A Week of DHA Training in a Meme or Two

A meme for the first few days of training…

Meme of Patrick Star: "No Patrick...Digital Humanities is not an instrument."
Happily, if you’re on this site, you probably know this already.

A meme for digital humanities as a whole…

Meme of the Terrible Trivium (from the Phantom Tollbooth): "Digital Humanities: Converting data to an accessible digital format one grain of sand at a time."
Alternatively: Bringing obscure literary references to the wider internet.

And a hashtag for the training experience…


Long story short, it’s been a good week of training and I’m looking forward to getting into the work. One of the takeaways from this week has been that what we do is entirely dependent on what people (you people reading this blog!) need done, and I enjoy the challenge of the unknown like that. So, with that said, here we go!

Zobeida’s Introduction

Hello! My name is Zobeida Chaffee, and I am a senior History Major taking minors in Archaeology and Medieval and Renaissance Studies. This will be my second year as a DHA, and I am eager to continue to develop my skills in this field, so that I can one day apply them to my life after Carleton, as well as to my coursework. I find that Digital Humanities can be invaluable in the field of historical preservation, as well as in education. By digitizing and 3D modeling artifacts and historical records, we can make history more accessible to the public, while simultaneously preserving it for generations to come. These websites can also offer creative learning tools, and resources for teachers. In this digital age, it’s important to be able to reach the public on all platforms.

When I’m not working on my coursework or attempting to make progress on my comps, I enjoy exploring the outdoors, creative writing, and reading murder mysteries.

Luna’s Introduction

Hello! My name is Luna Yee and I’m currently a sophomore at Carleton College, hoping to double major in Computer Science and Cognitive Science. If I had to put my academic pursuits into a single question, it would be this: how can we better understand computers, and how can computers better understand us? A true form of artificial intelligence might still be a pipe dream due to practical limitations (the human brain holds an astounding amount of data), but we have the tools and methodologies to at least have intelligent user interfaces and even user-tailored experiences. Computational linguistics, for example, is a field I have hopes of working in: the intricacies of teaching a computer to understand the nuances of human speech fascinates me.

Digital humanities is the exact linguistic match to this: combining computer platforms with the literal study of humans. I have a fondness for working on elegant user interfaces, and on designing with effective user input in mind. The way I see it, the more ease of access and effective response available in our computers, the better we can preserve and pass on the wisdoms we’ve learned as a society. And that might seem like a bit of a weighty description to give to the humanities, but if you ask me, that’s exactly what we’re working on here: efficiently preserving and accurately representing histories (of places, objects, people, societies, and so on) to make them more accessible to the world at large, and generations to come.

Alief’s Introduction

Hi, my name is Alief, and I am a senior biology and math double major. As someone who has been involved with computational biology research, I am pretty familiar with big data and how to collect, process, analyze, and present them. Only after I took the Hacking the Humanities class, I realized that the same process could be applied to the humanities fields as well. Throughout the class, I learned different techniques of data processing and presentation to best address a humanities problem. For my final project, for example, my partner and I created an interactive timeline about the history of LGBTQ+ community at Carleton. As a result, now I am about to start the adventure of being a Digital Humanities Associate. Outside of class, my scientific research, and being a DHA, I am a choreographer and dancer for Experimental Dance Board, a board member at the badminton club, and an “active” participant at various other clubs. Although I don’t know yet what specific project(s) I will be assigned to during my time as a DHA, I am pretty excited to excited to learning new DH techniques and applying them for research purposes!



Elizabeth’s Introduction

DHA Elizabeth admires a large wall map
DHA Elizabeth Budd

Hello! I’m Elizabeth, a senior history major at Carleton College and this will be my third year working as a Digital Humanities Associate. As a DHA, my work has frequently included mapping and the maintenance of Omeka sites. I find working at the intersection of the humanities and digital tools exciting because of the possibilities it offers for new kinds of questions and new types of research. Within digital humanities, I am particularly interested in spatial analysis, especially when placed in a historical context. My own research focuses primarily on poverty in late nineteenth-century London, and I hope to incorporate digital humanities (specifically mapping) into that research. Besides classes and DHA work, I am a board editor for Carleton’s Undergraduate Journal of Humanistic Studies and enjoy reading, traveling, and doing Sudoku. One of my favorite digital projects is Charles Booth’s London, by the London School of Economics Library. I love the straightforward access to the digitized research notebooks and the geo-referenced poverty map that Booth is famous for. Go check it out!

The Continuing Adventures of a DHA TA

Last term, I wrote about my experience as a Teaching Assistant (TA) in a classroom setting for the first time. I’m still doing some work as a TA this term, but not in a classroom setting. One of the main projects we are helping out with this term is a project using Neatline in one of Professor Victoria Morse’s courses. The main goal of the project is for students to explore, grapple with, and try to understand medieval conceptions of space and geography and how they differ from modern ideas of space and geography. This goal is one of the reasons that Neatline was chosen as the platform for this project. Rather than trying to warp medieval maps into our modern understanding of space (one of my old blog posts explored the challenges of trying to do this), Neatline allows images without spatial coordinates to serve as the base map – essentially on the image’s own terms. Since Victoria’s goal was not to match medieval maps to modern maps but rather understand the way the medieval maps display geography, the ability to not match up coordinates made Neatline a good choice.

Martha and I are the designated TAs for Victoria’s class. We have both worked as TAs before, but of course that doesn’t mean we aren’t still learning a lot. One realization we had a couple weeks ago had to do with how we were asked questions. A student in Victoria’s class came to us and essentially said, “I don’t understand.” Martha and I completely understand where this is coming from – when learning a new technology it can be overwhelming and confusing to the point of not even knowing what you are actually confused about. However, this wasn’t a very helpful question for us, which meant that at first we ended up asking more questions than the student, trying to make sure we knew what it was they were trying to find out. We tried to clarify what it was they needed help with: “Do you understand what Neatline is? Do you have an idea of the kind of project you will construct with Neatline? Do you want us to help you with setting up an account? Would it be helpful to walk through the creation of a Neatline exhibit?” This proved to be very useful, and we were able to get the student started on their project. For me, this experience drove home the importance of how questions get asked, since that guides how the question gets answered. In addition, it helped me think through the clarifying questions and what we could do to make sure we helped a confused student.

What Exactly Does the Internet Know About You?

I get it – Facebook, Twitter, Google – they own me. They have all my data: the ads I click, the things I search, the pages I visit. The implications of this lack of privacy have been unfolding slowly, but with a dampened sense of urgency, until the recent Cambridge Analytica revelations, and now, people are realizing too late how valuable their data is.

But here’s the thing – although I understand that the broad implications of this privacy breach are very serious, on a personal level I just find it, quite frankly, a little difficult to care. I’m right on the edge of the generation that was thoroughly indoctrinated by the internet from Day 1. I’m too young to remember dial-up, but old enough to remember when the iPhone came out; one of my earliest memories is my parents getting their first cell phones (my mom had the iconic and beloved Motorola Razr), but I never hung out in AIM chat rooms or had a MySpace. So yes, I vaguely remember a world without internet surveillance, but I came of age in the midst of this new era, so for me it’s just reality; it’s the price you pay for (monetarily) free social media and access to unlimited amounts of information. Anyone younger than me won’t even know life without this surveillance. If nothing else, it’s mildly comforting to know that Google’s got everyone’s data, not just mine.

But not caring is a dangerous pattern to fall into, because it’s fine until it’s not fine. It’s fine when Facebook just knows that I like watching videos about artisanal chocolate making, but it’s not fine when widespread demographic targeting influences a presidential election, which is to say, it’s fine until we noticeit. And at that point it’s too late.

The fact is, unless you’re willing to become a recluse or forego many of the incredible advantages of the internet and mobile technology, there isn’t an enormous amount any of us can do except be careful about what we post, click on, and search for (which you should always be doing anyway). But the one thing you cando is to stay educated. In the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal, I believe it’s important for everyone to know exactly what information various sources have on you. It won’t stop them from using it, but it may make you aware of how targeted advertising is affecting your online experience.

Most social media outlets allow you to download an archive of the data they have on you; they just often make it very difficult to find. Here’s a guide to how to get some of that data:

To get all the data Facebook has on you…

Go to Settings > in tiny print at the bottom of your settings click “Download a copy of your Facebook data”

To find out how Facebook categories you…

Go to Settings > Ads (on the left sidebar navigation) > Your Information > Your Categories

To get all the data Google has on you…

Go to myaccount.google.com > Control Your Content > “Create Archive” > Pick what you want in the archive and click “Next” > Choose file settings and click “Create Archive”

*A note about Google’s data archive: For all the work Google puts into making sure your Google calendar syncs seemlessly with your Google Gmail and your Google Docs are all stored in one big happy Google Drive, Google clearly isn’t invested in making sure your Google archives experience is just as convenient. A lot of important and interesting Google data, like your entire search history, is just tossed into a JSON and handed over to you. What about the vast part of the population that doesn’t know what a JSON is? Doesn’t know how to read a JSON? Doesn’t know how/have the tools to open a JSON on their machine? Google, you could do better.

To find out how Google categorizes you and what ads they think you like…

Go to adssettings.google.com.

To get all the data Twitter has on you…

Go to Settings and Privacy > Your Twitter data (left sidebar navigation) > Scroll all the way to the bottom and click the small print that says “Request Your Data”

To get all the data Snapchat has on you…

(Don’t panic – this doesn’t include every snap you’ve ever sent. It’s mostly account info and statistics, ads you’ve interacted with, and timestamps of every snap you’ve sent, with the actual photos redacted. Oh right, it does include Snaps you’ve recently submitted to Our Story, though. Every. Single. One.)

Go to accounts.snapchat.com > Click “My Data” > Scroll to the bottom and click “Submit Request”

Digital Humanities in the Classroom

For my Anthropological Thought and Theory class midterm, we were assigned to do a visual midterm. What is a visual midterm you ask? Well, in this particular case, it was a timeline, map and genealogy midterm that aimed to understand the broader arc of the development of anthropology as an academic field through the contexts of time, place and relationships, but in a visual manner.  As soon as I read the requirements for this assignment, I thought about utilizing my digital humanities background to create a really cool project. In the end, there were key successes with these projects, as well as fails (some due to my own procrastination, others just completely out of my control), so with this post, I will take you on my journey of using my job as a DHA in the actual classroom.

First, what exactly was the project asking for? The project needed to consist of three visual elements:

1)    a timeline showing the place in history of each of the authors we  had read so far in class, their works, and—if possible—their fieldwork;

2)    a map showing where the authors are from, and where they did their fieldwork; and

3)    an intellectual genealogy tracing who studied with whom, who positively influenced whom, and who critiqued whom.

The first tool that came to mind was ArcGis. My original project idea was to create a map with different layers, each layer indicating some attribute, such as important anthropology schools, field sites, and birthplaces of each anthropologists I was to include. The idea, then was to create a story map with a timeline component using my previously created map from ArcGIS. I have previously used ArcGis, so I had some experience and knowledge of how to use it, however my plan was unsuccessful.

I realized that the project using ArcGis was going to be more time-consuming that I had anticipated. Before even starting to use ArcGis, I needed to do extensive research on the anthropologists, including finding pictures that I could use for each person, and adding some other important facts. That in it of itself took a some hours of labor, and then inputting them into a coherent set on ArcGis was going to be even more time consuming. Thus, I decided to use different digital tools. I think that, had this project been a partner or three people project, then perhaps I would had continued with my original plan. But as the sole project team member, it was not an impossible task, but rather an impossible task to complete by deadline time (specially given I had another major assignment due a day after.)

One other tool I considered using was palladio. I thought it was a perfect way to do the genealogy tracing portion of the assignment, however, I quickly realized that it was impossible to figure out how to use. Why do you ask? I think this all comes down to the fact that palladio does not have a clear set of instructions on how to use it and format the data we’re supposed to format. If you use the sample data, then it works great. But, then you are left at a lost as to how organize your data from scratch.

So having abandoned my two original ideas, I was desperate to find another tool. Then I remembered TimelineJS. With TimelineJS, I could satisfy two of my visual midterm requirements: the geneology tracing (by grouping the different schools/thoughts and color coding them) and creating a nice, and succinct timeline (with pictures!) of every anthropologist I was including in my project. The wonderful thing about TimelineJS is that they provide their own template on google sheets for adding data, and it is customizable! So TimelineJS it was! The slightly cumbersome part was just inputting the individual anthropologists data into the template, it was somewhat time-consuming because I had a lot of information to input, but not a difficult task by any means. With every project however, there’s always rooms for mistakes, such as confusing the pictures of two anthropologists when inputting the information, but it’s nothing that cannot be easily fixed.

Having figured out my timeline problem, I was still left with another aspect of my project unsolved: I needed a map! And thankfully, Google Maps came to the rescue. By this point, I had all of the data in a nicely organized template (thank you TimelineJS!) so it was easier to simply input the data into a google maps, and create my own map story. I still had to do some modifications to the data, but the process was more straightforward. Google Maps was also easier to use, and I was able to also add the layers of information I originally wanted.

Doing this project taught me a lot of important lessons about digital humanities work, including the importance of being flexible to change and compromise, because often-times tools will either not have all the components you need in a project, or other times, you simply do not have the time to do the project like you envisioned it.

Link to project: Anthropology Thought and Theory 

Presenting Interdisciplinary Research

This winter term, I double compsed (for any non-Carleton readers: “comps” is the equivalent of a senior thesis or capstone project – it stands for “comprehensive exercise”). For both of my comps, one in computer science and one in English, I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to do digital humanities projects, but this posed a problem when I was required to give a presentation for each project at the end of the term.

For both presentations, my audience was a mix of humanities people, computer science people, and people who lie somewhere in between. How do I give a presentation that accommodates my entire audience? How do I explain the tech to the humanities folks, and contextualize the humanities for the tech folks?

Here are some rules for interdisciplinary presentations that I created for myself while planning my comps presentations:

Either explain jargon or put it in a black box. Combining tools from multiple disciplines is going to cause a vocabulary problem. You can’t say, “I ran text files of each novel through a Python script that used the NLTK’s POS-tagger to tag each word, then iterated over the tagged tuples to count occurrences of different parts of speech,” and expect anyone who’s never coded before to follow. Either take the time to explain what the NLTK’s POS-tagger is, or just say “I used a tool to get the part of speech of every word in the text.” The same goes for humanities lingo – make sure your entire audience clearly understands what close reading or deconstruction is before using those terms to contextualize your results.

Signpost. In an interdisciplinary presentation, it’s not unreasonable to expect that at least part of your audience is going to get lost at some point. Unless you’re going out of your way to explain every STEM concept and humanities context (which would make for a very long, very boring presentation), at some point someone is going to get lost. But that’s ok! Divide your presentation into clearly defined sections, and at the beginning and end of each section, talk about what you’re going to or have just explained, so that everyone can grasp the broader concepts. Even if someone gets lost within a section, with signposting they’ll hopefully be able to jump back in in the next section.

Include something for everyone. If you’re giving an interdisciplinary presentation, it should be truly interdisciplinary! Acknowledge the different subgroups of your audience and make them feel like they are a part of the conversation by including details from each discipline of your project, and not over-explaining as if they weren’t there. This rule almost contradicts my first rule, and the two can be hard to balance. The goal is to find a happy medium for each discipline between including enough interesting detail for the experts and enough explanation for those unfamiliar with the discipline.

Trying and Learning New Things

As this term draws to a close, I’m pausing to consider the work I’ve done this term. As I stop to consider it, this term has been an interesting mix of both new tasks and at the same time the continuation of previous tasks. A small example of this is social media. I’ve been in charge of the DHA Twitter account for a little while, but this was the first time I began to use a tweet scheduler – same task, but a new method. (Side note: I love the tweet scheduler! I can write up tweets once a week and not have to worry about forgetting to send them at the right time!)

My work on Team Workhouse this term is similar. I’ve been involved in Team Workhouse for almost two years now, but this term I took on new tasks in the Workhouse project. The first new task I took on was being a Teaching Assistant (TA) for the History course, Bringing the English Past to Virtual Life (explore the course blog!), and as part of that I both attended class and held office hours for student help. Attending class as a TA and providing in-class help were both totally new experiences for me, and I explored some thoughts about being a TA in a recent blog post that you can read here! This term I also continued working on the Virtual Workhouse Digital Archive Omeka site, which last term and over winter break I did extensive work with the metadata of the collections housed on the site.

A draft mock-up of a possible layout for the Virtual Workhouse Digital Archive Collections page

This term, however, I had a go at wireframing for the site. If you don’t know what wireframing is (which I didn’t before I did it), it is essentially sketching out the basic layout of a website in order to have a concrete idea what you want it to be before actually working on website itself. I tried it out using Balsamiq (a wireframing tool) and really enjoyed it! It was fun to not just react to technology but think more purposefully about what the goals of the site were and how to design the layout to best accomplish those goals.

Carleton’s Undergraduate Journal of Humanistic Studies

Something entirely new I’m about to start working on is learning LaTeX. I am now a board editor on Carleton’s Undergraduate Journal of Humanistic Studies and I’m going to be working on the website (which I know how to do) and typesetting the papers chosen for the journal – this uses LaTeX, which I don’t know how to do. I don’t have any experience with LaTeX, but I’m excited to start learning. If there’s anything that I’ve learned from my work as a DHA, it’s that there’s always something new to learn!