second, the TAPAS interface is significantly limited in terms of visualization options. Neither do they support user-generated stylesheets. These are both aspects of the platform they plan to remedy in future iterations. An important aspect of teaching a class centered on TEI as a tool for composition is the ability for students to design the ultimate presentation of the text. This is a significant sticking point, as I believe XSLT is too large a topic to broach in a course that is already introducing XML/TEI. A publishing repository like TAPAS that incorporated WYSIWYG transformation tools would be an amazing boon to this hypothetical course. At the bare minimum, I would think that user-generated stylesheets would need to be supported (and probably produced by me). As a final entry on what is shaping up to be my wish list, it would be ideal for students to actually compose the encoded texts on the site. Some kind of integrated text editor would eliminate the need for Oxygen subscriptions (which are only free for 30 days), and mitigate the potential costs of a TEI-centered course.


I hope that TAPAS develops some of this functionality sooner rather than later. And since I happen to be a student at Northeastern (which houses TAPAS), I may just be able to influence development of those features that would meet my needs. I’ve talked to some of the people working on the project (Julia Flanders and Ben Doyle), and I have a meeting set up to talk about my potential project and whether TAPAS could serve as my principal platform. Regardless, it is an exciting project that bodes well for the adoption and proliferation of the TEI. As the initial temporal and monetary investment of beginning a TEI project are reduced, one can imagine a (relative) boom in text encoding. Lowering the barriers to entry should help graduate students, junior scholars, and scholars at smaller universities lacking infrastructure; this should lead to better and more diverse scholarship.